Tag Archives: markets

Government officials took time off from Brexit negotiations last month to launch two crucial initiatives: A ‘traffic light’ scheme from DEFRA proposing retailers add red, amber or green labels to show if their packaging is recyclable. And a ‘calorie cap’ recommendation to limit the size of takeaway pizzas. A pleasant change to worrying about Brexit no doubt but rather missing the point – the need to reduce consumption. Curbing the volume of unnecessary packaging and banning double sausage and egg McMuffins would be a start. Quite how HMG would implement these proposals is not clear. Maybe Brexit will provide an answer.

The LADS must be doing something right.

Meanwhile the quarterly results for the LADS (Limited Assortment Discounters i.e. Aldi and Lidl) show they continue to bite chunks out of the ‘Big Four’ supermarkets. Lidl boosted sales by 10% and Aldi by 15%, partly from new store openings and partly from own-label product lines. The Co-op also did well with turnover up 7%. By comparison Asda and Morrison increased sales by 2.4% but Tesco only managed 0.9% and Sainsbury 0.6%. The LADS must be doing something right.

Variety is the spice of life.

Retail analysts have pointed fingers at the oversupply of supermarket space by the Big Four, problems with suppliers and poor variety. Reducing product lines to reduce prices has been adopted by Tesco to compete with the LADS but I think they’re missing the point. Variety is the spice of life. It‘s what makes a Market successful.

Morrisons offers the best variety in the UK

My holiday comparison between Aldi and Intermarche (France) and Morrisons and Tesco (UK) was an eyeopener. OK, the prices are higher in the EU thanks to exchange rates but the sheer variety on offer in France is far wider. Morrisons offers the best variety in the UK and their sales confirm as much but Intermarche simply crams more product lines into the same floor space.

Note for Market Managers – Variety attracts footfall.

A pallet of engine oil at the end of an Aldi aisle might seem odd but expectation of a ‘Managers offer’ or an ‘own-brand special’ attracts footfall. Maybe it’s time for you to stooge around the competition and offer seasonal specials.

Note for Market Stallholders – Look at refreshing your offer on a regular basis.

In direct response to the challenge of the LADS Tesco launched ‘Jack’s’ last month – it’s new brand of discount store. It used a mothballed store development in Chatteris to offer limited range, no frills displays, short -term discounts and an emphasis on British suppliers. ‘The cheapest in town’ said Lawrence Harvey, retail director of Jack’s – but only locally, not nationally. My suspicion is this is not going to cut it with an Aldi or Lidl shopper who enjoys cheap (if oddly-named) chocolate across the UK.

Retail analysts have reminded everyone of Sainsbury’s Danish experience

Retail analysts have reminded everyone of Sainsbury’s Danish experience. It dipped a toe in the discount pool four years ago when it partnered with Dansk Supermarket Group to bring discounter Netto to the UK in a £25m partnership. It trialled 16 stores at discounted prices but folded the partnership two years later because of an ‘increasingly competitive market’

Do you go for high-volume ‘pile it high, sell it cheap’ sales

And therein lies the dilemma for many Market businesses. Do you go for high-volume ‘pile it high, sell it cheap’ sales with a limited variety you can buy cheaply in bulk, or do you push high-margin niche products for which you have specialist knowledge? My money is on the latter.

Checkouts will soon verify age using facial recognition technology

Finally, those of us fortunate enough to still enjoy youthful good looks will be relieved to learn checkouts will soon verify age using facial recognition technology. ‘Fastlane’ self-service checkout manufacturer NCR has announced a partnership with software company YOTI to integrate a camera and age assessment technology into self-service tills.

No longer will we need to answer tedious questions and produce proof of age when buying age-restricted goods such as booze, fags, knives, fireworks, X-rated DVD’s etc.

Waiting for age approval at self-checkouts is a source of frustration

Robin Tombs, chief executive of Yoti, said: ‘Waiting for age approval at self-checkouts is a source of frustration for many shoppers who just want to get home as quickly as possible. It’s a simple process that helps retailers meet the requirements of regulators worldwide’.

Hmmm… NCR did not confirm whether their tills will breathalyse the shopper to determine if he/she is already plastered (selling to them would also be an offence) or whether it will remove the security tag on your bottle of gin.

Facial recognition

In retail today we take many things for granted and forget someone had to invent them.  Machine-readable barcodes – the basis of stock control and EPOS – were the brainchild of Alan Haberman in the 1970’s but 40 years before then the late Sylvan Goldman, owner of ‘Humpty Dumpty’ grocery stores in Oklahoma invented the ‘greatest ever development in the history of merchandising’ – the shopping trolley.

