Midweek markets can often be a thorn in the side for many market operators, but not so at Kempton Park Racecourse Market, which claims to be the largest out of town midweek market in Southern England
Operated for many years under the guidance of market management specialists Hughmark , on behalf of The Jockey Club, the market based at Staines Road, East Sunbury was certainly thriving during my visit on the Thursday before Easter.
Some might think it’s out of town location might be to its detriment, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It boasts its own mainline station, the front gates are on six major bus routes and is easily accessible from the M3 and M25 motorways. As a large proportion of its patrons travel by car, they are able to take advantage of three large free car parks, situated at either end of the market.
The trading area is vast and during the quieter winter months, when some traders take a break, the area is condensed so that there are no gaps. From April, this has been expanded to its full size and due to many casuals converting to being regular traders and extra footage taken it is still looking full.
The area is all hard standing and traders bring and erect their own pitches. In most of the locations, it is possible to house their van directly behind the stall, allowing for swifter loading and unloading and allowing stock to be accessible and kept in a premium condition during inclement weather.
With one exception, Mark Curran, or ‘The Hoover Man’ as he trades as, all pitches are outside. Mark inherited the one inside pitch when the previous tenant left as his dust bags were getting damaged. He’s been trading at Kempton for 14 years selling vacuum cleaners and accessories and has built up a regular trade.
On the day I visited, dark clouds were looming, but the rain held off and trader and visitor levels were high. In fact, I was astonished by the volume of people around and I was told that people travel from all over the south of England to take advantage of the vast range of commodities on offer.
There are several levels of trading and on one of the lower levels, close to where I parked were a concentration of produce stalls, selling everything from bread, fruit and vegetables, cooked meats and cheeses and seafood.
One of the first traders I met was Mark who has been selling high quality fruit and vegetables to Kempton customers for seven years. He has traded all round the area and was very positive about the footfall, commenting, ‘Over all the markets I’ve been at, this is definitely one of the best, particularly for mid week. We have thousands of customers coming here every week.
Just round the corner from him, is Taran Cately of Cately chilled foods, selling wholesale sized packed produce, such as gammons, gala pies, bacon and cheese. Demand often outstrips supply and he sells hundreds of catering sized Gala Pies every week. He told me that sometimes his suppliers can’t make them quickly enough.
There were a number of catering outlets throughout the market, in addition to the racecourse’s indoor concessions, many of which had large and sometimes covered seating areas which soon filled up during their busy periods. One of which was Polly’s, whose distinct dark green and gold branding added a touch of class to what would ordinarily be seen as just another fast food trailer. Owned now by Tom Pollard, his father has been trading at Kempton for almost 25 years and has a very loyal customer base, including fellow traders, for whom they make special dishes for as a break from the standard fare of bacon rolls and burgers. They are very proud of their five star food hygiene certificate and they have been nominated for an award of excellence.
Royal Chef, on the other hand, have only been on the market for two months selling their range of Chinese dishes and have already built up a good trade. They have been catering at other markets in the area for around eighteen months and are really pleased with the footfall at Kempton.
I’ve mentioned before that I enjoy a bit of showmanship and this was abundant from E&J Meats. The huge meat trailer was permanently surrounded by customers as he enticed them, with the help of his radio mic, into buying bags full of meat.
Meanwhile, Paddy Harrington’s style was much more traditional. With 46 years trading, and around twenty at Kempton, he’s one of the longest serving. It was good to see more unusual products such as heart, oxtail and white pudding among the traditional joints and meat products.
End of line groceries are always popular at these types of market and Paul Ritchie’s stall was no exception, by the time I’d done my rounds he’d sold out of many items and with seventeen years under his belt, he knows what his customers want.
As does Gary of Gary’s confectionery who has over 36 lines of boiled sweets and 196 different lines in total, all prebagged and ready to go.
Hamid runs Haircare Style, selling a range of electrical hair stylers and facial hair trimmers. He has embraced card payments and also offers a one year guarantee on all his products. Something that I think more traders could benefit from doing as it shows the quality of their merchandise.
As you would expect from any reputable market operator, the sale of counterfeit goods is strictly forbidden and would mean immediate removal. With this is mind, it was great to see Matthew Simeson of MC Sports selling branded sportswear. He has traded at Kempton for sixteen years and has sold to and retained customers from being children through to adulthood. His signage clearly states it’s genuine and his regulars know, but he still gets asked!
Sophie Roche of Lush Toes stock might not be designer but she sources high quality leather goods, including boots, sandals and bags along with scarves, all of which are attractively presented. She started off five years ago with just two tables and has grown the business. She trades elsewhere but says that Kempton is one of the best, adding, ‘ it’s very busy here, especially for a week day market.’
Nosheen who runs Rehman Boutique has been selling women’s clothing for two years at Kempton and commented, ‘this market is really good for selling ladies fashion.’
Bling Bling Shoes is an apt name for the range of often bejeweled footwear that Mick Singh has been selling for over twenty years. His range includes adults, children’s and sports shoes and also has a shop in Kent and an online presence.
The availability of space allows for large trading areas and A Hamett and Sons’ is quite considerable. Shane is the fifth generation nurseryman in a business established over 102 years. They sell a colourful range of plants and will even transport them via trolley to the customer’s car as part of the service.
Walking into Jane and Ray Morgan’s trading area is like walking into a shop. Bedecked with every type of net and voile you can think of, including window sets, café sets and curtains, in a range of colours, the back area houses a counter where the off the roll items can be cut to size. They have been on the market for twenty five years and commented, ‘it’s great here. We have lots of regular customers.’
Now a completely new market concept to me, but certainly not new to Kempton Market is Your Specs, the business of Roland and Cathy Christian for the last 28 years. Roland is a qualified lens maker by trade and customers bring in their prescription, choose from their selection of his and hers frames and the next week, they’re ready to collect. Unfortunately, when Roland retires there’s no one to carry on the business. He said, we love doing this, we have really got to know our customers well over the years, some are like family.’
The prize, in my opinion, for the most unusual product on sale was from Bill Watson of Affordable Memorials. As well as selling plastic flowers for graves, he sells real granite headstones. He has been working on markets for twenty years and ten years ago saw this side of the business as a unique opportunity and decided embraced it. As well as supplying to trade, he takes orders and can design plaques with photographs added. He has his own team of graphic designers and will show customers the design for approval before going ahead.
It’s impossible to cover every trader and commodity at Kempton Park Racecourse Market, but the range of items available to buy is impressive and varied. Judging by forward bookings, Lew Hughes, Director of Hughmark is confident that 2016 looks at being an even better year than the previous one. Of course, with an outdoor market, this is also very weather dependant. He commented, ‘The success of Kempton is due to a number of factors. One of which is steady consistent management over a number of years that our company has given, with trading policies that do not vary from year to year. We do our very best to help good, honest traders to sell genuine goods at affordable prices. We state in our trade advertising that we do not want counterfeit goods. Knowingly allowing goods like that to be sold it drives all the genuine traders away because they cannot compete with it. We are not infallible but we are doing our best in this regard.’
‘Another factor for the success of the market is a good team effort. We run the market operation, CPPS provide the back up from a car parking and cleaning perspective and the Jockey Club provide excellent and attentive site management from management to maintenance.
To ensure that a huge market maintains its high standards and letting capacity for an out of town event in midweek is no mean achievement. It has taken years of effort and our company is justifiably proud of its achievement at Kempton. It is still the largest and cleanest out of town midweek market in Southern England.’