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Making good use of global retailing ideas

Making good use of global retailing ideas

May 29, 2017  By John Stanley

John Stanley helped organize a meeting in Paris of leading independent garden centre managers to share information from around the world.

June 2017 – In 1896 Arthur and Robert Bunning left London for Perth, West Australia. This was the beginning of a business 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 U.K., which was launched in February in 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 whether they will do the same in the U.K. where they plan to rebrand the Sainsbury Homebase hardware and garden business.

I managed to visit the new St. Albans store in the first week of opening to check if the Australian flavour is evident and whether the model will work in the U.K.


The store layout and marketing is the same as the winning approach in Australia and the model works exceptionally well. Before visiting the store I had also visited other hardware stores and independent garden centres in the area so that I could judge the differences in marketing styles.

In the other shops I could wander about, mostly ignored by the employees. It was a pleasure, then, to walk into Bunnings and have a greeter welcome me and then find everyone keen to engage with me and talk about their knowledge and advice on various products. This approach is very “Un-English” but it works. Team members had attended an intensive training workshop before going on the shop floor and customer engagement was obviously stressed. At first the British customer is hesitant in being greeted, but they soon come around to enjoying this team engagement. These team members are promoted as “category heroes,” something that is rarely done in U.K. retail outlets.

Many plant displays I saw in other retail outlets were uninspiring, while Bunnings understands fully the importance of impulse sales and their plants were cleverly displayed to encourage sales.

Customers are also encouraged to “linger longer” with complimentary (and quite excellent) coffee, along with free workshops and activities for children. Clearly weekends are going to be a success with the Australian “sausage sizzle” being introduced. These events, linked to local community activities, have been a winning formula for the business and one that will be repeated in the U.K.

The U.K. has not had a competitor who uses this style of retailing in the garden sector and it will now be interesting to see how the industry reacts to the challenge.

Imagine what would happen if the owners from some of the leading independent garden centres from around the globe gathered in Paris for two days and worked to develop ideas for the future of their businesses.

That is exactly what happened in mid-January. The idea started with garden centre owners having a conversation with me and suggesting that the next step forward for them was to develop ideas and share information with like-minded colleagues from around the world.

The group started the session by looking at the scenario that average sales are going up, while customer count is going down and how they could address this. The topics then moved to the opportunities with urban agriculture, online shopping strategies, merchandizing, new garden centre design concepts, marketing and business development.

John Stanley is a retail business coach, consultant, speaker and author. His expertise is in customer-focused layout, merchandising, marketing and branding, and customer-focused selling and service. Visit his website at

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