Until the 1930’s grocery stores had always been ‘serve-over’

The USA has always been a consumer-driven society eager to embrace new ideas. Until the 1930’s grocery stores had always been ‘serve-over’ and the issuing of self-serve baskets to reduce staff costs was relatively new. Goldman had a lightbulb moment when he realised self-serve sales could be doubled with ‘Trolley-carriers’ to overcome the weight of a basket.

Shopping trolleys were a flop when introduced in 1937.

In a later TV interview Goldman recorded how Shoppers resisted the idea. Women said: ‘I’ve pushed enough baby carriages. I don’t want to push any more’ whilst Men said ‘Are you saying I’m a wimp? Do you think I can’t carry a pesky little basket?’ – or something like that. Shopping trolleys were a flop when he introduced them in 1937.

The design evolved from two loose baskets in a folding, wheeled frame

But he had the strength of his convictions. He spent a small fortune on newspaper and radio advertising to make them fashionable and hired attractive young girls to walk around pushing his new invention. Staff were trained to spot people struggling with baskets and to place them in his wheeled carrier frame – which also carried a second basket so they could carry on shopping. The design evolved from two loose baskets in a folding, wheeled frame into todays single large-capacity fixed basket in a stackable frame. And trolleys in the USA are BIG – about half as big again as those in the UK.

Goldman also experimented with less-successful techniques

Goldman also experimented with less-successful techniques.He tried to emulate Henry Ford and attached baskets to a track along which customers shuffled collecting produce as they went. But that was a stinker. When anyone stopped to read a product label everyone else stopped. Oh well, back to the drawing board….

Goldman tried to understand Shopper psychology, kept experimenting and wasn’t frightened of change

The point is that Goldman tried to understand Shopper psychology, kept experimenting and wasn’t frightened of change. He persisted and soon overcame Shoppers’ reluctance and patent his idea before dying as a very wealthy man indeed. The Yanks are good at innovation.

Todays big retailers are still looking for a lightbulb moment but I’m sorry to say few Markets match them

Todays big retailers are still looking for a lightbulb moment but I’m sorry to say few Markets match them. Take product lighting for instance. A whole industry has evolved around product lighting – different wavelengths and different focusses for different products: meat, fish, vegetables, fabrics and jewellery. And it works – well-designed lighting increases sales by about 25%. A Draper no longer needs to take a Customer outside to show them his sample – specialist lighting brings daylight into the stall. Nowadays product-specific lighting is cheaper than ever. The exposed fluorescent tubes of many Markets should be history.

Unintended ‘impulse purchases’ are driven by lighting and presentation

Research has confirmed a well-lit and laid-out shop convinces Shoppers to buy 50% more than they intended when they walked in. Unintended ‘impulse purchases’ are driven by lighting and presentation and Supermarkets ensure the most alluring sensations – flowers and produce – stand at the front in a ‘decompression’ zone to relax Shoppers as they arrive. The basics – dairy produce and bakery – are positioned at the back to draw shoppers past the shelves and many US stores employ friendly ‘greeters’ to open the door and say Hello. It may sound a bit naff to us Brits but one of the most successful Stallholders I know does the same. He simply stands out in front of his stall in a nice fresh uniform and says Hello to Dan and Doris. They love him.

ASB on private premises is a civil not a criminal offence

A friend recently introduced me to a Superstore manager relaxing in our local after a hard day at the checkout. He complained about the early-morning task of evicting rough sleepers from shopping trolley shelters in his carpark. In bad weather they are a cosy alternative to a draughty doorway with the added bonus of skip diving for food in his waste bins. I was sympathetic. Market Hall entrances seem to attract similar ASB (anti-social behaviour) despite deterrents such as ‘Mosquito’ ultrasonic transmitters (audible only to under-25’s) and ceiling-mounted sprinkler bars which discharge after closing hours. I’m told both are reasonably effective and a lot cheaper than a security guard. But as a Landlord don’t expect any help from PC 49. ASB on private premises is a civil not a criminal offence and when Landlords do take action they can expect complaints about infringing peoples human rights. Hmmmm…..

Shopping trolleys are more germ-laden than well-used public conveniences

My Superstore manager’s problem is staff morale – confrontations and clearing cardboard and other errrr…remains left behind in smelly corners. To cap it all his Company Health & Safety Manager now quoted research confirming shopping trolleys are more germ-laden than well-used public conveniences. Research commissioned by the ‘bag-for-life’ company Reusethisbag and a separate study by the University Hospital of Marburg, Germany (no less) suggests trolleys host several hundred times more E Coli and Salmonella than a well-used WC. Think about that the next time you see a child chewing on the trolley handle. Cash machines and self-service fridge doors have the same problem. And you don’t want to know about the grab handles in a London Underground carriage.

