The first brochure review of a new decade and that dubious honour goes to Bradstone. It’s an interesting exercise to compare and contrast what Bradstone were promoting in the year 2000 with what’s on offer as we enter the third decade (scary!) of this century. Much of the wet-cast concrete paving has gone, and the latest brochure is completely and totally dominated by the “in-thing” of right now: porcelain/ceramic/vitrified paving. This one product groups accounts for a generous 37 pages of the total of 176 (just over 21%) compared to concrete paving’s 31 pages and just 19 for the deposed monarchy of Natural Stone. Bearing in mind that Bradstone’s heritage is very much based on concrete, this is a significant shift, but let’s face it, they are not the only ones!
While there are countless changes since 2000, one thing that has stayed the same since last year is the brochure format. The hand-and-bag friendly, midi-sized, portrait layout set-up, features semi-stiff card covers with a matte finish, and, as already mentioned, a voluminous 176 pages (including the covers). This ‘iTablet’ scale brochure has been a real hit with consumers, contractors and the merchant trade, and it does feel about right.
Admittedly, it’s less cumbersome than A4 format (portrait or landscape!), but is that at the expense of the imagery? And that stiff glued spine doesn’t really lend itself to double-page spreads, requiring a muscular page bend to force the bugger flat. Some of the images do suffer due to this, but it doesn’t really detract too much from the visual impact – more an inconvenience than an annoyance. But what’s the solution? A spiral-bound format would break the bank, and even a stitched version would probably double production costs.
It’s a trade-off between cost and convenience. It just about works, but if the page numbers were to creep much higher, then it could become a more of a problem and then what? Go back to A4 or find a different binding method? I’ll leave that to marketeers at Bradstone, while I focus on what they’ve given us for this season.
When the two Bradstonites who had drawn the short straws came to see me, there was much talk about the consumers’ “journey”, a phrase that is truly abhorrent, but which I have to reluctantly admit is fully understood by all of us thanks to appalling TV shows. They tell me it’s about tailoring the brochure to help the consumer better understand just what’s required when choosing a new patio or driveway, and to gently lead them through it in a logical sequence. There’s info about the Bradstone Assured Installers – and much of the work featured in this brochure comes from real-life installations by these skilled contractors – and prompting about how the actual paving elements are but a minor component of the total build cost. There’s a Case Study with real-life customers, which does offer limited albeit useful insight – there’s only so much you can convey over a couple of pages.
I could run off a couple of thousand words about what’s new in the porcelain/ceramic/vitrified section. This is such a dynamic sector of the industry right now that we have to accept that we will be presented with an ever-evolving smorgasbord, one that is exceptionally fluid and is likely to feature countless items that least but a season before being consigned to the bin. Compared to concrete or natural stone, it’s so easy to churn out a new colour/pattern/texture/size in these contemporary materials, and so it’s only to be expected that manufacturers will gleefully exploit that potential….and that the results won’t always be winners.
So, I’ll restrict my comments-of-dubious-value to those stand-out items that are, perhaps, more worthy of deeper consideration. Aspero, the porcelain with a light riven texture has a new three-size patio pack covering almost 19.5m2 and rectified to be laid as a linear layout rather than random. An interesting development that breaks the stranglehold of boring regular pattern layouts.
Vetusto, the slate-like porcelain has a new size, 895x595mm, available individually but, for now, only in the Dune (sandy buff) and Blue-Black (blacky-blue) colour options. Again, this immediately opens up a whole new world of pattern and layout possibilities, so is hugely welcome.
A completely new range (because there still isn’t sufficient choice with what we already have!) in the form of Madera Grande, a ‘wide plank’ 1200x300mm timber effect paver in the self-explanatory Dark Brown or Light Brown colour options. Great potential as an edge or framing course, or, of course, it can be laid to replicate decking or a “boardwalk”.
It’s good to see that, as this market matures, the size options are beginning to expand to complement the colour/texture/patterning options and porcelain/ceramic/vitrified is evolving into a genuinely versatile, fully-formed paving option, a long way from the uninspiring stack-bond or half bond choice which was all we had when faced with the original starter size square of 600x600mm.
On to Concrete Paving and there has, they tell me, been something of a reappraisal of what Bradstone could or should put into the brochure. Some well-known names have been ‘benched’, as I believe the term is, while others have been ‘rationalised’, and yet there has been one or two holes plugged where the powers-that-be deemed there to be omissions.
