Masters stores to be reborn as lifestyle retail hubs by Christmas, but is it what Aussie shoppers want?

Home Consortium Masters

An architectural impression of a Home Consortium retail centre. Source: Supplied.

Ten months after Masters shut up shop, the first details of the big box lifestyle hubs to be opened on the empty sites of the collapsed hardware chain have been revealed, with shoppers set to be invited in by Christmas.

The former Masters sites are now owned by Home Consortium — a group of wealthy business owners and private families who secured an $830 million deal with Woolworths to take over the abandoned sites left by the collapse of the hardware chain in August 2016.

The group’s chairman David Di Pilla has told Fairfax 10 former Masters sites are now “largely tenanted up”, with plans for each hub to target one of three categories: daily needs and groceries, leisure goods and homewares or electrical.

In the time since Home Consortium secured the sites, a number of potential retailers have been floated as tenants for the group’s plan to transform the sites into large retail hubs, with the likes of JB Hi-Fi, The Good Guys and Harvey Norman all suggested as possibilities.

On Tuesday, Di Pilla confirmed 10 sites would be unveiled before Christmas, with timelines in place for the opening of sites in Rutherford and Penrith in New South Wales, South Morang in Victoria, and Tingalpa and North Lakes in Queensland.

The locations of the remaining five sites are expected to be confirmed in coming weeks.

“The leasing success and ongoing lease enquiries we have received reflect the fact that retailers have been able to work with us as a single developer/landlord to plan and secure their store roll-out and growth strategies across a number of Australia’s key growth regions nationally,” Di Pilla said in a statement sent to SmartCompany.

A list of “example retailers” for the confirmed sites include Coles, Woolworths, Chemist Warehouse, Toys R Us, Anaconda and Supercheap Auto, among several others.

Home Consortium says it plans to open more than 20 other sites in the first half of 2018, and another 10 in the second half of next year.

When analysing the demise of the Masters chain last year, retail analysts had different perspectives on whether the location of the sites contributed to the hardware retailer’s downfall.

“Each Masters site will have to be evaluated on its own merit,” head of the Retail Doctor Group Brian Walker told SmartCompany last year.

However, retail expert at Queensland University of Technology Dr Gary Mortimer expects the position of the warehouses will work well for Home Consortium, and suggests a rising tide might lift other retailers in suburban areas once the sites get up and running.

“Other retailers would actually benefit, because currently, why would you go to the suburbs? There’s this big thing there [the abandoned Masters site], but no retailers,” Mortimer says.

“But once they create big vibrant hubs, they will become destinations, and it will draw customers to that suburb.”

Big box-style retailers attract a certain type of shopper who is not focused on tailored customer service as much as price and ease of access and use, says Mortimer. However, some categories targeted by Home Consortium might not fully align with Aussie shoppers’ needs as online purchasing of lifestyle and electronics goods increase.

Things like sporting goods, consumer electronics, those are more exposed to online shopping, because of things like, once we know the brand of camera we want, we simply jump online to buy it. It presents some challenges for these kinds of retailers as they move towards expansion,” Mortimer says. 

The challenge for Home Consortium is to set things up so the right tenants are next to each other, and the centres present themselves as easy-to-access hubs with “low prices and a big range”, says Mortimer.

Home Consortium says it will open the full portfolio of centres by 2019.

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