Show preview: SOLEX 2016 - the great outdoors

Outdoor living remains a big aspiration for those with gardens and manufacturers will be showcasing their latest products at SOLEX, Matthew Appleby reports.

Barbecues: research shows people looking to buy additional outdoor cooking gear - image: HW
Barbecues: research shows people looking to buy additional outdoor cooking gear - image: HW

Dining in the garden was a dream for most people this spring as the cold weather meant few made it outside to fire up the barbecue and unfold the outdoor furniture. But when the weather is fine, outdoor living is what those with gardens want to do — and want to buy.

This year, householders want the unusual in their products, research from Shoppercentric for the Leisure & Outdoor Furniture Association (LOFA), which organises the annual SOLEX trade show at Birmingham NEC, has found.

"The message is that people are looking for something different," says LOFA chairman Paul Bevington.

"They want more diversity from the garden furniture they have seen five, 10 or 20 years ago. There’s definitely been more advances in style. People are looking to replicate indoor lounge sets outside."

Outdoor furniture ownership

Some 88 per cent of those surveyed by Shoppercentric own outdoor furniture, with 55 per cent cooking up a storm on their barbecue and 68 per cent sheltering under a parasol. Two-fifths of UK households bought outdoor living categories in 2015, with the total market value up 2.9 per cent on 2014 to a huge £1.2bn.

Furthermore, 70 per cent of outdoor furniture owners intend to buy some more over the next 12 months.

This could be folding chairs, dining table sets, benches and sun loungers, according to forecasters. Children’s garden furniture is also high on the shopping lists.

Among those who bought outdoor living in 2015, more than eight in 10 own some sort of barbecue/cooking product and almost 60 per cent intend to buy something else over the next 12 months.

Charcoal and gas barbecues are equally popular, but more unusual outdoor cooking options such as chimineas, firepits and pizza ovens are growing in favour, the figures show.

Parasols, cushions and covers are the other big category, with waterproof cushions and tough plastic covers for outdoor furniture and barbecues high on the list of wanted items.

Storage boxes show high levels of interest for the future. Outdoor entertainment systems and shade products are of growing interest, as are outdoor clocks, mirrors, lights, rugs and even bars and cinemas.

Gardeners want to invest because they plan to entertain more and are getting keen on their gardens, as well as needing to replace old products and because they are feeling more affluent. Folding chairs are the most likely furniture to be bought as a replacement, with sets, swing seats and kids’ furniture more likely to be first-time buys.

While gas barbecue buys are equally likely to be first-time or replacements, charcoal barbecues are slightly more likely to be replacements. Firepits and chimineas are relatively new on the market so most are bought as first-time purchases.

Just under half of all buyers had done some research before visiting the store from which they bought, with almost three-quarters visiting two or more stores or websites. Internet searching and customer reviews have increased in claimed usage during the research process, but retailer websites still attract more than half of purchasers researching their products. Retailer catalogues are more important for furniture than barbecues.

Immediate availability was important in 2015 for deciding what to buy, with what the product looked like and any deals available helping to support the decision. The in-store product experience is seen as a bonus versus online.

Getting to grips with online sales

Bevington, who is also the managing director of furniture manufacturer and SOLEX exhibitor Kettler, says bricks-and-mortar retailers are now getting used to the online market and often have their own transactional websites, while manufacturers and wholesalers are doing all they can to provide transparency on price.

Most householders look to DIY stores such as B&Q for products but high sales come from department or general stores such as Argos or Ikea and specialist online retailers. Supermarkets and garden centres are popular too, but one-third of purchases were online in 2015. The Shoppercentric report says: "Just like fashion and interiors, shoppers need ‘help’ to visualise the potential of the product in front of them."

Trends are for streamlined interior styles, bolder colours accents, striking patterns, comfort, low maintenance and all-weather materials such as resin weave. The biggest conceptual shift in garden trends is the movement towards an outdoor lifestyle that mirrors indoor behaviour, physically and decoratively.

Shoppers now see the outdoors as another platform for design and decoration but with the ultimate goal still being relaxation and entertainment.

Exhibitors and products set to feature at SOLEX trade show

-Alexander Rose is launching three new ranges at the SOLEX show. There are two complete new weave ranges, which representative Mike Brand says are the two biggest launches in that material by the company for a decade. There is also the Beach Lounge range, a metal furniture set that comes in two colours and has several plump cushion colour choices.

-Leisuregrow has a revised and expanded Greenroom weave range "in line with the up-trend in lighter greys and browns, including dining sets, matching lounge and casual dining sets".

-The LG Outdoor Textilene collections have a new look, featuring hand-painted grey, cocoa and cream colours, contemporary design, and new padded armchairs or recliners.

-The LG Outdoor Canterbury range features a delicate cast aluminium design and new glass-topped tables. The range was inspired by a recent trend-research trip to the USA.

