Market town sets out to break monopoly of the big names

Sophie Legard.  Photo: Richard Ponter
Sophie Legard. Photo: Richard Ponter
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With the future of the high street in doubt, Sarah Freeman reports on a new scheme in Malton which has seen independent traders fight back.

The irony is not lost on the shopkeepers of Malton. For the last year or so the market town has been divided over plans for the arrival of one of the big supermarket giants. Many of the independent traders fear the move will cripple their custom, but when it comes to self-promotion it seems they are not afraid to borrow a few ideas from big business.

Looking for ways to boost the numbers shopping on a Sunday in the run-up to this Christmas, Rob Wormall, general manager 
of the newly revamped Talbot Hotel, reckoned an initiative similar to one run by McDonalds might just work.

“Over the years they’ve run a promotion with Monopoly where customers are encourage to collect the various different properties on the board. It just struck me that while we might be able to do something similar.

“There is a diverse and growing range of businesses in Malton, but we do need to encourage more shoppers to come and discover the place for themselves. We knew there were a lot of people who might come here to go for a specific shop or who might stop off at the Talbot for a glass of wine, but we reckoned if we could find a way of getting them into another half-a-dozen shops while they were in town we would all benefit. We are much stronger together than we are on our own.”

“Maltonopoly” was born and over the weeks that followed details of the scheme were refined and Sophie Legard, who opened high-end delicatessen, Malton Relish, just as the recession began to bite, took charge of the promotion.

In all, 24 stores signed up to the scheme, with each donating a luxury hamper. Customers who spent more than £20 in five of the participating shops will now be entered into the prize draw to win the hamper. It’s not, as the organisers admit, rocket science, but the impact has been impressive.

While historically Malton has suffered from its proximity to York, this year there is at least some hope the tide can be turned.

“It’s been pretty incredible,” says Sophie. “We’ve always opened on Sundays in the run-up to Christmas, but this year takings have doubled. Because of everything that has gone on in the last year we really wanted to show that the shopkeepers of Malton aren’t there just to grumble about things they don’t like. This was something really positive we could do and it has worked.

“When I started talking to other shops, I did say that this was something that might not have a massive impact this year, but if we could lay the foundations it would really set us up for the future.

“We didn’t have a massive budget, but this was about targeting people who live in or near to Malton and showing them just what was available.

“Most people say that if they could they would shop locally, but often they don’t realise just what is on their own doorstep.”

Emma Brooksbank is a case in point. Retired, she has lived in Malton for years, but despite being a vocal support of independent trading had tended to drive to York for the big Christmas shop.

“The town has so much to offer and it was because of Maltonopoly that I did my shopping there,” says Emma. “Before I’ve always traipsed around York, but this year I discovered that by exploring the shops I don’t usually go into, that it’s all here. I’ve always been committed to shopping locally, but it took this scheme to really open my eyes. It was a really lovely experience and I hope that other shoppers catch on to what is happening in Malton.”

Over the last couple of years many of the high street’s biggest names have gone into administration and come the New Year more are likely to follow suit.

With experts pondering the future of Britain’s town and city centres, many believe that it’s the independent sector which can bring much needed vitality.

As well as offering a different range of goods from the usual stores, the best also bring the kind of personal touch which makes shoppers want to return.

“We have just celebrated our fifth birthday,” says Sophie. “When we said we were going to open a new business back in 2005 a lot of people thought we were mad. They were probably right.

“Opening a deli when the bottom has just fallen out of the economy perhaps wasn’t the wisest move and the first three years were incredibly hard.

“But you know what? We kept going and our turnover has grown every single year. Maltonopoly has given as all a real boost and instilled us with great hope for 
the future.”