Quality, performance and research drives garden sector

Searles Gardening continues to maintain a strong point of difference in the market due to its high quality products as well as its ability to continually research the market, according to Managing Director, Jason Searle.

“One of our major points of difference is that Searles’ bagged lines are manufactured on the Kilcoy site and not contracted out at all. This ensures we directly oversee product quality, research and product performance. On a wholesale perspective, some of the comparative advantages we build upon include product ranges, product presentation, servicing and innovation,” Mr Searle said.

While the company’s tactics for success are simple, Searles always maintains a long term focus.

“Just some of our tactics include developing an appealing range of high quality products, engaging with our customers in developing strategies and goals to build business and market analysis, ensuring we are on trend with consumers and exceeding their expectations,” he said.

Just some of this product development includes Searles’ plans to release several new gardening lines over the coming seasons, with one of its major new lines being the new Platinum Peat 80 Potting Mix.

“This potting mix is the longest feeding potting mix on the market and produces growing results of incredibly high standards. It also sets a new, highest quality benchmark and ensures Searles reinforces its principle of being a high quality product,” he said.

Trends in the market
While Mr Searle believes that more and more customers are creating outdoor garden havens to escape daily stress, they are also creating indoor garden sanctuaries as well.

“We are seeing an increase in consumers designing small garden areas, as well as greeneries indoor, over the past 12 months, and we see this trend continuing well into 2018. I think consumers want to reconnect with nature to insulate them from world negativities and develop a sense of space to decompress. Plants and gardening is perfect for this,” Mr Searle said.

“In saying this, I think the industry is slowing very slightly. Just some of the industry impacts include a reduction in backyard size, gardening not being as much of a primary pastime as it was, plus ‘the rush to the bottom’, in terms of pricing and minimal ranging, is also impacting the ability of the gardening sector to sustain strong growth.”

“Consumer spending appears to be depressed in most parts of the country which obviously impacts discretionary spending in categories like gardening. Biosecurity issues, in terms of pests and diseases from abroad, are always at the forefront of the gardening industry. If a bad one establishes in Australia, this would certainly have a disruptive influence on the season,” he said.

Lowered pricing cheapens industry
While the garden industry remains competitive, Mr Searle believes there may be less competition in the market due to a declining diversity in the retail channels, with only a few large channels remaining.

“There is also a lot of pressure on manufacturers to develop greater economies of scale to lower prices or decrease pricing growth. In saying this, inconsistencies in product standards remain, with the market exposed to lower quality products, both imported and locally made. In relation to potting mixes and other bagged products, the current standards do not sufficiently expose ‘very average’ products. Searles maintains products well above standard to ensure we exceed consumer’s expectations in terms of performance,” Mr Searle said.

Looking into the year ahead, Searles remains committed in developing current products, while also developing new products that align with market trends.

“Searles aims to continually streamline its range to ensure we maximize the promotion, delivery and appearance of our core categories. We are excited by the opportunities in the years ahead and look forward to bringing new lines to market,” he said.


New designs drive market

Takasho continues to manufacture products not currently on the market, with new products including patented designs in its VegTrug and Wooden Planters, as well as new colours and mixed materials, according to Takasho Managing Director, Andrew Hogg.

“We recently launched our patent pending Wooden Planter range, including round barrels, square planters and trough planters. These have been very well accepted in the market, with sales exceeding the forecast. Made from FSC® timber with an injection moulded plastic base, this planter range has sizes that are large enough to grow good sized feature plants, herbs and vegetables, while offering value for money,” Mr Hogg said.

“This spring we have also re-worked our hanging basket range, with the two larger sizes developed due to increased demand in garden centres. The stores were after large baskets they can use to plant up with flowering annuals, to provide awesome colour displays within their seedling areas, and also be sold at a premium price.”

“We have also developed a Solar Hanging Basket Light that easily clips on to any size hanging basket, allowing the consumer to enjoy their colourful displays even at night. We can now present a full hanging basket range in store when retailers include the hanging baskets, replacement coco liners, hanging basket stand and the solar lights,” he said.

In the lead up to spring, planning and preparation have been key, particularly when it comes to reading industry trends in the market, according to Mr Hogg.

“Due to Takasho manufacturing products in its 100 per cent owned factories, we provide a spring/summer forecast and have our factories produce to the forecast and warehouse to it. This means if we see a spike in sales for a particular line, we can draw on the stock already produced and have it in a shipping container within a few days, rather than having to wait 30 to 60 days for the goods to be produced,” he said.

Although Mr Hogg believes the industry is neither booming or slowing down, he did say sales were constant.

“We know we must continuously develop new products to suit our market and keep communicating with our customers. Our Sales Manager, Brad Wilson, is in constant contact with our customers, sharing merchandising ideas and motivating stores to build themed displays that attract and maximise sales opportunities. We are very aware that not only do we need to ‘sell-in’ to the store, we also need to work with the store to ensure ‘sell-through’,” he said.


Family run business outplays competitors

As a 100 per cent family owned business with just under 70 employees, Seasol Home Garden Division General Manager, Rohan Butler, believes that remaining a small, family run business ensures the company stands out from its competitors.

“We are a very driven and professional business, with strong family values and we love to have fun along the way. I feel these types of values are rare these days, particularly for market leaders. Everyone within our business has a say and pretty much everyone knows each other by name,” Mr Butler said.

“Another point of difference is that we are fully Australian made and this goes from the manufacturing of the actual products to its packing, with over 90 per cent of operations remaining in house. This allows us to be extremely adaptive to market requirements. When you are also in an industry that is so heavily governed by weather, we can easily keep up with rapid changes, and demand.”

“It is because of this that we produce products that are second to none and I also believe this is why we won the most trusted brand this year, and have been ‘Runners Up’ within the garden products segment, since its inception about six years ago,” he said.

