Four Oaks Special

(See this article in its original form in the online The Landscaper magazine, September 2012 issue.)

Four Oaks Special
The rain held off for Tuesday and Wednesday, ensuring outside exhibitors an equal share of the trade visitors to the 2012 Four Oaks show on September 4th. and 5th. in Cheshire. While some exhibitors felt that visitor numbers were down, others simply said it was the normal ebb and flow of a commercial horticultural show now in its 42nd. year. More than 450 companies exhibited at the show, filling Houses A to E, and in the new House T. More than a quarter (30%) of exhibitors were from overseas, following the growth trend in the nursery sector, with plants and mature stock from across Europe.

Many businesses are extending their product lines and/or their market area in 2012/13. For example, Nigel Guffogg, Lancashire-based Anglo Eastern Trading’s Sales Director recently returned from an overseas trip with an exclusive collection of planters, urns and bowls: the Corsican and Aegean collections. “There’s definitely interest in the new and different products,” he said. “We had many enquiries at the show, from small to large operations, and a television shopping channel.” The UV-protected planters are composed of clay and recycled plastics, making them light to handle yet resistant to temperature extremes, cracking and fading.

The Walsall Wheelbarrow Company, based in the West Midlands, is also seeking a new market in the ornamental horticulture business. “The horticultural market is new to us, as we usually work in the construction business,” commented Richard Finch, the company’s Sales Office Manager. “However, at the show we got interest from various sectors, including local authorities and retail.”

Also attracting visitors’ attention was Stewart Garden’s (the gardening products division of UK manufacturer, Stewart) new Garden Tidy range. “The products range from outdoor and indoor cleaning, such as patio sweeping to algae removal from plant pots,” commented Edward Cantle, UK sales manager. He added that local authorities were interested in the vandal-resistant elements of the company’s products.

Environmentally friendly and economical horticultural products reflected the trade’s increased interest in ‘green’ solutions, especially in difficult trading times. Plants From Zion’s new ‘Tree Water Angel’ is a lightweight, ecologically friendly solution to lower young trees’ high maintenance costs. Ofer El-Hashahar said the show was “definitely worthwhile for us, as we’ve had much interest, and new client leads from landscapers and garden centres.” He explained how the Market Drayton-based company’s rigid polypropylene tray covers a plant’s root system on the soil surface, reduces herbicide use and weeding, saves water, and minimises temperature damage.

A large topiary elephant dominated Agrumi’s stand, emphasizing the Hampshire-based company’s work in plant sculpture, ornamental, and architectural plants.

Looking at increasing service efficiency, Spearhead Turf has opened a new distribution centre in Warrington, managed by Mark Cockburn. As Delwyn (Dee) Prentice, the company’s Business Development Executive, commented: “The new depot means that we can send up a full trailer from our [Newmarket-based] warehouse, and distribute it direct from Warrington. It’s far more efficient.”

British-grown plants also attracted visitor’s interest, including Shropshire-based Heathwood Nurseries’ range of trees, hedging plants and shrubs. As Irene Gwillam commented, “We do specialise in native stock from British seed origins, wherever that’s possible.” She also noted that show visitor numbers seemed to be increased: “I think that’s got a lot to do with Pat Coombs’ passion and enthusiasm for the show.”

At the Smart Direct stand, comments about the show and its visitors were also positive: “All the show visitors – from garden centres to landscapers and local authorities – were very positive, and genuinely interested in our range of imported artificial grasses.” The company is based in Nottingham.

And, at the Wyevale Nurseries’ large floor space, managing director Steve Ashworth said, “As usual, the show is well run and well attended. This year, we’ve got more floor space then ever, so we obviously think it’s worth while coming here.”  The Hereford company produces field-grown and containerised nursery stock, and has two wholesale Cash and Carry outlets to serve London/South East and the Birmingham/Midlands areas.

Clive Knowles, Shropshire-based Black Country Metalworks’ managing director agreed that the show was a very pleasant venue, friendly and positive. “Our versatile lamp posts and lanterns were definitely getting attention,” he said. “Especially as they can be displayed inside or outside, where their warm light is attractive while also increasing home security.”

Of course, the Four Oaks Trade Show Awards are an essential part of the event, and more than 100 entries were accepted for this year’s event. Award winners included Smart Direct’s technical excellence category win for its Clumber Artificial Grass, while Ball Colegrave was a runner up in the bedding and pot plants category with its Digitalis Dalmatian series.

In addition to the trade exhibits – from artificial grass and garden ornaments, to irrigation and planters – visitors appreciated the seminars, car park shuttle service, catering and bar facilities. Even ice-creams were in evidence as the sun stayed out – at least for the most part – to create an interesting and diverse 2012 Four Oaks trade show.