New Skills for Market Traders





“It’s not helpful there’s an ‘us vs. them’ attitude. Some traders need to take more responsibility for their own businesses and stop knocking the operator for their failures.” 
Market Manager, Ashton-under-Lyne Roadshow


It is clear to both NABMA and the NMTF that in a few short years, seismic change within the retail industry in the UK has shaken the foundations of the traditional retail market sector. It has struggled with the pace and now many markets must adapt to this change or they will disappear.


Since 2009, the sector has shrunk by a third, collective turnover has reduced by £1 billion and 12,000 businesses have packed up their stalls and ceased trading. The sector now has a collective turnover of £2.5 billion a year from around 33,000 market traders.


The sector provides employment for 55,000 people, a reduction of 40 per cent from 2009. Of the 22,000 staff employed to work on stalls run by market traders, over 60 per cent of these jobs are part-time. Around 1,000 apprentices are employed by market traders.


NABMA and the NMTF recognise this decline as a period of renewal. There are new entrants on both sides. 20 per cent of NMTF members trade solely on market-type events, such as festivals, fairs and shows. Half of its membership have been in business for less than four years.


Standout investments by some local authorities have taken place within a landscape of huge cuts to their coffers by national government. As discretionary services, officers responsible for markets are now under more pressure than ever to get more bang for the taxpayer’s buck.  


The role of the market officer has evolved. They are no longer the custodian of the market square, regulating the exchanges between buyers and sellers; they are retail managers and place makers, actively shaping the market for the benefit of the communities they serve.  


Market trading has evolved, too. To be able to compete businesses on traditional retail markets are becoming multi-channel retailers: selling through websites, promoting through social media, wholesaling to the high street, and trading on more market-type events.


A thriving community is epitomised by a thriving market. NABMA and the NMTF are challenging the sector to grasp the nettle. There is a need for increased cooperation and collaboration between market traders and operators to make their markets thrive.


Only by working together can the sector move forward and begin to renew. Put simply, the traditional roles have changed. Gone are the days of the Toby and the Del Boy, now is the age of the place maker and the entrepreneur.






“Why are some traders competing with Poundland? They need to move past the model that cheap prices equal good value and offer something different and unique.” 
Market Trader, NMTF AGM


There are great examples of initiatives all over the UK that have supported experienced market traders to refresh old skills and learn new ones. In 2011, the NMTF launched “400 Ways to Improve Your Sales,” a hard copy reference guide sold at subsidised rates to members.


Not teaching market traders to suck eggs, the guide demonstrates how, often with very little effort and expense, a stall can be transformed to attract more customers and make more sales. But although despite some successes, take up of the reference guide has been low.


A recognised barrier is that many seasoned market traders are resistant to change, some even aggressive towards it. Poor attitudes towards self-development, cooperation and customer service hold many markets back from attracting and retaining new shoppers.


There are many organisations in the UK which exist to support micro and small business. Offering advice and guidance to members is an integral part of the NMTF’s membership. Proactive local authority operators leverage advice services from other departments of the council.


The most influential support comes from the market traders themselves. Trading on markets is being part of a community of independent retailers. Forming collectives, such as trade associations, develops a network that traders draw on for advice and guidance.


Formal schemes have commonly focused on training in basic business skills to people considering entering self-employment. More market operators are engaging with colleges and universities to develop incubator and accelerator programmes but results across the UK are mixed.


Training providers are beginning to target markets with tailored packages of business support, predominantly focused on customer service, merchandising and digital marketing skills. Usually successful providers are based in the local area and able to deliver one on one.


A huge barrier is securing funding for training and business support services. Market operators are struggling to engage with Local Enterprise Partnerships. NABMA and NMTF agree; greater efforts need to be made to connect markets with the national skills agenda.






“Traders need to diversify in the ways we sell stock; we should offer our core range online and ask customers to visit the market for more goods and better discounts.” 
Market Trader, NMTF AGM


Britons are the biggest online shoppers in the developed world with almost three-quarters of adults using the interest to buy goods and services. Younger age groups regularly shop online but adoption by mature age groups is rising much faster than expected.


32 per cent of UK consumers make purchases on smartphones – the highest percentage in Europe. More than 40 per cent of online adults are multi-device users9. Since 2010 sales made through mobiles have increased year on year and smartphones are still considered the ‘go-to’ device.


However 55 per cent of market traders do not have a website. Under half of those who do have a website use it for more than promotional purposes and process sales through it. It is clear to NABMA and the NMTF that the traditional retail market sector is not taking advantage of online channels. 


Seventy five per cent of all UK retail sales were made by cards in 2015. There has been a 331 per cent rise in contactless behind an increasing shift from cash to cards for low value payments. In 2014 UK consumers spent £19,000 every second using their cards.


More than one in ten transactions were made online. The average value of an online transaction was more than double face to face transactions (£95.22 to £41.84, respectively). Over £380 million is now spent on the internet every day, showing how significant cards are for online retail.


Younger people are much more familiar with debit cards and use them with a higher frequency. These new consumers are also likely to embrace new card technologies such as contactless and mobile payments, increasing overall debit card payment volumes.


“The game has changed, shoppers have changed. Older customers still come to the market for a bargain but young people don’t bother – they haven’t got the time.” 
Market Trader, Stockton-on-Tees Roadshow


38 per cent of market traders take cashless payments (e.g. credit or debit cards). For two thirds of these traders, these account for less than 30 per cent of payments at the stall. For those who did not take card, barriers included high set-up fees and running costs.


The traditional retail market sector will fall further behind if it does not embrace technology. The future of the retail industry in the UK is digital. Businesses that fail to adapt to this model of retailing, market traders and operators who cannot adopt new practices; they risk disappearing.


The challenge for the sector is to make this happen. As community spaces, markets are cherished for their individuality and uniqueness. The sector must work to translate this offer into the digital world to connect with the next generation of market trader and market shopper.


Don't forget to keep in touch, we really appreciate your feedback and comments.


If you like what we are doing, please share 'Mission For Markets' with your friends.