A more compact Glee attracted Britain’s best garden retailers last month. At the garden centre suppliers’ show, 536 companies exhibited, against 650 claimed for 2011. The two-hall format meant a more focused show and Glee director Nick Davison said the show had a "good buzz considering the season was so tough". He added: "The industry is moving positively forward for 2013."
Quality, not quantity, is always the message from organisers, and most big-name garden retailers attended, with exhibitors reporting good business despite the lack of footfall. Extending the season and "weatherproofing" garden centres were big themes after record levels of rainfall this summer led to depressed sales.
Top launches were sow-and-grow seed, compost and fertiliser mixes from Scotts and Westland, with straight fertiliser ranges from Scotts and Vital Earth also new. Wild bird care (Gardman, Westland, Pet Brands/Alan Titchmarsh), kitchenware (Fiskars), artificial turf (Tiger, AT Industrie, Neolay, Perfectly Green), gloves and boots (Town & Country, Briers) and pots (Schuerich, Elho, EbertSankey, Stewart) were also prominent.
Talking points included combating seasonal weather fluctuations. Weather issues took at least 10 per cent off the core gardening and outdoor-living sectors this season and Garden Centre Group managing director Nicholas Marshall told HW that weatherproofing is more crucial than ever this year and concessions and restaurants are the way the 129-centre chain is going about it.
At Glee, retail consultant Neville Stein spoke on category managing catering as a separate profit centre to make more money out of it. He said he was "nervous" of concessioning out catering because the concession may not have the same values as the garden centre. First Franchise brought the catering and concession businesses together by promoting caterer Bucknells
The company also launched a new service, FF Garden Centre Services, to cater for the demand from garden centre operators looking to standardise their concession rents and agreements. Another service offered via FF is Virgin Experience Days unmanned concession display stands in garden centres. These provide days out at National Trust sites, hotels and spas with activities including cookery, dining and adventure experiences.
Fiskars managing director John Grayson also spoke on making garden centres less weather-dependent. He said Kitchen Devils knives, autumn products such as rakes and axes and snow tools are all designed to lengthen the sales season.
Bord na Móna, which now runs Vital Earth’s sales and marketing, launched more Fire Magic products with the aim of developing the home fuels section of garden centres. Research has shown that half of centres do not sell the category.
Scotts Miracle-Gro general manager Martin Breddy said after three "pretty good years" the weather in 2012 was the issue that hit the industry. "We need to plan extremely cautiously because we don’t know how consumer behaviour is really affected by the economy". He said current economic conditions are unprecedented. Grayson added: "I have to be optimistic about 2013. Is it really possible to have two of the wettest summers on record running consecutively?"
Garden Industry Manufacturers Association director Neil Gow, who is also a director at Burcot Garden Centre, said:
"We’re 16 per cent up on last September and last September was quite strong, though we didn’t make much money because we were selling a lot of furniture off cheap, which we’re not doing this year." He added that he hopes the garden centre industry will not be tempted to boost its poor cash flow by "flooding the market with cheap product" because it "devalues if we sell cheap" from next year’s sales. "Hold your nerve."
He said the price of out-of-season products is "almost irrelevant now" with prices having to be so low to sell they probably will not cover cost plus VAT. "It’s been a tough season for everyone but retailers have had it easier than suppliers this season because of the diversity of products they are selling. People are going to be cautious but what’s the difference between caution and sense? Over recent years, have we been carried away and led by furniture people? It has become easier to deal direct with offshore companies."
Pots and containers
Stewart Garden launched Stewart Garden Water Cans and Hand Sprayers at Glee. The company
also showcased its new Stewart Garden 190-litre Oak Effect Water Butt, Clear Pots for Orchids, Piazza, Strawberry/Herb Pot, Blenheim Half Barrel planter, 1.7, 4.5 and eight-litre Water Cans as well as its 0.75-litre Water Sprayer.
Fiskars has launched a new brand after combining Sankey with its German sister company Ebert to form international label Ebert Sankey, which will sell indoor and outdoor container gardening products. The 1,000-product range is being marketed to independent garden centres, B&Q and Homebase. The range is designed to sell alongside giftware as orchid pots and includes balcony, patio and self-watering pots.
WOLF-Garten unveiled its new lopper range after replacing its existing range with a new, updated selection of bypass and anvil options. Nine new PowerCut Loppers featuring WOLF-Garten’s new Cutting Head Technology offer gardeners loppers to match their specific needs.
For Fiskars, Grayson said this year’s rain hit water butt and cutting tool sales and a new SAP replenishment programme has caused a "blip" and "let one or two customers down", but the company is now on track to deliver top customer service. A new addition to the Fiskars range is MyFirstFiskars, which includes four stick tools, one watering can, four innovative hand tools and a box for storing all the items with a lid that transforms into a snow sledge. The company said it can be sold in garden centres’ garden tools sections or among gift items.
