¦ Exhibitor and visitor numbers were up at Glee.
¦ The grow your own trend continues.
¦ Some manufacturers are refocusing on fencing.
¦ Pressure-treated timber is becoming more prevalent.

Last month’s Glee provided ample proof that the garden products industry is in good shape and looking forward to a strong season next year. And with timber scoring highly in Glee’s New Product Awards, the future’s looking rosy for timber garden product manufacturers.

Numbers were up across the board at the show, held at the NEC from September 20-22. Exhibitor numbers were slightly above last year’s at 651 and exhibition space was up 9%. The biggest jump was the number of merchants and DIY businesses visiting the show – up 20%. B&Q alone sent 20 buyers, while Travis Perkins and Buildbase also attended. The number of visiting buyers and garden centre managers were both up by 8%, while there was a 7% increase in visitors from department stores, such as John Lewis.

According to a spokesperson for the show organisers, the numbers are an indication that “the market is turning around for what is already an optimistic industry. It shows that, regardless of economic conditions, people always want to improve their gardens”.

Common themes

The big guns of the timber garden products sector were out in force and promoting common themes – an emphasis on UK manufacture, an increase in the proportion of pressure-treated timber and extra help for stockists.

On the product front, while the grow your own (GYO) trend is still booming, several manufacturers are turning their focus to fencing.

Forest Garden is a prime example of all of the above. Its GYO range has performed strongly this year both in terms of sales and industry recognition – its mini-greenhouse was a finalist in the Garden Industry Manufacturers Association Awards (GIMA) in July.

According to head of marketing Vicky Nuttall, the company is focused on using its considerable in-house sawmilling capacity and promoting the grown and made in Britain message. It has turned its attention to “more trade-based” fence panels: high-spec Super Lap shiplap panels, heavy-duty Contractor featheredge and pressure-treated featheredge are the new trade fencing offering, while Finedon, Bradville and Europe Domed screens are added to the decorative range. Forest’s trellis and lattice range has also been refreshed and extended.

Garden buildings are also selling well and Forest has some new additions, from children’s playhouses through sheds and summerhouses to top drawer log cabins.

Product innovation apart, Forest has initiatives in place – including on pricing – to help stockists sell more. “In all our ranges there are products that are mid-priced, so there is still the possibility of a trade-up, but with less of a jump,” said Ms Nuttall.

Forest is also spearheading a “National Tidy Your Garden Weekend”?on October 23 & 24, designed to drive more late season sales.

Grange Fencing has also geared up to help its distributors. Its stand demonstrated the company’s new end-to-end pallendised solutions, each of which comes with its own slot-in point of sale information. “The stockist can see for himself what the footprint is and how it will fit into his space,” said marketing manager Beverley Main.

The company has introduced six “traditional” products to its GYO range, including a herb wheel and corner planter, and has a launched new range of products available ready coloured for home delivery.

UK production is also an important message and Grange is celebrating its first anniversary of ownership of the Metpost brand with 40% of the product now being made here.

M&M Timber’s British timber and manufacture credentials are well documented and the company also has the sole UK distribution rights for the Dutch Outdoor Life Group of products, including Hillhout, with the two brands fully integrated on M&M’s stand. “It provides a one-stop shop for visitors,” said managing director Nigel Poyner.

“We’ve made some tweaks to products, such as the veggie beds and troughs, and are relaunching the LogMagic range [engineered timber kits that slot together] but Hillhout has such a fantastic range that we now want to consolidate it.”

Garden centre business

Business has been buoyant for M&M, which has increased its garden centre business by 60% over the last year. The GYO and animal housing ranges have been particularly strong – the company’s premium poultry ark was a GIMA award winner this summer.

“We’re now taking the bull by the horns and fixing prices until August 2011,” said Mr Poyner.

Hutton, the garden products arm of Severn Valley Woodworks, is looking forward to a fence panel induced sales boost. “We introduce new products every year which always generates around 15% more sales and the big news for us this year is the launch of Hutton fence panels,” said director David Twigg.

