with Keith

6th November 2019

How did you become a market manager?

At the tender age of 15, I joined the British Army, leaving 18 months later as a lance corporal, in 1971. My commanding officer wrote “Tall, smart and intelligent, Payne would have made a good soldier. He has shown initiative and leadership and should do well in work he enjoys”. I had visions of becoming a world-class chef (I’ve always loved cooking), I became a trainee chef in a well-known restaurant in Stratford-upon Avon, working long hours for an extremely low wage.

One weekend I was staying at my then girlfriend’s parents’ house. Whilst there, Nigel Maby and his wife Penny, friends of the family, paid a visit. Nigel had recently formed his general retail market operating company, Spook Erection — a company that was to become the pioneer of private operators. Nigel, who would become one of the most colourful and adventurous of all the private operators, offered me a full-time position.

The pay being was like a million quid in comparison to what I was earning as a chef. It was a no-brainer, so within a week, aged 17, I moved to Moreton in-Marsh, headquarters of Spook Erection. I was at Nigel Maby’s side during Spook’s great market expansion’s push of the 1970s, eventually leading us to the start of the legendry Ingliston Sunday Market at Edinburgh.

Tell me about Errol Market . . .

There is a corner of Perthshire that emerges from the mist early on a Sunday and evaporates with the afternoon sun. It is the Errol Market and Car Boot Sale, a once-a-week pop-up phenomenon. Entire families make it a day out, coming from Dundee, Perth, Glasgow and Edinburgh, with hundreds of eastern European youngsters adding an international dimension. My adventure began in early 2012 when I was approached by Morris Leslie Group’s Head of Operations, who headhunted me and made an offer that I found hard to resist.

The transformation of Errol Sunday Market began with a five-year business plan, putting into place plans for the long-term growth. The site was a former WW2 airfield that closed in the late 1940s, Morris Leslie, proprietor of the group, purchased the whole site, so I had acres of land to play with, including concrete runways — a market operator’s prayer come true. We introduced shipping containers, which traders could rent at a realistic weekly rate, and it was agreed that the way forward was to invest in developing under-cover trading areas, so construction began by building a two phase indoor market hall. The first phase of the market hall opened in October 2014, comprising 24 shop-type units, with the second phase opening in September 2015. The hall now offers 42 shop units, all differing shapes and sizes and has become an established and valuable part of the market operations.

The next part of the construction programme was to build a 28,000 sq ft hall, known as TheJim Clark Hall; this hall is an integral part of our Sunday market operations, proving to be very popular with traders and car booters. Last year we committed to a £100,000 new build toilet block, along with baby-changing room and two invalid cubicles. We also built four shower units, available for traders staying overnight. Our investment to date amounts to £1.5 million. At the same time, we have also developed a 50-acre events grass field site adjacent to the main retail market and new toilet block. This arena has been used for several specialised events, including stunt shows, circuses and classic car shows — all adding to the appeal of
Errol Sunday market.

Combining all this with our continuing development of social media streams, we have grown our operations year on year and look forward to continuing this growth with a bright future ahead of us.

How many people work in your team?

I have a full-time work force of four: Andy Pringle, John Erskine, Brandon McLaren and Iain Don. Their duties range from clearing refuse generated by our Sunday market operations to site maintenance programmes. It’s the behind-the-scenes duties that traders never see. They do a fabulous job, producing great results in all weathers. In the summer months I expand our team with seven casual employees. Naturally, these manning levels are reduced during the winter months.

In recent years I have added two more full time members: Diana Nandraziova joined two years ago, as Sunday Market Liaison Officer, working closely with individual traders and building an online portfolio with these traders to enable a high profile business listing within our Sunday market website.

The newest member of our team, Cameron Kellow, joined three months ago. His remit is to take over the ever-growing programme of specialised events that I have managed to build
up over the last four years.

Have you worked at any other markets?

My experience has been wide and varied, and far too many to list individually, but my days with Spook Erection were where I was to learn my trade — and the king of all markets was the world-famous Ingliston Sunday Market, located on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Myself and a colleague came up to Scotland July 1973, beginning with a 120-stall market (Spook Erection manufactured their own stall equipment and roofing). As Market Manager I was to experience an incredible growth in the take -up of trading units. We saw huge weekly footfall numbers: 40,000 customers, via car and coach parties — 250 coaches were the average attendance, coming from Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle, Aberdeen, Inverness and Glasgow.

To cope the ever-growing demand for stall units, we were bringing up via articulated lorry 80 extra stalls per week. By December 1980 we had achieved a world record of 2787 paid-for
trading units, equating to some 1500 individual traders in attendance. It was an incredible growth and truly wonderful. Ingliston was a big numbers game in all senses; the market stood in a central position between car parks with a parking potential of 35,000 vehicles.

