Better late than never and Glee No-Show

For reasons best known to themselves, Marshalls have recently (ie: two weeks ago) sent me details of their exciting range of new products for......2008. We all know that Yorkshire is a little behind the times compared to dynamic, modern, thrusting places such as Lancashire, but I'd always assumed their year started in January, like the rest of us. Maybe t'interweb got lost coming over the Pennines? That Saddleworth Moor can be treacherous, especially after a summer like the one we've not had!

Any road up, as they say in that part of the world, here's a precis of what the company reckons will "enhance its market leading propositions" in 2008....

Haworth Moor Sawn Sandstone:

As featured on the Chelsea 2007 Marshalls' Garden and described as "the new contemporary sandstone paving for a chic, sophisticated look in the garden, with a smooth sumptuous finish, lightly sand blasted for non-slip practicality." This imported stone is being supplied in a calibrated 25mm thickness that should enable it to be laid onto a screeded laying course, and is available in three of the more popular colours; Golden Sand Multi, Autumn Bronze Multi and Antique Silver Multi.

haworth moor sawn paving
Haworth Moor Sawn - complete with crossed-joints

Drivesett Argent:

This block has been my favourite in the Marshalls' stable since its launch and the new, darker, Graphite colour just makes it an ever more desirable product. Three colours/tones (light/medium/dark) and three plan sizes, augmented by the new Drivesett Argent Circle, you owe it to your customers to persuade them to use this on their driveway.

argent blocks
Argent Drivesett with the new, darker 'Graphite' colour in the centre

SuDS Stuff - Priora, Tegula Priora & Grassguard:

With the bozos in DEFRA plotting to make everyone's life more complicated and put a bollix on an already fragile market with their proposed ban on non-permeable paving for front gardens , SuDSy or permeable versions of the more popular driveway products are this year's "must have" item. So it comes as no surprise at all to see these products being promoted ahead of the proposed October launch of the cunning plan to bankrupt half of the nation's paving contractors.

The blurb says,

"The unique patented nib design of the Priora & Tegula Priora block creates voids at the joints allowing surface water to pass naturally through into a specially calculated sub-base without compromising the integrity of the driveway while significantly reducing the risk of pollution and flooding in the sewer systems."

priora paving
Priora Brindle Permeable Paving

What I can't figure out (and this applies to all manufacturers, not just Messrs Marshalls) is that if there are wider joints between blocks to allow water ingress, that must mean there is less block per unit area, compared to a standard paving: so why does it cost more? We're being sold less paving for more money!

The National Trust Walling Range:

Designed to complement the Polesden Lacy and Lacock Abbey Flagstones it's another concrete walling block with the distinction of the NT adding to its coffers with every square metre of National Trust paving and walling sold. While the Polesden Lacey paving is a damned good concrete reproduction flagstone (I'm less convinced by the Lacock Abbey offering) the walling blocks are a bit too reminiscent of Lego. Our appetites have been spoiled by almost a decade of cheap natural stone walling, and I'm not sure a concrete walling block that's pretending to be stone is all that appealing any longer. Our tastes just seem more sophisticated nowadays, and there's not enough colour or textural variation in this walling to satisfy the more educated palate.

polesden lacy walling
Polesden Lacy walling
Marshalite Walling Ash Multi:

There's probably more chance for this, because it is what it is - a pitch-faced concrete block - and doesn't waste our time in a futile attempt to convince us that its something else. Marshalite has always sold well, and this new colour will accommodate the renewed interest in monochrome colour schemes.

marshalite ash walling
Marshalite Walling Ash Multi
Saxon Mocha Paving & Circle:

The claim is that this is the "hot new colour for 2008!". This was launched at Glee last year and judging from my discussions with contractors, "luke warm" might be considered an exaggeration. The claim is that inspiration for this wishy-washy coffee-coloured flag comes from interior trends, but I can't see why that means it's a good idea in the garden. The circle and bespoke squaring off kit render it a versatile addition to range but it's a strange colour that will have limited appeal.

saxon mocha paving
Saxon Mocha - not my cup of coffee

Driveline 50 new Pewter Multi:

Now this is a welcome addition. The images posted of this colour blend in the review of last year's Glee bash attracted a lot of favourable comment and a good number of enquiries regarding its availability in 60/80mm format, which Gemma Chappell, Domestic Marketing Manager, says might happen if this 50mm format is well-received.

