Geraud Markets – Grey skies but a sunny atmosphere at Grays Market
As reported in last month’s MTN, Geraud Markets have taken over as the operators for Grays Market near Thurrock in Essex. Kirsty went to the official opening.
Grays is a large town in the Borough of Thurrock on the River Thames. It was not long ago when the area was described as having the ‘lowest levels of life satisfaction of any place in the UK’ in a Government Wellbeing Survey. However, all that is beginning to change and the new maarket in Grays is seen as one of the catalysts to the new feel-good factor in the town.
From a retail perspective, the town of Grays has its own shopping mall, The Grays Shopping Centre, which has a mix of high street names and budget stores. Conversely, nearby intu Lakeside Shopping Centre, a high end, shopping, eating and leisure outlet in West Thurrock, is just over three miles away, claiming to attract 500,000 visitors per week. The target audience for these two retail experiences is very different. Grays does have excellent transport hubs, having both a railway and bus station and is in close proximity to the A13 and M25.
Running a market in this area is not an easy task. The market had been run by the previous operator for ten years, and by all accounts was getting ‘a bit tired’, therefore, it was pleasing to see the improvements that Geraud had already implemented.
On the day of the official re-launch, despite looming rain clouds, there was a real buzz around. Geraud had added an event area to the existing market, pooling on some of their specialist traders to provide extra shopping opportunities. These were in an adjoining street to the main market thoroughfare and were distinguished by Geraud’s distinctive blue and yellow canopies. Within this sector, a DJ pumped out 80s tunes, a barbecue from a local shop was in full swing and there was even a face painter on hand for the children.
Love Grays Partnership
Leading from here towards the main market, was the ‘Love Grays’ stand, hosted by Emma Crampton, Town Centres Co-ordinator at Thurrock Council. She was in one of the new, crisp, white gazebos that had been purchased from Gala Tents. She explained that the Love Grays concept was a Management Partnership across the whole Grays area and included representatives from Santander and the Grays Shopping Centre who were ‘very supportive of the events planned.’
Working with local children, Love Grays had produced a number of jute shoppers, printed with some of the children’s designs and these were given away at the event. The Love Grays logo also adorns the new traders’ gazebos and it was encouraging to see the partnership between the market operator and the Council being promoted.
Emma commented that she was pleased by the event that Geraud had put on, saying that the previous market was looking a bit tired and that the new gazebos had greatly improved the look of the market.
Part of the changes taken place include moving the trading days to Thursday, Friday and Saturday. This has been received with mixed reviews and one trader expressed concern that they will be diluting their customer base, but Geraud has an answer for this, with the plan being a different type of market each day: a general market on Thursday, Foodie Friday and Specialist Saturday and providing that these are tailored to the clientele, this should work really well and could be a template for other markets.
There is very much a community feel to the market with two community pitches available free for each trading day as well as a start-up pitch at reduced rates for new traders that show initiative. Emma explained that they hope in the future to develop a youth market and Love Grays will be approaching Thurrock School for Social Entrepreneurs to help realise this.
Lee Holt, Groupe Geraud’s Regional Operations Manager South has been overseeing the changes and told me: “We are delighted to take over the operation of Grays Market, the trader feedback has been excellent and we have received new trader enquiries every week. The public feedback has also been excellent and we are here to help local businesses and traders.
The official opening
The market was officially opened by the Mayor of Thurrock, Cllr Tunde Ojetola, who commented on the improvements already made and closed by saying: “This is one of the best things in the town, please shop here.”
Matt Steele, National Operations Manager, Geraud UK followed, saying that he hoped the local population would love your local market. He told MTN: “We are extremely happy to have re-launched Grays Market, and we will work tirelessly at making Grays Market the best it can be, for the local community, visitors and for the traders who trade here. Our aim is merely to make the market a focal point in the town, where families can share quality time in a friendly, family environment and savour a happy shopping experience. Trading days have changed to Thursday, Friday and Saturday which will add more benefit to the shopping experience in the town. However, we still have a great deal more to do and deliver and as always, we are most certainly up for the challenge!”
Joe Harrison, Chief Executive NMTF, also supported the re-launch. He commented on the close working relationship that the NMTF have with Geraud, saying it was great to see what they have done here. He added that he was pleased to see that Grays had a market in their town saying: “Markets are about serving the community and providing a personal service to the people of Grays. This is a great example of a 21st Century market.”
The market is small but has already grown on a Friday from 14 to 20 traders. There is a good mix of provisions available, but of course there is room for expansion. I can only comment on the traders on the Saturday, but there is a demand on those days for a baker, butcher and fishmonger, although they would be competing with a nearby Morrisons.
There is an excellent fruit and vegetable supplier who has traded at Grays for a year but has had twenty years in the business. His pitch consisted of four facings and had ethnic produce, bowls and the traditional pay by weight. They were busy throughout the day.
Alongside them, also four gazebos in length, was a very well-presented plant stall.
Mac, the proprietor of the household goods stall has been at Grays on a Saturday for ten years, trading in London at other times. He was positive about the takeover saying; “They (Geraud Markets) are showing an interest in us. They are more approachable and have already got more traders in.” A customer piped in: “It looks very nice now, the new canopies look good.”
The Nigerian food stall is one of only a handful of hot food outlets and they were continually cooking plantain, yams and dumplings to keep up with demand. They are clearly catering to their audience (excuse the pun) and I also believe a big part of their success is that the food is affordable – £9 artisan hand-shaped beef burgers in brioche buns don’t work everywhere.
Anthony, the owner told me: “The new people are very good and they are starting to get to know us. With any new culture, we need reassurance and support.” He added: “All the traders look out for each other and we have good community support.”
Along the same strip is an e-cigarette retailer and a large ladies fashion retailer, taking up four pitches. The owner of the ladies’ fashion, who trades at Grays all three days was very complementary saying:
“It has been brilliant since the new company took over, it’s really picked up. The management, at all levels have been really welcoming. In just four weeks, the turnaround has been amazing. It’s very positive, looks great and the way they run things is brilliant. The change is incredible and it makes it a real pleasure to be here.”
Sisters Jess and Lisa set up Pure Class clothing, selling baby and children’s wear seven weeks ago, which tied in with the new management regime. They have been trading at Dartford Market for three months and so are able to make a comparison. They told me: “They are lovely here; this market is so well organised and we have a permanent pitch. Trade is picking up as people are starting to know we are here.”
The owners of the shoe stall, which trades at Grays at the weekends, were pleased with trade, having a loyal customer base and saying that they hope the new management will make things even better.
New kids on the block, the Romanian BBQ stall, already have a shop in the market trading area – Europa. It is outside their European food store that they sell their Romanian spiced sausage in a bun, for £1.50 and mici, a lightly spiced patty of pork and beef, not dissimilar to a kofte, also in bread for just 99p. It reiterates what I said earlier about pricing for your customer. There is an existing burger wagon on the market and my perception was that Europa may well have taken some of their trade, judging by the number of people eating there. They just trade on a Saturday and this was their third week. Their success is shown by the fact that they have extended their seating area.
The main strip was also home to a number of community stalls, a mobile phone retailer and another selling ladies’ clothing.
The overall feel of the market was very positive. There seems to be a good working partnership between the council and the operator with some good ideas and initiatives planned. I hope that the momentum continues and as long as what they offer works for the community around them, it could be a thriving, small market.