a good thing because unless there is pushback from consumers, inflation will continue. “Broadly, in the retail sector, retailers will pass on pricing because that is all they can do but in passing you check what your competitors are doing. We are trade based so our customers will always buy from a store that can service them the best, that knows them, that offers them an account and delivers to site on time – and ultimately the trade just puts the price rise through to the end consumer,” he said. 2024 Next year, Mr Benstead expects inflation to slow along with rate rises because, “if rate rises continued, we would kick the economy into reverse and we do not want this to happen.” “Going forward I think consumers will remain positive. Remember 600,000 people came into the country last year which is the most immigrants we have ever had in our history. While it puts pressure on rents it also means building will continue,” he said. “I also see some of the smaller buying groups have some pressure again on them, due to rising costs and flattening sales. I am always happy to have discussions on consolidation or integration and assist them to continue to grow.” “In the meantime, we will continue to show independents how good our offer is and hope they hear our message and take it on board. A good independent will always outdo any other store. Chains can service the masses but there will always be room for an independent who can do the job and will out-service and out-manage their competitors providing they are a good operator. Our job is to give people the tools to do this properly,” Mr Benstead concluded. Bunnings MD, Michael Schneider As increasing interest rates and the rising cost of living continue to impact the Australian economy, consumers have responded by prioritising value for money more than ever. Bunnings Managing Director Michael Schneider says stores are well positioned within this space as its ‘lowest prices’ proposition continues to resonate with consumers. “We have worked hard to help consumers get the most out of their money, particularly when it comes to nondiscretionary items. Our expansion into cleaning is a good example of this and is underpinned by our commitment to offer the widest range to customers at the lowest prices. We have long had a steadfast focus on ensuring our operating model remains resilient across all phases of the economic cycle which also helps us navigate any prevailing conditions,” he said. While remaining competitive is a high priority for Bunnings, staying committed to its three key pillars of providing the lowest prices, widest range and best experience also take precedence. Mr Scheider says while there are many intricate strategies built within remaining competitive, executing Bunnings’ three key principles goes a long way in helping it remain trusted and chosen by consumers. “We have also doubled down on providing customers with value for money across a wide range of categories, which seems to be resonating strongly with them at the moment in the face of tightening economic conditions. This is particularly the case with non-discretionary product lines and goods that can be purchased in bulk.” Despite the current economic climate, one segment that has remained popular with customers is gardening, as the dry spring sees them roll up their sleeves and spend more time outdoors. “We have also had a great response to our expanded pet range as customers enjoy the variety and value it provides. The initial launch exceeded our expectations and we have maintained that momentum ever since.” As the trade space becomes quieter due to a slowing building industry, Mr Schneider pointed out that the DIY space has remained solid with the pandemic encouraging consumers to get on the tools themselves. “Working from home has remained popular among many traditionally office-based industries, which has also further encouraged people to update and personalise their private spaces,” he said. Industry issues One industry issue that has continued within Bunnings stores, and the retail industry as a whole, is the rising occurrence of abusive and violent customer behaviour. While Mr Schneider says most customers do the right thing, unsavoury customer behaviour has continued. “I take a very simple view that everyone deserves the right to come to work and feel safe from verbal and physical abuse. It is incredibly saddening to hear what our teams have to endure every week. Our goal is to have all our team feel safe and secure coming to work every day, and we will seek to achieve this by investing in safety tools and training, while further advocating for stronger legislation to protect frontline retail team members,” he said. 26 HARDWAREJOURNAL.COM.AU | DECEMBER '23