There are Companies which rock up with a highly-visible ‘trolleywash’ unit, sterilise the trolleys and sanitise the shelters at the same time

But of course someone in the USA quickly spotted the business opportunity. There are Companies which rock up with a highly-visible ‘trolleywash’ unit, sterilise the trolleys and sanitise the shelters at the same time. Customers love ‘em. It’s one less thing they’d never thought about and now it’s one less thing to worry about.  My Supermarket friend suggested this to HQ but was told the cost would come out of his bonus. Instead he slips a few bob to his Carpark Carwash blokes and they do it for him instead. Good thinking.

 

car wash

Epsom Ladies day, 1stJune was extra scary this year. The usual scrummage of hats and high heels at the bars turned nasty when the Visa credit card system crashed. A lot of ladies were less than impressed and bar staff had to be rescued by security.

It came as an unwelcome wake-up call for many retailers

The problem was Europewide according to Visa which blamed a hardware failure rather than a Russian cyber-attack. The problem was not the Ladies or the Merchant accounts but a Visa computer which fell over and could not send back authorisations. Visa had it sorted by Saturday lunchtime but it came as an unwelcome wake-up call for many retailers. The vast majority of high-value sales are electronic, either in-store or online but few seemed to have an in-store backup plan, apart from cash. Forlorn staff standing outside a store waving ‘Cash only’ placards does not inspire Consumer loyalty. Long delays built up at the Severn Bridge toll and the London Congestion Charge system ground to a halt. It all came as a unpleasant surprise and warning of just how vulnerable Consumers are in a cashless society. My enterprising garage owner rose to the challenge. He dug around in his storeroom and emerged with a big smile and a ‘Click Clack’card voucher machine.

Markets are – somewhat reluctantly – embracing EFT (Electronic Funds Transfer)

Markets are – somewhat reluctantly – embracing EFT (Electronic Funds Transfer) i.e. credit and debit cards but they have a long way to go to match mainstream retailers. Visa failure meant queues quickly built up at ATM’s, some of which also failed so if you already take plastic or plan to do so (recommended) this may be the time to consider a backup plan for your hardwired terminal. I was surprised so few High Street retailers could offer an alternative. I-Zettle, Square, Google Pay, Paypal or Apple Pay are all options instead of cash. They could be worth investigating – there are plenty of options at increasingly-competitive rates. Some also incorporate the £30 contactless service.

Where have all the Bank branches gone?

A second problem faced retailers on Monday morning – how to pay the cash into their bank account. Where have all the Bank branches gone? The British Bankers Association says log-ins for online banking have grown to about 9.6 million per day whilst ‘over the counter’ transactions have fallen by 6% in the last year. More than 600 bank branches closed in the UK last year with many small towns in rural areas losing all their banks. Commuter towns have also been affected. Customers are more likely to use branch banking near their place of work whilst at work.

High Street Bank branches have shrunk from about 11,000 to 8,000 over the last 10 years and more closures are expected. Newcomer Metrobank has bucked the trend by opening 40 branches with a further 60 expected by 2020 but they are in conurbations.

Loss of Bank branches is particular problem for rural communities

Loss of Bank branches is particular problem for rural communities as many host a large proportion of home businesses. Basic banking is still available at 11,500 Post Office branches but they’re also downsizing as Postal services move online. To assist, the much-troubled Royal Bank of Scotland has introduced a ‘Bank on Wheels’ for rural areas with some success and ATM manufacturers are developing unattended ‘lobby service’ Mini-banks.

Markets need to widen their services

The Charity Age UK has pointed out how older customers reluctant or unable to go online are suffering. The Federation of Small Businesses is also campaigning on behalf of small businesses and In response HMG has promised additional prior consultation by the end of this year but the writing is on the wall. Small wonder then that Supermarkets have been offering EFT, checkout ‘cashback’, ATM’s and Sub Post Office concessions for years. How many Markets do the same? Markets need to widen their services..

TSB lost some 12,500 customers as a result of an IT systems crash in April

Visa was not the only one with online problems. At least it was not suffering the ‘online assault’ described by TSB Chief Exec. Paul Pester to the Parliamentary Treasury Select Committee. He confirmed TSB had lost some 12,500 customers as a result of an IT systems crash in April. During that month it attempted to transfer 1.3 BILLION customer records from TSB’s previous parent company, Lloyds to it’s new Spanish owners Sabadell. But TSB was ‘overwhelmed’ by fraud attacks during this ‘system migration’ which generated 10,600 fraud alerts, 2,200 attempts at cyberfraud and up to 1,300 TSB customers suffering actual financial loss. Mr Pester and TSB Chairman Richard Meddings could not apologise enough to the 94,000 customers who had lodged complaints. MP’s on the Committee could be seen shifting uneasily in their seats and thanking their lucky stars they didn’t have to clear up the mess.

