We visited a brand new flagship Builders store – with 3D printers and a whole department just to cut stuff you need cut

Business Insider SA
Builders, Builders Warehouse

  • Builders has a brand new flagship store in Boksburg, right next to a 17-year-old one it admits is no longer great.
  • Features include digital technology everywhere, allowing you to pay for stuff to be delivered without queuing for a till, and to browse and order online right inside the store.
  • There's also a whole 3D printing booth.
  • But it is low-tech stuff – like making it easy to get wood and metal cut – that's really exciting.
  • For more stories, go to Business Insider SA.

Builders, the chain for both DIY enthusiasts and building contractors, has a brand new store in Boksburg outside Johannesburg – and this time, it says, it has fixed many of the problems that annoy both kinds of customers.

The purpose-built cavernous warehouse is right next door to a 17-year-old store that epitomises one of the main gripes of contractors: a small yard where it is hard to load bulk materials such as sand and bricks, while every minute they're waiting costs them money.

The new store, Builders says, has a materials yard designed to get contractors in, loaded up, and out again as fast as possible.

See also: We got a sneak peek of French hardware store Leroy Merlin about to open in Joburg – and Builders Warehouse should be worried

For home owners, some of the biggest gripes include the seeming perpetual inability of Builders staff to conveniently manage something as simple as cutting a long length of wood into two or more shorter lengths of wood that can be easily transported and used.

This problem too, the chain's management says, is now licked, and the solution to that and other issues will be gradually rolled out to other stores in coming months.

We visited the new flagship Builders in Boksburg to see what the group calls the future of its retail offering – here is what we found.

'Smart home' technology is front-and-centre as soon as you walk in.

Builders smart home

Or, more accurately, immediately to the left of the entrance, where a big kiosk with various subdivisions invites you to make your home clever. It includes sections featuring everything from the popular internet-connected Ring security system...

Builders Ring security

... to a high-tech, supposedly foolproof gardening solution.

Builders food technology

The in-your-face high-tech theme is even more evident at the 3D printing booth slightly deeper into the store.

3D printing in action

While the lineup of 3D printing machines available to do your bidding is impressive, Builders management is not entirely clear on what you'll want to use it for. The purpose that springs to mind for the group's CEO Llewellyn Walters is a new handle for a treasured heirloom knife, perhaps – as long as that doesn't break any design restrictions.

Builders 3D printing rules

The product samples on display, meanwhile, is a bunch of... stuff.

3D printed objects

Other tech includes touch screens throughout the store where you can browse and order online...

Builders touch screen

... staff versions of the same thing – with integrated credit-card readers so you can pay right there on the floor and have your patio furniture delivered without going past a till... 

Builders blade device

... and a station where you can have a sample of your pool water analysed.

Builders pool water analysis

A much more pedestrian innovation is likely to be more exciting for regular DIY customers: a better way to get stuff cut.

Builders cut shop

CEO Walters acknowledges what every long-term Builders customer knows: having anything cut to length is somewhere between a pain and impossible. Between surly staff without the right equipment to long queues, Builders is notorious for the trouble that comes with trying to buy anything that isn't in the right size to being with.

Or, as Walters puts it, the company "struggled" with a "fairly customer-unfriendly process".

At the new store, cutting is supposed to be a one-stop process. The cutting booth – with the necessary cutting tools and staff that know how to use them – has much of the chains and pipes and cables you may need lengths of right there behind the counter.

Builders cut shop behind the scenes

For things such as angle iron and board, Builders tell us, you can put in your order at the Cut Shop too. Those will be sliced up in a machine room closer to the yard, where such bulky items are kept, and should be waiting when you arrive with your vehicle.

In some respects, though, Builders is still, well, Builders.

Builders clothing

The Boksburg store features a large selection of workwear, a category Builders says is increasingly important. You'll find jeans in two different colours (not counting those with added reflected stripes), and cargo pants, on top of the more usual working uniforms.

You will also find a grand total of one fitting room in which to try on those pants.

Builders fitting room

The booth has a mirror, but nothing resembling a bench or a chair, in case you should be wearing shoes and need to take those off before you try on a pair of pants.

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