British birds are the next big thing in resin animal garden decor and the meerkat is making a comeback, according to Vivid Arts managing director Paul Newbitt, but gnomes have had their day.
The eight-year-old company has helped to build a £25m-£30m sector, which Newbitt said is now as big as garden pots and has doubled in five years. He added that the market continues to grow at 15 per cent per annum at retail level.
Rabbits, shih-tzu dogs, lambs, pigs, chimps, Pet Pal pygmy hedgehogs and tortoises are bestsellers, said Newbitt, along with owls and prowling foxes.
Birds such as eagles are the top new product for 2015 because they are new, well priced and realistic, while zoo pets have yet to peak in popularity. "Individual animals don't get people's attention but a woodland display does," Newbitt added.
Meerkats have sold £250,000 annually in recent years on the back of Compare the Market television advertising. "Meerkats are on the comeback driven by increased heavyweight TV spend," said Newbitt.
"The insurance market relies on adverts as it's very competitive. They were losing to Go Compare, Churchill and Direct Line so had to advertise more again."
He added: "When I started Vivid Arts in 2006 it was a fragmented market and a low-quality product. We've doubled in size over the past five years and annihilated the competition. We're the biggest in the market.
But he pointed out that the traditional gnome garden ornament is a poor seller. "Gnomes is peanuts," he confirmed. "It's one page of the catalogue and doesn't justify that in terms of value of sales. But there are still people who want them so we do a range to fill that gap."
Newbitt, who was previously managing director of Apta, added: "Judge us on retail return per square metre. We're probably the most profitable square metre in the garden centre. In volume and value it's true stoneware has gone, but it's wrong to dismiss it."
Garden ornaments - Broad customer appeal
There is no such thing as a typical customer, said Vivid Arts managing director Paul Newbitt. "People driving Ferraris and Range Rovers will buy a Pet Pal and people at the lower end of the social scale will buy a £169 tortoise. The only thing for sure is a cute puppy has a higher family appeal. Everyone relates to some of the product."
He added: "They are also very collectable. How many people need a £230 life-size kangaroo? But many have relatives in Australia or are Australian, or have been there on holiday."
A Little Bit Quackers said hares and cockerels are its current top sellers, with ospreys and woodpeckers now increasing in popularity.