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More stores seen as the key to new Farmers era

By Graeme Kennedy

Friday 13th October 2000

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Wayne Walden
The Farmers retail chain is expected to expand business 27% and lift sales about $150 million annually within four years as the benefits from outgoing chief executive Wayne Walden's seven-year rebuilding programme are realised.

Mr Walden, who is also Northland's biggest meat producer, has left to spend more time on his 8000 acre property near Kaiwaka.

He will be replaced on Monday as Farmers Deka chief executive by former Pacific Retail Group chief executive Nick Lowe.

Mr Walden said most growth would come from new space in Westfield shopping malls although other locations would be opened or refurbished and expanded to give Farmers 27% more retail area.

"This is huge expansion," Mr Walden said. "But you can't get growth without opening new stores.

"The key to this business is having infrastructure in place and developing more square footage and these increases will have a huge impact on Farmers' business."

Farmers Deka has had a decrease in square footage over the past four years due mainly to the closure of some Deka stores.

Farmers alone increased 5% at its 65 stores to 1.6 million sq ft - compared to more than three million for The Warehouse.

Mr Walden said the lack of new stores had kept Farmers' profit flat and while apparel sales had been good, big-ticket items such as furniture had shown little growth.

"Size limits what can be shown and you can't really show good furniture ranges in a 40,000 sq ft store," he said.

"In the appliance area we perhaps have not been as aggressive as we could have been - and we haven't been in the high-growth markets of computers and communications such as mobile phones."

New chief executive Mr Lowe is a veteran of appliance retailing who is likely to pay attention to that category .

Mr Walden was one of a group of Lion Nathan executives who amalgamated the company's Mark II, Big City Stores and Maxi Mart outlets as Deka in a management and Maori Development Corporation buy-out in 1990.

The group bought struggling Farmers, in statutory management and owned by 13 banks, the same year.

In 1993 the group sold the package to Perth-based Foodland Associated, with Mr Walden staying on as chief executive. "The Farmers stores were too small and out-dated, the merchandise was not contemporary and by trying to be everything to everyone they were giving the public a confused picture," he said.

Meanwhile, Mr Walden said he would take a break from the commercial world. He plans to begin attending to several private interests as well as his farm and new position as a member of the Meat Board.

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