While some Karratha retail outlets are feeling the pinch, Kmart is expecting strong returns in the Pilbara after unveiling a multimillion-dollar store refit earlier this month.
The Pilbara store was chosen as one of the first outlets to be refitted under the retailer’s plan to upgrade its department stores across the country.
Kmart Karratha manager Chris Melton said this was partly because the store hadn’t had a major refit since it opened in 1986 and partly as recognition of the potential for growth in the region.
“They brought us forward on that list because of the amount of investment that is going into town and the Government’s commitment to increase the population with Royalties for Regions and the Pilbara Cities idea,” Melton said.
“So we wanted to give these customers a shopping experience equivalent to the big cities.”
Among changes made during the eight-week refit are cosmetic and convenience improvements, including increased lighting, new brighter paintwork and signage, wider aisles and more cash registers.
However, the store also has a new design layout, reflecting changing demographics in the town.
Melton said his store had noticed a trend away from fly-in, fly-out workers as more family friendly facilities, like the Karratha Leisurplex sports complex, have been built.
“Departments which haven’t traditionally been strong for us, such as Kidswear and Toys, are really picking up because there are a lot more families coming in,” he said.
“The outdoor and indoor living has also become very big due to all the new houses going up around Karratha and people looking to deck them out.”
But while some things change, others remain the same.
Camping and fishing are still big Pilbara sellers with the Karratha and Port Hedland stores soon to become the only Kmart outlets in Australia with fridges selling fishing bait.
And despite a series of busy periods throughout the year, including Christmas, back to school sales, the winter tourist season and even the tax return period, the Karratha store still relies on the resources companies.
“Certainly the two major mining players in Rio and Woodside, their pay days and the number of employees they have in town, not only affects our business but all businesses in town.”
Melton is also unfazed by the threat from online sales, despite Karratha retail shops, such as Collin Booksellers, recently closing their doors.
“With Kmart’s buying power we are basically just as cheap as any products online, and you don’t have to pay for the freight to bring it up because we cover that,” he said.
“I’d be surprised if the Karratha customer wouldn’t try us first before going online, especially over Christmas [where there can be delays in freighted items].”