ST ALBANS, UK: In 1896 Arthur and Robert Bunning left London for Peth, West Australia. This was the start of a journey that started in the timber industry, grew into Westfarmers and eventually the move into hardware retailing and supermarkets . As far as the garden retail sector is concerned the success has been phenomenal. Now Bunnings has returned to where the brothers started with the opening of the first branded Bunnings store in the UK opening in February at St Albans, Hertfordshire on the northern fringe of London.
As every Australian will know they dominate the garden retail sector in Australia and the challenge is will they do the same in the UK where they plan to rebrand the Sainsbury Homebase hardware and garden business.
Garden centre guru John Stanley managed to visit the new St Albans store in the first week of opening to check if the Australian flavour is evident in the store and whether the model will work in the UK . The cold, miserable February day he visited was not a West Australian day, but once inside he was clearly experiencing an Aussie experience.
The store layout and marketing is the same as the winning approach in Australia and the model works exceptionally well. Before visiting the store Stanley had also visited other hardware stores and independent garden centres so that he could judge the difference in approach in the market.
In the previous stores, he visited he could wander around the store, mostly ignored by the team members on the shop floor. It was a pleasure to walk into Bunnings and have greeter welcome him to the store and then find all the team were keen to engage with him and talk about their knowledge and advise on product. This approach is very “Un English”, but it works. After talking to several of the team they mentioned they had been on an intensive training workshop before going on the shop floor and that customer engagement was something that was stressed. At first the British customer is hesitant of being greeted, but they soon come around to enjoying this team engagement. These team members are promoted as “category hero’s” something that is rarely done in a UK retail outlet.
Many plant displays Stanley observed in other retail outlets were uninspiring, whilst Bunnings understand the importance of impulse sales and the plants were displays to encourage customers to buy.
Customers are also encouraged to “linger longer” with complimentary coffee from the coffee shop that served an excellent quality coffee, free workshops and activities for the children. Clearly weekends are going to be a success with the Australian “sausage sizzle” being introduced into the store on Saturdays and Sundays. These events, linked to local community activities, has been a winning formula for the business and one that will be repeated in the UK.