Solex 2013 Review - Focus on furniture

The good summer weather came at just the right time for outdoor leisure show Solex, which was held during the first heatwave for seven years, during the driest July in three centuries.

Ansell Garden Centre team enjoyed positive show
Ansell Garden Centre team enjoyed positive show

This event, which was organised by the Leisure and Outdoor Furniture Association (LOFA), moved to a bigger site at Birmingham NEC after five years at Telford.

LOFA secretary Phil Gibbs said: "Outstanding is the only word we’re using to describe the show. Visitor numbers were 20 per cent up and for the first time in its history we had to ask visitors to leave at the end. The weather put a smile on everyone’s face and a need for people to do business for this year, never mind next year."

He said LOFA was "very happy" with the move to Hall 5 at the NEC and that Solex will be staged there next year (7-9 July), too. There were 68 exhibitors — 60 members and eight enterprise exhibitors, which have been invited to join the association. The current membership of 78 is expected to increase by five or six as a result, he said.

Gibbs added: "The market compared to last year is chalk and cheese and the sector is well up on two years ago. We can count 2012 as a blip because the weather was so bad. People had stock in July they should have sold in April. It was a nightmare for everyone in the garden industry. But we’ve had a fantastic end of season this year.

"One barbecue company at Solex had a customer ask if the company could supply for next week because they had sold out. The feel-good factor means people are buying barbecues and garden furniture."

Garden furniture sales were five times the equivalent week in 2012 in July.

LOFA has commissioned retail and shopper specialist agency Shoppercentric to run a ground-breaking market research project to explore the UK outdoor living market, with results expected in September.

Garden Centre Association (GCA) interim chief executive Iain Wylie said: "There’s a lot of relief around and a degree of positivity. Weather has been the largest driver and not the more serious problem of not having customers who want to buy the products we sell.

"There was a lot of positivity at Solex because from 10 days before everyone had strong sales on furniture. Everyone has a smile on their face and are preparing for next season on a stable footing."

Ansell Garden Centre owner Paresh Raithatha agreed: "Everyone was positive at Solex and the weather helped. Everyone has been running stock down. There were deals on offer and I ordered some products. One thing was the internet side of the outdoor leisure business, which is raising lots of questions about policies from companies to control cheap sales of their products online."

Prizes and launches

At the show, garden furniture supplier Westminster won the best stand prize, while CPL Distribution won the best new product award with the Pod Kettle Barbecue marketed under the Supagrill brand. The product is created from heat-proof and water-resistant material.

Royal Garden and its new UK distributor, A Mir, exhibited together, aiming to be a one-stop shop for customers.

Four Seasons Outdoor UK offered a range of resin weave and aluminium furniture. The company, which put on its first showcase to the trade at Solex, offers a service in which staff visit buyers’ homes to deliver and assemble furniture.

Kettler’s Casual Dining range (from £1,299) was launched in a choice of two weave designs (Corner and Lounge) and one mesh design (Malaga).

Kettler also introduced an easy-access sun lounger, a Siena two-seat glider and a corner bench set (Materia), together with new benches, tables, fabrics and colourways for existing ranges.

The Easy Lounger is higher than traditional sun loungers, making it easier and more comfortable to use. It is available in mesh and textilene, and features a storage shelf.

Managing director Paul Bevington said: "Solex is now the main event in the outdoor living calendar and we were pleased to see so many customers and visitors at the show.

"This year’s Solex signalled the start of an exciting time for Kettler, as we introduce Casual Dining to the UK market. The concept of smart, casual dining is popular in Australia and Europe, where consumers recognise both the comfort and practical benefits of investing in one stylish outdoor furniture set that allows the whole family to spend time in the garden."

He added: "The Casual Dining range provides retailers with a genuinely new concept for the 2014 season that we are confident will capture the imagination of homeowners and create profitable new sales opportunities."

Also at Solex, Bosmere launched Urban Chic covers for outdoor garden furniture and barbecues. Its Cover Up range is manufactured from a PVC-backed polyester fabric with brass-coated eyelets and heavy-duty ties.