Sainsbury’s announced it is trialling a new ‘relaxed checkout lane’ in its store at Prestwick for people who suffer from dementia

Meanwhile Sainsburys continue to grab headlines following their proposed Asda merger news. The Supermarket announced it is trialling a new ‘relaxed checkout lane’ in its store at Prestwick for people who suffer from dementia. It’s being run in conjunction with charity ‘Alzheimer’s Scotland’ and bosses hope it can be rolled out across the country. Staff have received extra training to help sufferers and the checkout lane has been de-cluttered, but now with images which represent coins and their value.

Very commendable I’m sure but actually old news. Market stalls have been offering enhanced service to disabled Shoppers for years.

 

 

Christmas trading results confirmed the inexorable move to online plus another problem for struggling retailers – the gulf between ‘bricks ‘n mortar’ retailers who sell online and the ONLY online retailers like AO. Marc Bolland, boss of M&S did the decent thing and threw himself onto his sword when sales crashed 5.8% and the ‘Big Four’ supermarkets all warned of falling like-for-like sales despite improved online performance.

The big winners seem to be the ONLY Online retailers like AO who don’t have any Bricks ‘n Mortar presence

But card issuers like Visa and MasterCard confirmed turnover was UP by 2% – so the difference must have gone somewhere if not into the Big Four’s websites. The two usual suspects are German – Aldi and Lidl – but their sales turnover is still far too small to represent the difference. The big winners seem to be the ONLY Online retailers like AO who don’t have any bricks ‘n mortar presence. They reported a staggering 31% increase in sales – better even than Aldi could achieved. Admittedly much of this was in white goods rather than groceries but it still hurt the big boys efforts to diversify from groceries and household into durables. Changed shopping habits have now impacted on supermarkets just like they on markets when they introduced self-service.

The markets industry still remains predominantly cash-only and ignores the websites and plastic which fuelled the switch.

But if you’re a small retailer don’t take too much pleasure from watching ‘the biter bit’ until you’ve done your own reality check. The markets industry still remains predominantly cash-only and ignores the websites and plastic which fuelled the switch.

With over 80% of groceries and household goods sold by four companies the move online (and to those Germans) has left the big four with some very expensive property liabilities. They’ve been shelving projects and offloading poor performers sites as fast as possible but are left with the dilemma of who will buy them. The obvious purchasers are suffering as much as they are and anyway a vendor will inevitably slap a restrictive covenant on the title to prevent a competitor using it for retail. The clever money is now in redeveloping supermarket sites for housing – very much in line with government policy. The UK is OVER-provided with supermarkets but UNDER-provided with houses. Say Goodbye! to Asda and Hello! to Acacia Avenue.

Big retailers are seeking other ways to diversify and maintain profits whilst reducing their property costs

Small wonder then that big retailers are seeking other ways to diversify and maintain profits whilst reducing their property costs. Tesco tried with their new ‘Fresh ‘n Easy’ chain in the USA (which was a disaster) and still try to fill underused UK space with Harris & Hoole coffeeshops. Not that it’s had much effect – the H&H promos show suntanned South California beach babes with perfect teeth, not Tracey from the Mudford-on-Sea checkout.

Buying Argos and slotting their stores into Sainsbury units could save a lot of operational costs for both

One would-be diversifier is Mike Coupe, the dynamic new CEO of Sainsbury. He’s has been sniffing around the Home Retail Group, owners of Argos (and until recently Homebase DIY) to fill underused space in his stores. His rationale is that Argos has excellent home deliveries, a complementary offer and ‘mature’ property portfolio which would be cheap to offload. Buying Argos and slotting their stores into Sainsbury units could save a lot of operational costs for both and provide Argos ‘Click and Collect’ in Sainsbury convenience stores. Well that’s the theory anyway, but the secret is out. Home Retail shareholders are playing hard to get and have just sold off Homebase DIY to the Aussie retail group Wesfarmers to boost the share price. Mike will have to pay a lot more than he wants and seems to have cold feet. Watch this space.

After ‘Black Friday’ we had ‘Cyber-Saturday’ and now ‘Blue Monday’

And finally: the latest stupid-sounding name which no-one really understands. After ‘Black Friday’ we had ‘Cyber-Saturday’ and now ‘Blue Monday’ – the third Monday in January. This is – allegedly – the most depressing day of the year. Travel agents use it push February Citybreaks for WizzAir which sound like a steal with four romantic nights for two in Riga for £200 – flights, half-board and transfers included. Why Latvia in February? It’s perishing cold but their markets are housed in former Zeppelin airship hangars. It all seems slightly more funky than Mudford.

