Fears that poor summer weather might dent garden product sales have proved largely unfounded. The major retailers report healthy and sustained sales of garden products since Easter, with the most recent August bank holiday a particularly strong selling period.

A spokesperson for B&Q said the company’s range of decking products and wooden furniture had enjoyed a healthy level of sales and that ‘this had been a growth area for the last five years’. Decking had performed particularly strongly since around Easter and throughout the summer, she added.

One leading supplier of garden products acknowledged that business had been ‘slightly ahead of budget’ in the summer, but added that the ground lost to bad weather at the start of this year was unlikely to be recovered.

Reasonable summer weather has ensured bumper decking sales, not only into the domestic market but also into the commercial property sector. The Timber Decking Association (TDA) believes the UK market alone could top £100m this year compared with between £60-75m in 2000 and less than £5m in 1997. TDA spokesperson Steve Young said: ‘Everyone is saying what a fantastic year it has been. Up until mid-March business was just ticking over, but the momentum has picked up from Easter onwards and manufacturers are now flat out.’

Decking has emerged so strongly that an increasing number of developers are incorporating it into initial housing designs. There is also a trend towards making decking the basis of a so-called ‘lifestyle statement’, such as in the creation of an outdoor hot tub area.

In terms of the timbers used in decking, home-grown, northern European and North American species are providing the bulk of the material, although there is some evidence of hardwoods such as West African iroko.

New schemes

The success of decking in the UK has encouraged a plethora of firms – some highly professional but others perhaps less so – to jump on the manufacturing bandwagon. In response, the TDA is looking to bolster customer confidence by launching two schemes. Later this month, the association will officially unveil a warranty scheme run through an independent insurance company that will provide the consumer with ‘the assurance of knowing that the warranty is underwritten’, for instance, in cases where the decking provider goes out of business. The second scheme, due for launch in October, is an independent arbitration service for settling disputes between customers and TDA members.

Among the well-known industry names to have invested heavily in timber decking production is BSW Timber. The company launched longer length 4.2m and 4.8m decking boards this year and has seen particularly strong demand for the latter from builders.

Overall, BSW Timber reckons decking sales this year have thus far been in line with projections despite the poor weather in the UK during the first quarter. Business has remained strong into September, fuelling hopes that decking may develop an all-year appeal. Sales of BSW Timber’s balustrading product are running four times ahead of expectations – indicating that customers ‘are not tending to lay just a simple deck’.

For Howarth Timber Importers, the success of its decking range has been such that a triple shift at its New Holland plant is to be maintained throughout the winter, said decking business manager Terry Blackwood. ‘The summer has been fabulous – we have been working at full capacity.’ The company would meet its target of producing 3 million metres this year – more than double the total for 2000.

The company is also due to add another product to its decking portfolio at a garden and leisure exhibition in Birmingham this month. TimberTech comprises 60% wood and 40% polymer ‘to combine the benefits and the look of wood with the added strenths of polymer’, said Mr Blackwood.

Sophisticated market

Decking trends noted within the timber trade include a move away from decking tiles towards longer lengths and a willingness among an increasingly sophisticated and knowledgeable customer base to pay a premium for higher-quality products. One company supplying merchants and installers pointed to ‘a definite growth in sales of smooth rather than grooved boards’, not least because there is more choice available.

Turning to other garden products, a spokesperson for a company supplying the major DIY retailers reported ever stronger growth in demand for timber sheds over the past five years. ‘There is now much greater ownership of barbecue sets and garden furniture, and people need somewhere to keep them,’ he said.