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Words: Melanie Burton
Photography: Mick Fox, Painting by David Work
Featured in the January 2012 issue

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At a time when a lot of small market towns are feeling the effects of the recession, the ‘capital of the Lincolnshire Wolds’ seems to be bucking national retail trends.

This destination has seen a number of new businesses open in the past few months, while its existing ones reported that trading performance on the day of the recently held Victorian Fayre was as good as, if not better than, last year.

Successful Christmas events increased footfall and boosted business even more. And, as the town welcomes 2012, there is an optimistic buzz in the air.

Louth town manager, Alison Hall, who was appointed six months ago, said Louth is faring well compared to similar places in the country.

“It’s not an easy climate at the moment but trade seems to be going okay. Some businesses will find it tough. But none of them have shut and we have had businesses open. That’s the most realistic measure of how well a place is doing. If you have businesses opening rather than shutting, the town is doing something right,” said Miss Hall.

Newcomers include Clarks Shoes and the Cooplands bakery and, although they are major national names, Louth remains a ‘home’ town rather than a ‘clone’ town because of its large number of independent retailers.

“Our independent business percentage rate is 71.9 per cent. There are very few towns that have the number of independent businesses that we have. The businesses are good quality. Most have been here a long time and they really know their business. They offer excellent customer service and, as a result, they have a loyal customer base,” said Miss Hall.

She has worked with the Louth Town Partnership to put together a strategy for the town to increase footfall and improve the local economy.

Two events took place last year to help show the town how to attract more people into the area, which in turn helps to boost trade.

A food festival in July, with sixty stalls, brought in the crowds and a Victorian Fayre in October saw an influx of 5,000 people. It also highlighted to businesses the benefits of Sunday trading.

“Businesses were reluctant to open on a Sunday. They are mostly independent businesses, so opening on a Sunday means a seven-day working week for smaller traders. But it is the best day for us to put on events and more shops are opening up at each event so the benefits are starting to be realised,” said Miss Hall.

Another significant change was late night shopping which traditionally used to be held on a Thursday.

“We changed it to a Friday, so that we weren’t competing with larger nearby centres.The Partnership invested £2,000 into late night shopping providing advertising and street entertainment. More than eighty businesses opened late which was a big achievement.”

And looking at this year’s calendar, Louth is going to be even busier with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee to mark and the Olympic torch passing through.

“I think most businesses are fairly confident about the coming year, but not complacent. They are very upbeat and very proactive. We plan to work with other organisations in the town for a three-week festival combining food, art and music. We are linking up with tourism providers and some of the nearby attractions and hope to introduce a brand value for the town to get people to shop locally,” said Miss Hall.

Louth has also entered the East Midlands in Bloom competition to improve the street scene for residents and make the town more welcoming to visitors.

“We want residents to be proud of their town. We have a very low vacancy rate in Louth. It is 6.3 per cent, compared to 12.7 per cent in the East Midlands and 11.1 per cent nationally.

“You go around some towns and you see recession straight away, the traders are not taking pride in their shopfronts. But there is something different about Louth. I’ve lost count of how many people have painted their shopfronts recently and we had more than twenty-five businesses enter our Christmas window dressing competition,” added Miss Hall.

Treasurer of the town partnership and president of Louth Chamber of Business, Sue Locking – who runs Perkins Pantry in Mercer Row, Louth -  said there is an optimistic feel about the town.

“Louth is holding its own given the restraints the economic climate has imposed on everybody. We know all this is a lull and it will get better again. We are quietly confident it will pass. Because of the cutbacks and the constraints that have been foisted on them, there will come a time when people are fed up of cutting out things and I think they will treat themselves more, start spending again and worry about it later,” said Mrs Locking.

Mrs Locking,  whose fully licensed restaurant is a Tastes of Lincolnshire winner, serving fresh traditional homemade English food, prepared on the premises, said visitors came to Louth from all over the county because they like the independent shops which it has to offer.

“We still get a lot of visitors and they are amazed to see how nice the town is. It’s not olde worlde, but traditional and it has still got its local shops. They are all excellent and that’s why they survive. You don’t get that in a lot of market towns. It’s all about quality at reasonable prices. Our reputation is based on that. We are known as a home town rather than a clone town.”

Independent retailer Luck of Louth in Eastgate has grown from having one shop to five since it was established in 1985 by director Jim Luck, the latest expansion taking place in the last fifteen months.

“I think we have done pretty well in the past year and we are anticipating better business in 2012,” said Mr Luck, who spent fourteen years in retailing in Louth before venturing out into business on his own.

