Market Failure?: Can the traditional market survive? - Communities and Local Government Committee Contents

Memorandum by Western International Market Tenants' Association (MARKETS 04)


  Traditional retail markets have been in decline for several years. We believe this is not in the public interest and every effort should be made to rejuvenate them. The basic cause of the problem, is that the number of customers shopping at markets has reduced, to the extent that many stallholders are not viable financially. We suggest that government could help to make vendors profitable and sustainable through such measures as:

    — Development of a retail market's advocate.

    — Infrastructure improvements.

    — "Market Health Check" surveys.

    — Promotion of market halls in southern England.

    — Encouragement of new entrants to the industry.

    — Regulation of "scoop" trading.


  The Western International Tenants Association, represents the 50 or so wholesalers selling horticultural produce from the Western International wholesale market, in west London. Vendors at traditional retail markets represent a significant part of the customers at Western International wholesale market, so tenants are keen to see this sector prosper.

  It is important to remember that running a retail market stall is a commercial activity, which will only be sustainable if acceptable profits can be made. Many factors influence the business viability of stalls. In our evidence, we have tried to concentrate on those that can be influenced by central and local government. To do this, we have followed the basic layout of the committee's "Call for Evidence".


  2.1  It is hard to find anyone who does not agree that retail markets are an important part of Britain's commercial and social life. Despite this, they have been in decline over the last 10 years, in terms of both numbers and turnover. Stallholders selling foods such as healthy, fresh produce, seem to have been hit harder than those in such sectors as, clothing and fast foods.

  2.2  We believe that the main reason for this decline, has been the reduced numbers of consumers shopping at retail markets. Key reasons for this include:

    (a) They think supermarkets are cheaper.

    (b) It takes longer to shop at markets than in a supermarket, where they can get all their needs in one place.

    (c) Weather conditions can put shoppers off (eg. rain and cold).

    (d) Car parking is often not available nearby, or too expensive.

    (e) Market business hours are not convenient.

    (f) Some market traders have a poor image, so customers fear they may be cheated.

    (g) Concerns about food safety.

    (h) Believe the quality of goods in markets is lower than shops/supermarkets.

    (i) Little advertising/promotion is done by street markets.

    (j) Many markets lack facilities, such as clean, public toilets and good lighting.

    (k) Street markets are not fashionable places to shop.

  It is important that any interventions in the retail market sector, seek to overcome one or more of the above constraints and win new customers.

  2.3  New markets are often hard to set up, as people do not want them near their homes and business. It can be done, however, as has been shown by the rapid growth of certified farmer's markets and other fine food markets in recent years.

  2.4  There are several obstacles hindering the successful business of existing market operators and traders with special reference to their interface with government.

    2.4.1 A lot of stallholders believe that the activities of Local Government often has an adverse effect on trade. Not only is local government frequently the market landlord, but its policies on re-development, planning, parking, environmental health and trading standards, also have a big impact on street markets. When councillors vote on these matters, we are sure they do so with the best interests of residents in mind and certainly do not intend to damage their community street markets. In many cases however, we believe they are not fully aware of the impact of their decisions on the retail market sector.

    Many stallholders are not members of trade associations. Where such organisations exist, they are commonly badly equipped to represent stallholders' interests to local government members and officers.

    To try to avoid these problems, we suggest a Street Markets Advocate should be appointed. The advocate's main task would be to look at government policies and identify anything that could have an adverse effect on local street markets. These areas would be brought to the attention of government, in the hope that they can work with the advocate to resolve possible conflicts, before the street markets are damaged.

    2.4.2 The infrastructure of many street and other retail markets is outdated. Government support is needed to improve this in such areas as:

    — Electricity supply for lighting, refrigeration, cooking food, etc.

    — Water supply.

    — Provision of toilets with washing facilities.

    — Dedicated parking for vendors' vans, etc.

    — On site storage facilities for traders.

    Many improvements of this type would benefit food hygiene and encourage more customers.

    2.4.3 Some Farmer's markets have used a form of market research called "Market Health Checks". These surveys have provided valuable information on which market development can be based. We would like to see this technique tried in retail markets, to see if it assists with their promotion. (FARMA have considerable expertise in this field).

    2.4.4 In northern England there are some very successful retail market halls. We believe that this sort of venture should be encouraged more in southern England. Perhaps local government there, could try to persuade landlords to use some of the empty retail space that they have available, as market halls.

    2.4.5 We believe that there is a need to encourage more new blood into the retail market industry. Government could play a part in this by preparing a guide to profitable trading in retail markets for new entrants. The provision of training and a mentoring service, would also be valuable.

    2.4.6 Scoop selling, sometimes called bowling, has become a popular feature of fruit selling in retail markets over the last few years. In this system, the stallholder displays small bowls filled with a variety of fruit, all at a fixed price, often £1. Customers can then select the bowl of their choice at the stated price, without the fruit being weighed. There is an urgent need for this practice to be regularised under weights and measures legislation.

  2.5  In our opinion, specialist markets, such as continental and farmer's markets, have had little impact on traditional markets. As each type of market relies on its unique selling points however, we feel it is best not to try to integrate them.


  Retail markets are economic ventures and safeguarding their profitability must be the main priority. In addition, however, they can have valuable social benefits, including:

    — Providing access to fresh, local, healthy , value for money food.

    — Assist consumers to eat five portions of fruit and vegetables per day.

    — Act as centres for social interaction.

    — Toursim.

    — Provide outlets for specialist ethnic foods, which supermarkets often do not supply.

  Where markets are not owned by local government, we feel these social benefits are more likely to be overlooked.


  There is great scope for local government to support retail markets more effectively, including the point outlined in 2.4.1 to 2.4.6 of this paper. The main need is for local government to regards its retail markets as important assets of their area, to be embraced and nurtured. Traders feel this is not always the case at present.


  The licensing of markets is not an area where we can claim expertise.

  The licensing of individual stallholders varies a great deal from local authority to local authority. It has been suggested to us that it would be helpful if a license issued by one local authority, was valid nationwide for similar trading. This would enable stallholders to take advantage of opportunities outside their own area from time to time.

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