By Aimee Chanthadavong

Wesfarmers’ home improvement and outdoor living retailer Bunnings will be investing more than $600 million in 18 New South Wales metro and regional sites over the next three years.

John Gillam, Bunnings managing director, told Retailbiz that the store openings are part of a long term forecast the company has had in place for the last 10 years.

“Our long range forecast for store openings has been 10 to 14 stores annually and we’ve been consistently hitting the market by opening larger warehouses as well as in smaller formats.”

Bunnings has secured sites for 12 new Bunnings Warehouses at Alexandria, Balgowlah, Batemans Bay, Castle Hill, West Gosford, Greenacre, Rouse Hill, Tamworth, Marsden Park, Wallsend, Smithfield and East Gardens.

Of those sites, development approvals are already in place for Alexandria, Castle Hill, Rouse Hill and Tamworth with construction starting soon.

Additionally, three new Bunnings Warehouses are currently under construction and will open soon, in Seven Hills (October 2010), Port Stephens (December 2010) and Chatswood (February 2011). An existing business has been secured at Lithgow and plans are also underway to open two new trade centres at St Peters and Cromer.

“Our property development team saw opportunity to increase our network presence in NSW and the reason we’ve aggregated our store announcements is because the quality of the stores, the scale of them and it will be complimentary to our existing network, which is a very exciting time to drive our business up another notch,” Gillam said.

The company’s Alexandria Warehouse, which was purchased from CSR, is expected to be the largest home improvement and outdoor living store in the southern hemisphere measuring 20,000 square metres. Scheduled to open in mid-2012, it will house a main warehouse over two levels, a timber trade area and an outdoor nursery. It will also have on-site parking for over 560 cars and a kids' playground.

“It’s opportunistic. It comes about as an opportunity to expand our categories through merchandising enhancement,” Gillam said.

“We’ll have a bigger landscape, which will mean larger space for displays and our nursery will also be bigger. Also, the merchants are always asking for more space to grow their areas they’re responsible for and this store will give them the chance to do that.”

According to Gillam, these new store openings will also help boost Bunnings’ market position in the lead up to Woolworths entering the home improvement and outdoor living market.

“It’s a pretty competitive space as we’re always fighting hard against those in the market like Mitre 10 and Danks. But our focus is having the best offer and we’re driving to deliver that through our new stores. The bigger stores will also give us that advantage and it’ll take us up another notch,” he said.

Additionally, the store openings are expected to create more than 2,700 new permanent jobs and over 3,900 additional jobs during the construction phase

“This is a major vote of confidence in the NSW planning system, the NSW employment market, and the NSW economy,” Kristina Keneally, New South Wales Premier, said in a statement.

Since July 2009, Bunnings has opened stores in Armidale, Wagga Wagga, Narellan, Morriset and Cowra, and trade centres in Tuggerah and Unanderra.