The history of how Stafford became a market town is a little unclear. Throughout Medieval times, the county town of Staffordshire, which is situated in the West Midlands between Wolverhampton and Stoke-on- Trent was important for the trading of wool and cloth.
Weekly markets took place on Saturday on the Market Square and the town also held a number of annual fairs. In 1853 an indoor market hall, named the Butter Market, was built at the rear of the Guildhall for the purpose of the sale of farm produce.
Almost 60 years later in 1912, the Market Hall was moved to Crabbery Street and opened on Tuesdays. Crabbery Street is now home to a number of shops that have been opened by former traders of the current indoor market, who have prospered and moved on to bigger premises. Continuing with the sale of farm produce, the market soon developed into a small, general retail market. In 1927, the council extended it from 9000 to 14700sqft. The old Guildhall and Market entrances were demolished in 1935 and new ones erected. During World War II, the market was requisitioned as a storage facility for food and an R.A.F store until 1946, when it was derequisitioned. The market continued to be extended over the years and in 1989 it was moved to its present site at the rear of the Guildhall Shopping Centre, still within the heart of the town, where it trades Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Parking is available nearby and bus links and the railway station are only a few minutes walk away.
Stafford is currently undergoing a major redevelopment process and some £70 million has been spent developing a new retail park within the Riverside area of the town. Due to be open this summer, it will include new shops, restaurants, a six screen cinema and car parking. Additionally, new shops including a Morrisons store are being within the vicinity which will not only increase footfall, but will also provide additional car parking facilities. The shopping centre will be rebranded and the market integrated within this. The new logo and marketing for the centre will reflect this unification.
In the 25 years since the current market opened, numerous ongoing improvements have taken place and the centre has a heating and air-conditioning system, Wi-Fi for traders, pop-up areas and a designated events space.
As you would expect from an established indoor market, there is a wide selection of goods on offer with traders selling everything from household staples to guitars.
Funky Fudj is a new venture from Gordon Moss, having been at the market just a few months. In a previous life he was a same day courier but just couldn’t make a living and so he decided to sell handmade Yorkshire fudge at Coalville and Long Eaton near to where he lives. His son then relocated to the West Midlands where he attends university locally and Gordon makes the 85-mile round trip to trade at Stafford. He is aware that he has to sell a lot of fudge to make money and so he has set up a side business from his unit, printing photographs on to items, such as mugs, whilst you wait. This is now outselling the fudge and has received a number of corporate orders. He has no intention of scrapping the fudge as he has regular customers who come in specifically for it.
Gordon said, ‘Kevin (the Manager) has been very supportive. Everyone here is so friendly, they work together and support each other. It’s one big happy family.’
The Market Café is the only food outlet in the Guildhall and Jenny Platt’s breakfast is award winning; as her proudly displayed certificate shows she is accredited by Taste of Staffordshire in the Best Breakfast category. As well as breakfasts, her regulars can enjoy home cooked food and roast dinners and she offers a number of incentives such as meal deals and a coffee loyalty card. She has recently invested in a bean to cup coffee machine which has proved very popular. The café is a family owned business which they took over from the existing owners three and a half years ago but it is Jenny who works in it. They refurbished the interior but kept the menu as it was popular with customers. She said, ‘This is a nice market. The people are really friendly and I would still do it again.’
Furniture isn’t a commodity you would expect to find at every indoor market, but it has proved successful for Greg Meredith of Home Comforts. As large furniture items are infrequent purchases, he introduced pet beds to his offering about a year ago and they occupy a neighbouring stall. As part of the service, Greg will deliver the furniture, take away the old one and assemble (if necessary) He said, ‘This has done well for me, I have a good business.’
Bryan Taylor has worked in the market for other traders and when the previous greengrocer left, he jumped at the opportunity to take it on. Four months on he is really pleased he did. He has introduced some new ethnic lines which have proved very popular and bought new customers in and has the advantage of a walk in chiller on his unit which helps to keep his produce in optimum condition. He said that customers had been loyal to him from the start and that the neighbouring butchers had helped him pick up trade.
The butchers in question is Tylers, a family business that established themselves in the market over fifty years ago. The remaining member of the family is Ros, who manages the business and they have a loyal customer base for their pork products, cooked meat and cheeses.
Another long established business is Davies and Lake Footwear, or The Slipper Stall as it is more affectionately known. Tracy Lake is the second generation at Stafford Market and they have extended their range in more recent years to include shoes.
Rose Thomas and her husband Kevin have two units at the market, having also extended their range from bags, to include giftware. They have been trading for just over a year, starting with the bags which are still the most popular with customers. Rose commented, ‘Business was really, really good over Christmas and has picked up again. The traders here are lovely, it’s like one big family and the market have been very supportive with great incentives for new traders.’
Sheila Dolman of Sheila’s Drapery is the longest serving trader with 55 years of selling to the people of Stafford and has a loyal customer base. She also speaks highly of the market with this advice for new traders, ‘You have to stick with it and give it time. Kevin is always around to talk to, he is very good and will always help and give advice where he can.’ She added, ‘We have some good, loyal customers, some just come for a natter. We all stick together here.’
Over the past eight years, Pat Lilburne has extended the existing cosmetic stall, which has been established for thirty years, to a larger one, selling branded and unbranded perfumes and make-up, with her husband Ralph. In 2015 Pat’s Cosmetics was voted as the Best Market Trader in the Pride of Stafford Business Awards, having been runner up the year before. She has a loyal following, with customers travelling as far afield as Stockport, over an hour away.
One of the more unusual offerings and probably the most eye-catching stall presentation belongs to Kevin Smith of the Watch and Guitar Surgery. He took over an established watch repair business around four years ago and still sells and repairs watches. A former bar owner, who played in the local band scene, he now also sells acoustic guitars and offers repair services and accessories.
Last, but by no means least is Dave Clay of the Collectors Corner. His stand is a collector’s Aladdin’s cave. He buys and sells an array of items, including stamps and records and will even try to source specific items for his loyal customers. He said of the market, ‘I love it here, there are so many lovely people to talk to. The new Management are much more supportive and always available.’
Kevin Potter took over the role of Market Manager at Stafford last September and comes with a wealth of experience. His passion for the market and enthusiasm for it to succeed is apparent. Since his appointment, he has implemented a number of improvements.
The ‘Events Area’, a designated area within the market, has been used for fundraising, craft and vintage fairs and seasonal events. Most Saturdays some charitable cause is supported and their events programme has included a Sports Relief Bake Off, which traders participated in and was judged by the Mayor. More recently, they embraced LYLM fortnight and are holding their first model building event.
These events help to boost visitor numbers and twice a month they hold a table top sale for crafts and antiques. They work together with Stafford Town Centre Partnership who actively promote the market and where possible, the market will link in any events that the Partnership have planned to tie in with their activities. All of the traders have their own entry on the Partnership’s website.
Links have also been forged with the local college to try to encourage youngsters to get involved and the LEP (Local Enterprise Partnership) and Stafford Enterprise who can offer specialist advise to traders on legal, financial and tax matters.
As part of the market’s marketing activities, the market has their own Facebook and Twitter accounts which they use to cross promote traders’ sites and promotions as well as informing the public of forthcoming events. Traders are encouraged to have their own social media pages and help and support is offered from Kevin and the team. The caretakers will help traders set up if needed and all traders are invited to attend a monthly meeting.
Kevin said, ‘We’re here to help and our door is always open. We want to help. This is a great market and we have a great opportunity to make it even better.’