Right now it’s the “calm before the storm”, a Bunnings insider told Crikey today.

As late as Friday afternoon, Bunnings managing director John Gillam was telling staff that Wesfarmers was only going to get Officeworks and Target, he says.

So it would seem that the final deal, to snap up the whole Coles kit ‘n kaboodle, didn’t come together until Friday night, after the sharemarket had closed. “The bean counters must have said, ‘yup, we can do this on our own’.” That’s the “impression we got”.

Following news that Wesfarmers would be taking the lot, the mood is “buoyant in here”, he says, while people at Coles “are a bit like ‘oh thank God'”.

That is, apart from at the very top, where a clear-out is likely. “Anyone who said the business was not administratively top-heavy was on drugs”, he says.

In a briefing yesterday afternoon, Bunnings people were told that “Wesfamers could walk in tomorrow” to keep everything ticking over at Coles, running the day-to-day business. However the hunt will be on for more managers, “as required”. Overheard at Bunnings: “If I was John Fletcher I’d be fluffing up my CV.”

Wesfarmers runs lean. Coles doesn’t. And there’s a lot of fat to trim, apparently starting with Coles HQ aka Battlestar Gallactica, the mega-building which sits atop prime land in Melbourne.

In the long-term, Wesfarmers is considering the prospect of sub-leasing the whole thing out, or just getting it off the books altogether. This would be more in line with Bunnings’ decentralised model — and, in fact, Target and Officeworks are already off-site.

“This sort of property is not what we’re about”, says the insider. The building costs a mint and people will wonder “What are we doing here?”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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