An atmosphere of optimism resonated throughout the halls of Glee during September’s show. Following a buoyant spring and summer season, with many garden retailers experiencing strong growth in key categories, an upbeat trading atmosphere prevailed, underpinning the garden retail sector’s resilience to economic headwinds in the run-up to Brexit. In a year of monumental change for the industry, with 145 former Wyevale Garden Centres now in the hands of new operators, it has never been more vital for suppliers to forge new relationships with buyers – and Glee played a pivotal role by providing the ultimate networking platform that enabled new garden centre owners to witness the latest in innovation and confidently place orders for the 2020 season.

In fact, Glee 2019 raised the bar in terms of innovation and creativity – drawing praise for both the quality of visitors and an increasing international contingent, too. To gain a deeper insight into how this year’s show unfolded against a backdrop of seismic industry change, Glee Event Director, Matthew Mein, reveals key trends that shaped this year’s successful show.

An evolving place to do business

Glee is firmly established as the networking opportunity in the retail calendar and this year’s show was tailored to meet the needs of visitors with demanding schedules. Feedback helps us to fine tune Glee and, following consultation with all partners, Glee moved seamlessly into a new Tuesday to Thursday slot this year – a decision taken in response to feedback from retail visitors. This move allowed those in the retail trade to focus on post-weekend trading and stock replenishment on the Monday, ahead of visiting Glee – a move that resulted in an upbeat opening to the show, allowing buyers to focus on networking and meetings without interruption.

Set across five halls, visitors were engaged from the moment they set foot in the NEC, with more than 550 exhibitors set across eight carefully edited show sectors. As an added bonus, the new Glee Connect matchmaking service helped exhibitors and visitors to strike meaningful connections with ease. Using AI technology, the connect platform was able to give all parties a higher return on time invested in their visit. Elsewhere rebooking for the 2020 event reached 61% during the show, as brands look to secure their investment in the coming seasons. In general the 2019 event saw strong numbers across the board. Including revisits, over 7,800 people visited the show, with visitors coming from over 40 countries. 40% of visitors were new to Glee, with retail buyers with sole purchasing responsibility seeing an increase of 14% year-on-year. 22% of all visitors also had a purchasing budget over £1million, meaning orders books were quick to fill and meaningful retail partnership conversation were the order of the day.

A hub for innovation

Glee 2019 set a new benchmark for inspiration and creativity, and the New Product Showcase – a platform to unveil the most unique and sought-after novelties coming to market – was testament to the scale of investment evident in the sector. Innovation drives category growth in retail and the biggest ever New Product Showcase at Glee, staged in association with Garden Trade News, hosted a record 362 entries, hammering home the level of product foresight that’ll keep tills ringing next season. It was a similar story at the brand-new Pets at Glee New Product Showcase, with fierce competition helping to maximise product exposure to buyers, while revealing the most exciting new lines that hold the potential to inspire pet-owners to make in-store purchases.

The greatest showroom

Now an established feature and widely regarded as the beating heart of Glee, the highly acclaimed Retail Lab returned for its third year, with a theatrical theme for 2019. Run in association with the HTA, and brought to life by Retail Lab Creative Director, Romeo Sommers, the 2019 theme of The Greatest Showroom offered the ultimate in inspiration for merchandisers, showcasing the latest trends and highlighting how a bit of theatre can entertain and engage customers. The Lab’s two key themes – Saving the world: Nurturing, Nature and Animals, and Do it yourself (and have fun) tapped into the fashion for bringing nature into our homes and threw the spotlight on in-store concepts that capture the imagination of customers and inspire consumers to connect emotionally with issues they care about, such as reducing plastics, caring for pets and urban greening, all of which can lead to increased sales when presented alongside future products.

We are very grateful to all of our sponsors, especially our gold sponsors Woodlodge, Scheurich, Meadow View Stone, BPI Products, Ivyline and Hozelock, who together helped to transform the Retail Lab from an ambitious concept into a futuristic showcase for modern merchandising.

Harnessing the Power of One

2019 will go down in Glee’s history as the year in which sustainability dominated the agenda. With GCA members turning out in abundance, as well as representatives from DIY sheds, supermarkets and DIY chains, buyers were out in force looking for products that demonstrated a closed-loop approach to usage of materials. Many exhibitors were taking steps to move away from single-use plastics, while there was a significant shift towards products that repurposed former waste items. The industry has made strides to cut the volume of peat used in compost, and while the Government’s voluntary 2020 target for retail horticulture to be peat-free isn’t yet reality, the latest peat-reduced and organic formulations made their debut at Glee – alongside a growing band of natural, chemical-free plant foods, pest controls and weedkillers which are all experiencing strong demand as organic gardening gains momentum.

With environmental initiatives topping the retail agenda, it was timely that the team behind Glee, along with visitors and exhibitors, made their #PowerOfOne pledges at the show – a new feature for Glee 2019 that saw the exhibition team up with the Power of One movement, an international UN-backed initiative designed to show how small, individual changes can create a more sustainable future for everyone.  From embracing reusable shopping bags to shunning fast fashion, pledges on social media came thick and fast across the three days of Glee, proving that, one by one, we can all make a difference.

Inspirational expert speakers

Industry collaboration is at the heart of everything we do at Glee and this year’s line-up of guest speakers inspired with their in-depth knowledge and expertise. Ellen Mary, best known as a presenter of The Plant Based Podcast and a host on Future Radio, presented Grow Your Own magazine’s 2019 Great British Growing Awards, throwing the spotlight on suppliers and retailers who, through innovation, have driven demand for grow your own to new highs. Other keynote talks provided expert insight into visual merchandising, harnessing the power of SEO, successful catering, using social media to grow businesses, reducing plastics and getting the most out of new ranges – all offering inspirational ideas packed into 30-minute sessions, while the Glee Buyer’s Power List Awards celebrated the outstanding talent of retail buyers whose influence shapes today’s garden centre market.

Glee to grow alongside new Pawexpo

It has been confirmed that Glee will be back on 15th to 17th September 2020, again taking advantage of its new Tuesday to Thursday slot at the NEC. While the show will continue to evolve, reflect the latest industry trends and become even more dynamic, the big news is that a new pet show designed to meet the growing demands of the pet-buying market will run alongside Glee next year. Launched at a special drinks reception at this year’s Glee, the Pet & Animal Wellbeing Expo (Pawexpo) will support suppliers and retailers across this rapidly expanding industry, helping to maximise sales and revenue opportunities while adopting a personal touch to the pet trade show experience with a fully curated offering.

What’s next?

Plans for Glee at Spring Fair 2020 are gathering pace. Born in 2018 and strengthening its position as an ideal event for visitor crossover buying at Spring Fair 2019, the event is now a firm fixture in Hall 3, with Spring Fair set to take place on 2nd to 6th February next year. As well as showcasing ranges ahead of the busy spring sales season, visitors to the 2019 event spoke about how they’d met with influential buyers from retail sectors and High Street chains who hadn’t previously visited Glee, opening up new business opportunities and generating additional leads.