The weather may have been appalling this year but it doesn’t seem to have dampened the spirits of the garden product manufacturers exhibiting at Glee last month. Many reported bumper sales and expanding customer bases and it’s all down to product development, a sharper focus on customer service and a willingness to explore new markets.

Forest Garden, for example, launched its Accessible Gardening range during the show. "The range has been specifically created to promote gardening for less able gardeners, from wheelchair users to those who have trouble bending, or simply need to sit down when working in the garden," said Vicky Nuttall, Forest Garden’s head of marketing.

The 16-strong collection, which includes existing products such as the kitchen garden trough and the Caledonian raised beds, will feature a new range of wheelchair accessible tables, as well as a selection of mini garden troughs.

Each product within the range will be available for home delivery and supported by Forest’s newly introduced assembly service.

Forest Garden developed the range in partnership with Thrive, a charity that helps people with physical or mental health issues through gardening and horticultural therapy. A donation of 2.5% of the net value of each sale within the range will be donated to Thrive.

While the range affords the company the opportunity to give something back, there is a strong commercial rationale behind its development – and one that it is sure its ‘grey pound’ targeting garden centre customers will appreciate in particular.

"This range gives them a unique opportunity to maximise sales within their key demographic," said Ms Nuttall, adding that Forest would encourage garden centres to dedicate areas to Accessible Gardening products, with Forest and Thrive co-branded point of sales and merchandising displays.

Other new products for 2013 include a lockable drop box and store, which offers secure storage for home deliveries, and which was named a Glee "top pick" during the show; a foldaway potting bench; a log bunker with a removable front panel and lid; and, because "us Brits love to barbecue in the rain", a barbecue shelter.

Forest has also introduced new display and merchandising solutions including "fork lift-friendly" pre-stocked stands of its most popular lines. "Retailers don’t necessarily have the staff to stock them so we provide them preloaded," said Ms Nuttall.

M&M Timber has also launched its own merchandising units and had a second dedicated stand at Glee to promote them.

The promotional display and staging units are pressure treated and include benching for plants, trellis panels and dividers, product display tables and hanging basket ‘trees’. They are available in standard layouts and M&M Timber can also offer a bespoke design service and installation. The units have already proved popular, with one of the country’s leading garden centres, Webbs of Wychbold, ordering 350, according to managing director Nigel Poyner.

Looking ahead
The company’s 29-strong Gardeners’ Choice 2013 range was promoted on its main stand, but M&M is already looking to 2014 and beyond. "We excel at bespoke products and we want to come up with some new design-led concepts that meet changing buying patterns," said Mr Poyner. Pergolas could be developed into carports, for example, and he noted an interest in the company’s Hillhout Outdoor Living modules range from kitchen and bathroom designers.

Grange Fencing introduced its "pallendised" merchandising solution a couple of years ago and, according to marketing manager Beverley Main, it’s been a tremendous success. "Our customers can see exactly what the footprint is and how it will look in their store, plus it has all the point of sale information already on it."

Customer service is paramount with Grange Fencing and the big news this year is that it’s taken that a stage further by tackling the issue of early fence post failure and fully committing to incising.

Working in partnership with James Jones & Sons, whose incising machinery was commissioned just a few months ago, Grange will de-list its existing fence post range, aiming to let stocks run out by the end of November. "We’ll be absolutely ready [with incised posts] for next year," said managing director Duncan Hill.

"We will have dual labelling and point of sale with James Jones and there’ll be one message across the whole estate – we’re not prepared to sell something sub-standard. The product will be about 10% more expensive, but so far nobody has baulked at that.

"The country’s biggest fencing producer going the whole hog is a big story but it is the responsible and professional thing to do," he added. "People want their fences to last, particularly when they’re not moving house so often.

"Built to last" could easily be the mantra of Hutton, the garden products arm of Severn Valley Woodworks, which says that people "often judge the quality by the weight".

They could also judge by the size of Hutton’s stand this year, which was characteristically substantial. "We’ve increased our stand size year-on-year as our range has expanded," said director David Twigg, who reported a record year, with sales up by 10%.

