A Derbyshire panel looking at the future of market towns emphasised the need for a unique offer and good customer experience.
Frank Horsley, Head of Economic Regeneration at Derbyshire County Council, hosted a panel to look at the transformation of county towns, saying: "The function of a town centre must evolve to respond to what people want, focusing on services as well as products."
Lindsay Rae, of Marketing Peak District and Derbyshire, spoke about the importance of visitors to the county and how market towns respond to them: "Visitors want to meet the people behind the place and where better to do that than on the high street. Market towns should celebrate their point of difference and offer a local experience, which in turn supports independent businesses". Tony Grace of Ashbourne Retail Group used the town as a case study of how local retailers are working together to promote their local offer.
Ojay McDonald, Chief Executive of the Association of Town and City Management, agreed with this point when talking about markets themselves. "Markets are evolving. We're seeing some exciting things coming from young market traders - I encourage you to bring them into your markets, they are the future of the high street".
Maya Yates, Inward Investment Executive at Marketing Derby who leads on investments into the county, said, "We are working increasingly with investors who are looking at Derbyshire's market towns, seeing the opportunity of vibrant local communities and a strong visitor economy". The recent move of retailer Seasalt into Bakewell was given as a good example of this.
Bert Broadhead of Alteris, has recently invested in the Vicar Lane retail scheme in Chesterfield, saying they chose Chesterfield because of its great connectivity, start-up scene and vibrant student population and that they saw that they "could transform Vicar Lane into a real asset for the town centre."
Ojay McDonald stressed that geography is not as important for the location of a business now that technology offers opportunities for towns to develop enterprise spaces so that towns are no longer just feeder towns for cities. At Vicar Lane, Alteris are looking at letting retail space to co-operatives not just single retailers, and delegates questioned the panel about how digital-savvy sole traders working from home can be brought into a business community.