Solex garden products show sees some innovation after strong year beats price pressure

Trends at this year's Leisure and Outdoor Furniture Association's annual trade show include a shift away from weave, more upmarket products, and moves to popularise shade sails, hanging egg chairs and ceramic barbecue ovens.


More contemporary printed aluminium and wood was on view and slightly less rattan weave furniture - with some retailers saying there was the most innovation on display since the trend for casual outdoor dining came in.

Product prices are generally up 5-15% because of exchange rates and haulage, but with sterling have settled at a new lower rate, wholesalers are hopeful that will not rise further.

But garden centre owners at the event agreed that sales were up as much as 25% in the category this year thanks to prolonged good weather, with some containerised products selling out before the end of the season.

Consumers seem not to have been daunted by price rises that began last year after the 23 June Brexit vote though were delayed in some cases by forward buying of dollars. Sterling remains 18-20% behind pre-June 2016 levels, which has to be absorbed or passed on, or products have t be re-engineered to be cheaper or easier to transport.

Zest 4 Lesiure had high stools and bar tables aimed at a younger market, which is growing via the internet and suppliers such as Wayfair, Charlies Direct, The Range, Wilko, Amazon, Gardensite and One Garden.

Storage within furniture and in box furniture was popular, as was children's furniture, from Bonington and Zest among others.

Alexander Rose showcased olefin rope furniture as a weave alternative.

Glatz said shade sails were slowly catching on in the UK market, while outdoor living is gradually becoming more accepted nationwide.

Garden centres within the GCA saw outdoor furniture and barbecue sales up 37% in April but were down 12% in May, though they have picked up since.

La Hacienda said it had a record May and managing director Simon Goodwin added that a stable currency meant "the pain's almost over" in pricing after saying at a GIMA event in March that imported barbecues had risen 18-20%. He said garden centres were increasing quality of product to differentiate from discounters. Ceramic Kamado ceramic outdoor ovens were their stand-out prduct.

LOFA vice chairman Pravin Patel, director of Premier Decorations, said garden centres were demanding higher quality product, after prices over the years have come down, relatively.

Premier showcased pizza ovens in stainless steel from Fontana and Char-Griller smokers as wel as masonry outdoor ovens, available for home delivery, bought from display models in garden centres.

Patel said the barbecue market is up 20-30% this year.

LOFA ressearch has found that the overall market is £1.2bn, with 48% bought in-store, 26% from pure etailers and 26% from multichannel retailers. LOFA member sales account for around half that market.

Some 46% of those surveyed by Shoppercentric planned to buy barbecues in 2017, while  71% planned to buy furniture and 59% accessories.

LOFA secretary Phil Gibbs said he was happy with the evemt, as a niche show that is now in its 10th year and runs to July 13 with 66 exhibitors and most of the top buyers in garden retail attending.

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