“It depends on what sector of the market you are in as to how well a business has fared. If you are at the prestige end you are okay. But the town is doing well. It is very much driven by independent shops and with new shops opening, it’s always a good sign that you are doing well.

“You need independent shops and without them I think we would be in a bit of a mess, like other towns. Generally, the feedback is that business is doing pretty well and it bodes well for the future.”

Eve and Ranshaw in the Market Place, is the town’s biggest retail employer and the longest-established business after Adam Eve began trading on the site during the reign of King George III in 1781.

Managing director, David Sandwith said business is good: “We are doing well and we have every confidence that there is a rosy future ahead. We hopefully epitomise what is good and strong about Louth and feel we are at the heart of what Louth is excellent at. We believe in old-fashioned values of service as well as quality and good value.”

A year ago the department store underwent major refurbishment and more work is planned for spring this year.

“That indicates our confidence in the town and we aim to be here for as long as may be,” added Mr Sandwith.

LUXUS WINNING FORMULA…
Louth’s largest employer is about to get even bigger after winning a prestigious business award and achieving a major breakthrough for the European motor industry.

Luxus, which is based on the town’s Fairfield Industrial Estate and claims to be the UK’s largest independent technical plastics, recycling and compounding company, has been named joint winner in the HSBC bank’s Business Thinking Awards for the North East region.

It means Luxus, which was founded in 1965 and employs 140 staff, will receive up to £6 million in lending and a £120,000 reward to support its business development plans.

These include an investment of £500,000 into a new plastics processing line to provide greater capacity for its expanding European-wide wheel bin recycling and manufacturing business and its development of a new lightweight polypropylene (PP) compound to help the motor industry meet its tough CO2 emission targets.

Managing director, Peter Atterby said Luxus is proud to have won the award.

“This award is unique as we have been able to benchmark our business against the very best our region has to offer.”

Mr Atterby also explained in his presentation why Luxus has benefited from being based in Louth.

“Louth is a modern, vibrant market town with a strong community spirit and has been a great place for us to do business - we’ve been based on the Fairfield Industrial Estate for thirty-five years,” he said.

“The town’s position near to the coast means it benefits from close links to the Humber Bank and the shipping ports of Immingham and Hull, which support our expanding export business.

“We also take an active role in supporting the Louth Town Partnership to help the future development of Louth.”

Luxus has seen its revenue increase by fifty per cent in the past year thanks to growth in its export business and it anticipates a further twenty-five per cent rise in the next two years.

“We decided to invest half a million pounds into a new plastics processing line.

The new line will significantly boost our processing capacity, delivering 8,000 tonnes of compound each year and most importantly it will provide the opportunity for future jobs in Louth where we have been based for the last forty-six years,” said Mr Atterby.

“Even in the recent difficult recessionary trading environment, for example, we still increased our workforce by forty. So now that trade continues to improve we expect to create ten to fifteen jobs within the next two to three years as part of our growth plan.”

Luxus’ new PP compound will enable it to achieve much lower weight vehicle components, without compromising on performance and design flexibility. It’s also made from up to sixty per cent recycled content, which means it offers a more sustainable choice.

“The impact of EU legislation together with the need for lower costs and improved performance has prompted us to develop a new highly innovative compound able to satisfy the rigorous demands of the automotive industry,” added Mr Atterby.

FOOD CAPITAL OF THE UK
Lincolnshire was the surprise winner of a public poll to find Britain’s favourite food spot, seeing off competition from Cornwall and Hampshire, in 2011.

But it was an obvious choice for the people of Louth – whose independent food retailers have been winning awards for their products for years.

The poll was conducted to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the national food celebration, British Food Fortnight, and more than 22,000 people cast their votes.

Louth Chamber of Business president and owner of the Tastes of Lincolnshire’s award-winning Perkins Pantry restaurant in Mercer Row, Sue Locking, said:

“Lincolnshire is the most agricultural county in the UK so it is only fitting that we were voted the food county of the UK. And we want Louth to be known as a food town.”

Louth is already a hot contender to become the sausage capital of England with its high-quality independent butchers winning a raft of awards in 2011. And it’s not just the humble banger getting the gongs. The same Louth butcher excelled in all kinds of pork products from bacon and pies to Lincolnshire favourites such as stuffed chine.

Lakings of Louth in Eastgate won official recognition for its Lincolnshire sausage, when it was named the best in the East Midlands in Britain’s Legendary Bangers competition.