Quantum is Fiskars new flagship range. Positioned at the top of the market, it is aimed at the "ProSumer" — knowledgeable gardeners who make up about 20 per cent of the market. The range includes one pruner, four loppers and one hedge shear. Their handles are made from aluminium alloy, the grip is cork and the blade is adjustable.
The shape of the handles is designed for different grips for different types of cutting and the shape of the pivot area is new. The pruners have a cutting capacity of up to 26mm. Fiskars also announced two new cutting collections, including SmartFit secateurs with ergonomic features.
Neill Tools launched a Kew Gardens Collection of tools from its Spear & Jackson brand. Spear & Jackson has been working with Greg Redwood, Kew’s Great Glasshouse and horticultural team head, throughout the product development process to produce a range of digging, cultivating and garden cutting tools.
The range includes Neverbend carbon-steel solid forged spades and forks that are up to 50 per cent stronger than stainless steel. It also features cultivation tools, Neverbend Stainless traditional spades and forks with an extra-long socket and double rivets and Razorsharp Garden Cutting bypass and anvil secateurs, shears and loppers with new products such as metal anvil secateurs.
Wilkinson Sword Tools updated its Lite-Alloy range at Glee, with four new digging additions for 2013. The range now includes Border and Digging Forks and Spades.
Mr Fothergill’s has designated 2013 as year of the sweet pea, with an RHS Chelsea Flower Show centenary Lathyrus leading its new range of 25 seed varieties. Dr John Masefield’s Essex-based Seedlynx company is supplying the seed from Malta. The pale-lavender ‘Chelsea Centenary’ multi-flora costs £1.99 for 20 seeds.
Suttons Seeds is also strengthening its sweet pea range and Thompson & Morgan has sweet peas on the front of its new catalogue. Unwins and Kings Seeds are traditionally strong with the flower and Kings still produces its own seed.
Suttons also launched James Wong’s Homegrown Revolution at Glee, where Wong was on hand to present the range to visitors. Unusual seed varieties such as Inca berries, quinoa, electric daisies, popcorn fiesta, musk melon, cucamelon and tomatillo are part of the 30-strong range.
Meanwhile, Unwins’ specialist edible mail-order range SE Marshalls is now being marketed to garden centres in a new collection. Unwins also launched a Garden Organic range at Glee.
Scotts has pulled back from its accusations of "me too" launches at Glee after Westland said its Gro-Sure Easy Flowers had been in development for 18 months and was not a copy of Scott’s big 2013 launch, the sow-and-grow seed/compost/fertiliser sprinkler Flower Magic.
Westland marketing director Keith Nicholson said Scotts sprinkler product is £12.99, while Westland’s pouch is around £9, with a £2.99 clip strip also available. Franchi Seeds said its sales were six per cent up this year, bucking the trend across the market.
Scotts launched a new smaller Expand n Gro bag, while Westland introduced carbon into its West+ mix to give it a feel more like peat. Vitax launched a range of 11 composts from its own bog in County Kildare, while Durstons introduced a specialist range of John Innes composts as well as large chip bark and farmyard manure.
Gardeners Kitchen claims to have doubled the shelf life of its young vegetable plants. Managing director Philip Boers has developed a cultural system that can add as much as two weeks selling life to most of the 140 named vegetable varieties produced by the company, based in Evesham, Worcestershire. It produces 11 million plants a year
Marketing director Helen Boers said: "To reduce wastage, retailers will often display plants that are past their best. This harms sales overall so Gardeners Kitchen plants for the 2013 season will boost sales as well as reduce waste, giving retailers improved margins over traditionally grown varieties. This is going to make a massive difference to garden centres. Profit margins will be much better. We will control the nutrients and, before the plants go into garden centres, we give them a big boost."
Darby Nursery Stock had the biggest stand in the planteria section. Representative Carolyn Johnson said: "It came off well for us because there were not many in that section. We saw a lot of our northern, Scottish and Irish customers and lots of groups, so we covered north, south, east and west." Antirrhinum ‘Snap Daddy’ and Leucanthemum ‘Banana Green’ were among the new products shown.
Grow your own
Smart Solar is now running the distribution, sales and marketing for Haxnicks after the manufacturer and retailer of plant-protection and plant-care products decided to shrink down to become a new product development company only.
Managing director Damian Cardozzo said the company employed 52 people 18 months ago but is now just him. He added that the grow your own market is "very difficult" for 2013 because "most people don’t have a lot of money for new product development and garden centres have not been looking for it because they have a lot of stock".
Cardozzo said the surge of new products in the market over the past five years has included a lot of "followers" selling grow your own aids that are "not particularly great". He predicted that they will fall by the wayside and core ranges of plant protection tunnels and cages for allotment holders and window box products such as Haxnicks’ Vigoroot air-pruning fabric will continue to have a place.
Smart Solar managing director Jonathan Stobart said: "The Haxnicks brand is similar to us — innovative and high-quality — but is also different to us and complementary to us. We have good advantages of economies of scale and over time Haxnicks will be in more garden centres. We can add financial strength to the business. In year one it will be reassurance and continuity and in year two we’ll push the boat out."