-Stainless steel barbecues from Grillstream for 2017 have all been designed with a monochrome finish that takes inspiration from technology and car design.

-Garden giftware and outdoor accessories company Fallen Fruits has experienced growing sales of its garden furniture. Following the launch of the company’s dedicated furniture catalogue at the start of the year, it has witnessed a "significant increase" in demand among both retailers and consumers for several of its furniture ranges. Fallen Fruits is set to unveil the latest additions to its Fancy Flames collection at the upcoming SOLEX exhibition. Incorporating everything from candles and tea lights to chimineas and firepits, the collection brings together traditional and contemporary design influences. The most recent additions to the range include a traditional heavy-duty Dutch oven and rustic steel fire bowl. Other new products include a barbecue table that easily transforms from a grill to a bar-style table.

-Campingaz will unveil its new Master Series, a collection of gas barbecues, at SOLEX. Showcasing the launch will be Bob Meacham, the recently appointed national account manager for garden and barbecue channels who was previously at Solus, Garden & Leisure and Scotts Miracle-Gro UK as well as establishing Bermuda Water Gardens. The Master Series features new patented InstaStart automatic ignition that ignites the barbecue and indicates the burners’ operating state by casting a soft-blue glow. The barbecues feature enamelled cast iron grids and griddles as well as new EvenTemp technology that keeps all the grilling surface at 250°C. There is a double-walled stainless steel lid, moulded doors, integrated utensil hooks, castor wheels and two brakes. Other features include the Campingaz Culinary Modular Accessory system, which allows users to switch the central grid for a number of cooking inserts including a wok, pizza stone or paella pan.

-Napoleon Grills will launch Patioflame tables. The company has seen a sales uplift in 2016 on top of huge growth in 2015. The five models provide a choice of styling — traditional, Victorian, modern, and Hamptons. The Victorian range offers three models — rectangular (81x127x63.5cm), square (106x106x63.5cm) and round (106x63.5cm) — and all have a bronze finish. The RRP is £699.99. The Hamptons comprises rectangular (81x127x63.5cm) and square (106x106x63.5cm). Both models come in a contemporary grey finish and are priced at £649.99. Made of aluminium, they all have a single stainless steel burner with electronic ignition. The flame height is adjustable for both warmth and ambience, and a thermocouple valve shuts off the supply when the flame is extinguished. Other features include a protective lid and adjustable feet for uneven floors. Additionally, the propane tank can be concealed inside the table base.

-Bonnington Plastics, which operates under the Kingfisher brand in markets including gardening furniture and barbecues, watering and lighting, has big developments planned. At SOLEX it will display two new brand ranges that have been developed to meet higher-quality market needs than the standard Kingfisher products for which Bonnington has been more traditionally known. Dusk to Dawn is a range of new outdoor lighting, while Four Seasons Vintage is a range of garden furniture and decorative items built around wrought iron with a distressed finish to create a "shabby chic" look. Additionally, Bonnington will be showing a wide selection of its garden furniture ranges.

-Outback International UK chief executive Mark Osborne says: "Many of our online and garden centre trade customers reported heavy demand for all types of barbecue last year — particularly at the top end of the market — and some ran out completely." He adds: "Our research tells us that there’s been a tripling in demand for barbecues at the premium end of our range over the past three years, which has led to the development of our stainless steel multi-facet Signature for the 2016 season." Outback’s other newcomer for 2016 is the Jupiter two-, three- and four-burner series, which includes a removable grill to allow cooking with a pizza stone, wok or griddle as well as a built-in cabinet storage unit. In March, Garden Centre Association furniture and barbecue sales were up seven per cent. April dipped but May brought a resurgence. At the start of the season Osborne predicted that a combination of sunshine and stay-at-home holidays would be likely to see more barbecue get-togethers than ever this year. But by mid May he said the weather had "halted" sales in the early season and they were only gaining momentum by then after a "slow start".

-Bambrella is planning to launch a range of outdoor umbrellas made of aluminium this season.

-Bosmere will be revealing details of its updated ranges for 2016-17 at SOLEX, developed to provide a "good, better, best approach to meet all market expectations". The focus will be on retaining the Bosmere brand quality and reputation while maintaining value-for-money prices. PVC-free materials have been introduced across several ranges utilising BosGuard, a special coating developed by the company. A brand new "flagship range" of Premier Covers will be showcased that provides full winter protection and security in windy conditions. All seams are double sewn for extra strength with waterproof seams on top panel joints. The range features a new flexible breathable coating while providing superior waterproof performance.

SHOW DETAILS -Summer Outdoor Living Exhibition (SOLEX)

5-7 July (Tuesday/Wednesday: 9am-5.30pm; Thursday: 9am-5pm)
Where National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham B40 1NT

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