The wholesaler market in garden retail has many regional players, but on a national scale Solus is the biggest company in the industry, alongside Decco. The market has contracted since Spread Garden Supplies ceased trading in 2008.
The fragmented garden centre industry does not have central distribution centres as DIY stores do, although many smaller centres would like a one-stop shop for many of the products they stock.
As an example of how manufacturers use the distribution market, William Sinclair retail managing director Danny Adamson explains that he uses a range of wholesalers to distribute products, particularly compost. "We use Decco, Solus, Stax and a number of smaller regional players," he says.
The £90m-turnover Solus company delivers nationwide and stocks a dozen own brands in goods, from bird food to garden tools, as well as continuing to supply dry goods to garden centres nationwide. Garden Centre Association chairman and Garden Centre Group regional manager Peter Burks says: "We only use Solus, and Solus does distribution for us to a certain extent."
"Solus still controls the marketplace," says Cook's Garden Centre owner Paul Cook. "It does a very good job. It delivers on time 99 per cent of the time and offers excellent service. And it has added value to its product range by developing its own brands in tools and bird food. The only trouble is that garden centres tend to end up looking the same - but if someone didn't do what Solus does we would be stuffed. There are not a lot of options."
Decco, meanwhile, has 10 locations nationwide with £10m of stockholdings and supplies, branded DIY, gardening and housewares. Brands include Dulux, Cuprinol, Polycell, Crown, Ronseal, Miracle Gro, Hozelock, Loctite, Solvite, Bostik, Doff, Addis, Pyrex, Vileda, Arthur Bowers, Nippon, Town & Country, Fiskars, Rolcut, Bosch and Sankey. Decco also offers a consumer marketing programme for members called Fair & Square.
Groves Nurseries managing director Charlie Groves says he uses both Solus and Decco - Decco's Newton Abbot depot is a draw, he explains, but Solus's wide sundries range and own-brand labels are attractive. "We use Solus for sundries and Decco at Newton Abbot, which is local," he says.
"Decco delivers twice a week on Tuesday and Fridays, which is handy before and after the weekend. But it doesn't have the range of Solus. Both send a representative once a week to sort any problems out. There's not a huge amount between them. Solus has more and more of its own branding, such as Botanico and Yeoman. Decco concentrates on the manufacturers."
The £100m-turnover Stax has five cash and carry warehouse branches offering trade-only sales to 50,000 independent retailers and trade professionals UK wide. Product groups include DIY, gardens, hardware, tools and housewares. Garden products offered include tools, sundries, leisure and fertilisers and chemicals from brands such as Scotts, Vitax, Johnsons, Hozelock, Chempak, Gem, Doff, and Parasene. Stax also offers a delivered wholesale service of 40,000 product lines from 1,000 brands.
Worcestershire-based BHGS is a dedicated horticultural distributor of professional products to commercial growers, garden centres, large estates and allotment societies. It primarily caters for the commercial grower and has recently expanded to include BHGS Goodwood in Surrey, which is an expert in amenity and landscape products, and JFC Monro in Cornwall. The company also supplies garden centres at competitive rates.
Importers such as Fairway Importers Cash & Carry offer deals on garden lighting, ornaments, barbecue equipment and tools.
The rise of in-house brands
Solus Garden & Leisure consolidated its distribution to garden centres by reducing its suppliers to 20 from 100 in 2011 and now has more than a dozen of its own brands, which are driving the business.
More than 250 garden centre owners, including groups from Choice Marketing and Tillington, have visited Solus's Droitwich showroom in the past few weeks to see its ranges.
Solus brands now include Yeoman garden tools, Adorn gift and indoor, Yeominis kids tools, Woodland Wilf gnomes, Vento laundry products, Chapelwood birdcare, Joseph Bentley tools, Botanico grow you own, Revolution barbecues and lighting accessories, Camelot outdoor living ranges and Bermuda water gardening products.
It supplies 2,000 garden centres and is moving into multiples such as B&Q.
According to managing director Nick Davies, the wholesale sector has "polarised" to just Solus, Decco and Stax.
Brands still being supplied include Scotts, Hozelock, Wilkinson Sword, Town & Country, Bayer, Jeyes, Johnsons Seeds, Fiskars, Sinclair, Spotless Punch, Cuprinol, Vitax and Fastforward Music.