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Glee 2007 - A Review - Page 4 of 4
Well, we're on the last stratum, the base of the fanciful pyramid metaphor that is losing credibility with every faltering sentence, the layer comprising all those companies and enterprises that provide the support for the rest of the industry. While they may not be top of the food chain in the hard-landscaping trade, their presence allows the bigger fish to get on with their day-to-day snaffling while they focus on their specialisms.
Aco enjoy that enviable position of having their company name used as a generic for all similar products, regardless of manufacturer. Contractors and designers alike talk about Aco channels when what they actually mean is "Linear Channels". However, it's not mere chance that this has brought about this happy situation; the brand has to establish itself in the first place and this is typically achieved through two key factors: quality and innovation. Off the top of my head, I can't think of any other drainage channel company that offers the breadth available via Aco. It's all there, from simple patio products such as the Hex Drain all the way up to super-industrial monsters like Q-max, and all stages in between.
Not much point in showing off the big stuff at a show like this, though – save that for Civils 07 later this year – so they put on a display of the more lightweight products, such as the aforementioned Hex Drain (which is now available in a damned handy "Garage Pack" comprising 3 lengths of channel plus all essential fittings) and the cellular GroundGuard gravel/turf containment product.
Like a re-run of the External Works event earlier in the year, pavement mortars were exceptionally well represented, with three important players touting their wares.
Romex is an incredibly popular range of products with many of the contractors that use the Pavingexpert website, but sadly, the ongoing distribution problems show no immediate sign of being resolved. I'm almost at the point of asking what is happening and why Britain doesn't receive the same standard of distribution and service that is enjoyed over in Ireland, but there are suggestions (I won't say owt stronger than that) that improvements may be forthcoming before the end of the year.
I did manage to get a sample of the new-ish Romex sealant, so I'll be daubing that onto a few stray flags and setts later this week and will, hopefully, report back next spring as to the results.
NCC Streetscape have bagged Romex's main competitor in Germany and are have exclusive distribution rights to the stable of GftK (you really don't want to know the full name, trust me!) pavements mortars, which run from basic patio-standard polymerics such as the delightfully entitled VDW840, right through to commercial grade products that have a superb pedigree on the continent.
From the point of view of your typical contractor or engineer, there's not a lot to differentiate between the resin products of Romex or GftK, but, at the moment, I'd have to say that GftK have a slight edge in that they have ensured there's an effective distribution network in place via their deal with NCC, and so customers are not left to rely on mail order as their best source of the products.
Unlike Romex, NCC did not provide "live demonstrations", but this does not seem to have adversely affected the level of interest, particularly from the increased number of contractors we saw at the show this year. MD Dave Mackay sees this next 12 months as a period of consolidation and increased brand awareness. Since introducing the GftK products back in the spring, he's been pleasantly surprised by the response, particularly from local authorities, and he's really pleased with sales to date. Export manager Jurgen Glauer, over from Germany for the duration, was similarly pleased with the efforts and sales volumes achieved by Dave and his team in a relatively short time, and he sees Britain as a major market for the whole range of GftK products in coming years.
Easipoint are a home-grown pavement mortar company, relying on more traditional cement-based mortars rather than fancy epoxy resins, and from their base in Lancashire they have enjoyed massive success with their quick, simple and effective jointing systems over recent years. It seems there's hardly a town centre in the land that doesn't have an Easipoint silo standing proudly in the middle of its latest re-development scheme.
The Easipoint sales pitch is similarly simple and effective. Live demonstrations are what draws in the crowds, and for most of the three days, there always seemed to be a mob of interested onlookers crowded around the stand, watching with amazement as the team demonstrated the core product, a cement-based, gun-injected, unbelievably reliable jointing mortar. As Easipoint rely on direct and appointed distributor sales rather than via GCs and BMs, I'm not sure what audience they expected to attract at this show. The contractors, who were present in bigger numbers than ever, are obvious, but I can't see the GCs being interested. Still, the fact that this was another stand with hardly a still moment is testament to the popularity of what is proving to be one of the more successful jointing products on the market.
Hard Landscaping Training Group
While I wouldn't expect to understand why Easipoint see Glee as a natural and obvious outlet for their products, when it comes to the Hard Landscaping Training Group (HLTG), a group in which I'm intimately involved, I should be able to rationalise the expenditure of scarce funds on attending a show such as this rather than actually training people, but I can't. While admitting that there were a good number of contractors present, that relates to the very low numbers present in previous years. Contractors, en masse, don't attend Glee, and those that do make the effort go to see new products and build relationships with manufacturers, not to hear about training.
For my part, I wasn't involved in the HLTG's presence at the show, so I didn't flaunt myself on the stand, but when I did pass close by, it was disappointing to see it attracting sparse attention. I won't win any friends among some of the group for saying it, but spending thousands on attending a show such as this is not, in my opinion, what we should be doing with the money entrusted to us. That amount of money to reach to what amounts to little more than a handful of contractors could be, and should be, much better spent.
Bits and Pieces
Dotted around the cavernous hall that is home to Glee Landscaping during the show are dozens of small companies that have some tangential connection to our trade. Many don't get a mention because that connection is so tenuous or misdirected that I just can't summon up the strength to write anything. Others feature products that are either generic, ten-a-penny, or have such a limited market that they probably won't see the light of day ever again. There are products that, if I had the time and could be sure my readers hadn't fallen asleep by now, I really ought to give a mention. There's a lot less decking than there used to be, which is no bad thing, and what decking there is seems to have realised it has to come up with something new or be manufactured from recycled pop bottles and offer buyers an environmental angle.
