Mansfield Market – Eighteen months on
I last visited Mansfield Market in March 2016, just before the market was due to be relaunched. There had been a big investment of £100,000 and the market had been relocated so that all of the stalls now were in one central area, the Market Place and the council had promised great things. Kirsty Flatt went back to see what had changed in a year.
I visited the Market on a Friday, which is traditionally on of the busiest days. As part of the revamp, Mansfield Council decided to drop Monday trading and the market now operates Tuesday – Saturday. Before meeting up with Datsa Gaile, the new Town Centre Promotions Officer, I got the opportunity to have a good look round the market. There were all the staples that you would expect from a vibrant, town centre market, two bakeries – one selling artisan breads, greengrocers, butcher and fishmonger, along with the market regulars. I noticed several new faces and plenty of people around.
What was immediately noticeable on meeting Datsa, who took up the post eight months ago, is that she is really passionate about her job. She thinks of the market as her own and is brimming with enthusiasm and ideas. That said, she was very keen to affirm that the improvements aren’t all down to her and that it is very much a team effort.
She told me that they receive new trader enquiries every week and that the traders are also passing on the message that Mansfield is the place to be.
Mansfield Council offer a fantastic ‘incubation’ period of twelve months free rent for new traders, requiring a deposit up front of just two months rent. This is a great incentive as it helps new traders to learn about market trading and pool their takings back in to the business so that they increase their stock and establish their brand.
The brand and marketing is something that Datsa actively promotes and offers guidance and support. She started a Facebook page which has proven very popular. She goes around each trading day, looking at the stalls, chatting to traders and finding new things or offers to promote. As well as posting pictures, she also video interviews both traders and the general public, who promote all that is good about Mansfield Market. She has also encouraged several traders to get on board with the idea and set up their own pages, which she will promote via the official market site.
To help traders even further a private Facebook page has been set up, called the Mansfield Traders Club. Here Datsa can communicate information, advise of forthcoming events and offer support. This is in addition to more formal channels of communication to traders, such as letters and texts as not everybody wishes to be part of Facebook, although the take-up has been high.
With regards to branding and marketing, Datsa has given advice on how traders can better dress their stalls and display their wares. Several have new banners, with the names of their business and what they sell and some also have printed signs and leaflets – a great way of letting their customers know what is on offer in a professional way. In a competitive retail world, long gone are the days where fluorescent starbursts and hand written signs are enough to entice customers in.
There are a number of events that take place within the Market Square to help boost the profile and increase footfall. At Easter, children were encouraged to find the Easter Bunnies hidden around the market. Each one had a letter on it which spelled out a word and there were prizes for the winning participants. Various activities took place during the school holidays and a ghost hunt was planned for Halloween (along similar lines of the Easter competition)
Datsa and the team are currently working on their plans for their Christmas markets, and although not finalised at the time of going to press, ideas include decorated stalls, mince pies, Carols/performances by local schools and a charity gift wrapping service.
An artisan and craft market was introduced in July and it is growing organically. This will form a lot of the basis for the Christmas market and although the market is predominantly aimed at the arts and crafts, regular traders are not excluded. Their biggest to date was 25 traders, with 56 already booked for November for the first Christmas one and Datsa expects it to be full by the time it takes place.
Posters promoting various events are displayed around the market and its perimeter.
Meet the Traders
Datsa introduced me to a number of new and long serving traders so that I could get a feel for what the market is really like.
Michael of Regal Refreshments has been selling burgers at the market for ten years. He trades every day and is well supported by both market customers and traders. He said the changes have been good for the market and trade is picking up, particularly when the weather is good. He is one of a couple of hot food vendors that shares a council provided, covered seating area, which the traders are responsible for cleaning. Although Michael is officially ‘retired’ and his sons manage the other markets they trade at, he told me: “I will never give up. I love it too much.”
Neil and Michelle Anthony run the Plant Stop which Neil started 12 years ago when the coal mines were closing and work was hard to come by. They sell both plants and cut flowers and Michelle also makes planters, hanging baskets, wreaths and baskets for Mothering Sunday, Valentines Day etc. It has been challenging for them as several of their suppliers have ceased trading, but they admitted that Mansfield was a good market, which had been very good to them. They had traded elsewhere but now concentrate on just the one and their customers are very loyal.
Rob Pitt is a photographer and had been selling ladies’ clothes on the market but never really felt comfortable in that role. Datsa noticed that and encouraged him to change tack three months ago and sell what he loves. He now sells his own pictures which he has also had printed on to mugs and postcards, some of which are of Mansfield, which he also hopes to sell via the Mansfield Museum. He is now much happier and although trade isn’t as healthy as when he sold ladieswear, he has had some corporate orders off the back of it. His offer has been recently extended to personalised items, which can be turned around within 24 hours and he hopes to be busy for Christmas.
Toy stalls seem to be making a resurgence at markets and Steff of Laugh and Play has taken advantage of Mansfield’s new starter offer to resurrect a family business her parents had in Slovakia. They too were market traders, but didn’t sell toys and Steff had missed it. She joined the market mid-August, trading Thursday and Friday. Although a small stall, she has a good range of products, from pocket money items, dolls and some traditional wooden toys. She hopes that the free rent scheme will enable her to invest in buying porcelain dolls. She has been using Facebook to promote herself and told me: “The whole experience here has been very good. Everyone looks out for me and has been very helpful and supportive, especially Datsa.”
Sean has been at Mansfield since 1992, when, at the age of 18, he started selling video games. From a starting stock of around 50, he now goes into the thousands, which includes, old school and limited edition games. As well as console and PC games, he also sells DVDs, both new and used. He has recently invested in a new banner to promote his business. He has a loyal customer base and his stand was constantly busy.
Alex Yorke started his hosiery stall, selling socks and tights a year later. He trades Thursday – Saturday and also works other markets. His offering is 50/50 male/female and he also does younger lines too, having also expanded to lingerie and nightwear. If someone asks him for something, he will always try and get it. He told me: “Mansfield has been very good to me. I have an awful lot of loyal customers. This is a traditional market town and the locals use it.”
Michael Kitching is the fishman and he has been trading on a Thursday for eight years. His previous Friday market wasn’t proving profitable, so he has decided to trial Mansfield on this day. It was his second week when I visited, and he had already noticed that the customer base was different.
Darren Jakes’ family started selling fruit and vegetables 30 years ago and when they retired, Darren and his brother took over. About 12 years ago, Darren took over Fresh and Fruity and is at the market every day. He no longer trades elsewhere as he supplements the market income with a wholesale business, providing fruit, vegetables and eggs to local cafes and restaurants. He commented: “We have always done well here. It’s a good market and we are well supported.”
Reading back on my previous report, Mansfield Council don’t appear to have done everything they said was going to happen. These may have been trialled and deemed unsuccessful. Regardless, it doesn’t detract from the enthusiasm of the team, the positivity of the traders and the fact that Mansfield Market is a good market. They have all the elements to survive: the right products, the right people and the right attitude.