Julia Smith explains how Stoke on Trent is targeting younger shoppers.
“In Stoke-on-Trent, markets have been perceived to be old fashioned places for old people to shop and work in.
“Knowing that it isn’t going to be an overnight fix to get young people shopping in the markets we are aiming to foster young people’s interest and create a favourable perception of markets from pre-schoolers through to University students and those in employment.
“We reach out to our youngest visitors by ensuring they have happy memories growing up with visits to the markets. We get in top quality entertainers including the ‘Real’ Santa to enthral them with free gifts, stories and afternoon tea. We offer free family fun days with donkeys, sand pits, bouncy castles, ice creams to reinforce the message that markets are fun places. This year has seen the first installation of a large soft play area in our city centre market which is free to use to encourage parents to let their child get out of pushchairs and burn off some energy in a safe, clean, fun area. The area is attracting new visitors, so we are looking to install further soft plays at our other markets.
“We regularly invite primary schools in to visit the markets’, most recently a class was brought in to buy all the ingredients for a healthy meal to learn about budgeting, buying and were then taught how to cook that meal. Schools perform parts of their concerts in the markets to help children connect with older people and encourage good community feelings between the different generations.
“As they move into secondary school and further training, we offer students free stalls via their training provider for Enterprise Days, so they get a taste of running their own business in a market environment. This applies to all our markets indoor, outdoor and artisan markets. We contacted the Prince’s Trust, schools and all the local training providers who have been keen to work with us. Several times we have held markets specifically for young people to trade at free of charge, we purchased some small stalls and tables, so they could just turn up with their products without the need to buy equipment and a good quality PA system so young entertainers can perform at the events.
“We started artisan markets on a few Sundays a year and have seen each one sell out to traders. Each event has attracted capacity crowds with traders reporting excellent sales so we know there is demand for specialist products, we just needed to find out if customers would shop at general markets at different times to the traditional trading times. We have undertaken an opening hours survey to find out when the different generations want the markets to be open. The results of this survey are being analysed but they clearly show that younger people want to shop after 3pm and retired people want to shop before 3pm, so we are now to consult with traders to see how opening times can be adapted to increase footfall and make markets more accessible to people who may work or attend further education.
“Knowing it takes more than changing the hours, refurbishment works are underway and modern art installations are being created to make the markets more attractive shopping destinations and we are actively recruiting younger people to become traders.
“We have started a two-year scheme to encourage those aged 17 – 25 years to start their own business, by giving them 75% off for their tolls for the first 16 weeks. After the 16 weeks period is over, these young people will receive 25% off the rent until their 25th birthday. We are also offering free business training and mentoring in any areas they need it is such as financial skills for small business owners, visual merchandising and social media skills.
“We have been advertising the opportunity in local and social media as well as getting out there and delivering the message directly at roadshows in leisure centres and other public buildings. The next step is to take our stand to job fairs, University/college events.”