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The Name: Startisans

The Place: London only, in fact only one site to date – Shelton Street in Covent Garden although goodness knows they are searching hard for sites. Oh and there was a pop-up too for a bit. But as you will see there is a network through which successful startisans can progress.

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The Story: Kitty Shepherd is one of two sisters…

Wait, Kitty Shepherd – brilliant name, like a Victorian music hall act. Is that it, does she sing? No, because that’s not retail is it? She and her sister…

What’s her name? It doesn’t matter. OK, it’s Alex. The point is there are two sisters and they come from a food retailing family and now they have started a new venture where they provide a market platform for start-up artisan producers called Startisans (did you see what they did there?)  who may eventually end up being sold in their very upmarket family retail chain Partridges.

Well, fine but let’s take it back to the beginning: In 2004 the branch of Partridges on Duke of York Square decided to put a market outside the shop on a Saturday.

Nice. Any good? Around 15,000 people a week would turn up.

Crikey: And based on that success the girls founded Shepherds Markets – of which there now 20.

And where are they? All over. On a Thursday for example you can find one at Victoria, while on a Friday you need to head over to One New Change in the City, If it’s Monday it must be Piccadilly and alternate Tuesdays happen at Liverpool Street.

But how does this lead to Startisans? So, from 2008 more and more markets were added, customers love it and producers want to launch products in this setting. It’s all not-for-profit, the sisters make enough to keep it going and that’s the way they like it. But the Shepherd’s began to think how they could support the very smallest of their traders while also sourcing potential new stock lines for the five Partridges shops.

Clever. Two birds with one stone: Exactly. The MD of Partridges, also known as Kitty’s father, will mentor suitable producers for the shop – and you just can’t buy that sort of help. From market trestle table to Chelsea shop shelf in one meteoric rise.

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Kitty Shepherd, co-founder, Startisans

Anyway, proceed: In October 2014 the Shelton Street site was launched as an indoor space where lots of tiny artisan producers can dip their toe into the market as it were.

Advantages for the customer? Well, they can discuss the food with the person who made it. People like that. And shoppers see that these are literally the first food steps of many of these traders and find they want to support them rather than just buying a sandwich at Pret again.

Do the Shepherd sisters decide who gets in and who doesn’t? Yes, in a word. And there is a progression as mentioned earlier. A successful launch at Startisans in Shelton Street will lead (if wanted) to a pitch at one of the 20 larger Shepherd Markets or the producer can stay at Startisans – the boss ladies aim to be flexible. But there will always be a mix of food to consume right now and food to go home to the larder.

And what is beyond the markets? I’m glad you have asked. Some very famous retail names such as Fortnum & Mason and Selfridges have poached Startisan traders. The whole idea is really for the producer to flourish and move on… although some just like the market life and stay indefinitely.

Go on, which ones have done well? Kitty Shepherd points to a Peruvian artisan who was about to give up when he joined the market scheme – now working round to opening his own restaurant while a maker of the luscious Sicilian dessert cannoli is also doing very well.

This all sounds a bit niche to me: It certainly is. Not a cupcake in sight. Well perhaps some, but traders are encouraged to find a unique selling point, not endless burger makers please. After all the day’s menu is posted outside on an easel every day and if it only said burgers and brownies then footfall will be limited.

Okay, so there is a hard edge to this after all, when I was feeling so warm and fuzzy inside: Oh yes, Kitty Shepherd is quite clear – Startisan is not a charity. They want ideas people.

And how do you get in on the act? Just fill in the application form, my friend. But they get a lot of them, be warned. And no wonder when the table may cost you as little as £5 or £10 deposit. And rumour has it there is a lady selling German rye bread in New Change who doesn’t get charged at all – just because they like her. It’s that USP thing again.

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Wot no burgers

So with all this interest – why only Shelton Street? Not for want of trying, the Shepherd family are old hands at launching markets. Back in 2010 the sisters’ father (he of Partridges fame) suggested to a shopping centre that a market in its main hall would be a customer draw. They said they wanted a Ferrari instead!

I like Ferraris: Yes, but once you have seen the Ferrari you have seen it and people need to eat three times a day. Anyway, they have since changed their mind, you will be unsurprised to hear.

Still, a Ferrari though: Look, the main message is that although appropriate sites are very hard to come by, landlords are much more aware of, and amenable to the popularity of markets. And they are not the only ones lauding the Shepherd sisters’ work.

Spill: They’ve only gone and been nominated for four awards in the Great British Entrepreneur Awards 2015 including Food and Drink Champion, Retailer Entrepreneur of the Year and Small Business of the Year.

Blimey, could be a clean sweep: Miss Kitty will be very proud.

I think that actually is the title of a Victorian music hall song:  No, it isn’t.

PCMS is a global provider of IT software, specialising in retail services, including point of sale (PoS) software, contact centre and IT support services. It is a pioneer in developing mobile retail solutions, including customer shopping apps and mobile PoS. Its client list includes John Lewis, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose, Whole Foods, as well as Walgreens in the US and fashion brands including Prada and Ferragamo across Europe.