The flagship Old Town riven effect wet-cast flagstone range has experienced a bit of re-jigging when it comes to what’s available in which pack, and there’s enhanced ability to order individual sizes to supplement the standard 6.4m2 patio packs.
The slightly cheaper Old Riven range has also seen a bit of jiggery-pokery, with a revamped shade (can’t read my notes here but it’s Autumn Summat) and the 3-size project pack has been upped to cover 9.9m2.
The Dark Grey option added to the utility Peak Paving range last year has been something of a surprise hit, it seems, with demand far outstripping predictions. Peak is a budget ‘back yard’ paving normally reserved for side passages, bin storage areas and shed bases, so to hear there’s demand for a particular colour suggests there’s more going on with it than meets the eye!
Natural Stone has, almost inevitably, seen some rationalisation due largely to the onward march of porcelain and its kin, but why on earth has the god-awful Rainbow sandstone been spared the chop? It’s a bleeding algae-magnet; it’s about as subtle as Piers Morgan; and it scratches with a fingernail…..yet it’s still available as a honed smooth option. Madness!
Another stone with what we might charitably refer to as a ‘chequered history’, the rusty slate of Indian origin has, mercifully, been dumped before it can fall apart on any more patios, but the far superior Blue-Black and Grey-Green options have been retained.
The big news for Concrete Block Paving is the introduction of “BradDrive Cobblestone”, an imitation sett (NOT a cobble at all!) concrete paving system featuring a high-quality and abrasion resistant sprayed-on cementitious veneer to provide texture and colour. Any similarity to products from other manufacturers is purely intentional.
These products have become reasonably popular but they aren’t without their problems. Professional installation is absolutely essential, and the performance of the jointing medium is critical: it needs to be strong enough to hold everything in place yet have sufficient flexibility to move with the paving units on their sand bed.
BradDrive Cobblestone (sic), unlike its competitor, features more of a matt finish which may or may not appeal to customers, and has three colour options in five different sizes, each with 24 different moulds, enabling plenty of variation in appearance, It’s all manufactured in Britain, rather than being imported from The Netherlands, so there should be a cost efficiency…..we’ll see!
While it’s good to see a challenger to the current market leader, these veneered products are not for me. I’ve seen too many heavily abraded – bald, you might say – installations, particularly in Europe, and then there are repeated problems with the jointing medium. Maybe BradDrive will avoid these pitfalls, maybe it will prove to be a runaway success, but regardless, I wouldn’t have this, nor its competitor, on my own driveway. They all look a bit too much like “Imprinted Concrete” for my taste and why have a wannabe sett when you can have a genuinely gorgeous paver such as StoneMaster for less money?
Elsewhere, the ever-popular Woburn Rumbled is treated to a new shade, the seemingly unremarkable “Silver”, which is, they say, a lighter grey than the existing “Graphite”. I’ve only seen it as a small swatch where it looks very much like plain, uncoloured concrete. The Bradstonites assure me it is much more than this, but until I see it “in the flesh”, I would have to reserve judgement.
On we go to the normally ‘meh’ section dealing with Landscaping Accessories, which, for once, is anything but insipid, with a plethora of additions, adjustments and accoutrements. Apparently, Bradstone have determined that their offer with regard to these hard-landscaping bits and bobs has been underwhelming. They speak of seeing well-designed and fantastically implemented projects featuring Bradstone Paving with edgings from some other manufacturer, and step treads by a third party, or walling from one of their smaller rivals. They decided they needed to round-out their range and ensure their customers and contractors alike could get everything they needed from Bradstone.
This has led to a new range of “Universal Steps”, a wonderfully simple suits-all system for building elegant but unfussy steps, and an intriguing new walling system, EasyStack, which can, as the name suggests, be stacked to form dwarf walls or planters as the job requires.
Copings have been rationalised to acknowledge most contractors will adapt a 300mm flagstone when one is needed, and the choice of setts has been expanded to offer more textures and sizes. The choice of edgings seems bigger than ever and in a-blast-from-the-past rave-from-the-grave style, an old favourite in the form of Tile-On-Edge has been resurrected in response to unprecedented demand tracked down to a Pinterest posting, which just goes to show that good ideas never really die….they just lie low for a while.