Unfortunately the name lives on but can be ignored by everyone in the Markets industry

‘Blue Monday’ was invented by the TV channel Sky Travel back in 2005 to drum up interest in their holiday offers but didn’t work too well. It’s owners, BSkyB closed them down after 5 years due to ‘intense internet competition’ which sounds familiar. Unfortunately the name lives on but can be ignored by everyone in the markets industry.

We already know about the kipper season – which, of course is NOT a stupid name.

RigaMarket

 

Hope you had a good Christmas. Try not to think about the kipper season.

Preliminary sales results from the big boys have been poor at best. The ‘Big Four’ supermarkets have been fighting off the Germans – Aldi and Lidl – so margins remained wafer-thin. The high street fashion retailers were hammered by unseasonably warm weather and Black Friday never really took off. Biggies like H&M and Next started their sales early (which is a bit worrying given the low rate of inflation and rising disposable incomes). Drastic discounting did not draw in the crowds as expected so when the full Christmas sales results are announced it will be interesting to see the proportion which transferred to online or simply disappeared to online competition. Amazon and Google announced amazing turnover figures for Black Friday with durables, white goods and presents only a click away. Shoppers were still seen browsing High Street shops up to Christmas Eve but more for price-comparison with online and/or to sniff out last-minute bargains. Conversion to sales seems to have been poor with many shoppers preferring to sit in front of their PC with a pile of mince pies.

Lower High Street footfall means lower Market turnover

You might have hoped this would not affect your market but I’m sorry to say that doesn’t appear to be the case. Stallholders do not have the sky-high rents and rates of a ‘bricks ‘n mortar’ high street retailer so are still able to offer real bargains BUT they remain overwhelmingly reliant on footfall. Lower high street footfall means lower market turnover which seems to have affected seasonal Christmas markets as much as weekday general markets. Meat, poultry and fruit & veg. seems to have stood up reasonably well but European traders who came to the UK in search of a strong currency and better sales turnover went home disappointed. Sales turnover on Christmas markets seems to have fallen by at least a quarter.

Those with a decent online presence have definitely held their ground

So who were the real winners? Those with a decent online presence have definitely held their ground. Those selling craft and luxury goods only have done well. My friend trained as saddlemaker in Walsall but threw in that towel to make wallets, belts, dog collars and handbags and only sells online. His sales through Etsy, Ebay, Facebook and website are better then ever. He’s not cheap but works on the theory that no girl can ever be too thin or own too many handbags or pairs of shoes. He took a big gamble and doubled his stock from July but had a cracking good Christmas since. His secrets are low overheads, adding value by product skills and selling online 24/7.

Thank heavens the markets industry is so innovative and resilient

So where does this leave the markets industry? The impact of online retailing and home delivery by DHL is as profound as the introduction of self-service supermarkets was to the corner shop. Thank heavens the markets industry is so innovative and resilient. Sadly, the Chancelllor’s Autumn statement didn’t contain any real goodies for small businesses to reinvest in and develop themselves. But it did confirm your market authority’s worst fears – a further 29% in spending cuts over the next 5 years. The easy cuts have been made already so you can anticipate services like care for the elderly taking priority. Loss-making ‘discretionary’ services like markets are in line for disposal in line with the ‘Big Society’ agenda promoted by David Cameron.

It would be interesting to know how many stallholders have half-embraced online retailing

It would be interesting to know how many Stallholders have HALF-embraced online retailing, but not the right half. Be honest with yourself and admit whether you’ve gone online because you’re too busy selling and don’t have time to sit in the carpark queue at Bluewater (6 hours) or Silverburn (3 hours). Maybe next year you should plan ahead and go online then treat yourself with a post-Christmas weekend holiday in Eastern Europe. Many of their Christmas markets stay open until the Orthodox Christmas on 6th January.

A Christmas when you don’t have to work – whoopee!

LYLM

Today is the start of the 2015 Love your Local Market Fortnight - a celebration of our market culture that happens every year in May.

1172 markets are taking part this year, putting on events all over the UK to promote all that’s best about shopping and trading at the market. LYLM is also all about entrepreneurship and since it started in 2012 the markets industry has pledged over 10,000 pitches to new traders.

It all started in 2012 amidst fears for the future of our High Streets, when the idea of a National Market Day was proposed alongside the government’s High Street Review. The idea for Love Your Local Market fortnight was born …… and four years later it is going strong.

