Renovators splash out in DIY stores

CLAIRE ROGERS
Last updated 05:00 30/03/2013

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Slap on a deck, bang together a fence, throw up some guttering - no problems, mate. To pinch a slogan, DIY is in our DNA - and we're tapping into it with gusto.

Happily for consumers, retailers are vying more than ever to be the home improvement supplier of choice, stocking increasingly wider ranges of products and competing fiercely on price.

Retailing is making a gradual recovery from its recessionary depths, and leading the revival is spending on hardware, garden and building supplies - boosted by spending in Christchurch.

Figures from Statistics New Zealand show spending in the category has risen steadily since June 2011, with growth up sharply in the second half of last year.

Shoppers spent a seasonally adjusted $1.23 billion in the category in the three months to September 30 - up 4.3 per cent or $51 million on the June quarter.

Spending increased by roughly the same amount in the December quarter to $1.28b.

The trend is echoed in the latest results of the major retailers in the market - with retail giants Bunnings and Mitre 10 and the more trade-focused Fletcher Building-owned PlaceMakers all reporting strong revenue increases.

Tim Morris, retail analyst and director at Coriolis Research, says the home-improvement pie is getting bigger because house values are continuing to rise.

"You're more willing to invest in a house because you can get the money back."

That in turn has a halo effect on other spending in the sector, he says. "A bigger barbecue doesn't increase the value of your house but if it's gone up by $100,000 in value maybe you're more willing to spend $2000 on a fancy barbecue."

While the recession inevitably took a bite out of the market - figures from Statistics show spending declined from 2007 and bottomed out in early 2009 - it also had the effect of encouraging more DIY activity.

Kiwis tend to pick up tools and renovate homes rather than build new ones when the economy takes a dive, outgoing Mitre 10 chief executive John Hartmann says, and then build in brighter times - which benefits the trade business.

He says Mitre 10 is enjoying its biggest growth spurt ever and projects revenue this year will increase by 9 per cent to over $930m, and to $1b in 2014 - up 25 per cent on 2010.

He believes Bunnings and Mitre 10 are together growing the retail market - in Mitre 10's case through product innovation and a greater focus on customer education.

He points to the company's "Easy As" instructional online videos, which take customers through DIY projects step by step and have been downloaded more than 700,000 times since their launch last April.

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"We're not just trying to sell products to customers, we're trying to help them do the projects they're interested in."

Bunnings, owned by ASX-listed conglomerate Wesfarmers, is tight-lipped about growth and market share numbers. But New Zealand general manager Jacqui Coombes says market numbers are showing year-on-year growth in home and building supplies and that looks unlikely to change in the immediate future.

"A growing number of Kiwis are interested in improving their homes and carrying out projects for which they need help, advice and support."

Hartmann says he doesn't believe a greater proportion of Kiwis are turning to DIY, but that DIYers are just doing more.

In fact, he and PlaceMakers chief executive John Beveridge believe the DIY gene is weakening over generations - because handyman skills are not being passed on.

There's still a strong DIY culture in New Zealand, Beveridge says, "but also a lot of people want DIFM - do-it-for-me".

"Soft renovation" such as decorating is still relatively simple, but hard renovation is becoming more difficult, as "you need more skills, you've got consent and code of compliance issues, and you've got less time to do it", he says.

"People come to us for materials and advice, but increasingly they want us to find a tradesman who can do this or that."

He and Hartmann say retailers will increasingly offer services - instead of just selling home-improvement products they'll install them, too.

Bunnings and Mitre 10 compete fiercely on price, both promising to better rivals' prices for the same products by 15 per cent.

Statistics New Zealand's index tracking price movements in the hardware, garden and building supplies sector shows prices - excluding GST - rose 0.2 per cent in the year to December 31.

The consumers price index, which measures inflation and does include GST, rose 0.9 per cent in the period.

Morris says the entrance of Bunnings, in 2001, really fired up competition in the previously "sleepy" home-improvement market. "It's been a good thing for the consumer."

While Hartmann claims Mitre 10 has been taking retail market share off the value-focused Bunnings, Morris believes the latter has the upper hand.

Bunnings "does it better" in terms of in-store displays and execution, whereas Mitre 10 is more variable, perhaps due to the fact that it's a co-operative and not a chain like Bunnings, he says.

Bunnings probably has a pricing edge too, as it's able to point to its Australian pricing when negotiating with suppliers here, he says.

Hartmann says there is "price parity" in the market.

The market could get a whole lot hotter should Australian retail behemoth Woolworths decide to bring its Masters home-improvement chain here. Woolworths has registered the name with New Zealand's company office but downplayed any immediate moves here.

Mitre 10 and Bunnings have strayed outside their traditional product categories - generating extra revenue from selling product lines such as homeware, appliances, and camping equipment alongside hammers, nails and potting mix. Mitre 10 has included cafes in its Mega stores, run by Columbus Coffee.

In further good news for consumers that means more competition for the likes of The Warehouse, Briscoes and Noel Leeming and recreational goods suppliers.

Morris says the trend will only increase.

"The product overlap is larger than you would think and increasing with time.

"Within their big boxes they've got a hell of a lot of room and they're constantly testing things. In retail the store with the best turnover per square metre wins," he says.

Many of the new products are "impulse buys" you'd traditionally have picked up elsewhere, such as torches.

The introduction of homeware lines is in response to the greater proportion of female home-improvement shoppers - who Hartmann says largely drive product and project decisions.

But Morris says retailers are also making strategic, long-term moves into new categories such as whiteware.

"Ten or 15 years from now when you want to buy a fridge or a stove, you're probably going to be buying it at what we think of today as a hardware store."

THE BIG THREE

Mitre 10: A co-operative with 144 stores: 34 Mega stores, 48 Mitre 10 stores, and 62 Hammer Hardware stores. Plans to have 44 Mega stores by mid-2014. About 4000 staff. Annual revenues up 6 per cent to $858.4 million, sales for six months to December 31 up more than 9 per cent. Profit not disclosed. Revenue split: 60 per cent retail, 40 per cent trade.

Bunnings: A chain owned by ASX-listed conglomerate Wesfarmers with 50 stores: 22 warehouse stores, 26 smaller format stores and 2 trade centres. More than 3000 staff. Annual revenues up almost 9 per cent to $637.3m, annual loss of $2.6m on higher costs and finance expenses. Did not disclose revenue split.

PlaceMakers: The distribution division of Fletcher Building, with 61 stores. 2100 staff. Annual revenue down 5 per cent to $813m, pretax earnings down 31 per cent to $27m. Revenue for six months to December 31 up 10 per cent to $424m, pretax earnings up 13 per cent to $17m. Revenue split: 85 per cent trade, 15 per cent retail.

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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