What’s ‘APPening at Dagenham Sunday Market?
Dagenham Sunday Market is bucking the trend with a vibrant, thriving market that is four times bigger than when it first opened in 2002. Operated by Charfleet Markets, the Essex extravaganza now hosts 700 stalls, averages between 10-15,000 visitors each week and has just introduced its own app.
The first thing that struck me about Dagenham Sunday Market was how easy it was to find. Bright banners announcing the market were in evidence on the way in and assured visitors that they were heading in the right direction.
It sits on a 20 acre site on River Road, Barking, close to the power station and has three large car parks on site. They run a free double decker bus to pick customers up from Barking railway station, operating quarter to the hour from Barking Station from 8.45 and leaving the market at quarter past the hour until 3.15 pm.
Director of Charfleets Markets, Frank Nash showed me around their flagship market and introduced me to Chris Woodman, the developer of the app.
Chris is a local man, from Pitsea, approximately 20 miles east of the market and is very passionate about his county. A professional photographer, Chris acquired some software for developing apps and wanted to create something that would benefit businesses in Essex. After researching and having previously visited Dagenham Sunday Market, he felt that their size and visitor numbers set them apart and so he approached Frank with the idea.
Frank bought into the idea and the app was born. Chris told me, ‘Frank is a bit of a pioneer, he is very open to new ideas and was keen to embrace the app.
As a result of that meeting with Frank and his financial support, Chris set out challenging himself with the task of what he believes to be ‘the UKs first native market app.’
The app has built in GPS to help guide the user to any stall making it simple for new customers to navigate the large area whilst easily allowing repeat business for traders. Every stall is listed and you simply click on it and let it navigate you to the trader.
Chris has purposely made it simple enough for anyone to use and there are many advantages for both the shopper and the trader. It offers customers exclusive discounts from within the app if they show the trader their listing before making a purchase and it is hoped the trader will benefit from increased traffic and more sales coming from new app users.
Trader listings are free but there is a paid option if they wish to highlight their stall above all others in their category for a period of time. Further revenue can be generated for the market operator from the paid for sponsorship adverts that are built in to the top of each category and the more lucrative front page of the app.
Chris explained, ‘I would like to keep the sponsorship slots solely for Essex businesses if possible, so we can further enhance awareness of traders in the county I have lived in for 36 years.’
The app is free to download from both the App Store and Android app stores. Simply search ‘Dagenham Sunday Market’ and it’s the icon with the little blue stall. Chris added, ‘The app will remain FREE forever, which is important to its success. The main aim is about raising awareness for local businesses and keeping jobs in the area.’
With such a large number of traders to deal with, the operator is lucky that the site isn’t usually used for anything else during the week, which means that the stalls don’t have to be erected and dismantled each time.
The market is a mixture of containers, units, stalls and the odd gazebo, most of which belong to the traders but Charfleets offer a hire and erection service which equates to around 100 stalls each week.
Most traders are regulars and most weekends they are at full capacity, but off peak trading, inclement weather and holiday periods means that they can usually accommodate casuals on a first come first served basis to fill in any gaps. On the Sunday I visited, they had twelve.
The cut off point for casual traders is 8.00am and Frank ensures that they are looked after by a member of his thirty strong team and given a drink whilst they wait and are processed. Despite the size of the market, there was sufficient staff presence around and Frank advised that there are eight security staff on site to deal with any disturbances or conflict.
Despite there being a grey cloud hanging over the market on the day I visited, the rain pretty much held off and visitors were abundant. There was a really good buzz about the market; there was music emanating from the CD stall, the banter was friendly and I saw several familiar faces, all with a ready smile.
Frank explained how Dagenham Sunday Market has developed a reputation as a fashion market with the back bone of the market being ladies’ clothing. This was very much in evidence but was easily absorbed amongst the huge array of goods on offer. There is a clearly defined style to the clothing being offered that might not have the same level of sales outside of the county, it’s all about bright colours and bling. All that glitters is not confined to ladies’ clothing though, although it was also evident on shoes and bags, it was interspersed throughout many products on the market, including soft furnishings, furniture and homeware.
Food and Drink
Something else that you would struggle to find north of the capital is pie and mash, and as any self-respecting Londoner knows, when you see it, you have to have it! Living in Lincolnshire, I crave the stuff, so imagine my joy when Frank pointed out Robins’ Pie and Mash unit. They thought they‘d give the market a go in February after losing a pitch on a nearby retail park. Frank put it on the market’s Facebook page which attracted more than 14k likes!
