Retail Reboot: Masters Home Improvement

Woolworths has plans to spend more than $400 million this year on its new Masters Home Improvement stores to try and compete with hardware giant Bunnings Warehouse . Can shiny floors, magazines, McDonald's and appliances make the difference? Our Retail Reboot heads to the first Masters outlet in Braybrook.

Despite the hardware trimmings, this is a replay of the broader supermarket wars in many respects: Bunnings is owned by Coles parent company Wesfarmers. By building large stores, Woolworths isn't aiming to compete with local convenience, in the manner of Mitre 10 or independent stores. What is it trying to change in its attempt grab a share of the DIY market?

The Braybrook store (in Melbourne) is the first of seven Woolworths plans to open this year (the next venues are Tingalpa, Nerang and Springfield in Queensland this week, followed by Morayfield, Gregory Hills and Burnside). I didn't want to hit the store on launch day (that's never representative of the normal experience), so I ventured there a few weeks later.

What's different?

Despite being on a similar general scale to Bunnings, Masters does have the feeling of being larger. To a fair degree, this is because the aisles are a little wider, and there aren't the pallets of bargain-priced goods strewn around at the front of the store and throughout the aisles. Some areas do seem smaller — the garden centre is less spacious than most Bunnings I've been to — but the overall feeling is generally one of space. Small details help, such as not having the power tools in a separately-secured area.

There's certainly no shortage of staff; I get greeted by five separate employees in the first 10 minutes of my visit. It's possibly a reflection of it being a relatively quiet Wednesday, but it does suggest service is available when you need it. I hate getting randomly greeted by sales staff (I'm very much a solo shopper), but I remind myself that in a large hardware store where you're potentially buying in unfamiliar categories, this would be helpful for many people.

One useful feature is information above the shelves detailing what products you'll use in particular situations. This isn't going to solve all your problems, but it's definitely a clever touch. There are also neat technological tweaks, such as getting a buzzer to tell you when your paint has been mixed, but I don't test this (for the simple reason I don't need any paint).

What I don't like

While there are more appliances than you'll see in a typical Bunnings, in many other categories I don't feel there's quite the same range of choice. Looking at items I've purchased myself in hardware stores over the last six months, in most cases there seem to be fewer options. That's not to say you won't find most of what you need, but there don't seem to be so many brand choices or discounted items.

There are also some odd choices in terms of items stocked. I can't imagine too many people decide that a hardware store is where they want to buy gossip magazines.

Rather than the fairly basic (and often closed) cafes found in Bunnings, Masters is planning on having McDonald's branches in many of its stores. I can see this being appealing for families, but it's still not a great way to get a coffee (and the staff member who served mine barely seemed to know how to operate the register, let alone make the coffee).

Could you save money shopping here?

There are definitely some items priced at bargain levels here — 65 cents for buckets is good, for instance. But as I've already mentioned, discounted items aren't featured to the same extent as Bunnings.

Pricing on other brand-name items (such as paint) seems similar to what you'll find everywhere else, which makes sense: even if Masters is aiming for a slightly more upmarket feel than Bunnings, it is in a competitive market and is going to have a smaller number of stores for the next few years. It can't afford to get a reputation for being heavily overpriced.

It does feel like there are more "completed" items on sale: more appliances, carpets, doors and outdoor furniture, but less construction basics. Some of those items are probably lurking in the adjacent trade shed, but it definitely creates a different atmosphere, and one in which you could risk spending more money than expected if you haven't done some comparison shopping beforehand (or on your phone in the store). That said, the existence of heavy competition for Bunnings, which has become the dominant hardware brand over the last decade, doesn't seem to be a bad thing.

In tomorrow's Retail Reboot instalment, we'll look at a quite different retailer: Apple.

Masters


Comments

    Hrmm.. it does indeed look like a Bunnings store.. When I saw the article link I was hoping maybe they might have incorporated indoor furniture into the mix to go beyond what Bunnings is already offering....

      Outside maybe, but inside it's a bit different.
      The floors are shiny, the stuff they sell are laid out differently to bunnings and the items are different.

      I watched a preview of the store on ACA, they said it's like a combo between Bunnings and HN.

        Hahahahahaha you watched ACA

    According to that third picture, you should use the same type of chain for Anchors and Chandeliers.

    I'm not a sailing or lighting buff, but that seems a bit strange.

      I think it's referring to the style of chain (ie the way the links are aligned) rather than a specific chain made of a specific metal.

