During Guy's visit we managed to find 10 minutes to chat with him. If you want to know the current thoughts of the CEO of the UK's largest supplier to the gardening timber industry, and arguably Europe's largest supplier, here he answers some important questions:

Robert: Over the last 12 months Forest Garden have integrated with M&M Timber Products. Is that integration complete?

Guy: Yes, it’s been very successful for both companies. Of course, with any acquisition there will be concerns, such as job security among staff, but hopefully M&M employees see that the Group has invested in their business and that the improved performance has come through. For us, it’s been a very good integration, it has exceeded our expectations and is virtually complete. M&M are adding value in terms of not only enabling Forest to support them develop their own market sector; which is more the specialist fencing market, but they are also demonstrating their ability to positively assist in supporting the Group’s product development process. So, it has been a really good first year having them as part of the Forest group.


Robert: What will M&M Timber Products add to the Forest range?

Guy: M&M bring to the Forest offer its range of higher end garden buildings and structures. Forest, by its nature is a high volume manufacturer with a lower price offer, whereas M&M is a lower volume operation but with a higher price offer. Together, the two businesses complement each other, resulting in more range depth and customer choice.


Robert: Will you retain the M&M brand and, if so, how will you distinguish it from Forest/Larchlap?

Guy: The M&M brand will be retained, promoted and developed for its more specialist market sectors. M&M sell into the agricultural, landscape and timber play equipment markets where their brand is well established with a high reputation. M&M will provide product to be sold under the Forest brand and channels.


Robert: Your new sleeper garden furniture range has been very successful. You’ve added more products for 2015, so are you anticipating increasing your presence in the garden furniture sector?

Guy: Yes, we are. We are conscious that garden furniture is a very competitive market awash with foreign imports. We wanted to find a way to develop a simple range which played on our strength of a UK manufacturer using UK grown timber. The range has been very successful since its introduction and so we have further extended the range with new introductions for next year, for example, low level tables and wider benches that integrate with planting. We see this as a growth area for Forest but we are realistic in our ambitions in what is a very competitive sector.


Robert: Were these products developed in-house by your development team? What products would you earmark to do well in 2015?

Guy: Yes, they were all developed in house. We have a proactive development team of about 13 people who bring together a great skill set from technical through to production through to marketing through to sales. At Forest, a focus for product development over the last 2-3 years has been more towards outdoor living. With the potential of a warmer climate, people will spend more time in their garden doing other things aside from just gardening, so our range development has been about creating outdoor spaces to allow people to just enjoy being in the garden. For example, the Venetian Pavilion creates shelter but also airiness, our Barbecue Shelter allows people to enjoy outdoor cooking whatever the weather and our simple bench seating range enables people to relax and share a meal outside in their garden. So, essentially, we are talking about product ranges that do other things apart from growing plants, and that’s where we see current range development.


Robert: How do you see the role of garden centres going forward regarding the Forest garden brand? Do you think garden centres will become more involved/important tools for displaying Forest products?

Guy: I think it is interesting if you look at our category sales into garden centres over the last 5-6 years. From our perspective, sales of sheds, structures and fencing has moved more towards the Multiples, Grocers and online retailers over this period, leaving the garden centres to focus more on outdoor living structures and “grow your own” products, with the risk that they miss out on the growth of online sales. So one of the initiatives that Forest launched last year to help garden centres recapture some of this business, and for which we won this year’s GIMA award for best new point of sale, was Forest's ‘Take me to the till’ sales and merchandising solution. This aims to capture traffic in-store and convert it to an online sale for the retailer. ’Take me to the till’ is a merchandising unit which has product cards on it, each with the same content that you would expect to find on a product web page. The shopper takes the card to the retailer’s checkout where it is processed, enabling the product to be ordered and delivered straight to the consumer’s garden. So, whereas Garden Centres may not have the space or inclination to display large products like sheds or structures, they now have the opportunity to sell a wide range of them simply by having one of our units in-store.

Robert: Will you be policing online selling in any way?

Guy: We have a standard set of terms upon which we sell to our customers. As you would expect, these will only vary depending on the length of our relationship and the value sales between our businesses. We do not differentiate between, or police, our customers; it is up to customers to decide their selling prices, we only publish suggested retail prices for our products.

Robert: Thank you Guy, we appreciate your time.

Guy: Thank you Robert, my pleasure.