Pewter-Multi is the 7th colour in the "enhanced" Driveline 50 format, featuring a blend of charcoal, grey and buff that will complement almost any property type or colour. They also claim the Driveline 50 block is even more sustainable with 39% less CO7sub2;e resulting from the production compared to standard block paving, a feat achieved by using an innovative mix design that includes a higher content of recycled materials and by-products with "cutting-edge" admixture technology.

driveline pewter
Driveline Pewter Multi

Tegula Kerb - New Pennant Grey Radials & Returns:

Sorely needed and long overdue. Far too many jobs have been spoiled by glaringly awful saw-cut pieces of Tegula kerb plonked at a corner or forced into some myopic semblance of an arc. I'm not sure about pricing but I do hope they haven't been silly. A neat and tidy detail to the kerbing can make all the difference to a job and it would be a shame if customers and contractors were deterred from using these genuinely useful products by an impossible-to-justify price.

Tegula Kerb fittings
Tegula kerb fittings

No Show at Glee

As mentioned above, many of these products were unveiled at Glee 2007 and with Glee 2008 just four weeks away, it might be reasonable to expect a whole new raft of products from Marshalls, but in a decision that has puzzled many in the trade, they've decided not to bother with the show this year. They've put on a brave face and sent out a press release that attempts to explain the reasoning but doesn't actually convince. There are a number of rumours doing the rounds regarding the real reason for their withdrawal, and it's a safe bet that there will be twice as many by the time the show opens at the NEC on September 21st. For now, we'll give domestic marketing manager Gemma Chappell a chance to convince us...

"We already had some great ideas mapped out for 2008. However, throughout the 2007 show we did notice that the footfall seemed much lower than previous years. To try and clarify this we did ask the event organisers for visitor numbers and profiles but unfortunately they did not provide any which we felt was unusual. So, we took the decision not to attend very shortly after in October 2007.

I think what we want people to understand is that GLEE is not something we feel we have to exhibit at because we always have, or because we are Marshalls - the market leaders and should be seen there, or because everybody else does it. It is essential to us that any event gives a real return for investment; be that brand awareness, additional business or relationship building and we felt GLEE was not delivering anything new across several levels at this time.

It was clear we were entertaining existing customers and journalists at the show that could be better served by smaller focussed meetings at a venue to suit them."

The press release claims that this decision was not solely the choice of Marshalls' marketers but was also made in conjunction with the company's sales team. Andrew Singleton, Stockist Sales Director for the company, states:

"It was quite marked that many of our customers didn't make the trip to GLEE in 2007 due to work loads, or felt they could utilise this time more effectively to sustain their own business's development. It was also noticeable that those who did attend requested further discussions away from the show environment, where talks could be conducted in a more open atmosphere. This again raised an interesting question of the viability of us being at the show this year."

By not attending GLEE this year we are undertaking a far more niche and targeted approach. It makes far more sense to take the new product information to them with a combined sales and marketing approach when it suits their calendar, in a setting where we can cater for one customer's requirements or area of expertise more openly."

The approach now will focus on the company's on-going sponsorship of the Chelsea Flower Show, along with the Marshalls' Battle Bus and increased reliance on the Driveway and Patio Centres dotted around the country.

Andrew continues,

"However, we are not closed to the idea of exhibiting at GLEE again in the future. We will monitor the show this year and make a decision soon after to whether it is something we want to do in 2009. This will also be gauged against the direction we are taking this year, so until then we will just wait and see.

We do however want to wish GLEE and its exhibitors a successful show in 2008. We fully understand the time, energy & cost that goes in to the event for the organiser and exhibitor alike."

From the perspective of someone noted and occasionally pitied for a complete lack of subtlety, all this seems to me like a very unsubtle pop at the organisers of Glee. I don't have visitor numbers for last year, but I don't recall it being less busy than in previous years. Nor do I recall anyone on the Marshalls' stand complaining about visitor numbers or lack of interest. However, with Marshalls' main route to market being via well-established deals with the usual suspects from the Builder's Merchants gang, just what new business the company expected to attract at a show like Glee has been a conundrum for some time.

The withdrawal of Marshalls raises a bigger question. With no Brett, no Cemex, and now no Marshalls, for how much longer can Glee claim to be the premier event for launching new paving and hard-landscaping products for the domestic market? It's incredibly important that such an event exists because it promotes the whole sector and gives an invaluable overview of fashion and trends within the residential paving market. It wouldn't sit easily alongside a more commercially-orientated event such as CityScape or External Works, and it's not big enough to stand alone, so what alternative could there be to Glee?

glee 07
Marshalls' stand at Glee 2007 - not exactly deserted!

Without Marshalls, Glee will be a less interesting event, and we all lose out: less for visitors to see; reduced competition for other exhibitors and consequently less incentive to raise their standards ever higher; and reduced brand awareness for Marshalls, regardless of the brave words from Gemma and Andrew concerning battle buses and flower shows. If there is some petty dispute between the organisers and Marshalls, then it should be sorted out before 2009.