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Brett Gardens & Drives 2017

One of the best privileges afforded by the job of running this website is that some manufacturers and suppliers give me advance access to their forthcoming brochures. Naturally, I have to respect their commercial sensitivity, so I never publish anything before the embargo is lifted, no matter how exciting or important I feel the content to be. On the other hand, when I’m given advance access, I really should do my best to publish my review as soon as humanly possible, on the actual release date or immediately after.

However, with the Brett 2017 brochure I have to admit to failing. I’ve had an advance copy in my clumsy, gnarled flagger’s hands since the beginning of December, but it’s only now, the second week of January, that I’ve finally got around to writing my review. In my defence, I do have a doctor’s note which excuses me from any screen-based work due to a serious problem with my eyes caused by diabetes.

Brett 2017 brochure
Brett 2017 brochure
So, I have to start with an apology to Brett for my tardiness, and also to you precious readers who have been patiently waiting for my comments since I used Twitter to tease about having an advance copy. Thankfully, what Brett have to offer for 2017 is well worth waiting for!

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They’ve stuck with the landscape format which has served them well over the last couple of years, but this year’s cover is more ‘on-trend’ with the Instagrammy collage of variously sized images tantalisingly hinting at the goodies inside, with a strong blue branding stripe and the familiar Brett logo. This is very much a paving brochure, but one that’s definitely looking forward.

The avowed aim of the 2017 edition was for it to be noticeably more customer focused, and less dependent on the sensibilities of those of us who spend our lives immersed in the subject, so products have been re-grouped based on aesthetics rather than commercial considerations. The most obvious example of this is the warmly appreciated abandonment of the confusing "Elite", "Creative", "Smart" etc. grouping used previously. It seemed that almost no-one outside the core marketing team at Brett had any idea of what each group comprised, and if the Brettsters on the ground couldn’t explain the logic(!) behind it all, then what chance had we mere mortals? Instead, we have the much-more understandable categories of Natural Stone, Garden Paving (concrete), Driveways, and Accessories. Simple, effective, logical and, most importantly, understandable to everyone.

new products
Brett new products
The collage-styling really comes into its own as soon as pages 5/6, a double page spread of all the newbies for 2017, each being teased with a generously sized image, labelled with faux handwritten text giving the name of the newcomer and the page where it can be found. Very effective.
As we’ve come to expect, there follows a bountiful sequence of pages devoted to what I call the preamble, the topics that ought to be considered before diving in and choosing a paving based purely on what looks good on the page.

For a premier league player such as Brett, all this makes sense, I suppose. They can afford the additional pages, and what they have to say is, by and large, useful to the once-in-a-decade patio/driveway buyer, while remaining eminently skippable to those of us too long in the tooth to need such caveats.

There’s the inevitable plug for the Brett Approved Installer (BAI) scheme with an intriguing insight into a “Day in the Life” of one particularly good contractor. How this promotion will play with other BAIs remains to be seen. As one of the judges for the annual Best Patio/Driveway competition, I’m only too aware of how touchy some contractors can be about perceived favouritism (believe me: there is none. Our deliberations are completely independent, totally impartial and there’s no pressure whatsoever from Brett. Awards are based solely on merit.) so giving a double page spread to a regular award winner may well irk some of the more "sensitive" members of the scheme. Brett Approved Installers
Brett Approved Installers

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Enough: on with the content, and there’s a few treats to be had along the way.

Starting with Natural Stone, the big news is the introduction of what they are calling Linear Patio Pack, which are 15m² packs of 1200/900/600 x 30mm flags in a range of styles: Flamed, textured or polished sandstone; flamed granite; or riven slate, and in a generous range of colour options.

Linear paving has proved increasingly popular over recent years, but it’s extended straight lines and narrow length:width ratio don’t suit every project, so why start selling it in pre-picked packs? The clever thing is that the so-called linear sizes are fully compatible with the standard sizes in the Brett range of natural stone, so for those projects where the ‘long aspect’ layout is not desired, a pack or two of the linear paving can be mixed in with the standard project packs to significantly extend the range of sizes available to create the ever-popular random layouts.

Linear Patio Packs
Linear Patio Packs
So: everyone’s a winner, whether the customer wants an ultra-modern sleek and narrow layout or a more traditional and comfortable random arrangement, the availability of the Linear Patio Packs make life easier whichever option is chosen.
Tucked away deep in the natural stone section, almost as though they don’t want anyone to notice, is a new walling product: slate veneer tiles. These are smaller pieces of the familiar Brazilian slate, 300x75mm, that can be used to clad a block wall, giving the look and feel of solid slate at a fraction of the cost. What isn’t made clear is the thickness of these veneers, but as the Brazilian slate is quite comfortable being riven down to 10mm or even slightly less, I should imagine they are relatively thin. What little explanation is provided suggests they are suitable for use as edgings, setts or marker courses, so I’d hazard a guess at 10mm or so. slate veneers
Riven slate veneers

