This year’s Glee exhibitors reported a much more positive vibe among customers and attributed a bumper crop of sales leads to a growing confidence in the wider economy and – more importantly – riproaring summer weather.

Garden product manufacturers across the board have been capitalising on this optimism and have been proactive in terms of product development. And not without reward, either – M&M Timber scooped the Glee Landscaping & Design New Product Award for its Nash storage chest and Nash garden workstation.

"We liked the fact that M&M’s Nash storage chest and garden workstation are both strong retail products with practical, robust construction, an easy-clean recycled plastic top, attractive design and a competitive pricing point," said judge Katie Cleary.

They weren’t the only new products on M&M’s stand – which itself had a much more contemporary feel than in previous years. Also launched at the show was the company’s Patio Chef range of outdoor kitchen furniture. These MicroPro-treated units feature water-resistant, Ecosheet worktops made in the UK from recycled plastic bags.

"This show is like our Milan," said commercial director Andy Hodge. "It’s the start of the season and retailers need new ideas for stocking in January and February. The industry is changing and garden centres are now destination outlets. They are very competitive and are looking for a good return, so they need eye-catching products."

He cites a stylish new beer table with a Perspex top, which can be lit from the inside, as a prime example.

At the other end of the product spectrum, M&M’s timber display units have sold well. "They were launched last year as a sideline and we’ve sold hundreds," said Mr Hodge. "We’re now going to a seven-strong range."

M&M’s Agricised fence posts are also selling well, with several distributors and agricultural merchants buying in to the concept.

Forest Garden pulled the stops out, with all the products on the stand new for 2014.

The company rang the changes this year, moving from its usual spot at the entrance to Hall 4 into the centre of Hall 5, amidst the likes of Burgon & Ball and Town & Country.

Forest’s ‘lifestyle’ portfolio has been developed to an extent that it wanted to break out of the traditional landscaping mould a little.

"Fencing and sheds remain core products for us but this show is all about retail – products that can be stored inside the garden centre rather than outside in the yard," said head of marketing Vicky Nuttall. "We felt that Hall 5 is more representative of where we are as a business and of our offering for garden retailers."

New ranges include the Venetian pavilion and the Venetian corner arbour, featuring elegant slatted roofs and al fresco dining structures, including a striking pergola, retailing at just £420, and a dresser that can be used for food preparation or as a potting or work bench. A chunky refectory table is complemented by benches made from landscaping sleepers.

Forest’s Accessible gardening range has been bolstered and now includes a cold frame with an easy-grab handle and gas shock hinges for soft closing. And for young gardeners there is a new range of pre-painted junior planters.

"Gardening is now on the curriculum for Key Stage 1 and 2," said Ms Nuttall. "The planters are principally intended for domestic use but many garden centres work with schools, so they may filter through to that market too."

Presentation solutions
Forest has also focused on how products are presented in stores and part of its stand was devoted to "retail solutions". Key volume selling lines such as fencing, trellis and gates are now supported by new pallet POS, and four new merchandising stands are available. These are designed to be positioned in the core gardening section of the garden centre – rather than outside with all the hard landscaping products.

Grange Fencing occupied the former Forest site in Hall 4 and backed its claim of being "always in pole position" by displaying a Marussia F1 racing car centre stage. And if that wasn’t enough to draw the crowds, "Stig" was on hand to drum up more interest and attract visitors to the "Grange Paddock".

"We wanted to get the message across that our home deliveries are super fast," said managing director Duncan Hill. "We’re always in pole position, whatever the vehicle."

There was plenty to interest visitors once they got on the stand, with Grange introducing more new products than at previous shows.

These included the Rail Top, a contemporary take on the traditional trellis/fence combo, comprising a fence panel topped with a metal railing. Meanwhile, driveway and courtyard gates have been added to the Grange portfolio for the first time and the timber bridges have been beefed up and are now strong enough to walk on.

Another new departure is the new line of "log burners". These are sections of alder, bark on, with longitudinal incisions in the centre holding a wick. Available in two sizes and complete with a rope handle, they can be used indoors in a fireplace or freestanding outdoors or in a fire pit. They can also be used in barbecues but there is a barbecue-specific version, the "ecogrill", that Grange is billing as an environmentally-friendly alternative to the disposable barbecue – a market that’s worth £7m a year.

