Bunnings owner Wesfarmers has hailed “further progress” of its fledgling UK business following a rise in like-for-like transactions.

The Australian retail group, which launched in Britain after acquiring Homebase last year, said like-for-like customer participation increased 2.2% year-on-year during its third quarter.

Bunnings is in the process of clearing old Homebase ranges and switching to its “always low prices” proposition.

Total sales across the Homebase Bunnings estate hit £245m during the 12 weeks to March 26.

In its maiden half year to December 31, Bunnings made a pre-tax loss of £28m in the UK and sales of £612m. Restructuring costs accounted for £13m of its pre-tax loss.

‘Negative effect’

Despite growing customer participation, Bunnings UK and Ireland boss PJ Davis said trading during the quarter was “negatively affected” by the repositioning of Homebase’s kitchen and bathroom offer.

But he hailed “pleasing” performance across other home improvement and gardening categories.

Wesfarmers remains in the early stages of converting the bulk of Homebase’s 265 stores into Bunnings as it ramps up its assault on the UK DIY market.

The company’s first two UK Bunnings stores were converted from Homebase units in St Albans.

Its next two stores, due to open in Hemel Hempstead and Milton Keynes by June, are also transformations of former Homebase sites.

However, for its fifth UK store opening in July, the DIY giant will shut the Homebase in Folkestone and move to a new site, previously occupied by its biggest UK rival B&Q.

Wesfarmers said 254 Homebase stores remained at the end of March.

‘Building strong foundations’

Davis said: “Our first Bunnings Warehouse pilot stores have been well received by customers, team members, and the community.

“The team continues to progress the strategic plan and is focused on building strong foundations.”

Wesfarmers, which also owns Coles and Kmart in its homeland, hailed growth across “most” of its business during the quarter.

However, its embattled department store business Target suffered an 17.9% slump in like-for-like sales amid the retailer’s “ongoing transition” to an everyday low price model.

Department stores chief executive Guy Russo said: “Trading momentum is expected to remain challenging in the fourth quarter, but reset merchandise disciplines are expected to support improvements in the quality of sales recorded.”