Bosmere sales and marketing director Steve Millington said: "Bosmere has an enviable reputation for the quality and durability of its range of practical, easy-to-use furniture covers. For the 2014 season not only will our covers perform well, their Urban Chic design will also look stylish and complement the current trends in outdoor leisure."

La Hacienda debuted at Solex, where it showed additions to its outdoor electric heater range, new chimeneas, firebasket and firebowl designs.

Director Simon Goodwin said: "It is incredibly important for us, as a business, to be able to continually expand and revise our product offering. In doing so we believe that we are offering retailers — and in turn consumers — a range of products, from core bestsellers to exciting, new products that will revolutionise the way we enjoy time in our outdoor spaces. Throughout 2013 we have added more and more products to our portfolio."

These products include the newly integrated Heatmaster range and Colorado chimeneas.

Alexander Rose promoted the Portofino collection, which has expanded to include two new chairs and two new tables. The collection of benches, chairs, sunbeds and tables is made from fine powder-coated mild steel and wire mesh.

Outdoor furniture collections

Norfolk Leisure launched four collections — LIFE, Idle Rose, Florenity, and Garden Must Haves.

LIFE offers a range of outdoor furniture with all-weather protection that lets rain pass straight through; IdleRose is a collection of outdoor cast-aluminium furniture; Florenity is a collection in a painted and teak finish; and Garden Must Haves is a range of gardening accessories including parasols and storage.

Barlow Tyrie’s use of high-grade teak remains at the heart of the business and at Solex it displayed a new Chesapeake collection in solid teak. Initially comprising an armchair, side chair and dining table and set, it also includes circular dining, low tables, lounger and deep-seating. Features include rolled armrests on the chairs and rolled edges and curved sides to the dining table, plus nylon glides on the bottom of tapered legs.

At Solex, Weber offered visitors the chance to train at its dedicated barbecue cookery school, the Grill Academy, based in Marsh Baldon, Oxfordshire, which has already been visited by 1,400 retail staff.

Its food theatre, The Weber Experience BBQ Roadshow, included cooking demonstrations, tastings and product advice.

This year, Weber launched the Original Charcoal Pizza Oven, which is the first product it has developed in the UK. Product designer Dan Chadwick helped design it for use with Weber’s 57cm charcoal barbecues.

Landmann’s focus on new products continues in 2014 with the introduction of the new Pro-Compact gas barbecue range. The range consists of two-, three- and four-burner gas barbecues, which have prices ranging from £289 to £399. Landmann is also extending its range of smokers with the introduction of the Black Taurus 440 (£139) and Tennessee Gas Smoker (£249). 

A new range of barbecue accessories was launched at Solex, as well as a new range of garden furniture under the Belardo brand.

Outback has developed a new Charcoal Kettle series in red, blue and green, complete with a trolley version
in black with silver trim. The Kettle includes a porcelain-coated roasting hood and firebox, warming rack, chromed foldable cooking grill and ash collector, while the Trolley version has a heat indicator, wood and marble side table, bottle opener, air vent and storage base.

Also on display was a stainless steel Outback Meteor Select Gas 6-Burner, with individually-controlled cast-iron features, a side sear burner and lava rock, while the Meteor Select Gas 3-Burner is in the new 2014 range.

The Outback Outdoor Living range of padded and textiline relaxers and high-back recliners were also introduced at Solex. These come in a choice of colours in lightweight 22mm steel frames.

Belgian company Barbecook made its first UK appearance at this year’s show, with its charcoal barbecue QuickStart system. The system involves lighting the charcoal with three sheets of newspaper in a tube to give control over the fire and cooking area. It also has an adjustable air supply and cooking grid and ashtray with integrated QuickStop system.

This year, Barbecook is launching an assortment of 12 different QuickStart charcoal barbecues onto the UK market. This range contains models in a black enamelled finish and a stainless steel finish, as well as several colours and an extra cart.

On the Garden Furniture Global stand, TV star Gregg Wallace made a guest appearance to promote his new Firepit and Grill range. The range includes a dining set, lounge set and a "grill and chill" party table.

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