Manchester Christmas Markets is back for its 16th year and after celebrating an opening week that attracted an estimated half a million visitors, the markets are proving to be bigger and better than ever before.
With so much money generated for small businesses and the economy over the space of five weeks, it’s no surprise that traders are battling it out to win the hearts and minds of shoppers. But with their rivals so close by, how can businesses ensure that they’re not overshadowed by other stalls?
We went to visit some of the markets’ best loved traders in the hope of taking away some valuable business lessons from those who have learnt first-hand how to stay competitive and stand out from the crowd.
Let’s look at some the key lessons we learnt from the traders in a little more depth:
Individuality could be described as the driving force behind Popsters, a unique and eco-friendly business that transforms old records into functional items such as clocks and coasters.
Inspired by owner, Phil Fowler’s love for music and vinyl, the company first started trading in 1999 and has been setting up a stall at the Manchester Christmas Markets for the last 13 or 14 years.
Even though Phil knows the importance of providing shoppers with something different, he explains that selling one-of-a-kind products doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to triumph above other traders.
He says: “It’s tempting to think that because I’ve got a unique product then that’s all I need. You can’t get my product anywhere else. But actually I’m still competing with everybody else who has got a gift item in the same price bracket. So I think that the thing that really differentiates it is the passion that I have for the product. Every item that I make, I just love making it.”
Improvement and innovation are vital to success, and it’s what keeps many visitors returning to the Christmas Markets time and time again.
When Lancashire farmers, Mrs Kirkham’s Cheese, first started attending the markets roughly 10 years ago, the event was much smaller than it is now. But as time has gone on and the markets have grown, so too has Mrs Kirkham’s Cheese. With customers such as Booths, Waitrose and Harvey Nichols, the family business, which began making just 80kg of cheese a day, has become a well-respected and much loved supplier of quality cheese.
Graham Kirkham, whose mother Ruth started the company along with her husband John over 30 years ago, has learnt countless business lessons during his time spent trading at the markets. Graham says that the annual event has helped the Kirkham family to strengthen their business by enabling them to gather customer feedback at every opportunity. He stresses the importance of engaging with customers as they’re a valuable asset when it comes to developing your product range.
He says: “Listen to what your customers are telling you. Even if it’s criticism, don’t take it in a bad way. Learn from it and develop your product and your business from it.”
With an array of handcrafted wooden gifts, Timber Treasures is another favourite with visitors to the Manchester Christmas Markets. The company first began in a Bristol workshop in 1980, and has since grown into a promising enterprise that boasts three shops in the south of England.
Ken thinks that maintaining a good relationship with the customer and listening to their suggestions is vital to keep them happy. He says: “Even if they’re not buying, you still try to maintain a good rapport with them.
“Everybody’s different. People want different things so you’ve got to try and cater for everybody,” he adds.
For companies wanting to maximise their seasonal success and continue trading, the vendors at Manchester Christmas Markets have plenty of tricks up their sleeves to ensure they aren’t forgotten about for the rest of the year.
Though the items that Popsters sells are not seasonal products, most of its sales are conducted during the Christmas period. But by having an online presence, it has ensured that music lovers can access and buy vinyl clocks and coasters all year long.
By taking part in regular trade fayres, shows and markets throughout the year, Timber Treasures also ensures that it isn’t erased from customers’ memories as soon as the Manchester Christmas Markets close.
Over to you
These market traders are a fantastic example of how businesses can take advantage of seasonal trade to boost their profits and continue to thrive for the rest of the year.
By grasping these tips on how to stand out from the crowd, rise above your competitors and harness customer feedback to expand your product range, businesses of any size can prosper.
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