The three sisters behind family business Shepherds Markets tell Director how growth in the competitive London food scene helps them to nurture food entrepreneurs
Alex Shepherd The markets began with the Partridges Market, founded by our father, John Shepherd, in 2005. My sisters and I then became involved in developing Shepherds Markets and Startisans to support start-up businesses in the UK, with the aim of providing a platform for budding food entrepreneurs to share their passion.
Fiorenza Shepherd We’re also involved in some food festivals as well. There are certain traders, especially street-food types, who want to focus on products that sell better at those events.
Kitty Shepherd I look after the food safety and health and safety side of things. Alex’s role varies on a day-to-day basis, but she’s mainly responsible for Startisans. Fiorenza looks after the promotion of the traders and has a particular focus on supporting their social media presence.
Alex Shepherd Growing up alongside our family business generated a love of all things food-related. Our passion for helping start-ups also stems from an early age, as we’ve seen first-hand how providing support can help British brands flourish. As Shepherds Markets evolved, our involvement has also developed. Over time we have built up stronger relationships with each of the traders as well as developing new ones. As demand grew, we opened up markets in different locations and all took on a more active role.
Kitty Shepherd I provide environmental health advice and look after the food safety, noise and nuisance aspects of the market, while Fiorenza and Alex are involved in market logistics and co-ordination. But because it’s a small family business, it isn’t that defined – we all help each other out.
Alex Shepherd When you have your own business, you have to be prepared to run the whole of it – from accounting to the physical, labour side. You also have to be prepared to evolve. For example, our St Paul’s [Good Food] Market on Fridays now has a number of high-quality craft and gift traders as well as food vendors. Starting our new indoor market, Startisans [in Covent Garden], in November has been our big focus recently, and we’re starting to expand outside London. We have 17 markets across the capital and we’re also now in Reading.
Fiorenza Shepherd Because we’re sisters we can contact each other to discuss anything at all hours. I also trust my sisters, and that’s key when you work with anybody. Being a team of three also helps, as there’s always a mediator. Then there’s my husband – he goes to most of the food markets and knows the traders well. He’s heavily involved in running the website.
Kitty Shepherd We get a lot of interest from individuals who have careers in other fields but want to start up their own business – people with a passion for baking or making food or have noticed a gap in the market for niche products we don’t get in the UK, such as Sicilian cannoli or pomegranate essence used in Turkish recipes. We know which products work because of our experience of running grocery stores. We have a number across London – our flagship being Partridges, near Sloane Square.
Alex Shepherd Markets are a fantastic way for people to promote their products at different London locations. Plus, it’s great selling practice – if you can sell on a market stall, then you can sell anywhere.
Fiorenza Shepherd We’ve had traders who have actually gone on to supply shops or started up their own business, but wanted to remain with us at the same time. The number of markets and traders we work with has expanded rapidly over recent years. One of the challenges we face is having to say, ‘sorry, we don’t have enough space for you at the moment’, because people are coming to us with their hopes, and their business ideas. We have waiting lists, and luckily we’re generally able to offer them a pitch sooner or later.
Kitty Shepherd Consumers love talking to the traders and finding out exactly what’s in things, and how they’re made. They want to understand more about the food – it’s a different experience to a supermarket.
Alex Shepherd It’s really nice to see the London street-food scene growing, and more individuals getting on board with the idea and enjoying it. The traders we work with often come to us and say, ‘thank you so much for your support’. One trader told us recently that we had actually changed their life – from black to white. We were really humbled to hear that. And as for lows? When it rains…