Robins has both indoor and outdoor seating and if you want to eat later, you can take it away or even buy their frozen ready meal which incidentally, is also available in some Asdas. Thomas’s Mum started the business in 1926 and they have five shops, but this is the only market that they trade at. Whilst having my fill, including eels and liquor, trade was constant, from die hard pie and mashers to first timers.
There was plenty of hot food to choose from at Dagenham Sunday Market, from the obligatory burger vans, which had plenty of covered seating, to toasties, Chinese, Indian and a rotisserie selling chicken and ribs. Something that seems to be popping up more is fresh coffee and there were a couple of vehicles with their boots converted to barista stations.
Fresh produce is also well served, although fruit and vegetables historically don’t do well on Sunday markets. Often the stock is old and also, most shoppers have purchased these items already. That said, there was a fresh fruit stall that had high quality produce and as well as whole fruit, they sold plastic cups of fruit salad, with or without copious amounts of spray cream!
There were two butcher’s wagons to choose from and shoppers weren’t coerced into buying huge bags of meat for the freezer that they didn’t necessarily want.
For a slightly more unusual meat offering, there was a wild game meat stall. I have come across them before and their stall always stands out with its camouflage netting. They have a wide range of unusual cured sausages from elk to beaver and customers are actively encouraged to try.
Sampling is always a good way to attract customers and the olive stalls had samplers standing outside with cubes of herb covered feta to entice you to buy.
The fish stall was consistently busy and Frank introduced me to a lady who would shortly be starting a shellfish stall, something else particularly popular in the south of England.
On the initial walk round, I spied a rather enticing cake and bread stall. By the time I got back round again at 12.30, there were only a few pickings left. Resisting the homemade cupcakes from the Stuffed Cupcake Company was an impossible feat though and owner Diana told me she was finishing them off at 3am that morning. She has created over 150 flavours and has been selling them for a mere 50p each at the market for three years.
One thing I struggle with when visiting outdoor markets is the lack of toilet facilities, not so at Dagenham. I counted two blocks and there were no queues – well done!
A taste of the rest
The more markets I visit, the more difficult it is to find something that’s different, but it is also very important not to forget about the vital lines that are the backbone of most markets and there wasn’t a line that I struggled to find at Dagenham, they really do sell just about everything!
One stall that drew me in belonged to Dave and Debbie Bishop and Arthur the dog! They had some unusual metal garden ornaments in the shape of birds and animals and to create interest, they change their stock every week.
Another, rather specialist stall was the celebrity picture stall. Teo travels from Leeds to trade at Dagenham and does another nearby market on the Saturday so stays over. He sells framed discs/vinyl records, signed celebrity pictures and will even frame your signed sports shirt for you (or try to sell you one) The stand is really well laid out and it takes him three hours to set out.
Teeth whitening seems to be ‘a thing’ in Essex and there were a couple of traders selling products to brighten gnashes.
The county really is about all things bright and beautiful and there were lots of bright and sparkly things to attract any magpie. One of the soft furnishing stalls had velour cushions with ‘Love You Mum’ in glitter on them – it’s always great to see traders promoting the various occasions. I had to chuckle at one of the traders cries of ‘Any handbag, £5. Treat your mum for Mother’s Day!’ I suppose if I was a child, this would seem a great purchase!
For those with a bigger budget for Mum, TGT Jewellers can sell you something from £10-£1000. Sammy Benson started the business 30 years ago and as well as selling watches and jewellery, he also buys old gold, regardless of condition.
Something I wasn’t expecting to see on an outdoor weekly market was beds, but I understand that they have been trading at Dagenham for seven years, all credit to the market’s success.
As Frank said, Dagenham Sunday Market is famed for its fashion, particularly ladies’ and understandably, many traders were protective of their brand and products and chose not to be interviewed. The traders were very engaging though and very proud of what they sell.
On the men’s side I spotted some high end Italian menswear, a far cry from the typical market clothing of old. There was also formal menswear from Bah Collections who had traded at Dagenham for nine years and were just about to go online. For those wanting something less formal, there were some interesting t shirt designs and pre-loved Levis from Jean’E’us. Richard also has an online business and sells all over Europe. He is proud of the fact that he offers an exchange or refund policy.
I couldn’t possibly comment on every stall, trader and product on sale, it would take every page of MTN for the rest of the year, but suffice to say, with 700 stalls, the variety of products available is very impressive. This is a well managed, slick operation and if you want to know more about it, download the app and pop down one Sunday!