Garden furniture is seen as the cream on top of sales at garden centres and if the sun shines and the economy is good there is plenty of cream to be had.
In the past few years the sector has struggled, with a 27 per cent fall in four years, according to HTA figures, but sunny weather ahead of the Queen's diamond jubilee in June, Euro 2012 football and the London Olympics have helped sales later in the 2012 season.
Solex, organised by the Leisure & Outdoor Furniture Association (LOFA), is now established as the sector's key trade show, with garden centre outdoor living buyers saying the sold-out event at Telford International Centre on 16-18 July is a must-go.
LOFA secretary Phil Gibbs said: "People are desperate to get space, with six names on the waiting list, which is brilliant. Solex is becoming more and more popular - one of the only expanding shows in all parts of the gardens sector."
This year will see 55 exhibitors - plus five in the enterprise area given pro bono to exhibitors LOFA is trying to attract as members - against 51 and three enterprise companies in 2011.
Gibbs says: "The success is down to the fact that we go for quality not quantity visitors. We don't care how many there are as long as they do business. July is the ideal time for ordering for 2013."
Barbecue brands will be providing cooking demonstrations on the patio area close to the main entrance. The companies involved are Weber Stephens, Leisuregrow, Grakka, Outdoorchef, Outback, Cadac and Premier Decorations.
Solex will also repeat its Made Aware environmental scheme, focusing on companies rather than products to make it easier for businesses to show green procurement sourcing.
Trends include establishing outdoors as a cosy living space, while blue has joined white, beige and brown as a popular colour when creating a maritime look.
Teak furniture manufacturer Barlow Tyrie will be using Solex as a platform for launching a string of new designs. January saw the arrival of the Avon dining table and chairs, the work of British designer Tim Fenby. The company will be adding to the range with a circular dining table available in two sizes, along with square and rectangular coffee tables to complement a new Avon Deep Seating range, also being debuted at the show with an armchair, two-seater settee and ottoman.
Barlow Tyrie will also be showing new additions to its Sail and Napoli Parasol ranges, including designs with canopy tilt mechanisms and telescopic poles. There will also be new high dining pieces on show for the Equinox mixed-material collection, featuring Textilene sling seat and back.
Norfolk Leisure will launch cast aluminium and designer weave from the Life collection and allweather cushions. Managing director Debbie Waudby says: "Life is the new 'brand on the block' to watch out for. In its introductory year the sales have been incredible and the future looks good. We are the exclusive distributor of the Life products and have worked hard to promote the brand. The collection of unique designs has been extended even further for 2013 and the presentation at Solex should not be missed."
Neptune will promote the granite Beaucourt table and iron Monaco armchairs, which have a powder-coated finish on galvanised frames. The Beaucourt 130cm table with six Monaco stacking armchairs with cushions is priced at £2,025.
Meanwhile, Solus will make its inaugural appearance at Solex, launching Camelot leisure and outdoor product ranges such as folding furniture and camping essentials, beach and occasional furniture and outdoor leisure lighting and garden games. A new range of solar-powered lights in animal forms, Animalites, will be available to see, along with additions to its decorative lighting range of products, outdoor fireplaces and garden games.
Brand manager Tony Libra says: "Solex provides us with an ideal opportunity to showcase our products and continue to develop our relationship with the trade sector."
Some 80 per cent of Kettler's garden furniture in 2012 will carry the Made Aware logo as the manufacturer launches a range of products designed to appeal to environmentally-aware consumers. Kettler has worked with Forest Stewardship Council-accredited suppliers, used recycled materials and water-treatment processes and improved the production working environment.
Managing director Paul Bevington says: "We are already receiving positive feedback and believe that UK consumers will embrace our garden furniture range for its quality and the standard of ethics within which it has been created."
Kettler products carrying the Made Aware logo include the Pilano six seater steel mesh set made using the Thermoguard coating process. Contemporary sets include the Magnus four and six-seat table and chairs, which also uses Kettlalux plastic. Magnus and Rasmus ranges also carry the Red Dot Design Award.
In a recent LOFA survey of 500 owners of garden furniture and barbecues, a quarter of respondents said the Made Aware logo would influence their buying decision and of those, more than 70 per cent would pay a premium for a product with a Made Aware label.
Alexander Rose will launch the new Hyacinth collection at Solex in collaboration with manufacturer Viro, which has developed a technique to recreate the appearance of hand-twisted rattan in manmade fibres. The table and chairs in the range have a woven edge using a 3mm red pine-coloured weave.
Looking ahead, Weber managing director John Cooper says he is bullish about the future of barbecue sales Europe-wide. "The market has so much potential it's amazing," he says. "All Europe is very undeveloped - it's not just a case of taking others' share. The potential is there just from teaching people to barbecue properly, which is why we do so much education.
"In Norway the non-disposable barbecue market is as big as the UK but it has six million people rather than 60 million. So the market is not restricted by cold, wet or dark. We're expecting the market to at least double in the next five to seven years in the UK and central Europe."
