The owners are particularly looking to understand more about the history of the building and any ideas the general public may have for how the property might be brought back to worthwhile use for the benefit of the Town.
As a Portas Pilot Town, Market Rasen benefits from a package of support funded by the Government’s Department for Communities and Local Government. That package included a fully-funded mystery shopper exercise for our high street shops and businesses and during July this year that exercise was carried out.
MR BIG promoted the mystery shopper exercise to all the town centre traders and we were delighted that 29 of these opted to participate. Storecheckers Uk‘s mystery shoppers duly descended on the town and began assessing traders on the quality of such actions as the intitial contact made with customers, service, sales techniques and local knowledge. MR BIG received the feedback from Storecheckers at a business meeting in September and the traders have all been given individual feedback on their visit.
The total average score for the 29 businesses was 70%. A number of the shops who took part were highly praised for their efforts. Several shops and businesses have begun using their feedback (eg 100% customer satisfaction) in their marketing. One of the mystery shoppers added, “I will definitely be recommending (the business visited) to friends and family as I was impressed with the range and the attentive service. I will be going back when (the product purchased) is in stock to buy for my granddaughter as the shop was wonderful.”
A series of useful recommendations were also made to the town traders by Storecheckers. These included making sure that all customers are “offered help” upon initial contact, developing sales techniques to encourage more buys and educating all staff with a Top Ten Tips for Trippers like the locations of facilities. It was also recommended that visitors be encouraged by shop staff to stay in Market Rasen longer.
MR BIG would like to thank the shops and businesses, the shoppers, Storecheckers and everybody else involved in the exercise. Thank you.
Marie Spence is the owner of Isn’t She Lovely. This lady’s boutique opened on Market Rasen’s Union Street during the summer, with another boutique already successfully doing business in Brigg. We caught up with Marie to see how things are going and what she makes of Market Rasen so far.
We started by asking Marie when the business started and what brought her to Market Rasen. “Isn’t She Lovely started in December 2011 in Brigg. We opened here (in Rasen) on June the 20th this year. I think the thing is I’d been to Rasen a few times and it’s a super little place. I knew there were lovely shops here but nothing that we were selling in Brigg so, with not a lot of competition here, certainly for my area of the market, I started looking round for units. I spoke to MR BIG and I spoke to some Landlords and I was offered some really good rates.”
Isn’t She Lovely has been in Market Rasen for just over three months now and with all that promise we asked Marie what business has been like so far. “Well, in spite of all that it was still a bit of a risk. I avoided the high street because the rent is just that bit higher and I was wary of the fact that there were empty shops in the town. But it’s gone well so far. Thursdays are our best days. That’s when we’re busiest. But it is very early yet. It takes a couple of years to really get established and nurture a customer base and customer loyalty.”
As a newcomer, Marie is well placed to give an objective view of MR BIG so we asked what she’s made of the scheme so far. “I would say I’ve heard some mixed reviews since I’ve been here. But I know from the changes that have taken place in Brigg over the years that these things take time.”
With Marie running shops in both Market Rasen and Brigg, she was quick to elaborate on the similarities between the two towns. She said, “I remember when Brigg was first pedestrianised and there were a few problems. A lot of traders claimed that it hurt their businesses because people couldn’t park outside. It was a bit like Tesco coming to Market Rasen. Some people feel that it takes business away from the town centre but it also brings people to Market Rasen that might not otherwise have come. In any case we need supermarkets these days. That’s just part of 21st century life.” She continued, “if more shops open in the centre as well then people will only be encouraged to do even more of their shopping locally, here in Rasen, especially if the town has greater variety and more things that people can’t get elsewhere, as well as the basic things that they need. And, of course, the free parking is a big draw too. It’s one of the other things that encouraged me to open here. Anyway, I would suggest the scheme is definitely something good to start with but it does take time.”
