Last June (Now Then #75), we looked at the progress of the Moor Market after its first few months of operation. At that point it was too early to reach definitive conclusions, but it was apparent that there were some significant challenges to be addressed. With the market now beginning its second year of trading, […]

Last June (Now Then #75), we looked at the progress of the Moor Market after its first few months of operation. At that point it was too early to reach definitive conclusions, but it was apparent that there were some significant challenges to be addressed. With the market now beginning its second year of trading, the overall picture is becoming clearer.

Footfall has remained static at 60,000 visitors per week, against an initial target of 100,000. Last November it was reported that 15 traders were planning to leave after Christmas, with the occupancy rate potentially falling to 75%. The reality has been less dramatic. Only three traders left after Christmas, new stall holders are in the pipeline and the occupancy rate has remained around 85%. There have also been some positive developments, a new website has been launched and a loyalty card has been introduced.

The more apocalyptic scenarios have not materialised, but the challenges that have been apparent from an early stage are still unresolved. One of the main concerns from stallholders has been the level of rents and service charges. The initial rent free period has ended and, although the rent now being charged is lower than the original proposal, there are many traders still struggling to afford it. In general it seems that the food and drink sector of the market is faring better than the non-food sector, although the exact situation varies trader by trader.

What is the Moor Market ‘offer’?

One of the fundamental challenges for the Moor Market is the lack of vision or clarity about the market’s identity. Which customers is it aiming for and what is it offering them? In an ideal world, the demands of potential customers for the new market would have determined the goods and services to be offered. The reality was that there was a very pressing need to re-locate traders from the old Castle Market. The hope was that most of the Castle Market customers would migrate, whilst the new location would also attract new customers from those living and working in the area and from other areas of the city. The new Moor Market was packaged as a ‘market for all’, but it’s now clear that this formulation is not working.

At 60,000 visitors a week, the new site is attracting fewer customers than the 69,000 average for the old Castle Market and well below the original 100,000 target. The current offer is too diverse to be developed into a clear, targeted marketing strategy. There is a good range of food and drink on offer, but the disparate range of non-food products and services and the variations in cost and quality make it hard to develop a compelling story as to why new customers should make the effort to come to the Moor Market.

Shoppers looking for the lowest prices can find equivalent or cheaper goods and services elsewhere, while shoppers who are interested in Sheffield’s variety of successful craft, vintage and farmers’ markets will not find this sector significantly represented in the Moor Market. There are some stalls in the market selling higher quality, specialist products, but there isn’t a sufficient critical mass to draw in customers specifically looking for more artisan goods and produce. It’s telling that Barra Organics, which had been at the Moor Market from the outset, has just moved out to a new location on Sharrow Vale Road.

Common People, who manage pop-up businesses in a range of Sheffield locations, were offered two stalls in the market with the aim of attracting the kind of craft businesses that operate successfully in areas like the Winter Gardens. To date, only Dack Images has trialled the Moor Market site and they have not sustained their interest as the number of customers was insufficient to justify the rent and service charge.

A survey conducted by Sheffield Hallam University last summer identified a lack of atmosphere as a key issue where the market has not met people’s expectations. There is no sense of shoppers being offered a distinctive experience which encourages them to visit the market regularly. Successful markets are lively, bustling, dynamic environments, with traders actively selling and engaging with potential customers. Whilst some of the current traders are clearly effective at presenting and selling their produce or goods, this approach is not evident across all the stalls.

What does the future hold?

The Moor is in the process of a major redevelopment. A Primark store is due around September 2016 and a new cinema complex will open in spring 2017. Both developments will attract more traffic to the Moor and this should in turn benefit the Moor Market, but this will not have any impact for at least 20 months. There is also the complication that the new Primark is likely to compete directly with the market’s clothing stalls and it’s questionable how much daytime traffic the cinema will generate along the Moor.

A more immediate proposal is to change the entrance area of the market, bringing in a range of artisan food and drink pop-up stalls along the left-hand side of the main entrance to provide a more enticing ‘shop window’ for the market. There is also the potential for this area to stay open later as a standalone element from the rest of the market. This more co-ordinated approach may be more attractive than the current options for new businesses wanting to trial the market.

Opening hours have been a point of some contention over the last few months and there was a significant own goal last summer when three-quarters of the traders voted not to open on the Sunday of Sheffield Food Festival, despite the event taking place on the market’s doorstep. On the other side of the argument, Sunday footfall on the Moor is low, traders already work a long day and there is understandable resistance to adding more hours. The way forward may be to vary the current arrangements so that, for example, the market is closed on Mondays but has the flexibility to open on some evenings, Sundays or bank holidays.

The Council is aware of the issues facing the market and individual traders and is in the process of developing a revised business plan to address these challenges, but there is no magic bullet. Last summer, Roger Wade, who set up the successful BoxPark pop-up retail scheme in London, was asked for his input on the Moor Market’s future direction. His key recommendation was to redevelop the Moor Market as a food only market with a focus on local produce. This proposal has the merit of addressing the current market’s confused identity, but, unsurprisingly, whilst many of the food traders were keen on the idea, their enthusiasm was not shared by the non-food traders.

The differing responses reflect a broader issue. The Moor Market is not a single entity but a collection of 95 traders with differing priorities, approaches and customers. There is a genuine question as to whether the Council is the best body to deliver the entrepreneurial and retail vision needed to drive the market forward, and discussions are currently taking place to consider a range of options. But whether the future management of the Moor Market is delivered by the Council, the traders, a third party or a combination of these, the status quo is unlikely to be viable in the longer term and there are some difficult decisions to be made which are unlikely to find favour with all parties.

sheffieldmarkets.com

Photo by Chard Remains Photographical

David Edwards