UK-made and pressure-treated, the range includes TGV, shiplap, featheredge and waney edge and, like other Hutton products, is very robust, with framing up to a substantial 45mm. A range of chunky diamond and square trellis panels complements the fencing. The trellis is also integral to the new Avon corner arbour, which has an in-built table and seating for four.

“We’ve developed the fence panels by listening to what customers want,” said Mr Twigg, adding that it’s a simple business principle that has led to healthy sales of the company’s traditional garden furniture and turnover being 20% ahead of budget.

Timber merchant and importer North Yorkshire Timber has entered the garden products market and was demonstrating its “bench2table”, a two-seater bench that transforms into a four-seater table.

Manufactured from clear treated redwood, the bench2table is available in three widths and is delivered part assembled for the customer.

“We’ve gone into garden products in order to make use of our huge fabrication and distribution centre at Catterick,” said marketing manager Christian Walker. “We started selling [the bench2table] to independent garden centres in the north of England in the spring and want to expand that next year.”

Award winner

Mercia Garden Products is also hot on innovation. Exhibiting at the show for the third consecutive year, the manufacturer was celebrating winning the Garden Design category of the Glee New Product Awards for its “crooked potting playhouse”.

“The standard Wendy house is still popular but we thought we’d introduce something different,” said managing director Terry Waldron. The playhouse in question incorporates a mini potting shed, encouraging the GYO trend in children. “As well as encouraging young people into gardening, it could also lead to the sale of more plants,” said judge David Curtis, editor of The Landscaper.

Mercia’s flair for design is also evident in its new range of summerhouses, which includes “a pool-side villa”. Greenhouses and sheds are also part of the mix.

“We’re rebranding and increasing our profile this year and intend expanding into the independent trade market,” said Mr Waldron. Currently around 50% of business is direct from internet to customer, while timber and builders merchants, garden centres and DIY sheds make up the balance.

Another Glee New Product Award winner, was Swallow GB Ltd’s traditional greenhouse.

The delivery and installation price of £1,295 led the judges to phone the company to double-check the price before awarding the Garden Leisure category first prize. “The price includes details such as staging, auto openers, toughened glass with silicon bedding and very neat guttering, as well as delivery and erection on site anywhere in the country,” said category judge Richard Calder, managing director of the Daisy Nook Garden Centre. “For me it was definitely the best designed product in this category and highly desirable.”

Timber Garden Building’s (TGB) Sandringham summerhouse was also highly desirable, if the reaction of visitors to the stand was anything to go by. Complementing TGB’s comprehensive range of garden buildings, the 10x10ft Sandringham features a hipped roof and folding doors that open across the width of the structure. Its sturdy construction – 3x2in framing and double-glazing – enable it to cross over from a garden leisure building to garden office.

Glee was a “fantastically busy” show for TGB, according to managing director Graham Vernon, who added that the company’s business as a whole was 20% up on last year.

Many exhibitors promoted decking on their stands, but for Woodlink UK it was decking with a difference. The company used Glee as the platform to launch Lyptus decking, manufactured from Weyerhaeuser’s Brazilian-grown Lyptus lumber. The eucalyptus decking compares well with tropical species and can resemble cherry with its natural finish and walnut when oiled.

“It attracted a lot of interest from merchants and distributors, with feedback being that, as a certified product with guaranteed supply, it would help them overcome a number of current supply challenges,” said Woodlink UK partner Cyril Williams. “We also attracted a lot of interest from garden designers.”

The PEFC-certified hardwood is available as a reeded decking profile with a smooth reverse and has achieved Durability Class 3.

Colours and coatings

Improving timber’s durability and good looks is at the heart of Cuprinol’s business and its busy stand showcased five new colours for its Shades range, sales of which are increasing 30% every year, according to the company’s Marina Poza.

Sales of decking-relating products have increased by 20% year on year, she added, with Cuprinol’s decking Powerpad applicator performing particularly well.

Cuprinol has been encouraging its customers to unlock additional woodcare sales potential by using its products to paint or stain display areas and by “placing the product by the substrate”. “This has led to huge incremental sales,” said Ms Poza.