Warrington is a historic market town and the earliest charter dates back to 1255. Two subsequent charters were granted by King Edward I. The first in 1277 and a second in 1285. In 1856 a permanent brick building was erected for the sale of meat and extended in 1873 to include a fish market and later a general market hall. Hygiene standards in the late 1960’s dictated that the Victorian market no longer served a purpose and the market was relocated to its present site on Bank Street. Street names suggest that the town previously traded in a number of wares, such as Buttermarket Street and Horsemarket Street.
The market is due to be relocated as part of the town centre’s regeneration project and will move to a temporary location within the redevelopment in about twelve month’s time, prior to its final home sometime in 2018. Steve Pickering, Market Services Manager is part of the redevelopment team and was responsible for designing the layout of the new market, which he did in consultation with members of the market traders committee. He wants their individual trading areas to reflect their personalities whilst retaining a high quality fit out and presentation.
There are currently 75 traders at the market and the new facilities will only accommodate 55. Longevity is no guarantee of space and each retailer has been the subject of a mystery shopping experience with the results fed back to both themselves and the management team. Steve also introduced a questionnaire to each trader, asking them what they think they bring to the current market and what opportunities the new market would bring to them. Their answers then gave them a number of points, with the highest scorers automatically qualifying for a place. The ‘points’ criteria used were based on customer experience as well as recommendations from NABMA, the NMTF and the commercial head of the council. I met with some of the traders.
Ray Rigby is one of the market stalwarts. He is the second generation at Rigby’s Fruit and Flowers, having helped his dad out with the family business and has seen a lot of changes during the last thirty years. As he said, ‘You have to adapt.’ One of the ways his business has reflected modern buying habits is the way in which his produce is presented. As well as offering loose fruit and vegetables, they also pack it in ‘value’ packs, as Ray explained, ‘people are used to buying bags of apples etc from the supermarket, they know what it costs and can make a direct comparison. They also perceive it as better value or getting a bargain.’
His trade is still predominantly the older generation, certainly during the week, although on Saturday’s he has noted a younger clientele. He has a lot of repeat business and he has customers coming as far as Wigan, either fortnightly or pay day week to bulk shop because they say his produce keeps better and is fresher than the supermarkets.
Ray’s range of produce is impressive and he sells a large selection of ethnic goods, apparently sales of water spinach outsell regular spinach! He is also revered for his local produce and he can have Cheshire Potatoes on his stall within an hour of being picked. When these are in season, customers will queue for them and even place pre-orders. Ray also sells cut and silk flowers and Christmas decorations.
An unusual find within an indoor market is a community radio, however, having spent time with Steve and learning about how the market actively interacts with its customers, it’s no real surprise here. Radio Warrington moved to a unit within the market at Easter and fitted out the studio for free with help from local tradesman and suppliers. They are an online station at the moment but hope to be broadcasting live on MW by Christmas. For Love your Local Market Week, they bought a temporary FM licence so that they could broadcast events as they happened. Steve Lewis, who is the Station Manager commented, ‘It’s been a brilliant partnership. We can tie in with their events.’ I recall them blasting out a number of eighties tracks from their outside broadcast van, just up from the market entrance when I visited for the Time Travel Convention.
Tattoo parlours are becoming more commonplace within indoor markets these days, but they are still traditionally hidden away behind closed doors, creating a sense of secrecy and the unknown. This is not so of Ascension Tattoo which Jodie Palmer has been running for two years. The unit is stylishly decorated with a welcoming ‘lounge’ waiting area. It is also spotlessly clean which offers reassurance that the studio will be the same. She was approached by the market and originally declined the idea as she thought that indoor markets had a bad reputation. She ‘rose above the stigma’ and now has a successful business. Trade is steady and she has a lot of walk in and repeat customers. She will offer advice and often turn a potential customer down if she isn’t convinced that they really want a tattoo. Jodie also offers body piercings and stocks a limited range of her own jewellery designs.
