Previous Glee reviews:
Glee 2008 - Review - Page 3 of 4
It's been a couple of years since Bowland last graced us with their presence at Glee, and it's a pleasure to report that they are back with renewed vigour and a much more impressive presence. There are a couple of new products which we'll come to shortly, but there is much more focused approach to sales and marketing. Perhaps they've picked up something from their erstwhile colleagues at Living Stone, or their more obvious competitors serving mid-range products to the retailers: whatever it is, there is now a much stronger feel about the brand.
For me, it was immediately noticeable that the staff were 'on patrol'. In previous years, there was often a perceived reticence in the display, with staff lurking in the background waiting to be approached rather than drawing people by standing at the edge of their display engaging with passers-by. And this obviously paid dividends because the display was more or less always busy.
On the 'front' corner of the stand, they'd cleverly positioned their Baroque Oval , an eye-catching ellipse of their characteristic buff wet-cast paving, backed-up by a huge promotional banner proclaiming the incredible value and profit potential this item offered to retailers. As with other items elsewhere at this show, it was a simple, nowt fancy patio offering that would have enormous appeal to the weekend DIYer. It's all a matter of understanding your market and providing them with appropriate product.
Smaller paving displays and packaged products separated by spreads of their more popular decorative aggregates all served to attract the independent garden centres and builders' merchants looking for a healthy return on what, we have to reluctantly accept, will not be the main attraction at their particular site. Flagging-up the not insignificant profit potential is guaranteed to attract the gimlet eye of those retailers.
However, profit doesn't come from stationary stock. Products have to sell to generate that profit so it's vital that the offerings will attract customers. While the Baroque Oval will appeal to the budget-conscious DIYer, you need summat that demands attentions to draw in the more selective purchaser, which is exactly what the ostentatious Lakeland Sun patio feature does. Admittedly, it's a variation on a theme, but there's no denying it's a head-turner, and at well under 250 quid, it has to be a winner.
I'm really delighted to see Bowland back at Glee. We need more of these medium-sized manufacturers and distributors to show their wares so that we are given a more comprehensive overview of the wider industry. It's even more pleasing to see them back with genuinely attractive and value-for-money products.
Meanwhile, ex-Bowlanders Living Stone had a larger-than-ever stand with a pair of rather-too-comfy leather sofas forming a cosy chat area, while they had maximised their display area by attaching vertical displays to the back wall of the hall itself, an obvious advantage of this particular location.
Over the past year, Phil and Andrew have pushed ahead with their 'Stone To Home' direct delivery service and report that they are pleasantly surprised with the success the scheme is enjoying. I remember speaking at length about this project last year, as it is apparent to even a myopic old bugger like me that this is developing into a major route to market for many suppliers, as witnessed by the growth of EBay shops amongst paving manufacturers. Living Stone have staked their place at the head of this developing technology and are poised to leave standing many of their similarly-sized competitors.
As discussed earlier, no matter how clever the packaging, POS and marketing, the only guarantee of success in this area of the hard-landscaping market comes from providing a good range of products at realistic prices. While there's nothing startlingly new amongst the wet cast or decorative aggregate products, there has been considerable expansion of the natural stone items, and the best of these, by quite some way, is the shot-textured Arabian sandstone, a four-size mix of mellow buff with feint iron-coloured banding that will be sold in 11.5m² project packs. For me, it's the texture that really makes this product, but having said that, I'm slightly worried that such a rich texture may turn out to be even more amenable to the algae than that of the riven sandstones.
Other secondary-processed sandstones were shown, and a version of the rusty slate that has become inexplicably popular, but nothing that really demanded attention. Having said that, though, it has to be acknowledged that Living Stone are not in business to create new trends nor to define tastes, but to supply the mid-market, and they seem to be doing that rather well.
And in line with several other suppliers, there's a "long'n'thin" product which they've named Sandstone Decking . At 800x200mm, it's neither as long nor as thin as other products of this ilk, and the sole colour option, "Teakwood" is a little too busy for my taste. I'd like to see a simpler, more homogenous colour option, and a contrast unit, but at 8.99 per unit, a worrying 56 quid per square metre, I wonder just how well this will sell, when larger format sawn/honed paving can be had for two-thirds of that price.
There's no point in assessing Living Stone's display for artistic merit or design interpretation: that's not their thing. They attend Glee to show what they have in basic, no-nonsense conditions. A relatively Spartan display such as this will appeal to those more focused on price than presentation, and given the long'n'thin aspect of their allotted display area, there's not much more that could be done with the space available. The packaging and POS stuff is distinctive without being overly brash, and makes much of the multi-buy strategy where if you buy a minimum number of bags, packs or pallets, a lower price kicks in.
