Retailers speaking at the Glee trade show (15-17 September) have confirmed a strong middle and end to the season, which led to increased activity at this year's event. The exhibition was smaller than in 2013 but the promise of a new venue, along the corridor in the atrium at the Birmingham NEC, re-energised the show, according to director Matt Mein.
Meanwhile, the NEC show was buoyed by retailer and supplier optimism after 50 per cent sales declines in March and April were brought back to +3 to +4 per cent year-to-date sales increases during the hot summer.
Mein says the new atrium was more attractive to growers, the show was used by new buyers from Next, Amazon, Morrisons and QVC and he wants the likes of Hozelock, Sinclair, Bord na Mona, Fiskars and STV back. Exhibitor numbers were slightly down at 480, including shared stands. Sunday opening is likely to happen again despite a quiet return to starting at the weekend this year.
Glee "speed dating" with buyers will extend to three days in 2014. Decco supplier relations manager Neil Fishlock and Wilkinson garden buyer Simon Moore were among those who welcomed the "long overdue" meet-the-buyer events, which gave them the chance to meet smaller companies.
Some Glee visitors are expecting a better 2014 after the economic upturn. Garden Centre Association interim chief executive Iain Wylie says: "At Glee, you wouldn't know it has been almost as bad a year as last year. A lot of people feel the economy has turned the corner. Given reasonable weather next year, it should be a better year."
Baytree Garden Centre owner Reinhard Biehler says sales are three per cent up on 2012, while Hillier managing director Andy McIndoe says sales are slightly up on last year but below forecasts. Webbs chairman Ed Webb says September saw double-digit growth and he is up on the year by a "good percentage". Martin Breddy, general manager at Scotts, a Key Glee exhibitor, says the company is four per cent up on 2012. "We're pleased with the season in the end," he adds.
Breddy points out that the launch of Flower Magic added £3m to sales but the promotion of new categories like that needs to be kept up because gift and catering companies, for instance, are unlikely to promote their products to drive footfall to garden centres as much.
While there was no blockbuster product launched at the show, like last year's Flower Magic, plenty of developments in that category were on display. Westland's Gro-Sure Planting Magic "signals a groundbreaking milestone for the industry through the creation of a brand new £5m category that sits between growing media and plant food", according to the company.
Easy Wildflowers, from Westland's Nature's Haven brand, is an all-in-one wild flower seed mix and granular compost feed aimed at attracting pollinators. Elsewhere in seeds, Mr Fothergill's Seed Cubes, launched to the trade in June, have earned twice as many orders than initially forecast, prompting the company to produce another print run of the packaging. Cost is £2.99 or two for £5. The cubes are colour themed.
Suttons launched Floral Fusions, easy-to-grow quick-flowering seed mixes in six varieties, at £5.99 per shaker. Each shaker covers 7sq m. The company also launched its Microgreens "indoor allotment" in eight varieties, at £3.99 each.
While sweet peas were the most promoted flower seeds in 2013, poppies will be the big flower for 2014 with commemorations marking the centenary of the start of World War One.
Rebranding was another theme at Glee, with Westland dropping West+ in favour of Gro Sure, trying to sell the benefits rather than the technology, and Scotts extending Miracle-Gro. The loss of neonicotinoids has prompted some rebranding. Although no Scotts product has been affected, Breddy says the withdrawal of the chemical, linked to bee death, has damaged overall consumer confidence in garden pest killers.
Bird food again got tighter as a market, with Westland's 2012 purchase of Cranswick designed to give the company traction in the £200m sector. Market analyst GfK indicates a three-to-four per cent sales rise in 2013.
This led to a debate about the rapidly evolving world of distribution to garden centres, with key suppliers Solus and Gardman having bird food as the cornerstone of their offering. The Garden Centre Group, for instance, wants to use two central distribution hubs and a third-party distributor rather than relying on companies to deliver.
Defending market share
Gardman's new chief executive officer Stewart Hainsworth and commercial director Justin Young say the firm is "defending" its bird care market share and has dropped 53 prices in the face of opposition from Solus and Westland, which bought Cranswick in April 2012.
They saw growth in the market in 2014 because of the improved economy. They add that product availability is well up into the "high nineties" after some retailers voiced concerns about supply at Glee. But Gardman, which has a new focus on sharp pricing and promotions, says autumn promotions sold faster than expected.
The supply-chain issues are just a consequence of the "crystal ball" season, says Wylie. Garden retailers complained about running out of stock when the season took off this summer, but Wylie says: "It was a bad year last year and the start of this year, and you can understand retailers' caution about ordering. It's been a crystal ball season and you can't expect suppliers to hold what they'd call excessive stock on a speculative basis."
