Bunnings loss could see UK departure of Homebase

Bunnings has revealed that up to 40 Homebase stores could be closed due to a “disappointing” performance, putting 2,000 jobs at risk.

Australian retail chain Wesfarmers, which owns Bunnings, has now put Homebase under review and said it expects to lose £97 million in the first half of 2018.

Wesfarmers said it has written down the value of its Homebase chain by £454m as a result of its poor trading.

It paid £340m for the DIY chain in early 2016 and has been rebranding the Homebase stores under the Bunnings name. To date, a total of 19 Homebase stores have been rebranded.

Homebase has 250 stores nationwide and employs 12,000 people.

Wesfarmers will announce the results of the review in June, with staff having to wait until then to discover which stores are to close.

“The Homebase acquisition has been below our expectations, which is obviously disappointing,” Wesfarmers managing director Rob Scott said. “In light of this, a review of Bunnings UK and Ireland has commenced to identify the actions required to improve shareholder returns.”

Its shares fell by up to 5% in trading on the Australian stock market.

However, the Australian company said it had been encouraged by the performance of stores that had begun trading under the Bunnings name.

Thomas Brereton, retail analyst at GlobalData, commented on the news: “A series of errors in Bunnings’ disastrous UK incursion looks set to force the retailer out of the DIY market in 2018, as the DIY specialist announced a whopping £454m impairment charge and a pre-tax loss of £97m for the six months to December. It has begun a review of the business, which will conclude in June, and while it is weighing up a number of options, it appears that Wesfarmers’ ill-considered policies have backed it into an untenable corner.

“Paying £340m for Homebase in February 2016, Wesfarmers had initially planned to transform the 260 store network into Bunnings stores, following the success in Australasia. However, the rapid shift in product and pricing policy (moving from a promotional model to everyday low prices) has alienated regular consumers, compounded by the loss of local DIY expertise following the upheaval of management. As an immediate response, Bunnings Group managing director Michael Schneider has halted capital expenditure on the store transformation program, but will complete the five stores currently under conversion.

“A recent run of high-level executives leaving Bunnings UK and Ireland (BUKI) has also further fuelling speculation that all is not well at the top. The retirement of BUKI managing director Peter ‘PJ’ Davis swiftly follows his decision to take a three-month holiday in January, during a critical time for the retailer and historically the best earning and most competitive quarter for the DIY market. Despite the announcement that BUKI will now be in the trusted hands of Damian McGloughlin, former B&Q operations director and a veteran of the UK DIY market, it is challenging to see this role existing in the long-term.

“So what would an exit mean for UK retail? Firstly, it would leave around 250 Homebase stores and the 19 currently operational Bunnings locations left in the wind; an unwieldly network, with onerous lease obligations that would be almost impossible to offload as a whole. The expanding discounters B&M and The Range might be interested in a portion of these, but in a retail landscape focused on convenience and digital capability there is a palpable dearth of retailers lining up to take on such locations. Secondly, it would leave a 7% gap in the DIY market, which would grab the attention of struggling market leader B&Q as well as proving a tempting opportunity for discounters looking to expand into new ranges.

“This statement sounds a real warning for Bunnings, materializing in a 4.5% fall in share price. And although nobody was expecting a miracle turnaround after the retailer’s poor performance, these depressing figures show that Wesfarmers must consider all opportunities to lessen its exposure to the fraught UK market.”

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