Sunday 9 September 2018

There's A Hole In This Argument

You might have heard the term “doughnut” to describe the vacant stalls in the centre of sheds C-E. It has been suggested that we should try to fix the empty stall problem before we work on the outside of the market. But does that really make sense?

Plans are currently being considered to upgrade the A Shed Laneway on one side of the Upper Market and String Bean Alley on the other. But the hole in the middle remains a problem. The question is whether we put the upgrades on hold while that problem is addressed.

Trader, Jenny Pyke, mentioned the “doughnut” effect as a personal concern at a recent meeting of traders. That meeting was called to discuss the plan for 12 additional containers in String Bean Alley. Coincidentally the outspoken activist group, Friends of The Market, have apparently also used the term “doughnut” in their Facebook postings. They are arguing against the plans to finally activate SBA with more containers.

The argument seems to be that we shouldn’t engage in any new ventures while we are struggling with current issues. If you look at the wider retail industry, recent retail logic involves working through current issues as well as trying new things that might just resonate with demanding consumers. Some things will be hard to fix. Some will be easier. Some will capture the attention of consumers fairly quickly. Others will take longer. Rarely would it be advisable stop everything until one particular issue is fixed. String Bean Alley should have been done properly in the first place and now is a great opportunity to get it right and add something to our market.

As one trader said recently – “Whilst I can understand the frustration of many traders at the current state of trade under the Sheds, to not progress or innovate in other areas is like not buying new or different products because some of your current products are selling badly. That certainly doesn't make any sense.”

As we have said many times on these pages, while the rest of the retail world charges ahead with innovation, we need to show consumers that we can be relevant to their needs and willing to experiment and adjust with the times. We need to take opportunities.

Both the A Shed Laneway and String Bean Alley have shown great potential for after-hours activation. They are high profile and consistent with Market expert David O’Neils proposal that we needed to make more of our market edges and enhance the connection with the rest of the city. South Melbourne Market has made a great success of activating its edges.

Customers are obviously looking for after-hours activity and whilst the fragile nature of family businesses can make longer hours difficult for individual traders, the creation of precincts that can more easily accommodate alternative hours makes a lot of sense. Any Traders who can be a part of extended hours should give it serious thought. 

That is not an easy task and we need to get on with the job. Addressing issues like empty stalls must be a focus for all of us. But the path to achieving greater customer engagement has many threads including trying new things and pursuing those ideas that have shown even a glimpse of potential success. String Bean Alley and the A Shed Laneway have shown that potential and are worthy of effort.

And just one more thing - tenancy in QVM shops currently stands at 100%. Clearly many traders are keen for more shop-like facilities to make the most of their trading opportunities. 

This is not an attempt to turn QVM into a container city. The completion of String Bean Alley is a modest attempt at addressing changing consumer preferences and making our market a more desirable destination for shopping.  At the same time it will give interested traders a better way of presenting their offer. 

By Greg Smith

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