“You can’t rely on footfall alone” - Plans in place to preserve the future of well-known Halifax sweet shop Toffee Smith’s

A Halifax family is hoping well-known sweet shop Toffee Smiths will survive for generations to come as they plan for the future of the business.

Thursday, 11th March 2021, 11:47 am
Sean and Helen Sutcliffe with their son Zak, at Toffee Smith's, Halifax Borough Market

Sean Sutcliffe, 47, and his wife Helen, 43, took over the stall in Halifax Borough Market in January 2019 when its then owners of 48 years, and close friends of the couple, chose to retire.

Toffee Smiths was originally established around 1900, when Walter ‘Toffee’ Smith began making and selling toffee at the gates of local coal mines to the miners, to raise funds for the church.

The miners nicknamed him Toffee Smith and the story of the shop began from there. He went on to establish the business and soon began making boiled sweets too.

Toffee Smith's at Halifax Borough Market

The business was passed down through the generations and at one time, there were many stalls and shops across the county.

Eventually the Halifax stall was set up in the late 1960’s in the Halifax Borough Market and Vicky and Rodney Scott, Vicki is Walter’s granddaughter, owned and ran the stall then for 48 years until Christmas 2018 when they retired.

The factory where the boiled sweets, toffees and fudge are made, Thornes in Heckmondwike, is still operational and still in the family.

The new owners of the stall are now taking it to the next level and launching their website, and aim to prove that a market stall can compete in the current climate.

“Having survived the pandemic so far, we are confident that, hopefully, with more shops opening next month, people will start to come out again,” Helen said.

“We’ve seen a lot of support for people wanting to shop locally, to support their independent retailers and a lot of new faces, as well as regular customers, of all ages, coming through the market doors.

“As a business, the lockdown has made it clear that you can’t rely on footfall alone and that you really need to take advantage of as many ways to get your business to your customers, as possible. With that in mind, as well as continuing with investing in our social media and carrying on with our local delivery service, we have decided to launch a website.

“Above anything else, it’s so important to provide an excellent and above all friendly service. That means a lot to people and if you do it right, hopefully they will spread the word. We remain committed to the shop itself, and although we are looking for ways to expand and reach a wider audience, it will always remain our focus and we intend to stay in the Halifax Borough Market.

“It’s such a great environment to work in and we meet so many amazing people.

“Zak, our son, began working at Toffee Smiths as Saturday boy back in 2017 when Vicki and Rodney owned the shop. He learnt everything he knows from Vicki and Rodney and has built a vast knowledge.

“He is now at university in Leeds, but he works a couple of days a week and often runs the shop entirely if Sean is out delivering etc.”

Helen says deliveries have proved significant in helping the business survive the coronavirus pandemic.

“When lockdown began in March 2020, Sean had established himself in the shop and had been trading for just over a year,” she said.

“The initial lockdown hit hard with only a handful of shops in the Halifax Borough Market being allowed to remain open. We knew we needed to try something to keep the business going.

“At the time, as we hadn’t been trading in 2018-2019, we didn’t qualify for the self employed income scheme grants. We decided to trial a local delivery service, offering a free Covid safe doorstep delivery drop of sweet treats with orders of £10, to the Halifax and surrounding areas on Fridays and Saturdays, which is when I was free to help pack the orders etc whilst Sean was out delivering.

“The first week was slow but we used our Facebook page to spread the word, advertised and by the second week our Friday and Saturday were fully booked. Regular customers of the shop and new customers, looking for something to cheer them up and share with the family at home in lockdown.

“The delivery service was a success. Although it didn’t replace the normal income, it went a long way to it and also kept us going mentally.

“The deliveries have become something we really enjoy doing. Customers often ask us how we were doing, talking to us through open windows and the thanks we get, the comments and feedback is just wonderful.

“Sometimes, customers have even left us little presents out when we deliver. When the first lockdown ended, we decided to continue our deliveries, as a service to the people of Halifax, knowing that there were still people who were shielding or couldn’t get out and about.

“We are still running our delivery service now, and will continue to offer it locally even when the website launches, as a thank you and a service to our lovely customers and the people of Halifax.”