Having been faced by the challenges of elderly parents, limited time and a pound depreciating faster than North Korean property investments, we decided to dump plans to go abroad this summer and, instead, head up to an area of the country we were not familiar with, Shrophire and the Welsh Marches.
We stayed in Ludlow which is a beautiful place and also has an interesting approach to life, food and its relationship with local residents, farmers as well as visitors. These are a few of the things that struck me as positive and useful transferable approaches to marketing and differentiation, from our time in the town:
- Reliability is important. Ludlow has markets six days a week. The only day there isn’t a market is on Tuesdays. People use the market because they know it will be there daily (nearly) and it’s regular, so they can just buy a few items in passing in preference to the local supermarket, knowing they can return on a ‘need to’ basis, as it will be there again tomorrow. The regularity also helps the stall owners. There isn’t a requirement to sell everything cheaply at the end of the day, as they will be back the day after.
- Quality and choice counts. If you have a Tescos on your doorstep you need to be offering something that people will turn up for. The overall standard and range of the produce on offer was excellent and there were plentiful amounts available. It’s no use having a situation where the market stalls are practically empty by early afternoon. People need to know they can turn up during the day to suit their timescales and be able to buy what they need.
- Diversify but remember, ‘local’ sells! There are regular collectors/books, antiques and small producers focused market days. What the defining factor for all of these are that these are organised by groups from the local area and the ‘local’ angle is a recognisable golden thread through all the activities in town.
- People notice pricing. I am aware that the costs of production may be higher in the South East than Shropshire but wasn’t the original concept of farmers markets an attempt to cut out the middle man and offer direct access for consumers to producers? In theory this should allow prices to be slightly lower, or at least match those of the supermarket chains whilst offering better quality? From wandering around some of the markets in Surrey in recent years I’m not sure that win-win relationship is still operating. In Ludlow it is. Is this another benefit of the regularity of markets, rather than the once weekly/monthly type scenario which is occurring locally?
- Relationships need nurturing: A great deal of effort goes into promoting and supporting the local food economy in Ludlow. There were representatives from the local council out and about talking and taking views from people in the market and stall holders several times a week. If you pick up any guide in the town, local shops, restaurants and retailers are very heavily featured. The manager of the local ‘Farmers Market’ shop which has been operating since 1960 told me he spends a quarter of his time developing and maintaining relationships with local food producers. He then knows who is producing the best produce, who is reliable, and can plan in advance and can get a good price.
- Visitors are not treated as a cash-cow or a nuisance. Parking is very reasonably priced. One of the town car parks only charges £1.50 for a day’s parking. There is also an effective park and ride scheme working and local museums and the Castle are not wallet-emptying to visit.
- Don’t be boring. The number of chain restaurants and shops are much, much lower than in other towns. There are lots of really interesting and unusual places to shop and eat and the place looks different for that. Ludlow knows why people come to see the town and so try to avoid messing it up.
- If you are known for something, flaunt it! Ludlow’s ‘food festival’ is extremely well known (it’s the weekend of the 8th to the 10th of September, so you’ve got time to get up there!). The place is awash with restaurants and great pubs. It has an international reputation for its food. How has this occurred? By joining up the dots, working together and making sure everyone is onside. As we said earlier, quality and choice counts. Ludlow is very, very good at promoting itself and delivering on what it promotes! In fact, it’s so good, we are going back next year.
Are all of these factors transferable to your own business model? Probably not but many of the things Ludlow does to successfully market itself and deliver on what it promises can be adapted to other business models. Standing out and delivering what your clients want is vital. I came back from holiday with a head full of new ideas of how to produce an overall ‘model’ that everyone can buy into and that works for both the Business and the Client. What did you learn on your holidays?
Chris Hunter – rhw Solicitors LLP