The success of the market did not happen by accident; it happened because there was a vision by Spook’s Erection’s senior management team. We saw how Ingliston could be overflowing every Sunday and how vast amounts of money could be made by traders and market operator alike. I remained manager of this market until 1981, from where I was to become UK-wide manager of the Spook Erection empire.

What’s the most important part of your job?

Firstly, I love to see success. We operate within an extremely difficult financial climate; the continuing demise of our high streets is so alarming, many businesses being forced to close due to lack of town centre footfall, while trying to absorb increasing higher overheads. Smaller businesses just cannot compete on a level playing field so naturally they are having to look for alternative outlet locations — hence smaller shopkeepers are turning to the retail markets to continue their trading activities. That is where we can find and see success, with the shopkeeper taking on a small unit within Errol Sunday market and establishing their business, and in fairness, most are successful.

We live in a rapidly-changing shopping environment. Online shopping is with us and is here to stay. You have to adapt, because if you don’t you quickly fall-behind and get overtaken. Secondly, from an operating point of view, reaching my yearly financial targets is very satisfying. Each year the bar is set higher and in this extremely competitive and difficult trading climate, to achieve my targets is very satisfying not only to myself, but to my team members as well.

We, as a team, all play our individual parts and collectively we achieve success or failure. Success is delivered from the very top. I am a firm believer that all my team are kept in the loop and their participation and working enjoyment is greatly enhanced by a sense of togetherness. The same principles apply to all of our traders — it’s like having a huge family, all together and working for the same thing: a reasonable living and a great sense of pride of being part of Scotland’s Premier Sunday Market.

What’s the most enjoyable part?

I’m a great believer in that you only get back what you put in. Hard work, long hours, healthy outdoor working environment, coupled to a strong business plan, is a recipe for the foundation of building success.

And the least enjoyable?

Sunday morning lying snug as a bug, cosied up beneath the quilt, alarm goes off 4am, you hear gale force wind a blowing with heavy rain battering the window and you cringe, because
you know what lies ahead . . .

What ‘s the biggest challenge facing markets these days?

In a nutshell, lack of traders of all ages. The older generation of market traders are retiring and it seems the young generation in the main are really not inclined to work long hours, more so in inclement weather conditions. They appear to be being drawn into the online way of shopping and working.

I feel city centre market operations will survive. More concerning is the smaller village type markets, which are seeing a decline in trader attendance and shoppers.

How to solve the problem of declining numbers of traders?

Our Sunday Market Liaison Officer, Diana, spends a great deal of her time developing a working relationship with many of our traders, to see how we can promote and enhance their individual businesses. We go to great lengths to ensure we promote our weekly market, its successes and newsworthy items, keeping our traders and customers informed.

Are there any sorts of traders you are short of?

In fairness, I’m always on the look-out for new and unusual lines that would enhance our merchandise offer. Craft traders and specialised traders are always welcome.

What are the important qualities of a market manager?

A wide-ranging and overall knowledge of the general retail market Industry, complete understanding of traders and their individual business requirements.

Total respect to all and sundry; listen with intent to any trader who has either business or personal issues and, if need be, offer advice on course of action to resolve. A happy trader is
an asset to the overall business.

Any manager worth his salt must have a detailed and concise business plan, to change and adjust as and when circumstances dictate.

How do you see the future of markets in general and Errol in particular?

Markets have been in existence for hundreds of years. I have always been fascinated where our markets originated from, and history tells me that markets have throughout the centuries
continued to experience peaks and troughs of trading performance. In today’s climate, a vision for the future should hold any market operator in good stead.

How can we encourage more people to shop at markets?

It’s called vision. It’s about creating an atmosphere by having an interesting shopping venue; the noise, the bustle the razzamatazz and excitement attracts footfall; the more variety one can introduce into the trading area, the better. People love the banter from our traders. We find that our customers travel from far and wide, they simple love our trading environment.

What can Market Trade News do to help?

Continue to serve the market industry, reporting on the industry in a fair and informative manner. Readers love to read about other market operations, how they are faring, good or bad. Keep up the good work.

What is your biggest ambition?

I would like to achieve a golden 50-year continuous service to this incredible and wonderful industry, which would mean retiring at the age of 68 in July, 2022.

Finally, what advice would you give to anyone thinking of becoming a market manager?

The best advice is to gain hands-on-experience, have an understanding of how the industry works, more so along the lines of individual markets, get one’s hands dirty . . . and be prepared to be an agony aunt.