Fairy Meadow hardware store owner René Tummers said he was hit with a 50 per cent drop in customers was soon as the new Bunnings store at Bellambi opened last October.
He is admitting defeat in a battle he never thought he’d win, and closing up his Hardex store at Fairy Meadow at the end of the month.
In 1999 the hardware store was bought by Mr Tummers and his brother Theo, who has since passed away, and who was the driving force behind the enterprise.
“Dealing with customers really wasn’t my strength,” Mr Tummers admitted when the Mercury visited the store on Wednesday.
“But I’ve got good people to protect me from that.”
Being a small store has meant Hardex was always near to the edge.
“When Masters was going to open up in Jardine St, that’s only 50m away, I thought that’s the end for us,” Mr Tummers said. “It‘s a death of a thousand cuts. It’s just a torturous way to go. We resolved that the day they opened up their doors is the day we’ll close ours.”
I knew Bunnings was going to kill me. I thought we’ll see if people come back. And some do – but we’ve still lost 30 to 40 per cent.René Tummers
The Masters never came, and when Bunnings bought the land at Bellambi he’d thought it was just a “chess manouvre” in its battle with Masters. It was not.
“They had a ‘soft opening’ (in October) and from that very first day I lost half my sales,” Mr Tummers said.
“I thought OK, people get curious, they want to go have a look. We recovered a bit but not enough to sustain us. I thought we’ll see if people come back. Some do – but we’ve still lost 30 to 40 per cent.
“I wasn’t surprised; I was just caught out a bit at the timing. From Christmas on we had our closing down plan. I knew Bunnings was going to kill me.
“I could probably count eleven hardware stores in the Illawarra which have closed as a result of this phenomenon, which is “big box”.
“You think ‘OK, that’s the nature of the beast’, but I do worry about where it’s going to end up.
“Some of the customers were were practically in tears about us leaving. They felt lost, that they wouldn’t be able to go to their favourite store and have somebody solve their problems for them.”
All Hardex stock is 50 per cent off during March.