It’s only 20 or so years ago that Britain’s biggest paving supplier published a garden and driveways brochure that was A5 landscape (yes: A5!) and ran to around 30-odd pages. They’d previously issued lovely A4, full colour, very professional brochures, but for some reason, this one year, they put out this…..this…..this glorified flyer and, to put it mildly, it didn’t go down well.
Fast forward to 2022 and look at this! Paving Stones Direct (PSD) would admit they are not the biggest paving supplier, or even in the top 5, but their newly issued brochure is nothing less than a behemoth. I’ve seen smaller telephone directories!
It’s a square format, 210x210mm, full colour, 260 pages (incl glossy covers), weighing in at a hefty 675g (around a pound and a half in old money!), and it seems that more or less every popular paving material is in there. It starts off with a very basic explanation of the business model, of which I’ll say more later, and a token “portfolio” of jobs done using PSD materials, but the vast majority of those two-hundred-and-thirty-odd pages is product.
As we should expect, they kick off with porcelain, and plenty of it…..66 pages of it! 20 years ago, most brochures didn’t extend to 60-odd pages, never mind give over so much real estate for just one product. There’s no point in trying to explain what they have: it seems it’s all there, every format, patio packs, planks, king-size, 100x100 tiles….even a small selection of 30mm tiles for driveways.
It's all rated at R11, which is the very minimum external tiling should be, but no mention of origin. We all know there are nations that excel with porcelain, and nations that should have stuck with yak farming or rug making, so some indication of origin is always useful.
Much the same could be said about the natural stone offer, which encompasses smooth/honed, riven, flamed and antiqued, and more or less every popular type: sandstone (including the god-awful skip-fill that is Rainbow FFS!), limestone, granite, slate, and basalt. There are flags in singe sizes, in project packs, and as linear/planks. There are shallow decorative setts (they are not cobbles, no matter what they say) and there are stone pavers for driveways - more on that later. It’s all very comprehensive, I’ll give ‘em that!
Then there’s walling in stone, as porcelain, as cladding; kerbs/edgings; artificial grass; composite decking; and even timber baulks/sleepers. The one obvious absentee? Clay pavers. It would be wonderful to see a selection of British-manufactured clay products – there are plenty of outlets for European clays nowadays, so give the beleaguered native pavers and clays a bit of a boost.
They’re also offering some accessories in the form of diamond blades (which seem to be own label) linear channels and jointing materials of varying efficacy, along with an all-surface sealant which, to be frank, none of which inspires confidence, but probably appeals to the DIY fraternity.
At one time, I’d expend hundreds or even thousands of words describing the products, but there are just too many. However, what can be considered is the value of the brochure itself.
There’s no denying it’s a pretty thing. It’s very much focussed on images with minimal text, and most of the photies are of impressive projects….admittedly, there are some shudder-worthy installation errors but it’s purists like me that spot these, and we can see beyond the schoolboy cock-ups to appreciate the products on show.
Swatches are largely non-existent. There’s a near-total reliance on the job shots to give an impression of the colour and texture of each product, which is understandable, but not always reliable. Shade, time of day, time of year…all these will affect the quality of light and therefore the apparent colour (less so the texture) of any particular product.
The quality of the photography is more than adequate, I doubt all of them were taken by professionals – there’s a hint of cameraphone about one or two – but overall it’s good enough and far better than many brochures used to have.
Constructive criticism? The section index (pp 14-15) is always useful in larger brochures, but this one isn’t sufficiently clear. Again, the focus is on using images when it’s clear, legible text that’s really needed. And using colour coding of the page heading bands (the murky grey stripes across the top of most pages) would facilitate identifying each individual section from the edge of the brochure.
Beyond that, some of the language and terminology, minimal though it may be, is vague, ambiguous or, on one or two occasions, wrong.
For example, lovely though they may be, the sett-like stone pavers forming the Driveway Block Paving” section, are not block paving. Block paving is something subtly different and, in the mind of most people (and specifiers) is a concrete block typically intended to be laid as an unbound (flexible) pavement. They could get away with referring to these pavers as ‘setts’, because most people understand that indicates cubic rectangles of natural stone typically installed as a bound (rigid) pavement. It’s all unnecessarily confusing. Why not simply call them “pavers”?
It would be very useful to have some indication about country of origin. It allows the consumer to gain a better understanding about the product, its strengths, weaknesses, foibles and idiosyncrasies. Many of the natural stones are well-enough known to enable an educated guess regarding the source (Kota limestone can only really come from India, after all) but some of the granites, and especially the porcelains would benefit from having their origin marked up.
And the now seemingly obligatory “Recommended Installer” scheme. What makes these installers ‘recommendable’? What vetting has been done? By whom? How often? As many other suppliers have found, there’s no easier and faster way to despoil a hard-earned reputation than to allow some hairy-arsed landscaper or builder use your name as an alleged indication of quality.
So: about that business model. It’s direct sales only, online or by ‘phone; no display centres, no regional yards, no peripatetic sales reps. You can order up a small number of samples (seem to be 100mm squares), and professional installers can request a bigger sample pack in a swanky box, but the deal is done “at distance” (so there are specific trading and consumer regulations) and the paving is delivered directly to the site using a tail-lift vehicle. No crane off-load, which buggers things up for some installers, no doubt.
It's a wholly different model from the more traditional buying from a merchant or even direct from a manufacturer, but it has been working well for a number of other “agents” for a number of years, and we can expect to see more in the years ahead. It’s a buying strategy that won’t suit everyone. It will (and does) appeal to the sort of busy homeowners who might, say, buy a car online, or do all their shopping via a website. It will also appeal to some installers who strike up a good relationship with PSD and appreciate the ability to order known products via the web in the middle of the night or on Sunday afternoon.
All in all, this is a damned impressive “trial brochure” (as it states on the back inside cover) and one I’d be more than happy to show to potential clients. It’s packed with products and design ideas, and there’s quite a few items (such as the circle kits) which are becoming increasingly difficult to source.
For the DIYer, I’d say it’s a “must see” when considering what to do and what to have on your patio or driveway project. For contractors and installers, it’s a very useful addition to the armoury for presenting to potential clients. I can guarantee it won’t embarrass you!
The brochure is available for free download from the PSD Website or via this link....
PSD Phone Assistance: 0800 047 0427