Another lucrative product sector is the bird care market and it’s one that Hutton, the garden products division of Severn Valley Woodworking, has tapped into.

"The RSPB sells a million units of bird care products a year," said director David Twigg. "We’ve launched four new bird tables this year and to say we’ve had interest in them would be a massive understatement. We already have a substantial order book for them from these last two days [at Glee]."

It adds, he said, a welcome pick-up in business when the traditional season for garden furniture winds up around the end of August.

Hutton’s stand was getting on for 20% bigger than last year’s, demonstrating the company’s growing confidence. "We’ve been going for 12 years now and have spent a lot of time and money building brand awareness," said Mr Twigg. "Visitors are aware of us now and so they come to the stand with a purpose."

Additions to Hutton’s heavy-duty range of furniture on display were a rocking chair and circular table and chairs, in the company’s premium Cotswold range, and a picnic table in the "economy" Dean range. A corner planter that is supplied in two sections, each of which can be sold separately, was also making its debut.

Like most garden product manufacturers, Hutton already has products in development for 2015. "We already have eight or nine picnic tables in the range but will add two or three more for 2015," said Mr Twigg.

"And we’ve been in discussion with [garden designer] David Domoney and are looking to collaborate with him on a range of branded products."

Hutton now markets its products through timber merchants, as well as garden centres and says "it’s a perfect marriage".

"Merchants are becoming more receptive," said Mr Twigg. "We’re already with the H&B buying group and Howarth Timber is stocking Hutton products.

"There is great synergy with the products they are already selling and we see years of continuous growth of Hutton products through merchants."

Zest for Leisure targets independent merchants, as well as garden centres and retail groups and, according to managing director Steve Morgan, has seen sales double this year on 2012’s performance – which itself saw a 100% increase on 2011.

"And sales are targeted to double again next year," said Mr Morgan.

Infrastructure and supply chain
He attributes the success not just to recruiting a national sales team in 2012 but also to "getting the right infrastructure, the right supply chain and the right retail price".

"Our success is down to having the right retail price and working back from there to make sure we have a good margin," he said.

Prices are competitive. The Dorset arbor bench, which was new for the 2013 season and is priced at £199 retail and £99 trade, doubled expected sales. On that back of that, three new archways retailing at under £100 have been launched. " The Lily double relax seat was also a top seller this season so we’ve added a rocker, a foot stool and a side table to the range," said Mr Morgan.

Another growth area is the company’s range of climbing plant supports, including hanging flower "bells". "And it’s all at the right price so the retailer can make a margin."

Third-time Glee exhibitor Byko’s message was that it was a "reliable supplier of quality fencing direct to the trade".

"Importers always look for the cheapest products and for seasonality, so we’ve changed our philosophy," said managing director Valts Kurpnieks. "We produce and keep a stock of ready-made products in order to go direct to the merchant and the garden centres."

The company is part of the Icelandic-owned Norvik Group, which has sawmills in Russia, Estonia and Latvia, producing timber for the group’s manufacturing facilities, as well as a range of timber and products including construction timber and battens, highspecification doors and windows and timber element houses. Byko’s fencing and garden products are now marketed in the UK through Nick Apperley at dp agency Ltd.

The UK is a key market for Byko which, as a result of its quality and service, is finding increasing demand every year, both for fencing and furniture. The company is also selling construction timber into the UK.

Products on display at Glee included a new coffee table – which will also be available in a dining table version – as well as the company’s range of continental fencing panels and pressure treated and painted cladding.

Regular exhibitor TGB Sheds was in fine fettle with standout products at the show including its contemporary Sun Room and its Combi-potting shed which, as its name suggests, combines a potting shed with a storage shed.

New for next season is an 8ft octagonal greenhouse. Featuring good roof height with plenty of modular staging, the greenhouse created a great deal of interest.

"We’ve displayed the standard prototype which is made out of pine," said managing director Graham Vernon. "But it will be manufactured in pressure-treated timber and we will probably extend the glazing to the bottom half of the structure to increase the light levels.

"We’ll probably then rebrand this [prototype] model as a potting shed. Another idea we have is to halve it and put half on the side of a shed."

TGB had another presence at the show in the shape of the Shedlands stand. The company bought out rival manufacturer Shedlands in February last year and has relaunched the brand with different components and materials in order to differentiate them from the TGB offering.