Innovative Retailer – Sourced Market


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The Name: Sourced Market

The Place: For now only in the capital with the flagship in St Pancras station but there are several others in the pipeline including a site near Victoria station for 2016 and leases on the table for two others. All other sites are under wraps. If I told you I’d have to… you know…

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Ben O’Brien, founder of Sourced Market, with customer

Kill me, yes ok, we’ll leave it then: But railway stations figure highly in the business plan safe to say – the high footfall really works for this concept. And the sites will be getting bigger. St Pancras is squeezed into 1,600 square feet but the next ones will be more like 2,000 to 2,500 square feet.

So, Sourced Market – sounds a bit like Morrisons Market Street where one employee wears a striped apron and he’s a butcher and another one wears a white apron and he’s a fishmonger:  Oh wash your mouth out, it’s nothing like. This is the brain child of one Ben O’Brien who was in the music business and saw how woeful most of the food was at the festivals. However, living near Borough Market he also saw how good the food produce could be and he devised a concept where he took the artisan traders with food-to-go to the fans and it took off from there.

Hats off, but that’s just temporary festivals, how did he go permanent? In 2009 the St Pancras Station owners came to him and said now listen here, we’ve wanted a farmers market in the station but we’ve not been able to get this off the ground.

So he did? Well he pitched to them what he calls a “blended concept”. A site that has the look and feel of a set of bustling market stalls with the same attention to detail but behind the scenes is all one concern and is run as one shop. It has taken O’Brien three years to get the operation sorted – it involves working with around 100 suppliers and wholesalers. It’s a logistics dance every day – deliveries turn up as and when by bike, by van, and with random couriers. But one key wholesaler he works with is very open to recommendations for adding to its list of suppliers which is making life easier for O’Brien.

Aha! Like Morrisons Market Street: Will you just leave that comparison please. A single buyer rather than many individual ones but all with Borough Market quality stuff on sale. And the multi artisanal shop experience but with the convenience of a Sainsbury’s local.

So is it eat in or eat out? Both, formerly the produce was at the forefront of the shops but responding to demand O’Brien has now moved in some communal tables. This is because people not only buy the food before they board their train home they also wait for trains and want to eat on the premises. All future sites will have a greater provision for and emphasis on casual in-store dining. The main problem remains lack of space for storage and preparation and the fact that the Sourced Market site at the back of the station can be a chilly wind tunnel in winter.

Nothing that a warming snifter couldn’t sort out: Now talking of warming snifters there is a refit planned for January 2015 which is firstly going to increase the space available and secondly see the arrival of a bar.

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Lots of beer and lots of wine

Now that’s more like it: Two local craft beers will be on tap and change weekly for filling growlers (take away containers), which should bring a new lot of hipsters in. Sourced Market already sells beer, which used to be mainly from overseas but the choice has gone more and more local – well you might as well with the hefty choice of microbreweries within a five-mile range of St Pancras. This new arrangement will boost sales even further.

By the way, how many people is the Sourced Market serving a week? About 12,000 per week, which equates to around 500,000 people last year.

That’s a lot of customers – could I have a full segmentation list please: Umm, High Speed 1 commuters, tube travellers, Eurostar passengers, First Capital Connect and Midland Mainline users, the local regenerated N1C loft owners and students from St Martin’s located just north at Granary Square – basically lots of people with dosh.

And could I have a revenue breakdown too. Blimey, this is all a bit official isn’t it? OK, roughly bakery 10%, speciality meats and cheese 12%, wine and beer 20%, coffee 10%, kitchen deli 25%, general grocery 23%. In terms of money, beer turnover is £6-7k per week so you can work the rest out can’t you.

Err yes of course, I’ll get onto that later: Additionally year-on-year growth is 18% – a mix of more customers and existing customers spending more. As O’Brien point out there are a lot of people doing all the individual bits of his business – there are bottle shops, there are delis, there are sandwich bars etcetera. But not many people blend the retail, food-to-go and dining all in one.

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And why are there no competitors? According to O’Brien the Sourced Market concept has definitely been studied by other retailers but they would say it is too complex a model, they need simple roll out formats and this is anything but. It’s more work to manage but that is what makes it so innovative.

Well I’ve decided it seems like a good investment. I think there might be excellent investor benefits such as discounts on Scotch eggs: Oho, you’re thinking of that are you, well forget it.

I think you’ll find they will want my money: I think you’ll find they won’t, at the moment anyway. It is true that the crowd-funding route has been tried. Very successfully tried incidentally and the target was raised through 100 investors. But in the end O’Brien accepted an offer for a single sizeable stake from the extremely successful entrepreneur Peter Dubens and his venture capital company Pembroke.

Oh. I expect he gets free Scotch eggs does he: I would imagine so.

Their loss.

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