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On to the concrete flag products, which have been grouped together as Garden Paving. There’s not much of direct significance to the residential buyer, just a minor colour change in the textured granite aggregate ‘Lugano’ range, from ‘Graphite Grey’ to ‘Steel Grey’, which, if my eyes are actually working correctly now, is a shade or two lighter than previously. The “value for money” wet-cast range of single-size riven-effect flagstones, Stamford, is extended by adding a new colour, Charcoal, which, again relying solely on supplied photies, must refer to the colour of charcoal after it’s been turned to ask, rather than its pre-incinerated deep black colour
stepping stones
Random stepping stones
There also a new range of Random Stepping Stones, mis-shapen pieces of riven effect concrete that, mysteriously, appeal to certain homeowners, probably the same ones that have gnomes at large in the garden, and allegedly amusing slogan stickers on the rear window of their never-goes-above 30mph car. The genuinely useful press release which accompanied the brochure makes mention of what could be an exciting addition to the commercial paving range, but there’s no sign of it in this brochure. Meltone claims to be granite-style paving and kerb range from which big things are expected. Maybe it will be unveiled in the commercial brochure, or maybe I’ll have to pester someone at Barrow to let me see a real-life sample. Sounds interesting, though, and with concrete paving being in the doldrums for far too long, any new product has to be worth checking out.

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On we go to Block Paving. It only seems like yesterday when concrete block paving was the BIG seller for residential paving but, for all sorts of reasons, not least of which is a failure by al manufacturers to fully promote the multitudinous delights and benefits of CBPs to the residential sector, it’s slumped to a supporting role behind natural stone, even for driveways, where the standard 20-25mm patio grade flagstone is often just not suitable for vehicular use (although there are ways and means of making it suitable!)
Lugano block paving
Lugano block paving
Sadly, there’s no real excitement here. A couple of packaging changes that mean more to stockists and contractors and buggerall to homeowners, and a colour change with Lugano blocks, similar to that with Lugano flags, from ‘Silver Grey’ to ‘Misty Grey’. The upmarket Aura embossed block loses a colour. No more for Burnt Fleck, which was actually my favourite, and the loss of the red-brown toned option probably reflects Brett’s geographic coverage. Reds are always more popular in t’north and Scotland, while greys and buffs find more favour in their home turf of the south and the midlands.

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A couple of newbies in Kerbs and Walling section. Vintage kerb is a tumbled ‘block’ kerb, a cube of 100x140x280mm that’s been given a good kicking. For colour options: Autumn Gold; Brindle; Charcoal; and Rustic Bronze, so plenty of choice for what is an eminently useful addition to so many other block and flag pavings.
Vintage Kerb
Vintage Kerb
Auden Brick
Auden Brick
It’s a little more difficult to generate enthusiasm for the new Auden Brick, a wet-cast walling unit aimed to complement the respected Bronte range of better-than-average concrete flagstones. 290x140x65mm and three popular colour options, it claims versatility by being suitable for use as an edging, or soldier course, or palisade, but, for my own taste, the only real use for a wet-cast walling block is with wet-cast flags. They never work with, say, natural stone or even with pressed concrete, although I’m sure some will disagree.

The range of decorative aggregates is due to be significantly enhanced, which is certainly welcome, but if you though flag and block paving was a cut-throat business, decorative aggs would make you weep! There is so much competition out there from all sorts of traders with access to a bagging machine that, unless you have something unique and exceptional, it’s hard to understand why you’d make the effort.

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So, not a year for lots of new products, more a year of consolidation, but it should be borne in mind that its innovation and, increasingly, fashion that drives the patio and driveway market, so having too many years of tinkering at the edges is a risky ploy. The mad rush (at least in Lower Britain) for porcelain paving has given many suppliers an easy boost over the last two or three years, but that won’t last. The clever manufacturer is already looking at what to offer for 2018 and beyond, and if I was a betting man, I’d be looking long and hard at some of the top-notch engineered concrete pavings. Brett made their reputation in the paving trade with their concrete products (even though they were largely bought-in rather than developed in-house) so maybe it’s time to look afresh at what it has to offer.

Meanwhile, the 2017 brochure will serve them well for the coming season. It’s fresh and contemporary, with lots of ‘on-trend’ motifs, such as the collaging of images and social media icons on a sidebar of every other page. The landscape format works well for the big, full-page photies, enabling best use without giving the impression of them being cropped to fit.

brochure page layout
The photies are, almost without exception, superb, as should be expected with such a stock of supremely talented installers on their books, but the matt printing process does seem to dull some of them, particularly those featuring the more monochrome products. I’m not the person to ask, but perhaps enhanced lighting on such projects would help overcome the flatness, the subdued sense that comes from grey paving?

The decision to keep the technical info as a separate section at the rear is sound. Keeping the product pages clutter-free, with minimal text and reasonably sized colour/texture swatches allows the paving to sell itself. The move to grouping the products into three colour-coded sections, with a distinctive orange-hemmed technical section is a real boon. In fact, the stated aim of making things easier for the homeowner has to be judged to have been a success. The whole layout has significantly improved, making this brochure so much more of an essential for both buyers and contractors.

brett customer emgagement
Brett’s 2017 brochure maintains the tradition of continual improvement. It’s a comprehensive collection of what’s popular in British paving right now, and it’s a treat for the eyes. Can we really ask anything more of a brochure?

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