Trades-dedicated retail chain NZ Safety Blackwoods is in expansion mode.
The retailer, owned by $29 billion Australian retail giant Wesfarmers, the owner of Kmart and Bunnings, is looking to expand its store footprint.
NZ Safety Blackwoods this month opened its 30th New Zealand-based store in Penrose. This follows earlier openings in Frankton in Hamilton and Christchurch.
While the retailer remained tight-lipped on how many stores it planned to grow its network to in the medium to long term, it is looking to open up to 10 more over the next year, mainly focused within the Auckland region. It expects to have more new stores open by April.
Chris Mason, NZ Safety Blackwoods national manager of trade centres, said the clothing, tools, engineering supplies and PPE chain had big plans. It is already two-thirds of its way through its nationwide store refresh programme to upgrade stores and relocate some to bigger sites.
"There will be more stores [opening], particularly in the Auckland market. What we'll be looking to do around the rest of the country is to either expand existing locations or refurbish and transform the retail experience," Mason told the Herald.
"It will be single-digits [store growth] over the next year, but we've certainly got larger plans."
A growing trend towards fashionable workwear in the trade industries, driven in part by an increase in the number of women entering trades - up 39 per cent from a decade ago, according to Stats NZ - is fuelling its expansion.
This came along with a boom in infrastructure projects and advances in technology, Mason said.
"The drive for growth comes down to a changing trend from our customer base. A younger more image-conscious tradie who cares about brand and their image when on site. We're being driven by a desire for fashionable workwear - not just in clothing, even with tools.
"The industrial sector is also being disrupted by technology and things are changing at a rapid pace in terms of safety and innovation. You see it in tools, for example, with wireless connections to control speed and who can use them now, ear muffs with Bluetooth and different types of connectivity to allow people to communicate easily on site. We're not immune to that disruption from technology that you are seeing in other industries."
NZ Safety Blackwoods has been operating in New Zealand in various forms for over 30 years. NZ Safety and Blackwoods were trading separately until about four years ago when Wesfarmers merged both brands.
Prior to that, Wesfarmers acquired New Zealand company NZ Safety and Australia's Blackwoods. Blackwoods continues to operate independently across the Tasman.
NZ Safety Blackwoods has six stores in Auckland and 24 spread throughout the country. It has eight stores across the South Island and expects to "open more over the next two years".
Tools, clothing and apparel were the fast-growing parts of the business for NZ Safety Blackwoods. Its plans were to increase the size of existing stores to accommodate larger ranges within these areas.
"The line between workwear and casual wear is certainly being blurred, and that's right across the industry. Workwear is entering the likes of Kmart and The Warehouse now where that was never a consideration before," Mason said. "With the infrastructure projects going on there is a need for a larger workforce and so younger tradies are entering that workforce. There's been a drive on recruitment into the trades and apprenticeships, and we're certainly seeing that drive some of the growth.
"In the short to medium-term there's still a large opportunity for expansion. The Government through Covid has committed to big spending in infrastructure and construction to keep the economy moving forward so we see there is a big market."
Mason said Wesfarmers recognised "there was a opportunity here" and "would continue to invest where it makes sense to do so". He could not comment on whether Wesfarmers was looking to grow the NZ Safety Blackwoods business to similar size of its local Kmart and Bunnings businesses.
The Herald has contacted Wesfarmers for comment.
In the year to June 30, Wesfarmers posted A$1.69 billion net profit after tax. Bunnings and Officeworks were the top performers.
Company-wide, across all of its brands, Wesfarmers Group is in expansion mode. In recent years the ASX-listed company has been focused on opening more Kmart and Bunnings stores in New Zealand.
Earlier this year, Wesfarmers announced up to 167 Target stores could disappear forever over the next year. As part of its drastic plan, up to 75 Target stores will be closed, while 92 will are converted into Kmart outlets.
NZ Safety Blackwoods turns over about $240 million each year.