20 December 2019

Back To The Future Part II: Camden Lock Market

John Milligan, CEO and Melanie Taylor, Head of Retail and Relations look back at what we set out to achieve and how we managed Camden in the early days – listening to its customers and working within its authentic heart, alongside the traders.

John Milligan;

“We’re in the business of creating places where people are inspired to shop and Camden Lock Market was one of the most inspiring retail places we had seen anywhere in the world. We met and got to know the owners and original developers of the market, Bill Fulford and Peter Wheeler. We were incredibly excited when in 2012, as they were contemplating retirement, they agreed to sell the market to Milligan.

“Our vision was to create an entrepreneurial community around a thriving mix of market stalls, independent shops and businesses. With workshops, studios, galleries and cultural venues providing the infrastructure to support and grow a theatre of stalls, boutiques, cafés and restaurants we would attract more visitors. In turn, more visitors would attract more creative start-ups and grow a business community.

“As well as respecting and embracing the architecture and culture of Camden Lock, we sought to:

  • Improve flexibility and options available to entry-level operators
  • Encourage a more diverse offer, looking for uniqueness and quality
  • Add more workspace and expansion opportunities for operators
  • Reconsider circulation considering all trading pitches
  • Provide more shelter from inclement weather
  • Improve accessibility and the link with the Regent’s Canal and High Street
  • Create more seating for visitors and address a lack of capacity during peak trading

“We learnt so much during our ownership and management of Camden market that affects the way we approach our future projects. In particular, that a strong inspirational yet deliverable vision will engage the community and stakeholders and can move mountains of negativity and obstacles.”

Melanie Taylor;

“Running alongside our extensive research, was our ongoing commitment to the management of the existing trader community and attracting talented individuals to Camden Lock by offering them a range of retail opportunities.

“The existing operators were keen to understand the new owners’ plans! Longstanding agreements with retailers (rather than stall holders) under the old tenant-landlord Act meant that most operators were on historic leases with an automatic right to renew – a fundamental reason why there had been little change within the market for so long. We renegotiated the leases of every single operator to an ‘outside the Act’ lease, giving us the control, flexibility and freedom to make the required large scale changes, the opportunity to reposition, refresh and redevelop while enabling the operators to thrive on negotiated and appropriate turnover rents.

“In management terms, the biggest win for us was taking on an inhouse Market Manager with extensive experience of markets and market operators.  Jane would liaise with all the operators’ day to day basis – she understood their challenges and spoke their language. Part of our Market Manager’s role was to look after the needs of this unique collection of operators. Often, what they found most useful and valuable was business support and guidance covering everything from how to effectively rotate their product to how to serve customers and it was delivered via events, seminars and one to ones.

“Camden is a destination with rich heritage and character, and we did not want to change what was the essence of the success of the market.  However, the research highlighted a need for more quality product. It would be a place for emerging, independent, incubator brands to find a platform and start building their customer base. Anyone we brought into Camden Lock had to be unique and offer the market quality, difference and excitement. It became a thriving hub for designers and makers fresh from college, students and start-ups trading alongside operators who had been there for a considerable amount of time.

Camden Lock would be able to offer them a range of retail opportunities from incubator units fitted out and ready to accept their fixtures and fittings to small unit stores.  A talented occupier would be able to see a progression from ‘stall to store’, to see Camden Lock as a long-term opportunity and a steppingstone to grow their business.”

In Back to the Future Part III, Paul Hanegraaf describes the physical changes and discusses some of the details behind Camden which have informed CreativeTrade.