Shutting up shop shouldn't mean closing doors

Stout women remove skin from your ankles with their chariots. Old men stop-and-start foot traffic abruptly as they shake hands and kiss their acquaintances. It exasperates some of the younger locals and beguiles some of the visitors, but these are prices of participation in French local markets.

Local markets have always been important in Europe and set to become even more so. And while markets have been at the heart and soul of a town, they may become its lifeblood too.

Thiviers is typical French town, and representative of what is happening elsewhere in the EU. Three large supermarkets on the edge of town, each part of a large chain, have forced the closures of a number of retail outlets in the centre of town.  Even in the faster growing economies, vacant retail space in city and town centres is growing at 5% pa. It decline would be more rapid still if were not for the proliferation of night clubs and outlets for cheap alcohol. 

In lots of centres, the tumbleweed during the day is replaced by danger at night.

Out-of-town development appears to have peaked, which might hold the promise of some respite for the small business owner, but the rise in internet shopping seems set to maintain the pressure.

And yet.

And yet, with the right mindset, enterprise and ambition can find a way through. After shutting up shop but opening minds, some former retailers are making more money than ever before.

Take for example Monsieur Pétou. Formerly, Msr P ran the local butchers. He pulled down the blinds on the shop window and started participating the regional markets. He now serves six communities instead of one.  

As a consequence of spending his time this way: 

  • he now spots trends faster than the local supermarkets (an influx of Belgian visitors for example) and modifies his product range (and prices) accordingly. 
  • he is able to trial new products—and new pricing strategies—quickly,  because the increase in the size of his potential consumer base means he can spread the risk.

He is also making more money. His pricing strategies and his lower costs have doubled his total gross margin versus last year.

The town centre comes alive for the two days a week of the market. Market traders and supermarkets co-exist, but the market keeps the community together. 

Perhaps local markets are the future of communities where local economies are weaker or urban planning have failed. 

It just takes energy and enterprise; and the confidence to close one door and open another.