• Severn Valley Woodworks was established in 1970.
• The Hutton business was bought in 2003.
• All the raised beds and planters are pressure treated to Hazard Class 4.
• Hutton products are FSC and PEFC certified.

If strength is in diversity then Gloucestershire-based Severn Valley Woodworks Ltd is in the heavyweight category.

Established in 1970, the one-time coffin maker successfully operated in the pallets and packaging sector for a period and became the exclusive supplier of timber dowels and plywood pads to British Coal.

These days both its product portfolio and its customer base have moved on, but diversity remains at the core of the business. Along with supplying machined and treated timber products to a range of customers, Severn Valley’s brands now include the Challow and Lingward crop drying and storage facilities for the agricultural sector, timber components for acoustic and earth retaining wall systems, and log cabins and oak-framed buildings for the leisure industry.

If that wasn’t enough, in 2003 the company dipped a first toe into the garden products sector with the purchase of Hutton Industrial Containers, now rebranded Hutton Garden & Landscaping Products, which, at the time, specialised in the supply of oak barrels and half oak barrels to the garden centre market.

“We saw Hutton as being a route into the garden centre trade for other products, such as picnic tables, benches, bird tables and feeders,” said managing director Simon Brown. “Since then we’ve grown the range, adding a couple of new products each year.”

In fact the now regular Glee exhibitor showcased five new products at last September’s event – a large circular picnic table, a rectangular A-frame picnic table, raised bed kits and rectangular and hexagonal planters.

The range, which still includes the oak barrels, is targeted at independent garden centres, farm shops and country stores, as well as at timber merchants. “Timber merchants are always looking to grow their own sales and this is a range they have some synergies with – it’s timber-based and captures a part of the market they haven’t been able to before,” said Mr Brown.

The company also manufactures decking – up to 26 different profiles – although this is marketed under the Severn Valley Woodworks brand rather than Hutton, reflecting a slightly different customer base of predominantly timber and builders merchants.

Hutton garden products are instantly recognisable by their robust, “no nonsense” build quality. For example, the aforementioned new picnic tables are constructed from 45mm softwood sections – making them suitable for commercial as well as domestic end uses. And all the raised beds and planters are pressure treated on site to Hazard Class 4 – “a real strategic decision” – giving them a guaranteed 15-year life expectancy.

“People say it’s good, ‘honest’ furniture,” said director David Twigg. “It’s very robust, heavy-duty material and while we’d be the first to admit that it’s not at the cutting edge of design, our products will still be giving good service life in someone’s garden in 20 years time.”

Other points in the Hutton’s favour, according to Mr Brown, are the fact it is FSC certified and that it’s British made. It’s also increasingly being made from British-grown timber, with the raised beds already being constructed from domestic material, while the furniture is made from kiln-dried joinery grade redwood.

The Hutton brand now accounts for around 10% of Severn Valley’s £9m turnover and it’s a percentage that’s likely to grow as brand awareness increases by what David Twigg refers to as an “evolutionary, rather than a revolutionary process”. “It takes time but we’re starting to see some of the rewards,” he said.

Indeed, business has been brisk since Glee and, according to Mr Twigg, the pre-season order value for the first quarter of 2010 is probably 100% higher than in any previous year.

And that’s certainly been reflected in increased activity in the machine shop where five agency staff had to be taken on to cope with demand in December. “I can’t ever remember taking on extra staff before Christmas,” said Mr Brown. “It’s purely because we’re busy.”

Fortunately the company’s impressive processing technology – which across two sites includes six moulding lines, six computerised cross-cuts, a K2 automated joinery machine and three treatment plants – means that it can keep up with the surge in demand. “We do set limitations that we feel are manageable within the diversity of the business, but because we’ve sold so much early there is more capacity there,” said Mr Brown.

Already representing “a serious chunk of business”, Hutton is now being primed for growth.

“We’ve limited our growth and therefore our dependency on certain business streams, but we believe we can grow Hutton a lot further over the next two or three years,” said Mr Twigg. “Our production guys have had the opportunity to look at reorganising and seeing how we can make that part of the business more efficient,” he added. “We’re only scratching the surface of the market.”

And the market is undoubtedly lucrative. “Every year we discuss which new products we’re going to introduce and since we’ve bought Hutton, every time we’ve brought a new range of products into the portfolio it generates about £100,000-worth of new business,” said Mr Brown.

A profile of Severn Valley Woodworks will appear in a forthcoming edition of TTJ.