      As such, it's conceivable that a Marine Grade Stainless "Decorative Chain" would make a good Anchor Chain and a Brass "Decorative Chain" would make a good Chandelier chain, but of course you wouldn't use the Brass Chain as an Anchor Chain due to rust/corrosion issues.

        Brass chain, if it was thick enough, wouldn't corrode that fast and it'd never rust (only stuff with iron in rusts). The issue is that brass is far weaker than steel. :)

    I've been to the Master's store a couple of times now and can honestly say that I wont be back.

    Firstly, things really aren't any cheaper. Their 'price match guarantee' is meaningless as they don't stock the same products as bunnings. Whatever brand Bunnings carries, they carry the competitor brand (B: Makita/DeWalt vs M: Hitachi. B: Ryobi vs M: Bosch), so there can be no price match on an identical product.
    And BTW, the plastic buckets mentioned in the article are 40 cents at bunnings.

    The staff at Masters, while plentiful, seem completely clueless about the products they're selling. At bunnings, you tend to get retired or ex-tradies as staff. I've had them help me with thorough advice on projects on a number of occasions. At Masters, they seem like they're just people off the street that were looking for a retail job.

    And finally, it just doesn't feel like a hardware store. It's like an Officeworks version of a hardware store. All pristine, with it's McDonalds and magazine stands. I can't see a tradie walking in there to buy stuff.

    The people there told me that Master's plan is to have a store adjacent to every bunnings location in australia within 5 years. Yay. More competition... I don't think so. It will be exactly the same as Coles vs Woolies at the moment. They'll just alternate specials every other week.

      I'm happy to give Woolworths some time Pat. More competition in the Australian hardware market can only be a good thing for us consumers.

      I hear-tell that Bunnings makes most of their suppliers sign exclusivity deals, which would explain why Masters doesn't stock most of it.

      As well as that, the "Price Match" is designed to get you in the store. More often that not, once you're in the store and looking at the product, you'll buy it even if it's more expensive instead of spending more time going back and forth. It's the same way Office Works operate. Sure, they'll occasionally get someone making a legitimate claim, but by that point, the buyer might as well have gone to the store offering it cheaper in the first place :P

        You're probably not too far off the money. I have heard that Bunnings decision to discontinue their sales contract with GMC (in favour of Ozito) is what sent the company broke. While Bunnings wasn't an exclusive retailer of GMC, the business was lucrative enough for them that they couldn't keep going without it.

      I thought the same thing 10 years ago when bunnings opened up next to hardware house or home hardware, whatever it was called. Bunnings had lots of helpful staff compared to the older competitor next door but as soon as the original store shut down, service started to slide. I haven't been to a masters yet but in a couple of years, I doubt you'll be able to tell them and bunnings apart from a service perspective...and then one will drop the ball.

      Masters has had problems with getting suppliers that already supply Bunnings to play ball, but it would appear Bunnings has so far been careful in playing the game up to but not over the limit of the law...

      http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/companies/new-rival-lashes-bunnings-tactics/story-fn91v9q3-1226125901942

      Is Bunnings' tactic ethical? My opinion is where there is smoke...

      I look forward to Masters coming to may area. I have 5 Bunnings and one Thrifty link.

      I had a trade card with BBC before Bunnings and got 5 to 10% discounts and am lucky to get 1% out of Bunnings which does not hold my loyalty.

      Thrifty is cheaper on many items making Bunnings low prices everyday claim crap. I just could not be bothered chasing the Bunnings 10% off as the petrol spent traveling is more than the savings and Bunnings knows this!

      I am also sick of returning products that fail back to Bunnings:
      * Burnt out electric whipper snipper
      * Broken Hole saws (first use failure)
      * Pair of Power Timers that don't work (Clipsal brand)
      * Goods missing parts such as Toilet innards, Heller bathroom light/fan combo missing switch plate, Karcher missing nozzle.
      * Burnt out battery drill (Lasted one month)
      * Incomplete delivery of trade orders (with associated denial of short deliveries)
      * Returned BBQ with distorted cooking plate (Distorted after first use and got worse)

      So Bunnings supply cheap quality crap product. I have no such issues at Thrifty and get better advice there, but because they are smaller they don't have the range of goods immediately on hand. So I pick who is more likely to have what I need when I need something.

      Oh and the older gents at Bunnings I find are there because they work part-time of an evening. When I go after work I find their knowledgeable staff have gone home already.

