Firms report slump in sales of outdoor living products

The credit crunch and bad weather have dealt a double blow to sales of garden furniture, according to exhibitors at the Summer Outdoor Living Exhibition (SOLEX), which took place this week.

A lack of consumer confidence in the state of the economy has led to slow spending which, coupled with a poor start to the summer, has hit sales hard.

Summer Castle sales executive David Knights said it was a problem across the whole sector: "We're reliant on the weather and it has not been good to us. The credit crunch has also affected us; people are not spending as much as they were."

Kettler managing director Paul Bevington said he had noticed a downturn from March, and an early Easter with its bad weather had exacerbated the problem. "Even when we've had good weather, it hasn't given the boost you'd normally expect," he explained. "There is obviously something else dampening sales and I think it is all the publicity about food and fuel prices and mortgage problems."

However, although patio heaters are on their way out after bans by B&Q and Wyevale, Outback joint managing director Darren Murphy said barbecues could become bigger sellers because of the financial uncertainty. "People are not going out so much, so maybe they will entertain at home," he said.

Solex was launched this year at Telford International Centre by the Leisure & Outdoor Furniture Association (LOFA) to provide an alternative to Glee.

LOFA chairman Eric Hopper said: "We had been talking to the Glee organisers for a number of years, asking for the show to be moved to this time of year because we need to get orders into the Far East early and by September it was too late," said Hopper. "They listened to everyone but I suppose it wasn't a consensus because they have a lot of interests. Glee has become vast and we wanted to be more focused."

Europa Leisure director Chris Fitton will be at Glee, but said he preferred the earlier scheduling of SOLEX. "This show gives customers a chance to see products when there is still plenty of time for them to make their decisions," he said.

Alexander Rose managing director Borge Leth said sales at Glee had never been very good for his company and he would not be attending this year's show. "It is at the wrong time of year because in September garden centres are already putting out their Christmas stuff," he said.

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