Portas starts to opens doors – for £1bn “Hammersfield”

LAST NIGHT’S TELLY: DAVID CALLAM, the former local newspaper business editor, reviews the opening episode of Mary Queen of the High Street, the Channel 4 series that spawned £2.7 million-worth of public grants, and poses an important question about her business involvements in Croydon

Lights, cameras, inaction: Mary Portas filming in a street market, though not Croydon's Surrey Street. Photo by Helen Augustine

Lights, cameras, inaction: Mary Portas filming in a street market, though not Croydon’s Surrey Street

She came, she saw, and frankly, she had very little new to offer.

Mary Portas walked up and down Roman Road in east London not saying very much of note and repeating herself after every ad break, presumably to fill time. The stuff about better presentation and a wider variety of street food have both been tried in Surrey Street in Croydon, without any game-changing success.

And Portas’s destination shopping solution – turn an overstuffed junk shop into an overpriced junk shop – is hardly what we might expect from one of the country’s foremost authorities on retailing.

If Portas can’t do better, there is nothing better to do. She did make an important point – not new, but telling – about treating the market like a business and choosing stalls to reflect the prospective customer profile.

Between the local authority, with its sacred waiting list, and established traders, with entrenched attitudes, if you seek such radical change, beware low-flying pigs.

I wonder if Portas abandoned TV work with Surrey Street because it’s a more hopeless case than Roman Road, or because she has a conflict of interest in Croydon?

Portas’s consultancy, Yellow Door – now re-branded Portas – is an adviser to Westfield, the principal development partner in the £1 billion town centre remodelling.

She will be telling Westfield and its partner Hammerson how to attract the maximum number of visitors to a concentrated section of the town centre. Dwell time is crucial: they will want their punters to shop, rest and play in their complex – 18 hours a day, seven days a week – leaving thin pickings for the rest of the town centre, let alone the borough’s secondary and tertiary shopping parades.

I could see many of the restaurants in South End being attracted by lucrative offers to relocate or to open second outlets in the new complex. The developers have deep pockets so they can afford to offer generous rent- and service-free periods as well as a significant marketing budget.

Croydon will be Hammersfield just as surely as Purley is Tesco.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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10 Responses to Portas starts to opens doors – for £1bn “Hammersfield”

  1. Sorry, but having seen this lady during one of her tours along Surrey Street, with council hangers-on, I’m not impressed.

    Surrey Street is one of the oldest markets in England yet our council, or MPs, ignore the condition of it.

    Mary Portas is just using Croydon for a publicity stunt and to add to her CV. Not impressed.

  2. Danny Stanzl says:

    I don’t doubt the effort the traders of Surrey Street put in, living above them I hear how early they set up and late they leave…. a lot longer day than most of us work.. however they definitely need guidance. There are so many things that they could do that would improve the market and attract custom.

    They are surrounded by many affluent buildings and developments and should be appealing to these people as well as their current core. In my building only a few of us use the market, but you see people walking back with Sainsburys & Waitrose carrier bags of Veg, so they are clearly getting it wrong.

    The trouble is people like COBA sit playing around with the money, spending it on rubbish, blaming bureaucracy and think that only money solutions make a difference. There are several things that could be done to the market, that cost nothing, but would transform it into a place that people want to shop.

    1) Move the market to the centre of the street so that the shops can be seen as well, this would make the market fill the length of the street and not cluster, encouraging customers to use the length of the street and would also allow the shops to flourish as people could see into the shops rather than being props for the market traders rubbish.

    By moving the stalls to the centre, the staircase up to the High Street via “The Arcade” would be visible, making shoppers realise how easy it is to get up and down to this end of the high street and open up the view down to Matthews Yard, it shocks me how many people I know that have lived in Croydon and even use the market have never seen the Pump House.

    2) Encourage the traders not to leave boxes just chucked everywhere behind their stalls, to make it look tidier

    3) Don’t think price is everything… when you look at the packaging that the produce comes in (that they throw to the back of their stall), you see many of their items are Fairtrade, none of the market stalls make any point about this on the produce they sell. Signs by their Fairtrade produce would dispel the myth that many have, that the market only sells tat.

    4) Think about where they are, the market traders around the entrance to Virgin Gym, surely would get some mileage out of trying to present some healthy options to those that visit the gym daily.

    There are so many people saying that Hammersons / Westfield will be the end of the world, if instead everyone round here embraces it, they can quite easily make Surrey Street and the Old Town of Croydon somewhere that people actually want to destination shop in as well. In other European countries “The Old Town”, is the desirable and fashionable part that people want to visit, but the attitudes of many in the Old Town that only money can fix problems is, in my opinion what will hold back both the businesses and the residential areas from flourishing

  3. Price (half the price of Waitrose or Sainsbury’s) may be the most convincing selling point for Surrey Street product that’s of consistently satisfactory quality. The modest amount of Portas money should be spent on marketing the value for money Surrey Street offer.

