What the Bunnings store closures mean for rural New Zealand

The mayor of a district in rural New Zealand where a Bunnings store closed last year has a stark warning for towns facing a similar situation.

On Wednesday Bunnings confirmed it would be closing seven stores across the country, most of which are in the provinces.

The closures will see 145 jobs lost, but there are fears there will be an even worse ripple effect across communities, as many of the towns have few other employment options and leave local farmers and builders without a hardware store for supplies.

Ash Tanner, Mayor of Matamata-Piako District, knows firsthand the impact such a closure can have on a small town.

Last year Bunnings closed its Te Aroha store and Tanner says the town is still reeling from the loss.

"We certainly miss it, that's for sure," Tanner told The Project.

"When Bunnings left it obviously left a big hole in the community. It was our only timber and hardware store in the town."

The stores flagged to be closed are Ashburton, Cambridge, Rangiora, Te Awamutu, Putaruru, Hornby and Hastings. Although the company signalled they would be shutting them down three weeks ago, it only confirmed the closures on Wednesday. 

Bunnings closed its stores in Te Aroha, Waikenae and Paeroa last year.

Kirsten Miller, an organiser with First Union, told The Project it's been "pretty awful" for staff.

"We had one member who had been at the Paeroa store, he was deployed to the Te Aroha store only to then go through the same process again. Even when people are being redeployed, does that mean their future is secure at Bunnings?" she said.

Bunnings said workers from the seven stores would be redeployed "where practical" or will receive redundancy packages based on how long they had been with the company.

Tanner said in Te Aroha there had been a flow-on effect from the closure.

"It has quite an impact because it's not just the people that lose their jobs, whether that's a husband or wife or whoever's working there, but the whole family's affected. So potentially if they have to leave town and move to another area they could be taking kids out of schools," he said.

"The impacts are far and wide." 

Tanner's advice to the mayors of those towns affected was to "try stay positive". In the case of Te Aroha, he said he couldn't understand why the store was closing.

"I talked to the staff members that were involved at Bunnings, because obviously I used to go in there all the time in the weekends, and it's hard. I still think there's a definite need, builders are telling me that they need something like that. I've never been in the store when it's been quiet so I don't know. There's so many unanswered questions and maybe there's a bigger picture to it."

In a statement to Newshub, Bunnings said the decision to close the seven stores was largely due to a lack of business throughout the COVID-19 lockdown period.

Jacqui Coombes, Bunnings New Zealand director, said the current COVID-19 conditions led to the "incredibly difficult" decision which hopes to ensure the long-term viability and performance of the business and its 4500 team members.