Also noticeable this year was the increased number of placky grass suppliers. They give it fancy names, but it is, in essence, plastic grass with varying degrees of realism, ranging from butcher's window to bowling green and all stages in between.
Tucked in amongst these fripperies, I almost missed a true gem and am indebted to someone who shall remain nameless for bringing it to my attention. Basically, it's an interlocking plastic plate system that is simply clipped together and placed on the ground to provide a cheap, stable and incredibly fast solution to the old "what shall I use for a shed base?" conundrum. Hawkbury Products of Burcot in Worcestershire were showing their Hawk-Lok product, and, at first glance, I mistook it for some sort of support system for decking, which, I suppose, it could be, if so desired. However, it's the potential use as a shed base that really sparked my enthusiasm. Here, at last, is a sensible alternative to flags or concrete. Stupidly, I spent more time worrying about how I might be able to photograph it beneath its sheet of transparent acrylic and forgot to ask about pricing, but it has to be more cost-effective than any of the current standard shed bases.
So there it is: Glee 2007 over and done with. As I said umpteen thousand words ago, I've struggled to write this review. It's taken two days longer than usual, but I've had distractions, not least of which is Mrs Taz falling off a ladder at her place of work and breaking her leg. But even allowing for that, it's been harder than ever to marshal my thoughts into something that almost makes sense.
Overall perceptions this year? Well, brushed limestone is the “in thing”, but will that brushing deal with the known problems associated with some of the darker-hued limestones? If asked what pleased me most, then I'd have to say the number of contractors that turned up on Sunday. And what disappointed me most? Well, that would be a tie between the non-appearance of several bloody good companies, such as CED, Bowland, and SureSet, and the continued absence of Brett and Westminster Stone.
Thankfully, there was noticeably less of the oh-so-boring plain Raj, Modak and Desert sandstone flags, although a couple of exhibitors were persisting with them. I didn't waste my time – I'm banned from one and the other has pissed me off – and I'm a better person for it.
The location of several stands was problematic. Having StoneFlair next to Stonemarket next to Global Stone next to Pavestone next to Natural Paving may sound like a really good idea when you're sat in an office playing jigsaws, and from the perspective of someone that has to trudge around the place it certainly cuts down on trudging time, but there's discomfiture with it all. Customers and buyers were painfully aware that A could see them speaking to B and that C was wondering why they'd been missed out. Even for the exhibitors, it would be moiré relaxed if they didn't have their direct competitor in their eyeline for most of the day. There are enough of the ancillary companies and indirect competitors to act as baffles between the main exhibitors, and that, I believe, would make for a more relaxed atmosphere.
A few years back when I started the Pavingexpert awards for this show, it was just a bit of a laugh. I never took it seriously, and I never expected anyone else to do so, but it seems to have captured the imagination of those that attend the show in whatever capacity, and, if nothing else, it engenders discussion and debate. The number of people contending for the “Best Brew” award was overwhelming this year, and while I really appreciate the effort, my bladder is less pleased.
So, let's start with Best New Product . Normally, I'd have a shortlist of 3 or 4 items that had wowed me, but this year, I'm really stuck. There were a good number of products that I liked immensely, but none that screamed “winner” at me. So, for the first (and possibly only) time I'm having to go all Hollywood Oscars (there should probably be a Trade Mark symbol in there) and introduce a 'nominations' shortlist.
In amongst a plethora of innovative and interesting products, the radius kerb in brushed limestone from Natural Paving was the one that really stood out, and on the otherwise lack-lustre Stonemarket stand, the quirky granite patio square feature was head-and-shoulders above almost everything else. Global Stone's tumbled green "Ocean" slate was simply gorgeous, with its echoes of Connemara Marble, and StoneFlair's Spinning Circle was attracting helluva lot of attention. Even Marshalls Grey-multi Driveline CBP deserves a mention because I'm convinced the colour is a cert, but if I'm going to mention that, then the new Graphite colour in the Argent range has to be at least as noteworthy. Finally, the Hawk-Lok shed-base thingummyjig would certainly win this hands-down if there was a non-traditional paving category. However, after at least a dozen dithering cuppas, and what feels like endless procrastination, I'm going to plump for the Arctic Granite Revolve feature from Stonemarket because it's the one item that is distinctively different and bang on the money for contemporary design.
The Flagger's Maul Award for best new paving product goes to…..
Stonemarket for the Arctic Granite Revolve patio feature
And so on to Best Stand . As already stated, the standard this year has been higher than ever, but, perversely, I didn't feel that the main engine that has driven all this progress was as exceptional as it has been in previous years. Natural Paving and Pavestone must get honourable mentions, but despite the cramped space, in my heart of heart's I know that Leighton Powell's efforts for Bradstone was the real showstopper. The design was busier than I like, with far too little circulation space, but when you look at the sheer quality of the build, he's still Da Man!
The Golden Trowel Award for best stand in show goes to……
Finally, the biggie; the one they all want; the one they would trample over their own grandmother to win: The Chairman's special award for best brew. Yet again, another closely contested category. Marshalls, last year's winner, were very close thanks to the tireless ministrations of Natalie and Ann, and I almost gave it to Bradstone/StoneFlair/Border Stone for their incredibly good company and lunch on Sunday with Ian and Tom, but I'm going to make a stand for proper tea (which is, after all, nine-tenths of the law) and give it to Pavestone for being the only exhibitor to proffer tea in a real cup. It might not have been the best china, but it was a real cup, with a real handle, and genuine leafy-bits in the bottom. That's got to count for something!
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