Marie also has a suggestion that she feels could benefit all of the town’s traders, not least of all those on Union Street. “I think one improvement that is certainly worth looking into is some better signage. Union Street street is an important link up in the town with Tesco and the train station one end and the high street at the other. You also have all the traders along Union Street and the car park. So Union Street and the high street really feed into one another and I think it would be great to get some signage at either end pointing people towards or at least through Union Street. We get quite a few tourists and visitors in this area and signage just encourages people to go a bit further and explore a bit more.”
Marie clearly has long term plans to stay in Market Rasen but what of the short term future? What next for Isn’t She Lovely? “Right now we’re planning to do something for the Christmas period. All through December we’re looking to open eight till eight, one day a week, probably Thursdays.”
The welcome addition of Isn’t She Lovely to the town could well be a sign of the burgeoning improvements and certainly gives cause for optimism. Marie’s input too looks likely to be an important gain. But what do you think? Have you spotted any similarities between Market Rasen and other towns and cities, promising or otherwise? Do you think the town would benefit from better signposting? And would you like to see other businesses offering eight to eight and late night shopping through the Christmas period? As ever, let us know with a comment here or on our facebook page or twitter.
To many people in Market Rasen Anna Finney is now a familiar face on the high street, with her popular boutique, The Pink Pod, drawing several customers to the Big Corner Shop before Anna struck out on her own and reopened The Pod further up the high street in the unit that formerly housed Scoops. But, despite her seemingly well established status on the high street, it may come as some surprise to learn just how recent and exponential Anna’s rise has been. We visited the Pod for a catch up.
We began by asking when The Pod started. “The Pod started September last year (2012). At first it was just a very simple idea. I wanted to sell some pieces of furniture from home but as the winter months approached obviously I didn’t just want furniture sat outside my house. So I started selling some Christmas items inside and quite quickly I found myself in a position to get into a unit because of the opportunity came along with the Corner Shop and MR BIG.”
Now that Anna’s left the Big Corner Shop and settled into the new unit, we asked how business has been of late. “So far, so good. It’s still a risk though. I think I need a full year to really know for sure whether I’m doing what I need to be. But there are two things that I’ve really benefited from. The exposure that I got from being a part of the Big Corner Shop is hugely important. Exposure is everything really. The main thing, though, are my wonderful, wonderful customers. They’re the ones who drive me, encourage me and keep my door open.”
Anna has also had some success with using facebook to her advantage. We asked how she’s made the most of the internet. “Again, the exposure is great. To be honest, I’m a complete technophobe, though. I don’t really know how I’ve managed it. I was so proud I even managed to upload a picture onto facebook.”
During our visit we noticed a number of Christmas related stock around The Pod, including trees. We asked if Anna has already made some Christmas sales. “Yeah, I’ve got some bits in for Christmas already and they’re starting to go alright. I have had some business there. The small, stocking filler items have been really popular so far. Also, if anyone’s interested, I’m a pretty mean gift wrapper, as long as it’s not one of those trees.”
With business in full swing, we wondered if Anna gets any time to unwind a bit, so we asked if her if she has a book on the go at the moment. “I do, actually. I’m reading The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. I’ve just started it but in the few little quiet moments that I get here I do treat myself to a few pages. The trouble is I’m finding it so good I got startled the other day. A customer came up to the till with something and I didn’t even realise they were in the shop! That was a bit embarrassing.”
Finally we asked who Anna would be if she could step into somebody else’s shoes for a day. “One of the Dragons (from Dragon’s Den). Probably Peter Jones because he seems like a nice family man. I’d want to learn all their tips and secrets, see.”
Anna’s story is so far one of rapid success and in time perhaps the young entrepreneurs of the town’s future will want to be let in on a few of her best business secrets. For the time being we’d love to hear your say. Have you been to The Pink Pod? What do you think about shops getting the Christmas stock in early? And is a combination of online and high street exposure the small retail business model of the 21st Century? Once more, let us know with a comment here, on our facebook page and on twitter.
