The market town of Skipton has had a Royal Charter since 1203 to operate a market along the high street. Over 800 years later the market is still going strong. Kirsty Flatt went to meet those behind its success.
Skipton has just been voted the second best Market Town in England, by the Times, just behind Market Harborough. It is easy to see why people flock to this historic, multi award winning market town, heralded as ‘The Gateway to The Yorkshire Dales’ it has history, charm and stunning views of the surrounding hills.
The town attracts a huge amount of visitors, but Skipton Town Council is far from complacent or prepared to rest on its laurels. Whilst many markets are struggling to survive, Skipton are determined to succeed and grow.
Close to the cities of Bradford and Leeds, Skipton has a lot to offer – a castle, canal and great shopping, boasting an impressive 70% of their shops being independent, it really is a ‘home town and not a clone town.’
The market itself, operates four days a week in the area known as ‘the setts’ and is unique in that, with the exception of Bridgnorth, the land on which the market stalls run, needs a licensing agreement from the landowner, which in most instances, is the shop in front of which it is located.
Stalls are erected and dismantled each day by the traders and this, in itself is unique to the area, as it is believed to be the only four day market in Yorkshire that has to do this. You would think that this would perturb traders, but to the contrary, vendors come from all over the north, as far east as Grimsby to Fleetwood in the west and Newcastle to the north.
Brett Butler, the Town Centre Manager, Market Officer Stefan Bodnarczuk and Town Centre Ambassador Judy Probst are incredibly passionate about Skipton Market and they work tirelessly in ensuring its smooth running. Although the town already attracts a lot of coach visitors, the team exhibited at the British Tourism and Travel Show in Birmingham recently with the specific intention of making sure Skipton Market is a destination market. They have put together an incentive scheme for pre-booked coaches which includes, free VIP parking, driver vouchers redeemable at local retailers for free food and drink, a meet and greet service, town centre guides and a scratch card for each passenger with the chance to win a voucher which can be spent at the market.
With a very limited budget for promotion, the team work very closely with Visit Skipton to ensure the market gets promoted throughout the town’s activities. An extensive events programme is in place and where possible, the market is integrated into these. Free shuttle buses will be available from the other areas of town where these are taking place, to the market, to ensure that traders benefit from these attractions, rather than lose out. One of the market’s major events is its Christmas Market which Brett commented, ‘Is going from strength to strength.’
This year sees Skipton hosting its first Food and Drink Festival with celebrity chef appearances from James Martin and The Hairy Bikers. The market will have a presence within the festival and concessionary rates have been approved for regular traders.
In addition to these promotions, the market regularly advertises on the front and back of local buses, it has interactive social media pages, a market mascot that can be seen wandering the streets engaging with visitors, ongoing voucher schemes and promotions and for the first time also this year, they are getting behind the Love Your Local Market campaign.
What really comes across from the team is that they really want the market to succeed and continue to grow. 100% of the money made goes back in to promoting the market and to encourage trader loyalty. For example, to encourage regular Monday occupancy, traders that attended a minimum of 35 out of the 39 Mondays got their full consent fee back. This is a great incentive and helps to ensure that the market is busy during the winter months when visitor numbers are greatly reduced. That said, occupancy levels sit between 80-90%.
The market can’t rely on tourism and to encourage locals to get out of the ‘once a week’ shop, they have deliberately put different types of traders on each of the four days, so that they visit more regularly.
One of the other problems the market team faces is that they can’t ‘bunch up’ stalls to fill spaces due to absenteeism because they don’t own the land. They would need to deal with the landowner directly each time to discuss the rental of that pitch which is highly impractical. Ultimately, the market hopes to be in a position whereby they can take over the ownership of the market.
They have already done this successfully in an area outside of Rackhams Department Store, which was previously used for car parking. Ten, brand new, custom made stalls were purchased from City B Group, a specialist company based in Stoke and it is believed this stall is now available through the company, branded as ‘The Skipton’! They are uniform in size and offer a parade outside the store, easily distinguishable with their bright red and white striped canopies. These are set back from the other stalls in the run to allow for crowds to essentially enter the area without causing pavement congestion and they are tie down pitches, which have come into their own during some of the worst recent weather.
This area started trading in December, which may seem an odd time to start, but traders have appreciated the quieter times to get their offering right and sample what customers want. There is a definite artisan feel to this area with most of the products being homemade or a bit different.
Savour catering sell home cooked Indian food which is thoughtfully displayed for people to see what’s on offer. All the recipes belong to Tahir Ditta’s wife, from the channa dahl to the crisp pakoras and spicy chutneys, all of which I had to say were delicious and hit the spot on a chilly afternoon. Tahir said of the new market area, ‘It’s fantastic here. I think it really stands out and the customers like it.’