Top end jewellery isn’t something you would expect to find it a market environment but PJ’s Jewellers was Steve’s first letting and it has been designed with a traditional ‘shop front’. Alistair Walker and Eileen Fleming are the owners of the jewellers and took over last year when the previous owner sold up following the death of her partner. Eileen has worked in the business for seven years and trained under the former proprietors and Alistair joined a year ago. They decided to retain PJ’s name as Eileen explained, ‘there was so much goodwill attached to it’. They specialise in clock and watch repairs and are an official Seiko dealer. They have recently taken on a selection of quality giftware when a former town retailer went out of business. Their core focus is offering ‘an old fashioned service’ and many repairs can be done on site, many whilst you are doing your shopping.
Someone else who took over a long standing business after the owner passed away is Ste White who took over his father in law’s key cutting and shoe repair business, Moran’s, five and a half years ago. Moran’s started with a shop in Latchford, about a mile from Warrington, about 80 years ago. The shop closed and moved to the market where Ste is the fourth generation. It was important to him that he continued the family business, despite coming from a plumbing/engineering background. Originally a heel bar, they offer key cutting, watch batteries and straps, engraving and a limited selection of trophies which he hopes to expand in to within the new market premises.
Fairtrade products are quiet commonplace now with supermarkets selling a range of food products and high street charity shops such as Oxfam offering many fairtrade goods. To find such an offering in an indoor market is unusual and even more interestingly, in a recent market survey, it came out as the most visited retail outlet. Fair for All is solely volunteer run and although it is a ‘not for profit organisation’, they still pay a commercial rent. The unit has doubled in size since Hilary Thomson OBE took it on and they stock a range of unusual gifts, cards and food products.
There are a number of long standing and unusual food purveyors with the market. Baker J’s are renowned for their various savoury pies. Their popular ranges are provided by local suppliers, Cowards, Curralls and Tomlinson. The business is owned by Eric Jones who is now 80. He moved to the market in 1974 and had been trading for twenty years prior to that. Linda Lomax also joined in 1974 and manages the business. They have a hot counter which they introduced fifteen years ago and also offer cold rolls and sandwiches. Linda has the same philosophy as many of the successful traders in that you have to adapt. When they first came to the market, they operated as a cafe and had a full seating area, they have downsized and adapted to a smaller, takeaway operation, but customers can eat their purchases in Dreamshakes seating area, providing that they purchase a drink from them.
This is exactly the right kind of ‘working together’ attitude that makes for a successful market. Dreamshakes is a relatively new addition to the market and is the brainchild of Paul and Claire Moran. They opened the stall in December 2011 after being approached by the market at their business in Bolton. All their milkshakes use local ice cream from Fredrick’s in Lancashire and they add a variety of weird and wonderful ingredients including branded chocolate bars, sweets and biscuits. For the less adventurous they also sell coffee – with or without flavoured syrups! Their recent mystery shopper experience saw them coming out with full marks.
John Cross and Sons are a family butchers that have been trading in the town since 1860. The fifth generation now run the stall and their reputation and customer interaction were just some of the reasons that they came out with the highest points in the recent trader survey. They have survived, where before there were six or seven butchers in the market. John explained that people don’t really know how to shop these days and often have no concept of weights and that is where the personal service comes in. ‘People watch cookery programmes and think, I’ll give that a go but have no idea what 100 grams of something looks like, they often don’t know how to prepare or cook things either so we help with all that. You don’t get that from a supermarket.’ All the meat is stored and prepared on site and they make their own sausages and cure their own bacon. They don’t go down the ‘meat pack’ route, preferring to offer quality over quantity.
For specialist meat products, Andrew’s Fish, Game and Poultry is the place to visit. Andrew Leicester has been running the business for 12 years and some of the more unusual offerings include tripe, pigs belly and cow’s hoof. Andrew acquired a neighbouring tripe stall when the owner retired and he believes that he is the only retailer of tripe left in Warrington. He explained that it is hard to get hold of now as there are very few tripe dressers left.