Although the fertiliser category remains quite competitive, Mr Butler said all players within the Australian industry are friends and continue to respect what they bring to the industry.

“When you consider this is a category where loyalty remains high among all players, this also means that it is hard for completely new entrants to come into the market. As mentioned before, I think major players within the category have all really stepped up in their product innovations and applications. This has also been great for consumers, because they are being presented with more products that are much easier to use,” Mr Butler said.

Successful products
Although Seasol’s foundations are within the liquids segment of plant-care, two years ago the company released its first granular fertiliser, which has proved to be quite successful.

“We were extremely excited to release our very first granular fertiliser. This organically enriched PowerFeed plant food, with Troforte Technology, is unique as it not only supplies all the nutrients that plants need, but it also improves the soil with rock mineral and up to 24 beneficial microbes. The success of this product has seen us expand our offer within the granular range, with the introduction of several controlled release products, as well as one product which was designed specifically for lawns,” Mr Butler said.

Trends in the market
Current trends in the overall lifestyles category include exciting innovations in the barbecue, outdoor lighting and outdoor furniture sectors, particularly with consumers currently investing in their backyards to create sanctuaries that help them escape the daily grind.

“Consumers also continue to focus on green areas within their home. Research even shows us, which a lot of us already knew, that the garden is a great form of relaxation therapy. This is so important in today’s day and age,” Mr Butler said.

“In saying this, green areas are becoming smaller within the standard Australian property, but this is not surprising given the rise in alfresco areas in new homes and the reduction of overall land size,” he said.

The industry is improving, according to Mr Butler, who said key brands have definitely raised the bar over the last few years, which is great for the consumer.

“I think market players have all focused on improving the consumer product experience and tried to make it easier to use the product as well,” he said.

Industry issues
One of the major industry issues currently is weather, according to Mr Butler, who said for all of those in the industry, weather holds way more power over the performance of the season than anything else.

“I think this season looks to be dryer than normal, which is not a bad thing for us as our products are applied with water, and our Seasol product actually helps plants deal with drought and heat stress,” Mr Butler said.

“The southern states definitely have the biggest gardeners. I think this is because they have been locked indoors for the cold periods. Being a southerner myself, we are absolutely chomping at the bit to get out and make our gardens look amazing again once the warmer weather hits,” he said.

To cater for this, Seasol boosts its advertising campaigns to coach the not so avid gardeners out too, according to Mr Butler.

“We also support local gardening clubs and work very closely with our retailers to put our products out in prime position. In this upcoming season, all I can say is that we do have some exciting things coming so watch this space,” he said.


Garden Trend

Harry Hanman of Garden Trend also believes there are exciting times ahead, particularly as the industry comes alive in the coming months. As wholesalers, Garden Trend needs to remain ahead of the pack to meet the demand from its retailers, particularly as the industry comes alive during spring, Harry Hanman of Garden Trend said.

“We have found the whole retail sector has changed rapidly over the last 10 years than it has at just about any other time in living memory. This is particularly the case in Sydney and Melbourne, where plot sizes have shrunk but house sizes have increased, stealing space from the garden,” Mr Hanman said.

“This shift, in the way people on the eastern seaboard live, has had a profound impact on the type of items that sell, when compared to last decade. Our interaction with the outdoors may have changed, however, the passion for gardening and green spaces is more energised than ever.”

“We have seen a major shift away from the traditional lawn and picket fence ‘school of thought’ over the past few decades. With the popularity of materials, like concrete and stone, in many new developments, our taste for more architectural elements in the garden is growing at a rapid rate and with equal enthusiasm,” Mr Hanman said.

After seeing this trend for some time, Garden Trend has ranged a raft of products to sell to customers who prefer a more modern garden.

“There is still a massive number of people who are passionate about their garden in the traditional sense, but their numbers are thinning. Though people will lament the current trend, we have noticed that the passion and enthusiasm for the outdoors is not waning. For us, particularly because we do not sell plants or trees, we have managed to keep growing by keeping up with the shifting preferences,” Mr Hanman said.

“We have enormous sympathy for nurseries and garden centres because business for them has become far more challenging in a far more competitive market. However, it seems independents are well aware of these changes and have adjusted and grown in ways that have far exceeded our own expectations.”

“The reality is the market is fragmented between home owners, renters and people in apartments and the net result of this is we need to carry a far bigger range than we might have ever considered, so we can cater for all gardeners. One of the most common threads we have found to achieve excellent sales is to build value for money into every item we sell – and not just for the end consumer, but also the retailers who buy our products. We are actively finding ways to reduce our costs and bring our margins down as low as possible, so the retailer can offer our wares at a price point that is competitive with the big retailers, while still having enough margin to cover their costs,” he said.

The year ahead
With the strengthening of the economy and higher consumer confidence, 2018 is looking to be a very exciting year for this sector of the market, particularly as more people look to improve their homes and gardens,
according to Mr Hanman.

“Given the renewed enthusiasm in the economy, we have ranged a variety of new products including our new Potato Grow Bag, which can be used on a balcony/veranda and in the garden. It is the perfect product for the time, as we have noticed a massive resurgence in the popularity of growing your own fruit, vegetables and herbs, even for apartment dwellers. Particularly with rising property prices, we are looking for products that can be used by end consumers who can’t afford a big garden, but still want to be involved in gardening,” he said.

It is for this reason that Garden Trend will be introducing its new range of terracotta look plastic pots, as a lightweight alternative to terracotta and an ideal addition to a balcony or deck.

“We encourage readers, many of whom will already be customers of ours, to regularly visit our website to view our new products and download our latest catalogue, at www.gardentrend.com.au.”