As Britain prepares for its annual round of flower shows, keen gardeners are preparing themselves for the long summer ahead.
What has the timber sector got to offer this summer?
Softwood decking is still a strong market for merchants but many different
types of solid wood and composite decking are now available to freshen
the merchant offering and attract higher value customers, as John Dowd, Specialised Product Category Director at International Timber, comments:
“There will always be a market for softwood decking, but people are now
becoming more discerning in their choices. Composite decking already has a significant presence in the UK and is showing ever increasing growth across wider markets, for example in Germany.”
“New options and opportunities are also coming into the market, such as decking made from Accoya, with all the durability and aesthetic benefits which that modified material represents,” International’s John Dowd states.
“Hardwood decking is seeing a resurgence in popularity,” says Richard Mosson, Group Decking & Cladding Manager at James Latham Timber. “Hardwoods are more dimensionally stable and durable, especially thermally-treated hardwoods.”
Yet it is wood-plastic composite decking which is increasingly stealing a march on its rivals, with numerous products available on the market, through not all of them high quality, as Latham’s Richard Mosson confirms:
“Composite decking is here to stay and is gradually eating away at softwood’s share of the market. Largely a price-driven market, cheap Chinese and Eastern European products are gradually losing favour due to their relatively high failure rate. Some larger DIY sheds have had to recall
a lot of composite decking, for example, when complaints were raised.
“Cheaper products are made from PVC mixed with wood fibre,” he continues. “To make them less slippery their surface is abraded, allowing water ingress and exposure of the wood fibre. Leaves, bird droppings and barbecue grease are therefore more likely to stain the abraded surface. Merchants should aim to stock a better quality product which is fully encapsulated and sealed, to protect their customers and to protect their own reputations,” he advises.
Opportunities are such that the ability to hold stock of composite decking now confers benefits to bottom line, as Lee Heitzman, Trex Area Sales Manager at Arbor Forest Products, explains:
“Composite decking sales have risen substantially in recent years and merchants now of your business. Composite decking used to be perceived as a higher-priced product. With the new ranges coming through from Trex you can now offer your customers varying price points to meet their different budget levels.”
The question of whether to stock depends partly on space and partly on the service agreement you may have with your supplier, according to Nigel McKillop, Sales Director UK at Metsä Wood:
“We have our own composite decking product and this is available
in modern colourways including grey and black. Merchants need not carry stock since we deliver to them twice a week and can quickly fulfil any
requirement for composite decking.”
Wider deck boards
Changes are afoot in the composite decking market according to David Whitehill, Director at Compass Forest Products:
“We’re seeing the general move in the indoor flooring market being mirrored in composite decking, in that boards are definitely getting wider. Up to now, composite decking boards have reflected the traditional 120mm and 145mm sizes in the softwood decking market. With more kitchen
renovations now opening directly onto gardens, there’s a need to carry the visual aesthetic through to outside.
“Our new PEFC™-certified TruDeck product manufactured in Germany, offers193mm boards in contemporary Silver Ash and Woodland Brown colourways. Wider boards also offer a saving to the fitter needing less fixings and less time to lay. The figuring on the boards is not repetitive: it follows the natural patterns found in solid wood.”
In addition to composite products, specialist decking can give merchants a new window onto sales, says Metsä Wood’s Nigel McKillop: “With the introduction of more outdoor recreational areas either in public houses, clubs, care homes and children’s nurseries, WalkSure’s noisesuppressing
ability, BS-accredited low slip rating, and the softer surface for anyone who may fall, has given it a distinct market advantage over aggregate-filled anti-slip decking. GrasseDeck has found its place in urban settings, for town
and rooftop gardens, particularly as it dries out quickly after rain.
“Both WalkSure® and our GrasseDeck® are best sold to customers by engaging them with a
sample, whether this is a two-inch sample block
on the counter, or a longer piece hanging on the
wall,” adds Metsä’s Nigel McKillop. “It’s the feel
of them which is important to customers who
might purchase these added value products. We
also support merchants with positive customer
testimonials and POS. Customers value the
reassurance that others have created great
spaces with these products.”
Is it worthwhile for merchants to install such specialist products in external displays? Metsä’s Nigel McKillop says perhaps not:
“Landscaping displays that include decking of any kind can be useful where there’s space. Being honest, though, they only work well if they are kept
looking great all year round. We sometimes find that other products for sale have been put on top of them, so it’s impossible for the customer to get a feel for what they will look like in situ. We also know from our data analysis
that the majority of merchant customers come in regularly to branch, so a landscaping display that isn’t refreshed or changed around regularly ceases to grab their attention and they go back to their basic buying patterns.”
He adds that decking accessories can be a useful add-on to merchant decking sales:
“When we first started offering decking products at least 20 years ago, the decking accessories everyone wanted were of matching timber. Today that’s very different: decking accessories featuring steel and glass are extremely popular to give a contemporary feel.
Garden timber cladding
Beyond the cut and thrust of the decking market, merchants looking for a consistent seller should take another look a timber cladding for garden
buildings, says Jason Ostler, Managing Director at Arbor Forest Products:
“Although many merchants now sell complete sheds and garden
buildings, external cladding for shed repairs and shed-building is still a profitable category to stock. We’re now seeing merchants adding value to
that offering by selling pressure-treated external claddings, such as shiplaps, lifting these products out of the commodity bracket. The correct
preservative pressure treatment for external claddings is to Use Class 3, for external timbers used above ground.”
The Timber Trade Federation, as part of its Timber you can Trust campaign, is working to reinforce knowledge in the merchant sector on the different types of timber treatment. Use Class 2-treated timbers are suitable for internal use only; Use Class 3 treatment is for products like cladding which are used externally but only above ground, and Use Class 4 treatment is for timbers which are in contact with the ground, whether that is permanently, such as fence posts and decking joists, or temporarily.
“It’s extremely important that all merchant staff understand these three different levels of treatment and sell the appropriate treated product for the end use,” concludes TTF Managing Director David Hopkins.