Andrew’s nephew helps him on the stand and was voted BBC Young Fishmonger of the year in 2010.
They sell a large range of fresh, smoked and cooked fish and shellfish.
Completing his offering is his feathered and furred game. He is a member of the British Association of Shooting and Conservation and all his game is local and processed by them. I was disappointed that I was flying out of the country the next day as it meant I was unable to purchase some of his wares.
Get Stuffed has proved a little bit controversial, with the odd customer being concerned that the name was inappropriate, but that hasn’t stopped the carvery coming second in the Mystery Shopper survey. Neil Potter, a former sports shop manager decided to take the plunge and set up the business 14 months ago, selling hot and cold barms (that’s filled rolls to you and me!),as well as a carvery with choice of meats and a full English breakfast. In that time he has introduced new lines, offered a free delivery service to businesses within a one mile radius and offers daily specials and promotions. He is a regular Facebook and Twitter user and hopes to secure a place in the new market as he is buzzing with ideas.
Neil’s young and enthusiastic and his passion for the market comes from having worked there as a youth. He said, ‘You have to have determination, I saw the place and fell in love with it. Everyone deserves a chance. I work on a really small profit margin but we work on volume and have loads of regulars who come in. We may be cheap but we don’t cut on quality.’
Alison loves to bake is another success story. Alison Roberts always liked the idea of setting up her own cake business but worried about the financial commitment and whether it would work. After her husband was made redundant and a successful trial at the market, she decided to take the plunge selling cupcakes and celebration cakes. That was in 2008 and she now employs her husband as well as her friend and has moved to a bigger unit. Her biggest claim to fame is having a cake commissioned by NABMA for a parliamentary reception to celebrate 2013’s ‘Love Your Local Market’ campaign. The cake was later used in an animated campaign.
Alison commented, ‘opening a stall in the market turned our fortunes around as a family. We would never have been able to afford a high street shop, but the market gave us an opportunity to follow our dream and turn a very bad situation for our family into a good one.’
Another unusual retailer in the market is Millennium Comics. Daniel Nash has a shop in Northwich and decided to expand to the market in 2000. His offering is very niche, specialising in imported American superhero comics which have been popularised in many of the recent ‘Marvel’ films.
He also stocks some books, DVDs and models and has built up a regular clientele. He is delighted with trade levels and recently got involved with the recent comic com and time travel events hosted by the market. He commented, ‘it is a growing industry and more people are becoming interested in the hobby, especially girls and teenagers. I’m really happy with business.’
Lisa Davis of Pinkz started up her hair and beauty business within the market nine years ago as part of an enterprise scheme through the North West Development Agency. She was given a business mentor and offered training, so she left her job in a building society to start the salon, employing two stylists whilst she completed her training at night school. Two years ago she introduced the beauty side of the business, specialising in the most popular items and moving to a different location within the market where she had water available and a private room to offer treatments. She said of the market, ‘I think it’s brilliant here, I love the environment and it’s really friendly amongst all the traders, we’re like one big family. I would never go in to a shop, all the security is taken care of here, I love it.’
Kash Awan has been selling designer Italian labels in his outlet, Athletico for eighteen years. He constantly has to battle with people assuming that his stock is ‘off the back of a lorry’ or counterfeit and he always has all his paperwork ready to hand if anyone official questions the authenticity of his merchandise.
He has been in the business for eighteen years and has built up a reputation amongst the young, trendy males in the area, often being able to offer the brands cheaper than the high street.
Kash has always worked in markets, his father sold ladies wear but Kash had no passion for it, always loving the Italian designer menswear. He has agents in Milan and Florence and travels to Italy twice a year for the collections. He has some great ideas for the new market and intends to make a large investment to get what he wants.
Warrington Market is always looking for new and innovative ideas and concepts, so if you fit the criteria and would like the opportunity to stock your product either at the market or at one of their special events, contact Warrington Borough Council on 01925 632571.