Give me a Sign (but not just any old sign)

SatNav for the Soul cartoon

When I heard that a Farmers’ Market had opened up in Wakefield city centre I went to investigate. I like Farmers’ Markets for several reasons;

  • They support local farmers who have an alternative to just dealing with the supermarkets
  • You can check the provenance of the food (in theory) and actually ask the farmer about the pig in the sausage
  • It cuts down on food miles
  • Fruit and veg have to be in season which is healthier for us and the environment

The council had set up temporary stalls directly in front of the cathedral in the main pedestrianised area. It was an immediate hit. It had the perfect position as nearly everyone visiting the centre walked past this location at some point in their visit and couldn’t help but notice the market. Such was its popularity that it could sustain niche products – an ostrich stall and a mackerel stall for example. It was a wonderful addition to a typical High Street dominated by the big retailers. All I had to do was remember to come into the city centre every second Saturday in the month.

So then one cold second Saturday in the month, I cycled into the centre, locked up my bike and walked to the Farmers’ Market (it is the one reason I visit the centre on a Saturday) only to find it wasn’t there. The precinct was devoid of any stalls. I went through my immediate conclusions that I could jump to;

  • Wrong day… nope, I checked before I left
  • The Market has been cancelled at short notice… possible, but  no snow forecast. Need to explore further
  • The Market has been moved… another possibility and one that I can explore immediately

So with that I started to wander around the centre looking in the most likely places. Eventually it dawned on me to check the new permanent market hall which had been built adjacent to the new bus station (as you can guess there has been some redevelopment work going on). The market hall was on the outskirts of the centre and you would only go in that direction if you wanted to either catch a bus or actually visit the market hall. As I generally use a bike and find the new market hall depressing and soulless I never go there. But sure enough, the Farmers’ Market was strung along the pavement outside the hall. There were fewer stalls than usual as well.

When I spoke to the farmer that I regularly buy from I asked him about the move. He surmised it was an attempt to boost the footfall to the failing permanent Market Hall but it seemed to be helping neither it or them. When I told him it was lucky that I found him as I Assume Nothing, he looked surprised and said there was a sign up. I said I didn’t see it if there was. This was a concern for the farmer – if I hadn’t seen it, who else hadn’t?

Afterwards I decided to go back to the precinct and look for this sign. Sure enough there was a large vinyl sign with writing on it informing anyone who cared to read it that the Farmers’ Market had moved. So why didn’t I see it when i first arrived?

Because I wasn’t looking for a vinyl sign. I was looking for temporary market stalls like I was used to. Also, the sign was hung up near where the stalls used to be but not in the exact area. It was also competing (and failing) with all the brightly coloured city centre signage that we simply ignore after a while. I realised that the council should have set up a single empty stall in the precinct and put a small sign on that. In that way, people would immediately see what they were looking for and notice that a change had occurred.

Imagine the number of potential customers who simply assumed that the Farmers’ Market had ceased to exist and gone instead to the supermarket.

Lesson 1: For best results, any change needs to start from the familiar then move to the unfamiliar.

Lesson 2: Combining a successful strategy with an unsuccessful one does not automatically produce an average.

2 Responses to “Give me a Sign (but not just any old sign)”

  1. [...] Wakefield council have missed a massive trick here. Instead of preserving what is unique, organic (like the old market hall) and thus valuable, they have gone for the one-size fits all approach of globalised capitalism and pulled down the old to replace it with the current fashionable trend (Wakefield even built a fountain in its centre — just like every other clone town). I’ve written about this short sightedness before with the farmers’ market here. [...]

Leave a Reply