      If Masters can beat Bunnings then bloody great because I am sick to death of having Buckley's choice!

      I will always use Thrifty though.

      BTW the pics I've seen of Masters make it clear it is set-up to target women! This is great because it will get women into hardware stores, who need advice and help and tradespeople to install the goods for them. The payoff for me is I will get decent advice as a byproduct of this

      I can't wait for a Masters because it means they will have people who can communicate and are knowledgeable and can give good advice.

      Bunnings have screwed us over for far too long!

        i'd totally agree that Bunnings quality is below par and their preception of being cheap is just good marketing. try your local Mitre 10, knowledgable staff, good pricing and great genuine specials.

    I walked out of Bunnings this morning and straight into a Masters and boy oh boy there is a difference. Staff everywhere, happy to say hi and take me to the paint area. Not sure where Pat went but the guy behind the counter was a 30 year veteran and knew more answers then questions I could ask.Clean, tidy and no clutter and I just love that aircon. The girl in the outdoor garden area was new but within seconds had an expert over to help and learnt something herself. I will be back.

      Exactly the same experience here, newbie didn't know so went and got a product expert and tagged along to learning. Made me happy to see knowledge AND a learning environment.

      As a new store that has just opened, I don't doubt that there is heaps of staff on hand being as helpful as possible to make a good first impression.

      Check back in 3 months...

    What's in this "trade shed" Does that have more materials in it? Currently I find the range of materials at Bunnings to be shocking. They seem more interested in selling me dishwashers than hardware and the materials required to complete projects.

    As much as I would like to see Bunnings get some real competition, all I can see is the smaller hardware outlets being kicked in the guts again! At the moment I can walk into any of the few Mitre 10's around and get cheaper prices and decent service, and they are genuinely making it because of the DIYers! So if Masters reckons that's where they are getting there trade then the smaller outlets will soon die! #[

    I would like to see Bunnings dump the Imperial sizes on bolts e.t.c and go metric, like the rest of the country did in 1966...

    If "Masters" sells a good range of metric bolts I will go there...

      Actually, stocking them helps to repair and maintain goods that were built using the imperial system! The yanks still use it, and they sell stuff to us and quite a lot of the older machinery and odds and sods are still imperial, so they are still needed, and will be for some time yet! #]

      Surely not EckyThump! Surely the ACCC will have thoroughly investigated this to ensure this only improves competition and provides better value for consumers. I mean, take fuel for example...
      Doesn't ACCC stand for Australian Cartel Cajoling Commission???

    ne thing that I do find interesting is the retail strategy that Woolworths has taken recently for hardware sale. Last year, Woolworths purchased "Blue Mountains Hardware" - the operator of Gunn’s Timber and Hardware stores in Tasmania (source: http://goo.gl/11nPH). For those unfamiliar; Gunn’s are Bunnings’ primary competition down here, operating larger hardware stores which follow a similar business model. Gunn’s also sell consumer appliances and home furniture in-store through their EzyFurniture brand.

    Knowing staff that have worked for the chain during the transition, it was believed that Gunn’s would become “pilot” stores for Woolworth’s planned hardware business, and transition to operate in the same manner as what Woolworths would decide to operate on a national level.

    Seems this hasn’t happened though, with Masters being an even bigger operating model, and Gunn’s now being rebranded “Beck’s” (which generally operate on a scale closer to Mitre10).

    I know the reason for the magazines - for the wives/girlfriends visiting not by their choice...

      The merchandising teams that work for the large chains are not stupid. They have a lot of retail experience. You'll find that the magazines are there as an impulse buy choice (just as sjc has indicated).

    I was in there last week and we actually went straight to the Bunnings down the road after. It was hard to get into the Bunnings car park, the car park was dark/dimly lit and the guy that served us in Bunnings was clueless compared to the one in Masters.
    Experiences will vary but anyway, nothing like competition to keep 'em honest.

    Can't wait to see more of them, good to have an alternate place to shop at.

    But yeah in my experience with service in shops every staff member is different yet alone the stores themselves.
    So i after a while i tend to know who i should turn to when i'm looking for advice.

    i hope woolies puts back into the community and fund raising like bunnings does, theres enough macdonalds around so why have more in a hardware store???
    yes heaps of staff but when they get heaps of customers then lets see what happens, i'll always stick with bunnings even though at times there might not be people to help, theres usually some1 willing to try and the bargains/ clearances are better,, whats with self serve everywhere?? i bet in 3 months there will be less jobs because of it- any way to save a buck WOOLIES - hope BUNNINGS and GOOD GUYS and HARVEY N keep u honest and send u out of business !!!!!!!!

