Want a cup of coffee in Melksham? Then pop into Well House Manor
- we'll serve you from any time from early in the morning until mid evening. You'll get a mug of bean to cup coffee, a slice of tiffin or flapjack, free parking (and you're welcome to walk into town to shop), a comfortable seat, a fire to warm up in front of, WiFi at 120mbits, and change from £4.00 . If it's a fine day, you can sit outside ... if it's the afternoon, you can take a look at the Museum for Melksham. There's books to read, and often friends to talk to. Not sure where we are? There's a map [here]
Sound a bit like a coffee shop? Sound a bit like Costa? Shouldn't we
be worried about them coming into town? We're not. We welcome them for the town growth that they will encourage. For the empty eyesore they will fill. For the new Coffee Culture that they'll encourage and any spinoffs they'll bring our way. As you can imagine, I've taken a closer look at the proposal than most, and asked other's opinions and thoughts, read surveys, and done some research too. Let me lay a few myths to rest for anyone who has questions.
1. The proposal is for a franchise, owned within the region, and not for a big-chain owned outlet. Just as other shops sell Heinz baked beans, this one will sell Costa Coffee; the difference is they won't sell much else other than the brand.
2. There are 11 empty units in the town centre as I write, so allowing a Costa Coffee into 2 adjoining ones will not stop other businesses coming to the town. In fact, it might encourage someone who's thinking of opening a shoe shop / clothes shop to do so ... with businesses seeing others with faith in the town centre. Comparisons to other towns with "very few empty shop fronts" are dangerous - the decision is not between X and Y in Melksham, but between X and eyesore.
3. Coffee Shops such as Costa are at the busiest around the start and end of the working day - from around 7.30 to 9.30, and from around 4.30 to 6.30. The customer profile is the younger / working person. Typically only a very small proportion of their business is senior citizens, and most coffee shops do not sell traditional hot lunches. Our customer lunch visits to the Art House, Ku, Ashers, the Cornerstone, Melksham House, the Bear and the Tavern (which are the suppliers who currently suit us) are unlikely to change.
4. The business risk of opening Costa in Melksham is being taken by the franchisee. If it works it will bring trade into the town; if it doesn't, it won't cost the taxpayers of the town anything (in fact they'll get a rates income that they wouldn't from the empty shop)
5. In Melksham, almost 95% of customers in the Town Centre live in the Melksham area. That is not the case for other towns, where the figure can be as low as 40%, and that makes comparisons dangerous.
6. Melksham has a Community Campus, a canal, an improved rail service all coming. It has a growing population - people moving in who can be tempted to our town centre, or to other nearby towns if we don't attract them here. And with petrol costs rising, people are going to be more tempted to shop locally than they have been in recent years. The Costa footprint has to be considered in relation to that future profile as well as the current one.
7. Every shop has been in Melksham has been visited within the last few months, and left surveys for everyone to complete and return, and the returned surveys have formed the basis of informed inputs to the planning processes this winter and spring
8. A common criticism of some of Melksham's stores is the rudeness and disinterest of the owners / staff. This is because of just a few stores, but sadly if even one independent town centre trader garners such criticisms, the others get tarred with the same brush.
9. There has been nothing to stop any of the existing cafes from turning into / experimenting with a "Coffee Shop" approach in part or all of their store, and I would have expected someone to have done so if they thought there was a market. They could have become a Cafe Nero / Starbucks / Costa franchise.
10. Multiple invites have been sent out to discussions that have taken part on this proposal (and on many other subjects too), but traders and their representatives are often too busy to attend. That's a business decision for them; independent business owners could spend all day at meetings and never do any real work, but the organisers of meetings and consultations have gone to a great deal of effort to ensure that they are know about.
11. It's very difficult for retailers in the High Street to speak openly in favour of Costa with a handful of others are adopting a confrontational pose in the local newspaper. Whatever the outcome, these people have to work alongside each other after the event.
12. A coffee shop in Melksham will naturally recruit most of its staff from within Melksham. And it will recruit new customers from the countryside between the various Wiltshire towns who previously (on their own balance) chose other towns. Such customers will become customers of the other independent stores nearby - such as the beauty product stores, the chemists, the newspaper shop, the butcher, the flower shop, the dry cleaners, the stationer, the computer games shop, the sewing shop, the comic shop, the sweet shop, the hairdressers and barbers, the toy shop, the clothes shop, and the greengrocer.
This blog expresses my view as an independent business operator in the hospitality and tourist trade in Melksham, and a business which brings visitors to the town from far and wide and looks after other people's visitors when they're around. It makes use of my own experience and research, and the experience and research of others too. (written 2013-02-24)
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