  4. I see you have great hopes for the Old Town Andrew. If you think that half the price and “satisfactory” quality is the best we should aim for I hope you never have any power in Croydon ever again. Surrey Street could be a brilliant market selling great quality food (both veg and ready to eat) if people put their mind to it. Instead it seems you want to just accept middle of the road for Croydon, and I thought it was only people outside of Croydon that couldn’t see a better future for it.

  5. Mr. Brooks, I don’t know you or your level of awareness of other people’s circumstances.

    With national media reporting 1 in 5 households borrowing money from friends or family to put basic food on the table, marketing Surrey Street’s decent, very reasonably priced fresh produce must be the priority.

    Traders on the street decry the lack of marketing of the place – good marketing comes from selling on your strengths and Surrey Street’s strength is value for money, not occasional and ephemeral cake baking competitions. Moving Surrey Street prices closer to the ridiculous prices charged at Borough Market can wait till these times of austerity are over.

  6. “Traders on the street decry the lack of marketing of the place.”

    So maybe the traders should stop decrying and start marketing. If not them, at their own expense; then who?

    • The traders have been told for more than a year that the £100,000 grant as part of the Portas Pilot project, run by something called the “Old Town Team”, would be working to address this sort of thing.

      So far, the street traders have seen some uninspired banners go up, marketing something called “Old Town”, but not Surrey Street or Church Street (two locations which remain on people’s copies of the A-Z, or on maps on the tram network or at railway stations. Then there was the £5,000 spent on painting a mural on a pedestrian underpass that is not in the Portas Pilot area. And a cake baking contest.

      The street traders, not unreasonably, have put their trust in the Portas Pilot group. Was it misplaced?

  7. Danny Stanzl says:

    Andrew Pelling “half the price of Waitrose or Sainsbury’s may be the most convincing selling point for Surrey Street” well this is clearly isn’t the case as in my original post there are a groups of residents walking past to go to Sainsburys or Waitrose. It is all very well you wanting to waste the money on marketing, but when people get there if it doesn’t inspire, it will do more damage than good.

    I’m not normally in too much agreement with insidecroydon (it is a really good blog though and I can’t help but read even when on holiday :o) ), but I do completely agree that the people in charge of the Portas money have so far squandered and done nothing with the money, but whilst the market traders are waiting (I think they will be waiting a long time) I think if you can do things for free, you should still give them a go.

    I’m not saying they have to get ridiculously expensive, more that they have to emphasise quality, Where they have Fairtrade, show they have, where they have people walking into Virgin Gym that can afford £50 upwards a month on membership, offer them something they want, where they have a group of residents behind them that will buy funny little bags of Asparagus in a Tesco black and silver wrapper because it says finest… appeal to them. It doesn’t mean getting expensive, just improve the presentation and improve the offering. The market doesn’t only have to do one thing either… Supermarkets manage this very well, with Value ranges, Premium ranges and Organic ranges… why can’t the market do the same, then if you encourage people to come and visit the market, maybe they will find something that appeals to them.

    Andrew Pelling your quote of 1 in 5 families having to borrow to put food on the table, this quote does refer to the country as a whole and if you take the overall demographics of Croydon, then this figure I doubt applies to Croydon and even by your own figures, 4 in 5 aren’t having to borrow and are currently avoiding Surrey Street and buying in Supermarkets, surely a Market that is a shadow of it’s former self should be appealing to the majority, not the minority.

    The ultimate judge on a Saturday afternoon is to go and look at the market and then go and look at the fruit and Veg sections in Supermarkets, I think it is obvious who is winning.

  8. The demographics of Croydon, social deprivation measurements in the borough and JSA claimant rates would suggest that our household financial stress scores will be higher than the national average.

    The big supermarkets advertise widely, on TV, radio and in the press. It’s large marketing budgets buttressing their brands that will take shoppers to the more expensive Waitrose, Sainsbury and Tesco stores.

    In these times of severe austerity, price competition is the most powerful sell. An example of the huge price disparity – Waitrose in Croydon charges £4 for modest amount of grapes, while in Surrey Street it is £1 for a large amount of grapes.

  9. Dorset has its own High Street problem. For us it boils down to using the car park to build a council building and then charging too much to parking that is left.. http://fordingtonfield.wordpress.com/2013/05/07/mary-portas-tonight-we-can-save-you-3-hours-of-your-life/

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