With just weeks to go until the failed Masters home improvement chain finally shuts its doors, the stores are looking more and more like ghost towns.
It comes as the liquidators of the chain confirmed to news.com.au its frantic fire sale was ramping up to meet a December 11 deadline for all the shops to be shut.
From Tuesday, all remaining stock will now be at least 50 per cent off with the price tag of many products slashed by 70 per cent.
But the challenge for shoppers is finding any products. When news.com.au visited one of Sydney’s few remaining Masters store this week, shelves were empty, customers were sparse and those that were in store questioned if Bunnings was still cheaper.
Still decked out in their blue Masters vests, staff were happy to answer questions including what stock remained (what you can see) and what the returns policy was (you can’t unless it’s broken).
But there is one question Masters staff don’t want to hear. And that’s customers asking for an even better bargain than what’s on offer.
Earlier this year, Woolworths said it was closing Masters and announced a $3.25 billion writedown relating to its home improvement exit. Clawing back some of that cost, in a $1.5 billion deal, the stores will be passed to a consortium including Spotlight and Chemist Warehouse with the stock sold to liquidators GA Australia, part of Great American Group, for $500 million.
However, it seems even at 70 per cent off, some customers want even more. At one Masters store, a sign sitting on the bench of a dusty, unsold fitted kitchen informed customers, “We’re doing our best”. The sign read that as the store heads towards its last trading day, staff were doing their best “to meet your needs”.
But if those needs involved an even greater discount, then you may want to think again. “Please understand that our staff are not authorised to offer discounts beyond those displayed,” it said.
A GA Australia spokesman told news.com.au the sign may have been produced “at a local store level”. It was the company’s policy, he said, not to offer discounts above and beyond those advertised. “It takes the pressure off staff so they aren’t pressured by customers into giving any extra discounts because it would be stressful if 40 or 50 times a day people were asking.”
But the spokesman conceded customers could well be angling for a higher mark down, particularly on bulk purchases.
“It didn’t happen to start with as people are generally satisfied with the discounts, but I imagine it may be happening as we get into to the final days.”
Steve Ogden, an expert in sales promotions at Deakin University, said shoppers were becoming bolder when it came to asking for discounts.
“With Masters home improvement, they’ve seen a big company fall on its sword so there’s a bit of vulture picking over the carcass. Customers see no harm in seeing if they can get a discount, there’s nothing to be lost and they’re never going back,” Dr Ogden said.
While Masters home improvement might be sticking to their guns over no special discounts, he wonders how long this would last.
“I’m pretty damn sure they will crack as the closing day gets closer and what’s left is less and less desirable. What else are they going to do with it? Come the day, they will want those places emptied completely,” Dr Ogden said.
The Masters’ stores certainly have an end of days air about them. Cheery music still echoes around the building and the warehouse remains bright and shiny — testament to the billions Woolworths and its US partner Lowe’s lavished on them — but it must be a deflating sight for those that built the chain.
In the lighting department, display chandeliers and pendants hang forlornly surrounded by bare shelves. Yellow and black tape seals off much of the store making the warehouse look like a retail crime scene.
Broken products, or those not to be sold, lie in distant, dusty corners far away from shoppers, awaiting their fate.
From high in the ceiling advertising banners displaying big name logos — like De Walt, Bosch and Panasonic — flap above shelves stripped of product.
The self-serve check-outs beep no more and in some parts of the store aisle upon aisle stocks nothing but closing down signs.
What stock there is being progressively moved to the front of the store, the GA spokesman confirmed, so customers don’t have to wander too far.
Here, remaining rugs are stacked cheek by jowl with lamps. Pastel coloured plant pots sit near a few lonely cookers.
Some appliances are missing a knob or a cooker ring. Sold as is, a handwritten note directs customers to the manufacturer to locate the lost items
One of the problems that dogged Masters was a perception it was more expensive than its competitors. Even with the massive discounts some customers still questioned the value in Masters.
On Masters’ Facebook page last week, one customer said, “the trouble is (Masters) have always been too expensive, even the discounts don’t alter that, found out the other day with a skylight — ended up buying from Bunnings.”
Another said the discounts left a lot to be desired, “70 per cent off dead plants and useless crap”. Some customers have complained of discounts being too low or products not being available. The same happened in the store we visited. By a stack of light globes, all discounted by 50 per cent, one young shopper wondered aloud if they could be bought cheaper in Bunnings.
But not everyone was complaining. One shopper said they’d saved $100 on paint and praised the helpful staff.
However, the near empty store is a sign of success for the liquidator. Speaking to news.com.au last week, GA Australia said discounts could go even higher.
“I’m assuming we’ll get to the point where we just need to get everything out of the store and [will] discount appropriately,” he said.
“We can’t be far away from that.”
As December 11 nears, you might be able to haggle for an even better bargain after all.
Online Source: News.com.au.