Drivers include the trend for staycationing, events such as the Olympics and the Queen's diamond jubilee, he says. "Early indications for 2012 are very positive, although we are seeing the market diverge. The top end like us and the bottom end are doing okay. It's the middle ground that is being squeezed - that's typical in any recessionary period," he warns
Barbecue company Outback says it is keeping all of its show launches under wraps, but it will include charcoal and gas barbecues and camping products. Chief executive Mark Osborne says: "While hard economic conditions will continue, more consumers will manage tight leisure budgets by getting the most out of their garden and patio." The company introduced the Plancha non-stick flat-top cast iron plate barbecue to its range last year.
Leisuregrow will launch Grillstream gas barbecues, endorsed by chef Ben Bartlett. The company will also showcase new aluminium and Textaline collections, as well as the Marrakech, Maroc and Casablanca ranges. Next year's vintage-inspired Safi tea-for-two sets include heart chairs and bistro tables in colours such as sage green.
Southsea Deckchairs will launch a range of parasols at Solex, with a 2m stainless-steel parasol and fibreglass spokes. There is also a laminated bamboo model designed to stay up in high winds, which comes in 2.1m square, 2.5m round and 3m round models. The company also offers 14 deckchair designs.
Hartman airs fruits of design collaborations
Hartman UK and the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew have collaborated on a new range of aluminium garden furniture inspired by Kew's Temperate House.
Hartman sales director Paul Facey says: "Our Kew range is the culmination of almost a year's work which began with an introduction between ourselves and Kew's licensing team at Solex 2011. Almost immediately we could see the possibilities and our designers were let loose at Kew to seek inspiration. We've come up a collection of furniture that we feel sure will capture the imaginations of our customers.
Hartman UK has also announced a partnership with TV gardener David Domoney. Hartman's 2013 collection includes several cast aluminium dining sets, designed by Domoney. The collection previewed at the Hampton Court Palace Flower Show on 3-8 July, where consumers were able to register their interest. It will be launched to the trade at Solex.
Domoney and Facey have worked together at Hartman's product development plant in China. Domoney says: "The cast aluminium designs can be left outside all year round because the metal will not rust. We have made sure that they will look stunning too with fantastic new fabrics for the cushions and classic designs for the chairs and sofas." Domoney has also added a gardening section at Hartman's lifestyle website and a series of 'how-to' videos on the Love Hartman YouTube channel.
The Telford-based company has also selected Birmingham City University student Pavendeep Biring as winner of its textile competition, which will see her seat cushion and parasol fabric design commercially produced on a collection of outdoor furniture for 2014. The contest received almost 100 entries. Runner-up Rosanna Pearson will also see her mix and match design in Hartman's 2014 Collection.
- Graham Tarrant, sundries buyer, Hillier
"We would like the show to be a month later so we know what we've sold most during the season, but it has everything we need and we can't afford to miss it. The late 2012 season has not hit us too badly - we were only £30,000 down from last year by late May. The one thing that has moved most is cast aluminium so we'll be stocking that and we'll have a small presence in weave and timber. We stock Weber barbecues because it is a brand people know. We don't have much space but we'll have another supporting that, although which one we have not yet decided."
- Richard Cumming, managing director, Orchard Park Garden Centre
"We send one of two people to Solex and it is reasonably useful. We tend to deal with a limited number of suppliers. We only do Weber barbecues and see them often. We sell Alexander Rose furniture and will see them at the show. They give good service. Internet pricing is always an issue but our service helps to clinch the deal."
- Edward Boult, owner, Grovewell Garden Centre
"Solex is a good show. It's quiet and friendly. Some exhibitors may wish it was busier but there's only a certain number of furniture buyers in the country as more centres are bought by groups. But it's the place to see it all really. Furniture is a big part of our business. We stock Hartman, Harbo, Pagoda, Bramblecrest and a bit of Solus."
- Alan Murdoch, managing director, Fermoy's Garden Centre
"Solex does the job. It shows me any trends in garden furniture and gives opportunities to meet people involved in that market."
A&E Leisure, Alexander Rose, Anchor Fast Products, Barlow Tyrie, BDP Imports, Bellagio, Cadac UK, Cobb (GB), Cozy Bay, Culcita, Dacore, Daro, Desser & Co, Europa Leisure (UK), Firman Leisure, Gardeco, Garden Impressions UK, Glencrest Seatex, Grakka, Grand Hall UK, Hartman, Innovators International, Jonart Design, Kettler (GB), Landmann, Lapa Distribution UK, Lawn-King Trenchex Power Products, Leisuregrow Products, Lifestyle Appliances, Li-Lo Leisure Products, LLC, Marvell's, MIR, Mountrose, Neptune Classics, Norfolk Leisure Lifestyle, OMC Barbecues, Outback UK, Ourdoorchef at Gloster, Paroh, Premier Decorations, Quest Leisure Products, Rondeau Leisure, Solus, Southsea Deckchairs, Suncoast Leisure International, Swiss Grill, Weber-Stephen Products (UK), Westminster Furniture, Wolf Steel.
Enterprise Area: Black Country Metal Works, Firepits, Hang-In-Out, Nudidesign. Trenchex.
New exhibitors: JTS Cushions, Leisurebench, The Solar Centre, Pacific Lifestyle, ScanCom, Woodstocks.