Stuart is the man behind one of the latest businesses to hit the Market Rasen high street, SJG Digital. He has also signed up as one of the brand new directors of MR BIG and we were keen to catch up with him.
First of all we asked him about the company, SJG Digital. He said, “we can do anything to do with IT, mobile technology and so forth. We’re specialists with small businesses but we do have much bigger customers as well and we do different things for different people. Quite often we fit in well where businesses haven’t got an IT department or a service of their own. We come in and help people manage information and secure their data. And if there’s one thing most people have these days, it’s lots of data.”
Stuart added that he has customers all over the UK and we asked him how long the business has been running. “I started it in 1997 but I was still in the air force. I left the air force last year and that’s when I really started to expand, which is how I came to be here in Market Rasen.”
Now that he has moved in, we asked what encouraged Stuart to join MR BIG. “The town improvement scheme is basically perfect. One of the main ideas of the scheme is that absolutely everybody who’s part of it has something to offer to help businesses grow and be successful. That’s what SJG Digital is all about. We help businesses to succeed.”
Stuart’s showroom is now open on the corner of Market Place, in the same unit previously occupied by the Big Corner Shop which has moved to The Hub on Union Street. From this location, SJG Digital is indeed offering something particularly special for the town: Wifi in the market square. “The Wifi, yes. At the moment it’s just available for the market traders in the market square. They can pop in and get a free five hour voucher any time because we’re really at the testing stage right now. But we’re looking to open up the voucher based system so that users can buy a day, a week or a month’s worth of Wifi use in the square. There’ll be slightly different schemes for the traders and the public and before long we’ll hopefully be able to roll it out for the whole of Queen Street.”
We asked how this exciting development has come about. “There’s a company called Linpop who have a Wifi mast in the Rasen area. Their aim is to deliver fibre optic broadband to rural areas and we’ve essentially teamed up to try and achieve that here.”
So what about the man himself? For a little extra insight we started by asking Stuart what book he’s reading at the moment. “What book am I reading? Well at the moment I’m getting stuck into The Jungle Is Neutral (by Freddie Spencer Chapman) which is a factual story of survival in the jungles of occupied Malaysia during WWII. The guy worked on the principal that nature doesn’t take sides, which is how he coped with the conditions. I used to be a survival instructor in the air force, you see, so I do take a special interest in such stories.”
Finally, we asked who Stuart would like to be for just one day, if he could. “Oh, Steve Jobs. Definitely.”
So, with that, we’d like to know what you think. Are you looking forward to the availability of Wifi in the market place and possibly even the whole high street? What do you think the impact on the town and its fortunes is likely to be? Let us know by commenting here or on our facebook page or twitter feed.
During this series we will be meeting some of the people who are really helping to make Market Rasen great. These are our High Street Heroes: those people who work along the high street doing their level best to promote and support the effort to regenerate our town.
Our first hero is Alan Thompson. Alan has been working at Boots on Market Rasen High Street for the past 6 years. We popped in to join him in presenting an award to Hazel Barnard for her winning entry in MR BIG’s “Most Interesting Picture in Market Rasen” Competition and we managed to catch up with Alan afterwards to ask him a few questions.
Now we all know the town population has expanded rapidly since Alan came to Market Rasen in 2007 and has been rising for some time. There’s nowhere that feels the pressure of coping with these changes quite like a pharmacy, so we asked him how the Market Rasen Boots has managed to maintain such an excellent standard of service. “Boots is very keen on customer service. We’re very aware of our responsibility of being trusted with people’s health care. We carry out our own customer surveys at all stores. Now, of course we don’t always get it right but we can compare results and share examples daily.”
With Alan in charge, the Market Rasen Boots store has also done a number of things to support MR BIG. The prize camera donated as part of the sponsorship for Plank 2013, Market Rasen’s Art Council England funded Arts & Craft Festival in February, is just one example of the ways in which Alan is helping to make a difference. He explained to us that Boots as a company is eager to support the scheme to improve the high street, as well as backing Mary Portas in her mission. “We will always try to help wherever we’re asked. It may be small things, for instance gifts for the Christmas market or advice and expertise, but we are always happy to help in some way.”