I'm sure Living Stone has much to offer the independent retailer, but there's not much here to inspire a designer or the more competent installation contractor.
As is becoming tradition, Lonstone were my first port of call on entering the hall on that Sunday morning, partly because they are very conveniently located right besides the main entrance; partly because of the affable company of Ian Williams and his team; and partly because his daughter makes a good cup of tea, which is just what I need after a 2 hour drive from the north.
I'm sure I've said it before, but there's no harm in repeating the fact that Lonstone are typical of the small-to-medium sized manufacturer that have carried the industry for decades. Their strength lies in producing good quality and value that is ideally suited to a local or regional market. They are never going to stun us with a ravishing new product or stun us with a designer-styled display area, but as with several other exhibitors, that's simply not their intention.
Instead, they offer a personal level of service and aftercare to support their palette of Cotswoldy wet-cast flagstones and patio features, with just one or two eye-catching new items each season, such as the Sunburst feature shown this year.
Despite it not being directly relevant to their key market of paths and patios, Ian has prepared a short but readable 'discussion document' regarding the forthcoming legislation for front garden paving, and the likely impact on their customers. This is more than any of his comparable competitors bothered to do, and he'd even managed to put together a simple display of how a basic patio could be constructed along permeable lines. It is just this sort of attention to detail that keeps Lonstone in business and why these smaller, family-oriented firms deserve our support.
R2 Paving Solutions:
R2 refers to the two Richards behind this new distribution company. Richard Featley and Richard Williams have a wealth of experience behind them as senior managers with a certain well-known national manufacturer. An opportunity to distribute the truly excellent HanseBeton paving products presented itself to them so they took the plunge and, with some financial support from the Germans, set-up R2 Paving Solutions .
These are NOT everyday patio flags. They are the very highest quality face-mix paving units that make exemplary use of the best fine aggregates from around the world to create a finish that is difficult to beat. And as if that isn't enough, many of the flags are treated with the exclusive HanseClean coating which enhances colour, inhibits mosses and algae, deters dirt and stains, and eases any cleaning tasks.
The whole range encompasses flags, blocks and permeable paving, and while the economics of international haulage might render the more everyday items uncompetitive in smaller quantities, the flagstones are highly distinctive and sufficiently attractive to justify the small price premium. While I don't expect to see these products laid to the patio of your typical Barratt or Redrow home, I suspect those designers and architects looking to create a distinguished statement at their developments will be delighted with these stimulating products.
Border Stone is the AI sibling charged with a brief to serve the less discriminating end of the market, a task that they have fulfilled admirably over recent years. Border Stone are never going to amaze anyone with their stand, nor with their products: that's left to their bigger brothers, but they can amaze with value. They do offer good quality at a very reasonable price.
They've a couple of attractive new products for 2009, but for reasons best known to themselves, they kept the best discreetly tucked in amongst the pallets of basic wet-cast patio flagstones. Having witnessed my enthusiasm for the Rosemount round-top edging on the StoneFlair stand, Marketing Controller, Ian Wright, dragged me over to the Border Stone stand to show me the even more attractive barley-twist edging cut from a yellowy-orange sandstone.
Again, it's just 450x150x25mm, but the barley-twist (it's too delicate to be a true rope-top) carving is superb and really ought to be applied to a better stone. As with the Rosemount, it's competitively priced and should retail around 12 quid per linear metre, which is a real bargain for something as lovely as this.
The second product of note is a leaf-shaped patio kit. Nothing fancy, nothing complicated, but a simple alternative to the more usual circles that tend to be used for these stand-alone patios. Unlike certain other elliptical patios that emerged in recent years, this one will actually accommodate a small patio table, just about. It's been knocked out of standard-fare Indian sandstone, and there is a degree of excess wastage due to the shape of it all, but the 12-piece kit is straightforward and should be impossible to lay out-of-pattern. It's eminently suited to DIYers and, sensibly priced, is just the sort of item that weekend landscapers will pick up from their local garden centre on a whim.
Naturally, the usual bags of decorative aggregates were on show, but there's really nothing spectacularly new. Despite the forthcoming legislation regarding front garden paving, I had expected to see more mention given to the suitability of gravel, but it appears that a trick has been missed, and not just by Border Stone.
When you consider the remit of Border Stone, and contrast them to their most obvious competitors (Kelkay, DecoPak, etc.) they do offer a better quality of paving and show far more innovation. Deco aggs are deco aggs, and there's nothing to choose between the product bagged-up by any of the players in this market, so it all falls back on marketing and the Point-of-Sale impact. It's a purely personal thing, and indicative of how we consumers can be manipulated by the most basic of impulses, but I do find that the Border Stone packaging and POS stuff is more appealing that that of other companies in this sector.