Hillier buyer Graham Tarrant adds: "There's been a lot of supply issues this year. When the sun came out the supply chain was not ready to deal with it." Solus says it was aware of the supply issues this summer. Stax and Decco were also at Glee. Both companies are stepping up their presence in the garden centre wholesale market.
Among other sectors, catering was well to the fore at Glee. Catering Projects was running at 25 serious enquiries a day for new garden centre kitchen operations. The show's Food & Catering Zone gave retailers ideas about how to improve their food offer through adding inspiration, choosing the right equipment and getting planning permission through experts such as Pleydell Smithyman and Malcolm Scott Consultants.
Wylie says: "Catering has been the saviour in the bad times but countering that, when everyone was buying furniture and plants in July and August, catering wasn't as popular."
Meanwhile, garden product specialist Smart Solar, launched more than 50 new products and 100 promotions as it celebrated its 10th anniversary at Glee. Also on show were garden products from Greentree and Haxnicks, part of the Smart Solar product range since Glee 2012. New majority owner Paris Natar was on the stand promoting the products, including Metal Silhouette Globe Stake Lights and Ceramic Bird Wind Chime Lights.
Bosmere promoted Storm Black chic garden furniture covers at Glee among more than 150 new products that featured propagation as a big new product area for the company.
Lechuza, which makes self-watering planters and pots, revealed new additions for 2014. Having traded in the European market since 2000, it exhibited at Glee for the first time last year and announced its UK launch this April. The German firm's products have sub-irrigation systems that provide plants with the exact amount of water they need for optimum growth for up to 12 weeks.
The brand offers three main styles - high gloss Premium, matte finish Trend and wicker-like Cottage. New for 2014 are Balconera Color balcony pots in five new colours with a smooth finish, the spherical Puro, a new addition in the wicker style offerings of the Cottage range, the Mini Deltini version of the four-sided Delta table planter in new pastel colours and two new colours in the Premium range for smaller indoor planters.
One of the celebrities attending the show was Countryfile's Adam Henson, launching the Johnsons Lawn Seed Adam Henson range. He is backing three conservation grass mixes - Butterflies & Bees Welcome, Birds Welcome and Wildlife Welcome. DLF Trifolium/Johnson also launched award-winning Grass Graffiti, an organic liquid chalk spray can that washes off with a hose or in the rain. In 2013, according to GfK, lawn seed has seen a poorer performance, falling 13 per cent in the first half of the year after early cold weather.
Briers teamed up with HemingwayDesign to launch designs for the gardening gloves and footwear brand. These include Pop Splash, Grid, Tulips and Typo options.
Town & Country has seen centres such as Van Hage increase sales by 327 per cent and Yarnton by 251 per cent over the past year and is now running a 24/48-hour delivery service, with this immediate stock replenishment shown to increase sales by as much as 100 per cent. Online sales can also benefit rather than threaten retailers, says chief executive Barry Page, who gives a percentage of online sales to the nearest stockist based in the postcode or a garden centre nominated by the purchaser.
Page says products aimed at women - who make up 70 per cent of customers - continue to be a focus, with Chameleon see-through boots, Bardon high-gloss PVC boots, pink G&T gloves and more new designs for clogs and gloves for 2014.
Glee product award winners
- Catering & Speciality Food Chocolate Slabs, by Bon Bon's (Wholesale).
- Garden Care Rainwater Terrace, by Design 4 Plastics.
- Garden Leisure Grass Graffiti, by Johnsons Lawn Seed (DLF Trifolium). Highly commended: Metal Silhouette Peacock, by Smart Solar.
- Garden Machinery The Handy Folding Garden Trolley, by Handy Distribution. Highly commended: Flymo Ultraglide, by Husqvarna UK.
- Home, Gift & Clothing RHS Endorsed Garden Gifts, by Burgon & Ball. Highly commended: Profession'elle ladies gloves, by Briers.
- Landscaping & Garden Design Nash Storage Chest and Nash Garden Workstation, by M&M Timber. Highly commended: Bloom Glasshouses, by Rhino Greenhouses.
- Pet Ultra Plush Snuggle Bed, by Westwoods Global. Highly commended: Pixie Piggie House, by Cheeky Chicks.
- Retail Support Beehive 3D point of sale, by Floramedia UK.
- Nursery and Planteria Culinary Herb Collection, by Gardeners Kitchen. Highly commended: Miltonia Candida x Binottii hybrid orchid, by Javado UK.
- Best of British RHS Endorsed Garden Gifts, by Burgon & Ball. Highly commended: Rainwater Terrace, by Design 4 Plastics.
- Green Award Biostretch, by Biostretch.com. Highly commended: All-in-one Propagator and Pot, by Ashortwalk.