Market day still holds a special place in the hearts of people from all walks of life

Markets have a long-standing place in the towns, cities and villages of the British Isles. They were the cornerstone of every major settlement throughout our history, with people bringing in goods to trade from surrounding settlements in order to feed themselves, but also the citizens of the conurbations they visited. Market day still holds a special place in the hearts of people from all walks of life, as a place to shop but also to socialise, meet up with acquaintances and catch up on some gossip.

Today’s markets are seeing something of a revival in fortunes

Today’s markets are seeing something of a revival in fortunes. With shoppers wary of long supply chains, emphasised in the 2013 horse meat scandal, we are turning once more to our butchers, bakers and other more traditional outlets, tempted by the assurance of provence in the goods we are buying, but also to see a friendly face and to support our local businesses. Love Your Local Market has been devised to herald the changes and to make shoppers aware of what is on offer on their doorstep.

Lead partners, The National Association of British Market Authorities (Nabma) bring nearly 100 years of experience to the campaign and are keen that this knowledge is shared with as many markets as possible. Also embracing the 21st Century the organisation runs roadshows across the country in the lead in to the campaign each year, to give market organisers ideas towards their events, and to arm them with social media advise so they can reach a new generation of shoppers.

Quarterbridge are proud to be supporting the campaign

Quarterbridge are proud to be supporting the campaign as one of the #MarketBiz15 companies featured during the LYLM fortnight. We have played an active role in promoting LYLM in many of the markets we have helped and seen first hand the positive results it delivers.

http://loveyourlocalmarket.org.uk/

The Stag and Hounds, in Bristol’s Old Market, prides itself on being one of the city’s top music pubs. It has another claim to fame that most regulars won’t know: it was home to one of England’s longest-lived Piepowder Courts.

Piepowder Courts (from the French pieds poudres, or ‘dusty feet’) were established in mediaeval times to oversee traditional markets

Piepowder Courts (from the French pieds poudres, or ‘dusty feet’) were established in mediaeval times to oversee traditional markets, dispensing summary justice to pickpockets, thieves and cheating travelling merchants. Bristol’s Piepowder Court continued to sit until 1870.

Sometimes, though, the cursory consideration of a few local dignitaries was not enough to keep the markets and fairs running smoothly. In Nottingham the city’s annual Goose Fair, a huge event that would draw crowds from across the midlands, became the scene of the famous Cheese Riot of 1766.

Thomas Bailey’s Annals of Nottinghamshire, published in 1852, describes how irate crowds ran amok after complaints that traders were overcharging for cheese, grabbing cheeses from the stalls and rolling them down the streets. ‘The mayor, whilst endeavouring to quell the disturbance, was knocked down by a cheese, hurled at him by one of the mob, and severely stunned,’ Bailey recounts.

These days the equivalent of the cheese riot is Black Friday in Tesco

I came across the story of the great cheese riot while researching my book, How to Save Our Town Centres. Since then more than one reader has suggested a re-enactment of this historic occasion. Others might argue that these days the equivalent of the cheese riot is Black Friday in Tesco, while traditional markets have become a haven of decorum.

There are other conflicts over our markets, though, that should worry us more. Some are over the cost of trading and the rents demanded by private (or local authority) owners: Brixton and Oxford have both seen disputes over rents in recent years. The closure of Sheffield’s Castle Market and its relocation to a new building on the other side of the city centre has attracted complaints that both traders and traditional customers are being priced out.

What is at stake is not just the markets themselves but the character and vitality of our town and city centres

What is at stake is not just the markets themselves but the character and vitality of our town and city centres. Go to Bury in Lancashire, home of the black pudding, and you’ll see one of the most successful traditional markets in England. Every year up to 1,500 coachloads of visitors descend on this former mill town to sample the wares at nearly 400 stalls. Market traders boast that you can get everything you need from cradle to grave. There’s even a man who’ll do your headstone.

But at the other end of town, the new Rock shopping centre is stretching Bury’s retail core, offering a glass-and-concrete panorama of Marks & Spencer and Superdry, Costa Coffee and River Island. In between, at the 1990s Mill Gate shopping centre – itself a replacement for a 1960s precinct – every other shop is a discount store and there’s an acne of ‘to let’ signs.

Planners across the UK have swallowed the myth of ‘retail-led regeneration’

Bury’s planners, it would seem, like planners across the UK, have swallowed the myth of ‘retail-led regeneration’, imagining that shiny new shopping centres will revive their towns. In the process the traditional markets are often left behind, physically distanced from the new developments and reduced to either a throwback to a bygone age or a curiosity, providing a retail diversion for people with plenty of disposable income and time on their hands.