It also picked up a hatful of awards at the regional British Pork Executive finals held in Newark, taking home seven golds and five silvers, as well as three outright category wins for entries including stuffed chine, dry cured short back bacon and homemade lasagne.

Fairburn Butchers of Mercer Row also made it to the final stages of Britain’s Legendary Bangers competition and then took five gold and three silver awards in the BPEX awards – four golds were for various sausage recipes and one was for plain short back bacon and the three silvers were for its plain pork sausage, Victorian sausage (first crafted for the 2010 Victorian Family Fayre) and bacon-and-egg cold eating pie.

This success followed Jim Sutcliffe’s Meridian Meats achieving six wins at the prestigious Smithfield Awards in London, run by the Q Guild of Butchers, which represent the finest quality independent butchers in Britain.

The business won gold for its pork, lime and chilli burgers as well as its chicken liver pate, three silver medals for its smoked shortback bacon, game pie and pork loin stuffed with peaches and a bronze for its Italian-style loin of pork.

Fairburn Butchers proprietor Trevor Fairburn said: “These shows are an opportunity for independent butchers to demonstrate their skills in a highly competitive environment.

“Lincolnshire is rightly famous for its pork products, especially sausages, and these awards prove beyond all doubt that Louth is at the forefront of the industry. Between us there is a lot of history and experience here in Louth, not only among the butchers but also the local pork producers whose quest for excellence is carried through to the retail product.” 

PUTTING LOUTH ON THE MAP
There is a range of independent shops and businesses in Louth which have put the small Lincolnshire market town on the map and helped it hold its own through the current economic recession.

From traditional sweet shops, gift shops and dress shops to restaurants, cafes and even a Victorian-themed tea room, Louth has much to offer the discerning visitor.

Music and art are not forgotten either. Louth is home to Off The Beaten Tracks which is one of the UK’s last independent record shops, selling both vinyl and CDs, and resident artist Margaret Taylor is set to introduce a new range of collectables featuring two unique characters.

Off The Beaten Tracks opened in Aswell Street in 2004 and expanded into bigger premises in the same location in 2009. It now boasts a room dedicated exclusively to vinyl making it a rare commodity in these hi-tech days of downloads and the internet.

Owner Mark Merrifield said: “The world of CDs and DVDs is changing due to downloading and the internet and we have to change with the times.

“We have recently reduced the price and extended the range of secondhand CDs and DVDs which has helped boost trade and we promote concerts in the town by local and touring musicians which has helped boost the local music scene.

“But more and more people are going back to playing music on vinyl, which has always had a warmer, softer sound to modern digitally produced music. We are an endangered species.”

Mr Merrifield is optimistic about this year.

“2011 was steady, but overall we were fine mainly due to a very loyal customer base and trying to get the most popular items at the best prices we can.

“I take nothing for granted. If we can keep delivering a good service and keep supplying people with the titles they want then hopefully we will be fine in 2012.”

One of the shop’s most successful days in 2011 was the Record Store Day which aimed to get people using their local store again.

“It was one of the best day’s trade ever and 2012’s event in April looks set to be even bigger,” he added.

Another ambassador for Louth is Lincolnshire born artist Margaret Taylor, who specialises in murals, portraits and landscapes.

She painted the eye-catching mural on the wall of the town’s Scotts Jewellers shop back in 1985 and it is featured in an official 2012 Louth calendar, as the image for March.

Margaret, who lives in nearby Donington-on-Bain, is excited about the coming year as she has just launched a new range of smaller, affordable printed items such as china featuring Toast and Marmalade - stylised cats with distinct characters of their own, which she hopes will put a smile on everyone’s face.

“There is nothing like it on the market. They are original because they are out of my head. Each one has a character of its own. One is full of mischief, the other is demure. But they are to cheer everyone up in the recession and they will bring out the child in everyone.”

Margaret, who qualified at Lincoln Art College in the late Sixties and whose work can be seen across the country in private homes, hotels and public buildings including Grantham’s Downtown superstore, isn’t fazed by the current economic climate.

“I have been through a few recessions and because I am an artist it is not just a job to me, it is who I am. I have been an artist for an awfully long time. I am optimistic about 2012. It will pick up again. I have been through recessions before and they always pick up,” Margaret said.

Margaret is particularly well known for her hand painted tile murals featuring domestic and farm animals, including cats, dogs, horses and rare breeds set in rural scenes and landscapes. Each piece of Margaret’s artistic work is individual. No two pieces are the same, making them very desirable to the more discerning client and collector.

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