Saturday, May 7, 2011

Messing with the mind of a weekend warrior

At some point in the past two decades, men no longer visited the hardware - they only went to Bunnings. These hulking, green and red 'big box' hardware stores did something to men that the general store counterpart, Costco, could never do. Perhaps if Costco put on a sausage sizzle on weekends it might solve the problem. But back to the Bunnings experience ...

The long-awaited rival to Bunnings has hit Australia. A joint venture between supermarket supremo, Woolworths, and US-based hardware giant, Lowes, has taken shape in the form of the 'Masters' hardware chain. Although it can hardly be called a 'chain' (more like a couple of links right now), Woolies has ambitions to open 150 locations in pretty short order. The big blue stores could open in a suburb near me anytime - which will present me with a dilemma that goes to the heart of my only retail brand loyalty.

Will the temptation to become a 'Master' of the DIY landscape rather than a mere dabbler in things best left someone else be enough to tempt me out of my green box into a blue box? Will the sausages be of the same quality? Will I find myself flitting from one store to the other progressively chipping 10% off the lowest price I can negotiate in each?

It will be interesting to see how Masters deals with the challenge of being second into the market to take on a brand that has become a byword for hardware. It's hard to shake brands that have embedded into everyday language. And for that matter, it will be interesting to see how the changes Bunnings has been making over the past few years in preparation of the arrival of Masters work.

As a Bunnings browser, you see plenty of tangible evidence of brand repositioning. The changes are substantive at store level. DIY flat pack kitchens, floor coverings, bathrooms - My God, the renos are already half done for you before you leave the store!

And then there's the stock rationalisation. Among the changes, minutiae like the removal of one brand of sprinkler system valves (come on, you must have noticed that!) has occurred. Thanks to my bizarre interest in reading about retail business, I have known about Bunnings strategy to systematically rationalise stock - keeping the better quality, fast movers and ditching those with an unhappy sales history - and have taken it on myself to keep an eye on it. Sad isn't it?

But for me, the important thing is that Bunnings hasn't given too much of a shave to the things that really count for the DIY Army. The 'Commando' section, where you can take a good hold on a few power tools and practice a few martial arts techniques on an imaginary piece of timber or masonry.

This is the zone where the imagination runs wild and many a weekend warrior finds pleasure in camouflaging themself in the forest of drill bits and grinding wheels, while the spouse and kids grapple with lesser decisions like whether the cheaper potting mix is as good as the dear stuff.

To my mind, there's no doubt about it. Masters has got the task ahead of it to dig us Bunnings veterans out of a DIY fortification to conquer new 'enemy' territory. Perhaps the answer lies therein for Masters. How about  they turn the whole big box hardware sector into a walk-in PlayStation for Dads and Grandads - 3D video game experiences where you can arm yourself with a power tool of your choice and take on the world?

You can see what's happening. There's now an internal brand battle going on that's messing with my mind. Time to go out and spend $2 at the Bunnings fund raising sizzler at the front door. A breath of fresh air and intake of a real bloke's dose of saturated fats and carbos will restore perspective. Go your hardest, Masters!