Forest Garden launched its Accessible Gardening range of raised beds and planters at Glee. The collection is specifically designed for the less able gardener and those with limited movement. Forest Garden has a link with Thrive, the charity that works to help people living with a disability or mental ill-health transform their lives through gardening.
A new Alan Titchmarsh range of bird food, aiming to challenge the traditional strength of Gardman, Westland and Solus, emerged at Glee. Pet Brands of West Yorkshire launched Alan Titchmarsh wild bird products, licensed by Granada Ventures. The range includes feeds such as peanuts, fat balls and sunflower heads as well as feeders.
Managing director Sunny Sharma said the range is in 42 garden centres but he hopes to have 300 signed up after showing at Glee. He pointed out that the only other celebrity brand in garden bird care is Haith’s, with its Bill Oddie range.
Wiggly Wigglers promoted its new Farmer Phil’s British Mix bird seed. Westland launched Peckish Daily Goodness nuggets and promoted its new acquisition, Cranswick brand Nature’s Feast, bought this year.
Meanwhile, Gardman promoted its pet care ranges, which the company says fit well with its extensive wild bird care portfolio.
Napoleon Grills has added two new models to its Prestige range of gas barbecues — the P500RSIB and the PRO500RSIB. Features on the models include a large grilling and warming rack with side shelves. The wave grates and burners are all grade 304 stainless steel and the heavy-duty roll-top lid saves space on opening.
Both models are available as natural gas or propane units. The P500RSIB comes in either a stainless steel or black porcelain enamelled finish, while the PRO500RSIB is available in stainless steel.
Gloves and footwear
Town & Country promoted four new footwear lines, three new gloves — including "the most sustainable gloves in the garden sector" made from bamboo — and new packaging as well as the Weathereye range of weather stations and clocks.
Briers promoted its High Heel Wellington Boot, new Classic Wellington Boot and Daisy Dot boots and gloves along with its Pruner & Pouch set.
Kelkay is now the sole importer of a range of 16 Henri UK cast-stone fountains and statuary. The American company Stonecaster makes the fountains. UK-based Henri Studio has closed after having supply issues.
Lafarge’s new product unveiled at Glee was cement in tub packaging, which brings new carry-home convenience to the category. The company also promoted its waterproof plastic packaging.
Garden care company reveals big changes for 2013
Westland marketing director Keith Nicholson says the garden care company has made four big changes for 2013 — making Gro-Sure one big range, adding an Even-Flo lawn seed spreader to the range, "genuine improvements across the brand" and the new Easy Flowers seed/compost and fertiliser pouches. He says Easy Flowers is the result of 15 months of research.
Scotts has introduced Flower Magic this year, which is a development from is Patch Magic lawn repair product. At a recent event at the company’s Levington research and development base, it suggested it was leading the field in research while others followed.
Nicholson said Mintel research shows 17-18 per cent of consumers grow from seed, mainly vegetables, and the firm’s new product might increase the market by six per cent. Having two companies launching similar products will "drive the marketplace more than one". G Plants says it has sold a similar range for six years and has repackaged the Shake & Rake range for 2013.
Nicholson says sweet peas are coming back into favour and theming seeds to create a simpler consumer offer is also in vogue. Westland has a new chilli range for 2013 as well as a 24-variety Garden Organic range.
SE Marshall’s 100-strong edible range of seeds is now available from retailers for the first time rather than just by mail order. Nicholson says he expects the specialist range to be in 400-500 garden centres.
He adds that Westland is in "a strong position" with its bird food, having taken over the Cranswick, including Buckton’s and Natures Feast, brands. Peckish bird food will have TV adverts from October.
Nicholson says the weed-control market share is up, with Resolva 20 per cent up this year. A new product is Xtra Tough Resolva, with double-strength glyphosate. "The biggest challenge this year has been plant sales, so it has been a challenging year for compost too, but all our brands in growing media are up in market share."
He adds that raw materials costs are up, with wild bird food prices "volatile" after being impacted by world food prices and peat supplies are "a challenge" because of a poor harvest. The industry is "incredibly positive" for the environment because it is about growing and that needs to be broadcast. On orders, he says "there is an economic factor", adding: "Gardening is recession-proof but there is a point where it starts to play a part." But "latent demand will come through".
West+ now has a "natural carbon additive" designed to improve appearance and performance. Nicholson says driving average basket spend by linking seeds, compost and feeds is the idea behind branding a range of products with the Gro-Sure label.
The Easy Flowers range comes in hot and cool mixes and is available in 1.5kg boxes and 100g clip strips at £2.99. Nicholson says Westland’s horticulture seed-based business is a strength behind the launch.
Even-Flo will have a £1.3m TV launch and will cost £12.99. Nicholson says consumer focus groups said they would use the product for lawn care when they had never used a product before.
On the plethora of launches or relaunches for straight fertilisers at Glee, he says: "We’re driving massive growth. We’re market leader with straights and have improved our range with bone meal enhanced with mycorrhiza. Others have piggybacked us."