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High Street Retailers Need to Embrace the Artisan Markets. (July 2014)

In the North West, I am quite fortunate to be surrounded by some fantastic Artisan Markets. Wilmslow, Knutsford, Macclesfield, Northwich, Middlewich all benefit when, once a month, local traders turn up to sell their wares.

The cold food options are amazing. Cheese, bread, pies, scotch eggs, cup cakes, brownies, meat, beer, oils, fruit and vegetables and much more adorn the tables, often accompanied by little sample dishes for you to try as you walk around.

There is normally hot take away food options too. Burgers, crepes, chicken, pork, bratwurst and stews are just some of the delicious options available for the hungry market goer.

But the Artisan Market is not just food. Jewellery, clothes, furniture, household items and much more are available from local businesses.

Each trader turns up dutifully to enjoy the day and hopefully, make a profit at the end of it.

These markets bring in crowds from all around the local area and there is always a fantastic atmosphere, come rain or shine.

But there is one group of people that aren't always too happy with the market on. I am talking about the bricks and mortar shop retailers.

Now I am not talking about every shop in every town has a problem with the market, but there are certain pockets of resistance in towns as I walk around talking to people. Some retailers positively embrace the Artisan Markets, but some don't even open.

These markets bring masses of people to the town for one day a month and many retailers are failing to take advantage of such an opportunity.

I hear the same comments over and over again from a number of retailers in the towns. They say they are always quiet when the Artisan is on, and people don't go into their shops and the food shops suffer because there is so much food choice at the market.

But what are they doing about it ?

The high street retailers should be trying to integrate themselves as much as possible with the Artisan Markets. More often than not, the pessimistic high street staff tend to be cowering inside their shop, muttering amongst themselves about how much all these people walking past is affecting their trade ?

These retailers should be arming themselves with leaflets and promotional offers and getting themselves out into the market and spreading their message as loud and clearly as they can.

OK, people may not visit them on the day, but they are local people who may find themselves in the town on a quiet Wednesday and decide to pop in to have a look.

There could be three or four generations of one family walking around at an Artisan market, there will always be a target for the advertising.

Window displays should be bold and clear.

"Special Offers Today Only"

"Come In and Collect Your 10% Off Voucher"

"Special Items £5 for the first 20 customers"

I see none of this. I just hear excuses.

Now some retailers have really decided to take advantage of the Artisan Markets. I have seen companies advertise on social media that they not only opening on the days when the markets are on, but also there will be special offers on that day.

The organisers of the markets work very hard to make sure that the markets have a massive turn out of customers, what's wrong with piggy backing their advertising to increase the profile of your own business ? It would be a benefit for all involved.

But it doesn't have to stop there.

If you own a coffee shop in the town, what's stopping you speaking to some of the Artisan retailers about getting them to supply some product to your shop during the week ?

A lot of Artisan traders are busy people and will have cooked product especially for the weekend. Some of them have day jobs Monday to Friday and the weekend is their only outlet for their goods, so why not offer to stock a selection ?

Many of the market traders will be asked when they are back in the town, how good would it be to say " well I'm not here until next month, but you can find my product in the outlet at the end of the high street ?"

The market trader will benefit by extra turnover, the coffee shop owner will benefit from increased profits and footfall and the consumer will benefit by having the choice of a product that they can't walk into their local supermarket and purchase. The sign in your window saying "We sell locally sourced Artisan Products" would send a fantastic message.

More and more business meetings are happening at coffee shops these days. The coffee shop owners need to be capturing the business people who are having a casual walk round with their families to show what excellent facilities they have. You never know who is walking around these markets.

Now I totally understand that a some of the food outlets suffer on a market day. There is a huge amount of food to choose from on these days and the customer always likes to try something a bit different on these days.

But how competitive are the bricks and mortar food retailers being ?

I don't see any free samples being offered by resident food retailer. And are they offering that is different from the Artisan products ? Food retailers needs to be as proactive as Artisan traders when the crowds are around. Get out there, offer tasters, offer special deals, offer products that you know people can't get on the market.

Offer a "Text Your Order & We'll Deliver" service for the market traders. Many of them work on their own at these markets and would take up the chance of a coffee and a bite to eat being delivered to their stall if the chance was there. Work with the traders, not against them.

In main stream retail, you will always find the competition working near each other.

McDonalds can usually be found near a Pizza Hut, KFC or Frankie and Bennys. DFS are always near ScS and CSL. Car showrooms, travel agents, estate agents can all be found within close proximity of each other. And why ? Because they understand the benefit of competition. People are bringing their money to the area, that's the first and most important thing.

The major supermarkets are already awake to the growth of Artisan products. More and more shelves of the supermarket are being taken over by unique products by people who want something a bit different. But this is nothing new. Luxury retailers such as Harrods have been doing this for a long time.

Selfridges, Debenhams, House of Fraser are all major stores who give away a lot of their floor space to companies who want sell their product through a concession environment.

If you are a bricks and mortar retailer, why not see if you could create an area of your shop to give to Artisan products ? The benefits far outweigh the risks, but unless you take the risk, how will you know ?

"Shop Local" is a big thing these days. And on a Saturday, if you want customers to bring their money to your town instead of an out of town retail park, then a bustling high street is what's needed.

Artisan markets and shops need to work hand in hand, not hand to throat !

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