Aussie DIY retailer Bunnings’ new St Albans store has a lot going for it, but there are a few ‘snags’ to overcome. John Ryan reports.

Bunnings Warehouse has finally opened its first UK store in St Albans. This much is common knowledge.

But what else might be useful to know about the new arrival? Does it measure up to Homebase, its predecessor, or indeed to B&Q, which is undergoing something of a chain-wide makeover?

“There are not-to-be-missed bargains in containers close to the entrance, including the curiously labelled offer of a Dutch Hoe for £3”

From the outside, Bunnings is standard stuff – a long frontage with a glazed atrium.

And as elsewhere, there are not-to-be-missed bargains in containers close to the entrance, including the curiously labelled offer of a ‘Dutch Hoe’ for £3.

Step indoors and the initial view is red and dark green: red for the very high shelving, and green for the signage overhead and at the front of each aisle.

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Shovels, hoes and rakes

Hammer time

Also noteworthy is the fact that a portion of the store is divided into ‘shops’, featuring a Tool Shop and a Paint Shop.

In these areas the shopper can actually see the offer at a single glance, instead of wandering along the many canyons of merchandise that form the bulk of the front half of the store.

In the Tool Shop, it is possible to select from more than 15 different hammers and 10 crowbars across a range of brands.

There are probably those who will swear by a particular brand of hammer or crowbar, but they may be thinner on the ground than the Bunnings buying department imagines.

Bunnings vs B&Q

It should also be logged that most of the stock is on the shelves, in true warehouse style, in sharp contrast to the strategy adopted in the latest generation of B&Q stores that allow more space for meaningful displays.

The other difference between Bunnings and B&Q is display height.

“B&Q and Bunnings are very different animals and there is clear blue water between the two”

In the massive 150,000 sq ft B&Q store in New Malden, which has just been given a makeover, shoppers are still able to look across the space and work out where they are and, more importantly, where the object of their mission is located.

The Bunnings way involves looking upwards at the many signs and then heading along an aisle, rather than the stock acting as a 3D sign in its own right.

All of which means that B&Q and Bunnings are very different beasts.

Barbecues in February

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In Bunnings, the depth of individual categories means that it is, essentially, a hard-end DIY proposition with a substantial garden area at the back of the store, and a barbecue aisle.

The latter has been singled out for the simple reason that it is still February, and not yet barbecue season for most.

Yet there was a full aisle of barbecue accessories, and in the mid-shop, one of the few areas in the store where the display is low-rise, there was almost every conceivable kind of outdoor cooking device.

Prices for a barbie ranged from the affordable to the Landmann Avalon 5 Burner Kitchen BBQ, the Rolls-Royce of the raw prawn and marinade brigade, at £2,349.04.

Perhaps the price points need a little fine-tuning if this one is anything to go by – £2,349.04 is possibly a stretch on a damp morning in St Albans.

Pies and personnel

So, to the Hardware Café. This is a small affair with a range of pies, doughnuts and a small but efficient cappuccino machine.

Free Wi-Fi and the chance to take a break seemed enough to ensure that this part of the shop was busy.

“Perhaps the price points need a little fine-tuning if this one is anything to go by – £2,349.04 is possibly a stretch on a damp morning in St Albans”

It’s also worth mentioning Bunnings’ staff. They were everywhere.

Granted, the store was still in its first week, but this was still a big plus for the Aussie retailer when set against the Homebase of old.

The obvious question is whether it will work and, other than the obvious logistical advantages, if there is much point in the second, upcoming Bunnings also being in St Albans?

To the first question, my advice might be to lose the barbecue dominance – this is not Sydney.

As for the second, maybe there are lots of project DIYers in this fair city. Or maybe there was just an available site nearby.

Bunnings Warehouse, St Albans

Size: 67,000 sq ft

Opened: February 2, 2017

Highlight: The Tool Shop

Ambience: A DIY store for blokes and barbie fans