We asked Alan for his thoughts on MR BIG and how it has helped the town centre. “I can really see the difference. Honestly, I know some people have made negative remarks but it certainly has made a big difference to the high street and to this very store, in fact. It’s sometimes things people don’t necessarily see, but we’ve had our garden cleared and the store generally cleaned up. We can see that the building over the road has been decorated as well and that’s all really down to MR BIG. The building over the road Mary Portas even mentioned herself on her visit and you can see the difference made since then”
Finally, we asked Alan for his thoughts on the future of the Market Rasen high street. “I think we will make progress. The high street isn’t going to be what it was but it’s so important to support independent traders and to create opportunities for it to become something new. I like the idea of making it more of a social area and I know there are some plans for that. I hope we can make the whole place more interesting for younger people as well.”
With High Street Heroes like Alan and all the help he gives, we think the future looks very promising indeed. But what do you think of the future of our high street? And who are your high street heroes? Let us know by commenting below or telling us on our Visit Market Rasen facebook page.
Thank you to those of you who were able to make it to the meeting last Monday. Although turnout was low, it was a positive and interactive meeting. We were able to learn a lot about how you think MR BIG is doing and where you think we need to put our energy over the next few months to make things even better.
Firstly, we heard you say that we need to advertise our events and meetings more: not just via email and social media but in flyers and posters that we hand out to you in person. We will get on with this straight away.
We know we need to do more to update you with more frequent newsletters: again, with a hard copy, posted up publicly and available in the Library to complement our wide-reaching social media. We will be getting a newsletter together in the next few weeks.
You would like to see more of MR BIG in person, on the High Street and around town. The Town Team will endeavour to visit all the High Street shops and businesses more frequently: just a quick hello is sometimes all that’s needed. Thank you for suggesting this.
Remember that we do still have an open ‘surgery’ on a Friday morning: call into the Big Corner Shop and ask for Nicola the Town Centre Manager. You can also make an appointment to talk to one of the Directors. Just let us know.
Membership benefits are important and we are reviewing what we offer to MR BIG members. Feedback from you is that you would like a website with members’ businesses and shops listed; and more training and Business to Business networking events. We will get a B 2 B event organised and invite you along; we are happy to organise and facilitate these events so that you can share expertise and ideas; we can book motivational and expert speakers too.
There are a couple of quick wins which we will sort out: we will organise a Mystery Shopper programme for the towns businesses and shops – but only if you want to take part: it’s not obligatory. We’re hoping to have some funding from the Government to pay for this in the next couple of months. Additionally, we’ll get some temporary signs for our free car parks organised for MR BIG market days; we’ll talk to Highways about a longer-term answer to the poor car park signage, including ‘brown’ signs at the two main junctions with the A46.
The appearance of the town is really important to you: as it is to MR BIG. We have done what we can so far with the budget we have and have contracted Community Payback once a month until the end of the year. Our budget for Town Tidy Up is £4,000 for the duration of the Portas Project: this equates to roughly £7.30 for every commercial property in the town centre. The Community Payback contract will cost around £2000 for a year. We have written to West Lindsey District Council for financial support and are waiting to hear from them.
We are not able to justify using public money to re-paint and improve buildings which are in private ownership. However, we can explore negotiating discounts for labour and materials. We’d really like to do more and to help businesses paint and improve their buildings. We have written to owners and landlords of buildings which need attention and we should have some feedback from this exercise soon. Realistically we will have to wait to see the outcome of our X Fund bid (we should hear about mid-May) to see if we will have more funds which could then be allocated to a programme of painting and general tidying up. We will of course let you know as soon as we hear.
Thank you for taking the time to read this update. Please contact the Town Team on 01673 84 94 40 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.