High-end retailers concentrate their brands in prime locations and struggling locations become dominated by pound shops and charity shops

Places that used to be social levellers, providing something for everyone and where well-off and hard-up would rub shoulders and exchange banter, are now becoming socially polarised. At the same time an economic segregation is dividing successful from unsuccessful towns, as high-end retailers concentrate their brands in prime locations and struggling locations become dominated by pound shops and charity shops: a lifeline to the hard-pressed, but a signifier of failure to investors and planners.

We won’t get town centres right until we start thinking about what creates good places, not just about how retail can work better

In my book I argue that we won’t get town centres right until we start thinking about what creates good places, not just about how retail can work better. To think about placemaking demands an understanding of how places can work for everyone, not just those with money to spend. I discuss how we can create places to be, not just places to buy.

There are two ways in which we can think of ‘the market’ in that context. One is as a gathering place: a place of trade, but most of all a space for relationships and connections. I use the example of the ancient Greek agora: buying and selling was just part of the mix. It was where justice was done, athletic contests were held, children were schooled and religion was practiced. As the urban historian Lewis Mumford commented, it was ‘above all a place for palaver’.

The other way of thinking about the market is purely as an economic construct: a place where people act according to narrow financial self-interest and where value is equated only with rates of return and capital gains. This view of the market prizes and privileges development-led ‘investment’ and focuses on the big numbers of jobs generated in construction and retail without considering what is being displaced. And inevitably, the capital and revenue flows accrue to those with the wherewithal to join in a game in which the price of entry is increasingly high.

Questioning and challenging such ideas of investment is not anti-business. What it does is to highlight that there are different ways of doing business, different views of value within business communities, and different ways of envisaging what it means to thrive and prosper. How to Save Our Town Centres aims to bring some of those questions to the surface.


 

How to Save Our Town CentresHow to Save Our Town Centres is published by Policy Press and available at www.policypress.co.uk or www.urbanpollinators.co.uk. To contact Julian Dobson about workshops or speaking engagements email julian@urbanpollinators.co.uk

 

 

 

 

 

Quarterbridge would like to thank Julian Dobson for so generously contributing this article.

 

 

Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury has announced a review of the business rates system and inviting contributions from all parties. Quarterbridge has made representations on behalf of market traders, stallholders and owners. We’ve highlighted inconsistencies in application and how recent changes have created an unnecessary administrative burden on councils.

When the rateable value is calculated it should, theoretically reflect periodic occupation and varying trader attendance from week to week.

The existing system of business rates is based on the estimated rental value of comparable premises which are occupied with exclusive possession by a tenant for 365 days per year. This rarely applies to markets – particularly open markets which don’t occupy a building and for which comparable evidence of rental value can rarely be found. When the rateable value is calculated it should, theoretically reflect periodic occupation and varying trader attendance from week to week. But in reality this does not happen and the market owner is left with a charge to recover through the rents he charges but which has very little relation to the true value of the space.

The administration is unnecessarily complex and in any event often worthless at collecting tax

The system is particularly inappropriate for market halls containing fixed stalls. Stallholders do enjoy ‘exclusive possession’ of their stalls 365 days per year but in recent years the Valuation Office has moved away from a ‘single assessment’ of a whole market hall to individual assessments of stalls within it. This is a retrograde step. Previously it was easy for management to query the assessment and apportion it back to stallholders pro rata to the space they occupy within the building. Nowadays the system requires the individual measurement of each stall and the creation of dozens of new rating accounts for a council to administer. There are also inconsistencies in application between regional valuation offices – sometimes the management facilities are charged in addition and sometimes they are apportioned into the stall assessments. The administration is unnecessarily complex and in any event often worthless at collecting tax because individual assessments fall into the band qualifying for small business rates relief.

Under the individual assessment scheme stallholders have to submit individual applications for small business rates relief

Under the individual assessment scheme stallholders have to submit individual applications for small business rates relief which creates yet another burden of administration for their local council. In practice many managers make the applications for relief on behalf of their stallholders to keep total occupational costs down and often end up supplying the VO with floor areas for the calculations. Turkeys don’t like voting for Christmas or doing someone else’s job.

Markets halls and open markets should be assessed on a ‘profits-generated’ basis

The Quarterbridge view is that simple-to-administer single assessments for market Halls should be used and both markets halls and open markets should be assessed on a ‘profits-generated’ basis at the financial year end, using trading accounts and online self-assessment. This will remove a whole raft of administrative costs and make the system fairer all round.

If you’d like to make your views known to HMG and see the terms of reference for the review, then go to http://www.ow.ly/LwMDy

Act now and have your say

Responses have to be received by 12th June which ain’t far away so get weaving.