    I think competition is great but the thing that irks me the most is the fact that Masters is an American Company and profits will go back to the Yanks, The GOVT should have put a stop to them coming in, its bad enough their country is in dire straits. Mitre 10 and the rest are the biggest losers. Bunnings may have not the same amount of people serving but guess what all business run wages to sales so before too long Masters will be the same. I will always be a Bunnings Fan, they not only have a wide range of stock but the work they do in the community, their donations, but where do you go on the weekend for a sausage sizzle thats right Bunnings. Bunnings is a family orientated organisation who looks after mum and dad and who can forget the kids, with their kids classes, face painting and tattooing.

      Woolworths and Lowes are owners of Masters in a joint venture and Woolworths has 60% and Lowes 40%. Being Australian and not a multinational, Woolworths will keep 60% of the profits in OZ.

      Disclosure: I work for Woolworths.

        TO buffle on about the the profits situation,
        @ MASTERS' APPRENTICE - YES, its a joint venture between two corporation but still profits are going off shore and leaving australia as to where Bunnings is PURELY australian. ALL PROFITS STAY ONSHORE......

        All to clarify, I do work for Bunning's in both management and head office....
        We did exclusively ask alot of companies to sign a deal with Bunnings before Masters was going to open up... THEREFORE there imitation slogan means nothing to us, as they sell off-shore products to us and hardly have the same range to Bunnings.

        As to coverage and staff wise - Bunnings is working towards bringing more reds onto the shop floor BUT once again.. WE ARE A BUSINESS like every other organisation...You need to make sales and reach those targets to have a outstanding amount of coverage throughout the shop floor - No budgets achieved.... we must cut back....
        So through a business point of view, as everyone is saying 'Masters has so many staff on the floor or Masters is so clean'.... keep in mind, this is the same through every new business, until they actually go through ONE financial year - there will be targets for that curtain company to reach meaning staff cuts..... and they will be in the same boat as any other organization in the retail sector...

        And as for cleanliness - Have you forgotten that they are all new stores??? Each bunnings store which is new LOOKS exactly the same as a brand new masters store! Give it 12 working months in a store - there goes your shiny floors, there goes your staff on your floors...

        People always complain about customer service, but keep in mind ITS FOREVER CHANGING.....

    I'm a casual Bunnings worker, so I might be bias, but I don't really have too much loyalty to my employer outside of doing my best to earn my pay. I'm a little bit disappointed with Masters as I think they could have done a lot better to give us at Bunnings a lot better competition.

    To touch on issues presented here though: I wouldn't know whether or not Bunnings was planning on discontinuing GMC, but they certainly went bankrupt before Bunnings got a chance to discontinue them. All GMC products were core lines until they went under. All in all they made lousy products with a few exceptions. We got more returns on GMC than any of the other power tool brands, including Ozito.

    Regarding the shiny floors, Bunnings gets their floors shined every now and then. The shine lasts all of a month if that.

    As far as service? I was very disappointed at the service I experienced at Masters, though many could say the same of Bunnings. The difference is at Bunnings you find the store is understaffed after 5 or 6pm on week nights, or staffed with kids mainly there to fill stock. On weekends the knowledgeable staff are there, but not enough of them for all the customers. During normal business hours on a weekday things should be good.

    My experience at masters was when I would expect decent 'expert' service which I didn't get. But it's early days so I think it's unfair to be too harsh on them on that front yet.

    Their range of power tools is very disappointing. Hitachi is good. Bosch blue is good. The green Bosch (which we also sell at Bunnings) is over priced for what it is. They don't have anything which is equal to say our Ryobi range. They got 2 or 3 shitty cheap ranges to rival Ozito, an overpriced domestic range in Bosch and then 2 trade ranges. They did have a few hand tools that made me jealous (especially since Bunnings has gotten rid of some great ranges such as the Bahco range of tools). All in all though...dissapointing.

    BUT IMPORTANT NOTE TO SHOPPERS!!

    There actually IS plenty enough stock common to both stores. I estimate about half is cheaper at Masters and the other half cheaper at Bunnings (Stanley knives cheaper at Bunnings but the blades cheaper at Masters). If you can be bothered doing all the travelling around you could have a field day with price matching.

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