Local markets have been undergoing a renaissance across the country of late, but there have been few developments on the scale of the new Moor Market, which opened in November last year. Sheffield City Council has spent £18m on the new purpose-built market hall, which can accommodate around 90 small independent traders. The Moor Market […]

Local markets have been undergoing a renaissance across the country of late, but there have been few developments on the scale of the new Moor Market, which opened in November last year. Sheffield City Council has spent £18m on the new purpose-built market hall, which can accommodate around 90 small independent traders.

The Moor Market is an ambitious project, not just in terms of the scale, but also in terms of what it is aiming to achieve. A key reason for developing the new market was to rehouse the majority of the traders from the increasingly dilapidated Castle Market. But the aim was never just to establish a Castle Market on the Moor. Castle Market was a low-cost market serving the local community. By moving the market to a modern, central location, the ambition was to retain the positive aspects of the old market, whilst attracting new customers from across the city by broadening the range of produce and price points on offer.

The longer term aim is to establish the Moor Market as a ‘market for all’ offering good value for money and a wide range of produce. The closest model is the successful markets found in many towns and cities on the continent, where everyone goes to shop for their meat, fish, fruit and vegetables, and where markets also sell a variety of clothing and other products.

Six months on, how is the Moor Market progressing? There is no single clear answer. Some stallholders from the old Castle Market are thriving, others have handed in their notice. Some new businesses are achieving their target income, but a number have already ceased trading. A project on this scale was always likely to face challenges. To achieve the goal of a thriving ‘market for all’ there are four key issues that need to be addressed.

FOOTFALL
In November and December, the market was averaging around 100,000 visitors a week. Numbers fell in January and the footfall has now stabilised at around 60,000. A decline in numbers after Christmas was to be expected, but footfall now needs to increase to ensure the success of the market in the longer term.

The raw numbers are important, but a secondary factor is the change in the type of shopper in comparison to Castle Market. The newer customers are less price conscious and traders like Su and Jon from S & J Pantry have seized this opportunity. “Upmarket, artisan products sell better here. We have been able to extend our range whilst still competing on price,” they told me. Other stalls are also adapting, but getting, for example, the right clothing ranges in terms of style and price is more complex and will take longer to achieve.

Another strategy that is being explored to drive up numbers is to bring services like a post office and pharmacy into the Moor Market. This would undoubtedly help, but neither option is a quick fix and both require negotiation with the relevant licensing authority.

MARKETING
A number of developments are in place to advertise the Moor Market more effectively to prospective customers. Discussions are taking place within the Council for the Market to have its own website and an app to keep customers updated on developments, offers and events. A loyalty card will be introduced and the possibility of a ‘click and collect’ scheme is being explored.

The Moor Market has already experimented with events like a Come Dine with Me session, which was successful in bringing more people through the doors. The aim now is to hold monthly events alongside a weekly kitchen demonstration, and there are plans to bring a speaker’s corner into the market in the near future.

Whilst the marketing of the Moor Market as a whole needs to be developed, there is also an onus on individual stallholders to advertise their businesses. Successful stalls such as Beer Central and Electronic Cigarette World have developed effective marketing campaigns through the use of social media and targeted voucher schemes, and the council will be offering social media training to all stallholders in the near future. More traditional methods also work. Grace of the long-established Grace’s Fabrics was determined to make the most of the new location. “I love it here, but I knew we had to up our game. We’ve improved our fabric ranges, focused on customer service and have found new customers by contacting schools who run sewing groups,” she said.

SUPPORTING NEW BUSINESSES
To date the track record for new, specialist traders has been mixed. Barra Organics and Cakelicious have had a reasonably successful six months, whilst Happy Valley Ice Creams have moved out and the Russian Bakery Café are leaving at the end of July. There is always a higher failure rate for new businesses, but for the Moor Market to deliver on its ‘market for all’ ambition, and not just be a relocated Castle Market, there is a real need to attract and retain more specialist businesses.

The Pop Up Pantry area was designed to bring in new businesses who couldn’t commit to a permanent stall. Seven Hills Bakery have remained as regulars in their slot, but others have come and gone. The idea is a good one but it needs a rethink in order to achieve its aims.

The Market tried to attract more specialist suppliers when originally advertising for stallholders, but experience to date suggests that a more ongoing, proactive approach is needed to ensure the market does offer a broader range of produce and prices. One of the issues highlighted by the specialist traders is that their presence has not been sufficiently promoted as part of the mix that the new market offers. Within the market itself, the specialist stallholders are scattered around and easy to miss. One suggestion has been to create a farmer’s market ‘village’ area as a way of highlighting the broader mix of produce on offer.

COST
When the Moor Market was launched, stall holders only paid the service charge and were given a six month rent-free period, now extended for a further three months. The affordability of total stallholder charges is closely linked to footfall. With more customers the full rent could be viable. However, on current footfall, most traders I spoke to expressed serious concerns about paying more. The Council has listened and is looking at the potential to limit any increase in charges by reviewing all associated costs. Charges will go up at some point, but this will need to be done alongside an increase in footfall in order to avoid an exodus of stallholders.

The potential of the Moor Market is clear, but given the scale and complexity of the project it still needs to be seen as a work in progress, and it is likely to be another year before we can judge its ultimate success. The Market is a fantastic venue in a central location, but there is still much work to be done to attract and retain the right mix of traders, to sharpen the marketing behind the ‘market for all’ message and to get significantly more customers through the doors. The next 12 months will be a critical period, but both the Market Traders Federation and the Council are committed to delivering a market that Sheffield can be proud of.

Photo by Sara Hill

sheffield.gov.uk/markets
@SheffieldMkts

David Edwards.