Stall repetition is a major problem at QVM and if it goes uncorrected it could lead to our downfall.
Customers complain regularly about the sameness of market aisles, the repetition of products and the “tat” (or cheap and nasty products). If the complaints only came from one source, we might be able to ignore them, but they are coming from online travel review sites like Trip Advisor, direct from customers at the market, and from other feedback sources.
Empire building (allowing stallholders to own multiple stalls of the same product lines) is a major contributor to the problem of repetition but the cause goes a step higher in the chain. Recruiting new traders and allowing expansion by existing traders, are functions controlled by our management team.
The top end of the Queen Victoria Market has been allowed to grow in size over recent years. The fruit and vegetable aisles (A, B, C) have been populated with General Merchandise Stalls and we have added in String Bean Alley as management does its very best to maintain rental income. Who can blame them? They are required to submit an annual rental return to Melbourne City Council and have strict budgetary guidelines. However, populating stalls without due regard for the essence of customer appeal (variety and individuality from committed and passionate small businesses) has led to a lowering of standards.
In addition, the GFC has had a huge impact not just in strict financial terms but in consumer behaviour. This has further stretched the top end and opened up some gaps that make it even more difficult for management to fill stalls. One of their answers has been to allow multiple stall ownership and there is no shortage of takers. Cashed up traders see an opportunity to expand their businesses and who can blame them? Just like in the stock market, you buy when the market is down and reap the rewards when the market goes up. Unfortunately the resulting repetition of stalls is killing our market in the process.
So, to fill all the gaps, we have two choices. We make our market smaller or we go on a recruiting drive for new traders and new stock lines. Let’s assume that the second option is the more positive one.
Do we have to work harder at attracting new traders? – Yes we do. Markets in other parts of the world are actively seeking new traders and offering them incentives to join up.
Should we make it harder for new traders to start-up at QVM? – No! We need to make it easy for a new business to start here but that is just the start of the process. We then give them ongoing professional guidance on how they can make a significant contribution to QVM. No licences, no locking in, just active assistance for at least 12 months. Let’s be a real small business incubator, not a pretend one.
Can traders help? – Traders are active business people with a good understanding of what it takes to succeed at places like QVM. As traders come across prospective new businesses in the course of their normal business day or family life, they should encourage them to consider QVM as a business option.
Does this require a massive shift in the recruiting process? – Yes it does. For years, QVM has had the luxury of small businesses coming to our door. Now we have to set up procedures, processes, and the necessary manpower to become professional trader recruiters. That is a real challenge for QVM and, if String Bean Alley is any guide, we have a long way to go.