Overall, I wouldn’t be in the least surprised to find that this is now the most comprehensive collection of hard-landscaping accessories from any national manufacturer. It’s a genuine cornucopia!
Then, just when you think all the surprises are over, they save the biggest, and possibly the most welcome, for last. Pedestals. Yep….I said Pedestals.
For those unfamiliar with the concept, pedestals are adjustable plastic supports on which paving is laid, usually over roof terraces or balconies and the like. They’ve been knocking around for decades with rather limited appeal - the aforementioned hi-rise applications – but the advent of porcelain and its ilk has seen an explosion in interest as a possible alternative installation method.
Used correctly, they are a great idea, but they do need careful installation, which, in my not-so-humble opinion means they MUST have a firm and stable base, preferably concrete. There is potential, as Bradstone have correctly identified, for use as an overlay method, enabling porcelain or similar to be laid over the top of existing paving without the need to dig it all out, lay a sub-base, bed on mortar and all that.
For more years than I want to think about, I have been trying to publish a page on the website which looks at the pros and cons of pedestal installation, but on/off support from manufacturers, combined with lack of photography opportunities and huge time pressures have kept it on a back burner for far too long. Maybe this development from Bradstone, in association with Buzon, will give me the impetus to get the page wrapped up and published….watch this space!
That’s the brochure, then. There’s just enough that’s new or improved to maintain momentum, and at least a couple of developments that will shake up several other manufacturers, which is no bad thing.
The brochure itself is not significantly different to last year, so the same comments apply, good and bad. Its size is a pleasure: the split-page images less so. The page format is good – no: it’s more than that, it’s improved because the text has been sharpened up, made more concise, lost some of the flowery excess, and given greater relevance to the consumer.
Other than being indecently stretched over two pages, the images are excellent, and even more so because almost all of the hero shots feature projects undertaken by Bradstone Assured installers, and they’ve all been credited as is only right. Some shots have to come from a studio set – swatches and the like – but it is a genuine treat to see real-life work and to have those hard-working lads and lasses that built it given the accolades they deserve.
My gripe about the technical info being exiled to the back pages persists, I’m sad to report. Time and time again, I found myself flipping from image page to tech page to check which sizes are available, or how many metres in a pack. I can accept the layout pattern beings tucked away back there, but, at the very least, the sizes should be on the same page. They do it with the Trade Directory, so if it’s good enough for contractors, then it’s good enough for customers.
Other “improvements” worthy of a mention are the extensive use of QR codes, the fuzzy black-and-white postage stamp sized patches that are appearing anywhere and everywhere, it seems. These in the Bradstone brochure can be read by almost any smartphone and link directly to additional content of alleged relevance. This is yet another step to merging the offline and online marketing materials. It’s a great addition but I hope it isn’t another nail in the coffin of traditional hard-copy brochures.
And it’s worth mentioning Order Select, the enhanced service from Bradstone whereby they will do the work of bone-idle, greedy merchants and split packs on your behalf, so that you need buy only what you actually need, and not waste your hard-earned dosh on the full pack quantities merchants insist on selling.
I know a very friendly hard-landscape supplier who will gladly split packs for you, whether you want to buy one flag or a thousand-and-one, and at no additional cost. But then, he’s an independent and focused on providing a service to his customers, something that’s not always possible when you’re answerable to a Head Office located a couple of hundred miles away, and when you’re more focussed on sales targets than on developing mutually beneficial relationships.
While Order Select is an invaluable and greatly appreciated service from Bradstone, I can’t help feeling that the party making the most money out of these transactions should be the ones making most effort.
As I said to the poor missionaries sent by Bradstone to walk me through 2020’s offer, some brochures bring revolution while others bring evolution. This is definitely in the latter camp. I accept some might argue that the BradDrive Cobblestones and the Pedestals are revolutionary, but they’re not, really. They are re-workings of existing ideas. The brochure and the new products are more of an evolution, building on what went before, learning from what worked and what didn’t, identifying the gaps and finding suitable plugs, and generally improving incrementally.
One thing that doesn’t change is the essentiality of the Bradstone Brochure. It’s a genuine quality product, beautifully put together and with all those project images, a fantastic source of inspiration. No serious paving contractor of landscaper can afford to be without it.
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