Richard Smith was a chef for 29 years and gave it up to set up Tricky Dickies to sell his restaurant standard sticky toffee puddings. The puddings come as either wrapped ‘loaves’ or boxed with butterscotch sauce and as well as toffee, the range includes chocolate, ginger and a gluten free range. These have proved popular with visitors to the town and taking the coach market into consideration specifically, Richard has introduced muffins and brownies that can be eaten straightaway.
Sampling and presentation are key to attracting customers and Sugar Rush do it beautifully. Lucy Lawson has worked hard on the presentation of her homemade fudge stall, which is bedecked in bunting. The fudge blocks are individually paper wrapped with homemade labels and housed in stencilled wooden crates with the company name on. She also has wooden platters with samples and although fudge isn’t my thing, she had some really interesting taste combinations. This is a completely new venture to her as she was training to be a nurse and she commented on how supportive the market team had been.
These sentiments were echoed by ex-primary school teacher Nick Franklin of Roller Coaster Coasters who is also new to market trading, although previous he has sold pictures via an online trading site.
He has really embraced the job and has custom made shelving to easily transport and display his vast selection of coasters, he said of the market team, ‘I can’t praise Skipton Market enough, Stefan has been so helpful and given me loads of advice. Trade is now starting to pick up again and I’m loving meeting all the different people.’
Another man giving up his job to start at Skipton is Stuart Green, a former printer. His partner has traded at another area of the market for ten years and the business, Bling, Bling, Bling sells affordable jewellery and scarves. Both of them trade all four days and Stuart commented that ‘business was very good.’
Blueberry Hill Preserves are based in Wetherby and were once a Cherry Tree Franchise, but parted company and started out on their own in March. In addition to their range of chutneys and jams, they sell Wensleydale cheeses that they buy direct. Sampling is again encouraged and I saw customers leaving with more than one jar at a time.
Whilst wanting to focus on the new area, I also wanted to get a feel for the market as a whole and met some of the traders that we didn’t meet last time MTN came to Skipton.
Billy is new to Skipton, having joined just a few weeks ago but he certainly is no newbie at Market trading, he has over twenty years’ experience. He has been waiting for years for an opportunity to come to Skipton and when a previous trader selling similar lines retired, he jumped at the chance to take the pitch. Billy sells unbranded biscuits cakes and sweets. He’s done his homework and the senior coach occupants were taking away packets of biscuits and sweets to be shared and consumed on the journey home. He said, ‘I’ve been watching the customers here and what I sell can easily go home with them. This is a great market. I see markets in decline all the time but there is lots of life left here yet.’
Grocery stalls are popular countrywide and often sell close to date or end of lines. David Reynoldson has chosen to buck this trend and offers high quality, top end lines. He has some standard tourist lines – Taylors of Harrogate teas and coffees and Whitakers Chocolates that are made in Skipton.
The rest of the time he sources new, and interesting produce, much of which comes from Europe. He finds that ever-changing lines helps to bring repeat business. It is the oldest stall on the market, having traded for 35 years, with David taking ownership 15 years ago.
Craven Cards and Calendars are appealing to both the tourist market and locals selling stunning images of Yorkshire. Tom Holmes is the photographer and stallholder and his range also includes prints, postcards and pin badges. He is pleased with the footfall at Skipton.
Quotations and quirky sayings are everywhere these days and Angela and partner Abe have noticed this and have a successful couple of stalls selling homemade plaques. Abe makes them and Angela paints them. They have also branched out into large wooden letters and hearts that hold tea lights and these can be made to order. Prior to this they sold jewellery and still stock a limited range.
Of course, no market would be complete without fruit and vegetables and experienced traders Allfresh, who have 37 years of selling greengrocery throughout West Yorkshire, took over from the previous traders in November. Ali, who’s father owns the business said, ‘We have a few things we want to do to improve our offering, but we are doing well.’
What particularly impressed me whilst walking around with Stefan and Judy was the respect between the traders and the Management Team. It is clear that they are well known ‘on the street’ and hadn’t just left their offices for my visit!
Coach drivers were waving at Judy, traders were bantering with Stefan and shoppers were stopping them frequently to pass on their comments. I overhead at least four different customers stopping Judy to tell her how great they thought the market was and I have a tendency to agree.
The passion, commitment and hard work of the team has paid off and this medium sized market could very deservedly be an award winning market of the future. Watch out!
To trade at Skipton, contact Stefan, the Market Manager on 07885 909 716.