Handcrafted furniture
The company moved into the garden furniture market with its sturdy and price-competitive Dean range and then introduced the more refined, but still robust Cotswold collection. This handcrafted furniture has some new additions for 2013 – 5ft and 6ft benches, a single seat, a companion seat and a table.

Other new products include a log store and a Dean coffee table. "We realised no-one else was making outdoor coffee tables," said Mr Twigg. "We’re selling it to garden centres and see it as a 1,000-plus units per year product."

The company is now marketing its products through timber merchants who are looking to add new revenue streams to their business. Both merchant and manufacturer will benefit, said Mr Twigg. "They’ll get additional sales and their margin expectations are much more realistic than those of the retail markets."

Two returnees to Glee were also looking to raise their profile and increase sales. Zest for Leisure was back at the show after an absence of about five years, as was Rowlinson Timber Products. "We recently took on a national sales force and are really attacking the market now," said Steve Morgan, managing director of Zest for Leisure’s parent company P&A Fencing, adding that garden centres, retail groups and independent merchants were all routes to market.

The company has invested heavily in expanding its manufacturing facilities, including for garden products, and is looking to boost sales. "Last year P&A more than doubled its turnover," said Mr Morgan. "It’s touching £6m this year – with Zest for Leisure accounting for £2m – and we have a target of £8m."

The company’s grow-your-own range is performing well, he reported, and its arbour business is very good. "Our Dorset arbour is new for next season and is incredible value," said Mr Morgan. "It retails for under £200 and still gives the retailer an excellent margin – more than 40%."

Jimmy Rowlinson of Rowlinson Timber Products also felt the time was right to "show our presence more" although he expressed a view that combining Glee with the Summer Outdoor Living Exhibition (Solex), which is moving from Telford to the NEC, would be beneficial for the sector.

"Glee has slimmed down but it’s still a pretty good show and we’ve seen all the major people," he said.

New products for 2013 include a barrel planter, a corner tier planter and a potting station, while existing products attracting visitor interest included the stylish Connor Cabin.

Graham Vernon, managing director of garden building specialist TGB Sheds, was in buoyant mood at the show thanks in no small part to another year of strong sales.

The company bought rival manufacturer Shedlands in February and the takeover has helped boost sales. "Every month has been a year-on-year record," said Mr Vernon. "August’s figures were up 40% on August 2011, from £520,00 to £800,000.

"Our turnover to June this year was £6.2m and we’ll hit £7.5m, which is a big increase on last year," he said, adding that new customers were accounting for the growth.

TGB Sheds is famous for its enormous range of garden buildings – which just got a little bigger. New products for 2013 include the Sun Room, a contemporary garden room supplied with toughened glass but with the internal joinery to cater for double-glazing and insulation/heating. Sunningdale, a more modest version of the Sun Room, has a trade price tag to match – £549+VAT.

TGB’s products are pre-treated but a spray shop has now been set up and painted options will be available for the next season.

Composite products
One exhibitor claiming its products need no treatment – or indeed, maintenance – was first-time exhibitor Timco. Its composite decking product comprises 60% woodchip and 40% recycled plastic bottles and requires no treatment or coating – "just a wash down".

"It bleaches about 10% in the first three months and then there is no further discolouration," said Timco’s Martin Williamson.

The anti-slip decking is available in four colours and is fixed by concealed stainless steel clips "so you can take it with you when you move, if you like".

Timco also makes a fence panel that slots into a concrete post, cladding and balustrades, all of which are manufactured at the company’s own factory in Shanghai (which has FSC chain of custody) and shipped to its distribution centre in Welwyn Garden City.

The route to market is via the large sheds, builders merchants and online retailers and Mr Williamson said Timco is making some inroads into traditional timber markets. "We can’t compete with timber on price yet – we’re close to the price for hardwood and getting closer to softwood and this will come as demand increases."

And demand is on the up, he added. "Alan Titchmarsh used some on television a few months ago and it resulted in a spike in sales."