The opening of the first of 265 planned Bunnings Warehouses in the UK made Wrights’ veterans reflect on the time the firm managed the launch of its first-ever store in Sunshine, Victoria back in 1994.
Little did we know it was the start of arguably the country’s most successful retail concept. We remembered convincing Victoria’s Premier, Jeff Kennett he would be backing a winner and potentially a major employer by agreeing to officiate at the opening ceremony.
His successor as Victorian Premier Steve Bracks (pictured) also opened a Bunnings with Wrights, as did NSW Premier Bob Carr and Queensland Premier Peter Beattie. They all wanted to be associated with a winning concept, a community based sausage sizzle and progress; and, Wrights was happy to facilitate.
Given Bunnings now has 280 stores and employs more than 40,000 people, Jeff and his Premier colleagues made a good call even when many doubted the viability of a store described as “a big, ugly box”, which unconventionally displayed its stock in cardboard boxes stacked to the ceiling on warehouse storage racks.
Back at the very start, Wrights also coordinated a far less formal launch of the Sunshine prototype-store nationally on the Nine Network’s The Footy Show, when a team of AFL stars made up of ex-tradies were challenged to build something using Bunnings’ extensive range of tools and building materials. While the end result may not have passed a building inspection, the out-house christened “Dougie’s Dunny” (in honour of Bulldog’s stalwart Doug Hawkins) did provide more laughs than it did tips for DIY enthusiasts.
While Wrights enjoyed creating excitement and publicity for each subsequent store opening, our best work was done prior to the doors opening. A very effective PR strategy laid the groundwork enabling Bunnings’ massive expansion. It was based on winning local support in advance by promoting the economic, employment and fund-raising benefits each Warehouse delivered to its community.
For the next two decades, Wrights launched more than 100 warehouses across the country including the converted Hardwarehouse stores added to the network in 2001.
Interestingly, our client back in 1994 was Peter ‘PJ’ Davis, the man now heading up the Bunnings UK team.
Perhaps that’s another clue to the Bunnings’ phenomenon; investing in good people who have remained loyal and shared in the company’s success.
Mind you, we wonder whether even PJ, who started on shopfloor selling hardware in Perth close to 40 years ago, would have imagined he would end up bringing the Bunnings sausage sizzle to the Brits.
Sadly, we no longer work with Bunnings, but it was fun while it lasted and allowed Wrights to develop and implement a spectacular public relations campaign that has stood the test of time and helped define PR in Australia.