Markets - helping or harming local businesses?
Yesterday (16th August 2011) on Liveline, there was a lively discussion about whether or not lunch-time markets should be allowed to take up public spaces around the city; as the organiser of another type of market (weekly food shopping experience rather than food-to-go) I added in my tuppence-ha'penny worth, but didnt really get the chance to develop the discussion, as time was short on the programme.
It seems to me that there are arguments on both sides. Lunchtime markets can add life to an otherwise dreary day at the office, where freshly cooked - and sometimes gourmet - food can be bought at a reasonable price. The vast majority of these food stalls are well kitted out with all the necessary accoutrements to satisfy any Environmental Health inspection, and offer a broad range of ethnic styles to pep up a lunchbreak. There are opportunities for small businesses to be established at a reasonable set-up cost, and without big overheads.
However, for the small cafe working from 8-6 Monday to Saturday, it must be galling to have lunchtime trading take a serious drop on the days in the week when people are most likely to go out for lunch - Wed-Fri, not to mention the impact on the week's turnover... which could be the difference between break-even and making a modest profit. And for the most part, the decision to open the cafe will have been taken before these emerging lunch-time markets have arrived in the vicinity, as they are such a recent concept in Dublin. Such cafes will have to be highly innovative to compete with the allure of 'something different'. Perhaps some form of loyalty card which entitles them to a much reduced cost on the day of the market?? Anyone got any other ideas?
Of course, for the non-food businesses in the area, there may be a boost to sales, as local workers venture out for longer than eating the sambo at the desk, but I have no evidence of this...
Our Saturday food market, on the other hand, is more in competition with supermarkets, and aims to encourage people to shop for their weekly groceries and fresh foods, rather than an emphasis on lunch or food grazing. We are of course not even a blip on the radar screens of the large multinational supermarkets, YET!!
Although we have a couple of outdoor stalls, for the most part our stallholders are inside our large warehouse, and of course we pay rates and all the other overheads of a conventional retail business, so it can be difficult for us to maintain our pricing when up against cheap, cheap supermarket products (often from a long way away) - but that is a fundamental requirement in food shopping today. Of course, cheap products are cheap for a reason - be it in the quality of the product itself, use of cheap labour, below-cost selling or whatever else.
We are differentiating ourselves on the basis of good quality, locally sourced fresh food - where you can ask where the product was grown/made, and get a simple direct answer with a minimum of steps in the food chain. Lots of the kind of food you bring home and cook for yourself, although we do have freshly made foods, ready to eat as well.
I think there will continue to be arguments on both sides of the divide on this one, so please tell me what you think!