Butcher forced to leave Trago Mills car park doesn’t want to move
A popular mobile butcher who has been forced to move from outside Merthyr's Trago Mills to the town centre is instead investing more than GBP20,000 to stay and save his business. Craig Wall has been trading from his mobile butcher truck, Mark and Craig's Butchers, in the car park of Merthyr Tydfil's Trago Mills since the department store opened just over three years ago. The 41-year-old travels all the way from his home in Wolverhampton every Wednesday to Sunday and has built a good relationship with his customers who come far and wide to pick up meat from his big blue van.
But much to Craig's disappointment he said the council has ordered him to cease trading in the car park by July 25 leaving him no choice but to spend more than GBP20,000 to carry on trading in a permanent unit at Trago Mills. He said the alternative for him would be to cease trading in Merthyr Tydfil as he does not see moving to the town centre as a feasible option.The council has asked him to move to the town centre (Image: Richard Swingler)Craig at work (Image: Richard Swingler)
"I started off trading in Trago Newton Abbot on a Saturday for about six years," he said. "Then when they were opening the new one in Merthyr we had meetings about getting me on the new site. "We agreed on me being there five days a week from the opening day.
Work has been brilliant there. It took off really, really well and we've been here over three years now. "I have a history of market trading.
I have traded in places like Ebbw Vale and Newport over the years. I love trading in Wales, it's a great place to be, so I was really happy to be able to come to Merthyr." Craig said he believed he was fine to trade in the car park of Trago Mills since he had a mobile vehicle and permission from the shop's owner.
Besides he also had no issues while trading outside the Devon branch. However, about 18 months after he began trading in Merthyr, he said he received a worrying letter from the council about his future there. He said: "We got a letter handed to us saying that terms need to change of use from a car park to a retail space for us to be able to carry on trading here.
We were being asked to move into the town centre as us being here is taking away 0.02% of business away from the town centre. "Because we were already trading on a Trago site in Devon with no need for planning permission - since we are a mobile unit with no permanent structure - I thought that I could trade on-site in Merthyr with the land owner's permission. However after 18 months of trading at Merthyr it was picked up that Trago needed to do a change of use from car park to retail use."Craig said his customers come to his truck for the experience (Image: Richard Swingler)Customers queuing up outside his truck (Image: Richard Swingler)
Craig said trading in the town centre would not be a feasible option for his business.
Not only does a mobile butcher already trade there but he worries his business would be impacted by the issues faced by town centres in the current economic climate. "I do agree that town centres are struggling but that's not our fault," he said. "With bank closures, shop closures, everything going online, the high streets will fail but we should not be penalised for that outcome. "We have trade here at Trago Mills because people come here, go to Trago, get their fresh meat from us, maybe then go to McDonald's - it's a different experience from the town centre," he said. "There is also another mobile butcher who trades some days in the town centre so it doesn't make sense for us to be there as well.
We think we are already bringing trade into Merthyr by being where we are - not just local trade. "In the time we've been here we've built fantastic trade. We serve people here who come from as far as Norwich as people are attracted by Trago.
We have customers from all over including Cardiff, Carmarthen, and Swansea. At Christmas we had 170 pre-orders. People were finding it better to come to us, where they could be outside and didn't have to wear a mask, than being in a supermarket.
We have good relationships - people know they can come to us for their fresh meat and some banter rather than picking something up off a shelf."Craig doesn't want to set up in Merthyr town centre (Image: Richard Swingler)Trago Mills is a busy spot (Image: Richard Swingler)
Despite Craig's efforts to appeal the decision to move him into the town centre - including a petition against the decision with hundreds of signatures - it was all to no avail. He has been told to leave Trago's car park by July 25 or risk fines which could see him paying thousands a day. Luckily he has now secured a unit at the store but it will cost him more than GBP20,000 to turn it into a working butchers.
He also has just two weeks to make the transition. "It is good that Trago has let me have a unit," he said. "But at the same time having to move from my truck to the unit and making it suitable for our business will put me back GBP20,000 at least. And it's just not the same, it doesn't stand out in the same way - it's not a 30ft truck.
However we do have our regulars who we can rely on. If I didn't leave by July 25 I believe I would be fined GBP2,000 the first day and GBP1,000 each day following that."Craig pictured inside his new premises at Trago Mills (Image: Richard Swingler)
Craig said it is causing him significant "stress" but putting his staff out of business simply wasn't an option for him. "It takes me [two hours each way] to travel between Merthyr and Wolverhampton and I am putting this together myself with the help of my staff," he said. "They're stretched looking after the van while I go off and sort out the unit.
Fingers crossed, though, we're hoping to get it sorted by the date we need. "I have two weeks to get it sorted including electrical costs and refrigeration. We can't store much as it's a small shop.
We can store a four pallet of meat in the truck but that is not possible in the unit. We just don't have the space so we're also having to rent a mobile fridge to put our stock in. Then I will have this redundant truck that I will need to sell on.
"I feel stressed every day because of this but the reason I'm doing it is because I don't want to put my staff members out of work. I have spent three years building it and I wasn't willing to let it fizzle out. I have invested a lot of money in this business."
Merthyr Tydfil County Borough Council has been contacted for comment.