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New Reflections on Markets

Dear colleagues, I share with you some reflections that, from my point of view, are important to keep in mind about the role of administrations, especially municipal administrations, in relation to Municipal Retail Markets.

Historically, supplying the population in the cities has been a major problem to be solved by public administrations, it has been an unavoidable responsibility, and significant efforts and resources have been spent on it. The basic concern has been providing food.

Thus, we have the buildings that can be still seen in many cities around the world designed as MARKETS:  constructions having undisputed architectural value that once implied improving the working conditions for traders and purchase conditions for citizens (now consumers).

Social and economic development has been transforming cities, and, consequently, the commercial retail supply has evolved in such a degree that nowadays, at the urban level over almost the whole planet, neither citizens nor administrations are concerned about supplying food.

In the past few decades, such conditions have implied excluding administrations from this duty in many countries, leading to openly question the Municipal Retail Market validity. It is also considered that “unfair competition” is generated, in relation to other commercial supply, when administrations “privilege”, in some way, traders performing their activities in these collective commercial facilities.

That situation requires careful reflection, and it is already being done, on the Municipal Retail Market model validity; not only at the level of commercial equipment, but also in matters of legal, social, and economic justification.

Such reflection is causing some “values” to stand out regarding markets, which many citizens ignore but are not unaware of, because markets are a close reality that prevents us from perceiving clearly and being conscious about what they mean for the cities and towns fortunate to have this commercial format.

In this framework, it is clear that the idea of having fresh, professional, diversified, competitive, and specialized food supply in an urban environment with modern facilities and such a management that ensures food safety is attractive for all citizens. Then, the question is simple: How to get it? In many occasions the question might be: What needs to be done to avoid losing it? Or, why is it that we lose it?

Collective projects are not usually generated “spontaneously”, but it is necessary to promote and maintain them, tasks requiring costly and constant work. Municipal Retail Markets is one of such projects which are worthwhile, but not easy.

Its complexity derives from the components that need to be unified and articulated, so that its reality may respond to the above mentioned objectives. In general terms, on one hand, there are traders having poor business culture, fragmented, with scant economic resources and short term objectives, and subject to daily stress caused by very aggressive competition, both inside the market and from other commercial formats.

On the other hand, there are administrations, at their different levels depending on the country, where municipalities face a reality that cannot be eluded and whose management is difficult. Maintenance and supplies are expensive and resource generation is scarce; sometimes a market is the result of social policies instead of commercial policies; traders become a complex group due to the conflicting interests they hold; there are not always qualified officers to execute management tasks. Besides, in many cases, cities already have the necessary commercial supply.

Very frequently, traders yield to the temptation to blame municipalities for all their problems (nobody cares about the market), and local administrations keep a “low profile” (I do not want problems) avoiding confrontations. The consequence of not recognizing things as they really are is a lack of understanding, continued deterioration at all levels, market languishment, and ultimately, the fact that it does not fulfill the established criteria nor the objectives set by the city and citizens.

Given this picture, local administrations in general, and local administrations in particular, should consider the situation “proactively”, starting from the point that markets are “worthwhile” for many reasons beyond having good commercial supply, which will be further analyzed throughout the next chapters of this Guide. Cultural, social, urban, and economic aspects affect when analyzing the reality that Municipal Retail Markets represent.

This new way to approach markets requires reflecting, knowing reality thoroughly, scheduling properly, and outlining an action plan; above all, it requires working in a different, transparent, and participative way, it might be said working “knowingly and strategically”, intelligently.

This means perceiving the market as a part of the city, not as an isolated component, but as a working tool at the disposal of citizens, an instrument to make commercial, and sometimes social, policies. Such market concept needs to be based on a solid legal support able to provide legal certainty to both administrations and operators performing their activities in markets. Besides, this concept should a have rigorous financial standing allowing being economically sustainable over time.

On the other side, traders represent a reality that cannot be forgotten by administrations, as traders have very important deficits that need to be reduced as far as possible because they provide essential values for markets, product knowledge, customer proximity, economic capacity, and human values.

In this respect, we highlight the need for implementing professional training and recycling programs, because traders need to “learn by working”, an activity where administrations may devote something more than attention, e.g., they might link this concept to integration into the market concept. This concept can and should promote partnership, an action that beyond being an issue, in many instances is the basis for a solution when developing and adopting the “collaborative competition” idea, an essential aspect for the market’s success.

Administrations should contribute to overcome the other observed deficits, always having traders participation; since they, traders, can and must provide many other things than expected, including economic effort when remodeling and maintaining the market. They will do that because it represents so much for them: their very survival as small enterprises and as self-employed persons; many times it also represents a valuable contribution from the angle of investment and employment, and also from the angle of continuity in the service provision.

Strengthening the traders’ structure and partnership will allow approaching any project focusing on the market as an agreement project between the public part (municipalities) and the private part (traders).

This conception will imply that each part will be “co-responsible” and assume specific commitments in a relatively long process where administration ensures that public investment, basically the building, is preserved in an optimal operational condition and that the service provided to citizens is performed according to the objectives set.

Traders, on their part, have to assume the market management responsibility, having a business vision, in a professional way, and including outside professionals able to provide knowledge and manage not only a building, but a “concept” where private and public aspects converge.

Through this relatively ambitious process, both administrations and traders will obtain better results and make fewer mistakes if, from the beginning, receive advice from experts in matters of business cooperation and commercial and urban development projects; and above all, experts having real-life experience in managing projects directly related to the Municipal Retail Market format.

Roberto Alonso Gordón

Director of the Company Roberto Alonso Consultores

Co-Founder and Director of the Dreaming Markets Platform


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