Interview - Dan Thurlow, director, Glee

Glee could be more than 10 per cent bigger this year, says departing event director Dan Thurlow, who has witnessed a stream of rival trade shows set up in competition with what has traditionally been the biggest garden retail event of the year.

Thurlow has now won a promotion at Emap after seeing Glee through the most challenging time in its 35-year history. He and his team at the Emap-organised show - to be held at Birmingham NEC on 20-22 September - saw off a new direct competitor in Garden Expo, which was due to run last week at Stoneleigh. Organiser Clarion cancelled the event because of a lack of exhibitor interest.

Thurlow hopes this year's Glee will attract 800 exhibitors - up from 700 in 2009. Last year, Glee has also had to contend with a number of new niche shows such as the Pets & Aquatic Trade Show, which all launched last year.

None have been as big a problem as expected, claims Thurlow, who remains upbeat after a successful show in 2009 shrugged off the twin challenges of recession and stiffer competition.

Garden Expo failed because of a lack of "critical mass", says Thurlow. Shows need a certain scale or a point of difference before they are worth visiting, he believes. "There has to be a unique reason to go. You have to see something you can't see anywhere else."

This year the HTA lounge Glee will be missing, following the launch last month of the HTA's highly successful National Plant Show. It was developed, in part, in response to demand from growers increasingly dissatisfied with Glee. But Thurlow says he is unconcerned.

He adds that no exhibitor has said it would be at the Hard Landscape Show and not Glee, and that firms including Westland have asked for more space having earlier planned to show at Garden Expo. Spear & Jackson was booked for Garden Expo this year. Now it is back at Glee.

Solex, on 5-7 July, has been organised in response to criticism that Glee comes too late for garden centre buyers to make their purchasing decisions. But Thurlow argues this is less of an issue now because buyers are leaving ordering later and importers do not have ranges ready for July.

He adds that organiser - the Leisure & Outdoor Furniture Association - admits that Solex is a preview show and concedes that many buyers will wait until they have seen everything on the market, including what is at Glee, before making their buying decisions.

Glee has this year renamed its outdoor living section as "garden leisure" to highlight a broader range of suppliers. More than 60 brands have confirmed their attendance this year, including Landmann, Napolean Barbeques, the Canadian Spa Company, Bramblecrest, Norfolk Leisure, Suntime, La Hacienda and Harbo. New exhibitors include Jigsaw Products, Cascade Lighting, Core Products and Cozy Bay, while Paul Rosco and Bellagio are returning.

Thurlow still regards Glee as a one-stop shop for smaller garden centres that may not have the dedicated buyers who can go to furniture, landscaping, plant, pet or gift shows. With 12 weeks left until opening day, "most sections are already bigger than last year", says Thurlow. Glee has 30 lapsed exhibitors returning, including Suttons Seeds, William Sinclair, Vitax, Aggregate Industries (Bradstone) and grass machinery distributor Henton & Chattell.

Thurlow says returnees may have taken 2009 off because of the recession, or they might have tried other shows or did not have new products to launch. Garden care, now the core Glee sector, will be bigger than in 2009. Westland will launch a wild-bird care range, while big brands such as Scotts and Gardman will again use the show as a marketing platform for sales in 2011.

Garden design - the former landscape sector - and garden leisure/outdoor living are also up this year, says Thurlow. He admits that the "machinery guys" will not be at Glee 2010 and he has re-focused their area towards products suitable for garden designers - "any product to make the garden more functional". Handy Distribution will show the machinery brands.

New for 2009 was the Innovation Zone, a low-cost showcase for new products whose inventors were looking for distributors or feedback. Only one of 2009's 25 zone exhibitors will return in 2010, but Thurlow says the area will grow this year. He notes that last year's products "might have been picked up by other exhibitors or might not have worked".

Also new for 2010 is "Off the Shelf", which offers help with ideas for merchandising in a dedicated zone show-casing four products. "Wonderwall" involves retailers sending in their best merchandising ideas to Glee's website to inspire their peers.

"Garden Angels" is a kind of Dragons' Den idea, where four suppliers pitch new products to four industry experts, who give advice on selling, marketing and packaging. The angels will pick a winner but are not briefed to "tear apart" ideas they do not like. Consultant John Connel will coach the selected suppliers.

CV

1990-94: Degree in sports and recreation, Staffordshire University; masters in sports science, Cardiff University

1995-2000: Corporate hospitality then heavy industry trade shows, International Trade Exhibitions

2001-07: Joins event organiser Emap TPS, rising to director, Autumn Fair

2007-10: Director, Glee

2010: Emap sponsorship director


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