 

The bookmakers odds for the May 7th general election are all over the place. The outcome looks the least predictable for decades now that coalition government and fixed-term parliaments have become the norm.

Turnout should be good though as more people tend to vote in a general election if the result is uncertain.

Depending on where you live you could have the choice of up to 12 mainstream parties to choose from: Conservative, Labour, Lib-Dem, SNP etc., plus up to 21 fringe parties such as the Yorkshire Devolution Party and CISTA – which sounds like an unpleasant personal infection. But if you live in the constituency of the Speaker of the House of Commons like wot I do then it’s much more boring. The mainstream guys have a gentlemans agreement not to field a competing candidate so we’ve only got the Greens and UKIP. And Nigel Farage isn’t the candidate here again as last time he had a nasty accident in an aeroplane.  Turnout should be good though as more people tend to vote in a general election if the result is uncertain. In 2001 a mere 59% of registered electors bothered to vote after Labour’s previous 1997 landslide win. In 2010 after the financial crisis the figure rose to 65% but not in central Manchester, Leeds or Birmingham where more than half still couldn’t be arsed to vote. Mind you that’s better than in Lithuania where only 37% turned-out for their last general election and a lot worse than in Australia where 94% did so. But in Oz it’s a legal obligation to do your civic duty and vote or you get fined £12 and thrown to the crocodiles.

 

If you’re feeling as interested as a Lithuanian but want to understand everyone’s policies and impress your mates down at the pub then go to the BBC’s excellent ‘policies at a glance’ website at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/election/2015/manifesto-guide

‘Which county has created more jobs than the whole of France?..’

MP’s were waiting eagerly in March for the Chancellors pre-election budget. They expected a last-minute knock-down ‘Chancellors special’ but in the event came away disappointed. George Osborne sat back and rested on the Government laurels of the fastest growing post-recession economy in Europe. The Yorkshire Devolution Party (No MP’s, yet) was ecstatic when he announced ‘Which county has created more jobs than the whole of France? The great county of Yorkshire!’. George glossed-over the need to pay-down the governments £1.4 trillion of debt after the deficit has been sorted but did throw in a few morsels such as tax breaks for North Sea oil companies and reduced duty on beer and wine. The only real cheers were for fuel duty (no increase) and abolition of annual tax returns and national insurance contributions for the self-employed. Sadly, George didn’t lift the threshold for Vat registration and boost the ‘engine room of the economy’ as he calls small businesses.

The PM has announced plans for a ‘Northern powerhouse’

The government is definitely twitchy about accusations that a ‘Metropolitan elite’ is running the country and doing ‘nowt for the north’. To do something for marginal northern constituencies the PM has announced plans for a ‘Northern powerhouse’ fuelled by allowing Greater Manchester to keep 100% of the growth in local business rates and benefit from another high speed rail link – HS3. This would extend HS2 from Manchester and Leeds up to Newcastle, but quite how it can be financially-justified is another matter.

‘little more than a costly vanity project’ 

That has already been pointed out by the Commons Public Accounts Committee and the free-market think-tank the Institute of Economic Affairs. It’s spokesperson described it as ‘little more than a costly vanity project’ which is how Lord Mandelson has described it’s conception in the dying days of the last Labour administration.

The Small Business Rates Relief scheme is extended until 31st March 2016

Anyway, putting aside HS2’s unwelcome lack of a business case the government has moved to safer ground by confirming the Small Business Rates Relief scheme is extended until 31st March 2016. Most market businesses qualify for this waiver on rates payable so if you’re not already receiving it I strongly recommend you check with the rating office at your local council. If the rateable value of your premises is below £6,000 you’ll pay nothing at all and to encourage you to grow into bigger premises you’ll now receive the relief for 12 months after you occupy an additional property. This news was delivered at the same time as Danny Alexander, Chief Secretary to the Treasury announced a ‘radical review’ of the business rates system with its outcome to be announced in 2016. ‘The time has come for a radical review of this important tax. We want to ensure the system is fair, efficient and effective’ he said, which was nice to hear. But those of us with long memories will remember previous government attempts to reform the rating system have been torpedoed by the civil servants of the Valuation Office which employs lots of keen young surveyors to administer the system.

Just as exciting and unpredictable as the result of the general election was the result of this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Just as exciting and unpredictable as the result of the general election was the result of this year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup. Unfortunately my foolproof system to ‘Back the jockey – not the horse’ came unzipped, yet again. Tony McCoy and Carlingford Lough trundled in at ninth place whilst Nico de Boinville on Coneygree romped home to a well-deserved length and a half victory.

McCoy has announced he won’t be riding at Cheltenham again.  I can see a pattern emerging here.