Glee 2021: Refueling Garden Retail

The UK’s key trade event for garden and outdoor living helped set the trends and fill up the order books

They say absence makes the heart grow fonder and this certainly felt like an accurate sentiment at Glee last week, when the garden retail sector was finally able to reunite after a two-year hiatus.

Millions of new British gardeners have made the past two years, even with all its many challenges, a period of tremendous growth and innovation for the industry and Glee is the most important launch platform, where suppliers can bring new products to market and engage with the retail trade.

Featuring over 300 brands, 125 of which were brand new to the show this year, the long-anticipated return of Glee as an in-person event was positively received from all corners of the retail sector: from traditional garden centres, DIY Stores and farm shops to high street retailers, department stores, builders’ merchants and thriving e-commerce sites.

As the first occasion since 2019, when so many gardening brands and retailers could meet face to face under one roof, it wasn’t surprising that Glee opened its doors on Tuesday, September 14th to a large and eager crowd, who helped create “the busiest start to Glee ever” for many exhibitors. The show provided an essential hub for educational business content and future trends; also hosting a number of prestigious industry award ceremonies to celebrate the best of garden centre retailing and the most innovative and exciting new products launched over the past 24 months.

Buyers flocked to the NEC, raring to go and ready to meet their regular suppliers, source new product solutions and place those all-important trade orders at Glee. The ability to touch and feel products in person – something that’s been sorely missed over the past two years – brought a fantastic buzz to the busy show, which lasted for the full three days.

Among the many show highlights, British Garden Centres was voted Garden Retailer Buying Team of the Year (six stores or more) and Aylett Nurseries was named Overall Independent Garden Centre Buying Team of the Year (up to five stores) in this year’s Buyer’s Power List Awards; Pot-mate™ was awarded this year’s GIMA Innovator’s Seed Corn Fund; Hills Plants scooped the Best Glee Green Heart Display award; and 19 fantastic new garden and pet products were named winners of the coveted Glee New Product Showcase.

Vicky Nuttall, Director of GIMA: “It was a joy to be back at Glee this year, and well done to Matthew Mein and all the team at Hyve for bringing it all together. GIMA members were there in force and we were very pleased to host around 200 introductory meetings with key retailers as part of our Buyer Connect event at the show. On a personal note, it was so great to reconnect with all those fantastic people that make the UK garden retail sector such a great industry to work in. Lovely to see so many new faces too, many of which we hope will be joining GIMA in the not-too-distant future!”

All the fun of the fair

Individual exhibitors had plenty of their own highpoints at this year’s exhibition. Nigel Thompson of Sipcam Home & Garden, which provides innovative solutions for home, pet and garden care, said: “We had some great leads at Glee 2021. In fact, we had probably as much quality in one day as we might do in three days previously. People were really engaging and were just glad to be there. There was a great vibe, and you could feel the halls buzzing. We saw existing customers but some new as well. It also feels as though people were really open and responsive to change. The consumer demographics have changed, and they are not your traditional gardener. There is maybe some good to have emerged from the world spinning on its head.”

GYO specialists, Green Digit (Grow So Simple™), were also feeling the buzz, saying: “It doesn’t seem that long ago that we were making our Glee debut within the GIMA Innovators Zone, with one product and a head full of ideas and now, we are here as a fully-established brand that is growing its portfolio and international reach. This has easily been our best-ever Glee. Everyone has been so positive about being back at shows, but more were ready and willing to place orders. There is such a thirst for gardening and retailers are engaged with diversifying their product offering to keep this momentum going. We’ll definitely be back next year.”

The positive sentiment was echoed by visitors. Paul Smith of Chessington Garden Centre explained: “It’s great to be back at Glee, it’s been a long time coming and the whole organisation of the event has been really good, especially given the challenges. What we’ve really found encouraging is the number of new suppliers we’ve seen. That has definitely made our visit worthwhile! We are particularly looking for environmentally-friendly products – especially peat free – and many of the companies we’ve’ seen have ticked all the right boxes in that respect. They’re really trying to do the right thing and that’s been the standout for us; it’s a huge achievement.”

Glee also offered the perfect sourcing ground for new entrants to the garden retail market. One such example is Ariel Martin and brother Samuel, who launched online garden centre, City Garden Horticulture, 18 months ago and were visiting Glee for the first time this year. Ariel said: “We’re selling everything you’d expect to find in a bricks-and-mortar garden centre and we have a very varied customer base – urban gardeners, indoor plant enthusiasts, traditional cottage gardeners, lots of young people; anyone and everyone, really! I’ve found this to be a really good show. It’s been great to make physical connections with suppliers and there’s a really good variety of products here. We’re particularly looking for new Christmas lines and also want to shop new ranges for spring, new plants and tools. Sustainability is very important to us and we already have over 50% recycled packaging; something we plan to improve on over the next few years.”

Event Director, Matthew Mein commented after the show: “I am truly delighted with how this year’s show went. It has exceeded all of our expectations and I’d like to say a huge thank you to all of our loyal customers and retailers who turned out to support Glee after such a challenging time. I really don’t think it could have gone any better and we are now looking forward to Glee 2022, when our biggest-ever change will come, with a different June date for the show. We are confident that this new date will be better aligned with buying cycles for the garden retail sector and can’t wait to unveil the new event when the time comes. Rebooking has gone very well and 65% of next year’s plan has already been booked, so this is already looking like a really welcome move.”

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