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Ten Qualities of Successful Public Markets

David O'Neil
Sep 30, 2005
Jan 11, 2018

Despite all the news about economic globalization covering the planet with big box stores, public markets are undergoing a sweeping renaissance as people around the world strive to rebuild local economies and keep human connections flourishing.

People love markets for so many reasons, yet in all our surveys asking people why they use markets, the one that always shows up on top is the experience: seeing other people, opportunities for impromptu conversations, the unexpected sensory delights. This is what draws people back, again and again, to their favorite markets. But these qualities of spontaneity and sociability don't just happen; a great market must be carefully planned as a public gathering place and managed within a sustainable business structure.

Underlying all PPS's work is the "Power of 10"--the idea that at least ten focal points are necessary to make a great place, with each of those areas offering ten things to do. Public spaces exhibiting the Power of 10 offer the depth, meaning and visceral connections that create satisfying everyday experiences. This principle has a strong effect when applied to public markets, and lends them a competitive advantage over many other commercial forms. It is interesting to note that many innovations which have proven successful at public market--connecting with local farmers and producers, adding public seating, rebuilding a sense of community, adapting to site specific needs--are now being copied by savvy retailers such as Whole Foods.

Much can be learned about what makes places great by observing successful markets - and vice versa. PPS has worked on markets all over the world and carefully studied the classic elements that go into creating successful markets or reviving old ones. And we've found that much of what makes a great market is identical to what makes a great public space. Drawing on this experience, let's look at how the Power of 10 works.

The ten qualities of a successful market include:

  1. The Right Vendors
  2. The Right Location
  3. The Right Mix
  4. The Right Mission
  5. The Right Public Spaces
  6. The Right Connections
  7. The Right Economics
  8. The Right Promotion
  9. The Right Value
  10. The Right Management

And in the spirit of the Power of 10, below you will find the 10 factors (more or less) that make these 10 qualities tick!

1. The Right Vendors

‍‍The art of selling is second nature to Amish families from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Early practitioners of sustainable agriculture, most Amish children learn to sell at roadside stands or markets from their parents. At Philadelphia's Reading Terminal Market, the Amish are a cherished presence and well patronized.
  1. Quality (The second most popular reason people enjoy markets—after the experience.)
  2. Appearance (Particularly, they should be easy to approach.)
  3. Cleanliness
  4. Merchandising (The presentation of product must be informative and distinctive.)
  5. Innovation (New ideas keep customers coming back.)
  6. Competitive (Customers must continually be won back by beating the competition with superior choice.)
  7. Locality (Customers feel connected when they see other community members.)
  8. Observes the Three-Second Rule (Three seconds are all you get to hook a new customer.)
  9. Attractiveness (This is best achieved through displays that are simple, abundant, and artistic.)
  10. Service (Good service makes people happy.)

2. The Right Location

‍‍The steps of Iglesia Santo Tomás on market day | Many markets around the world still operate in cathedral squares and other sacred locations. Guatemala's Chichicastenango market sets up in front of the cathedral to provide the devout with a convenient location to take care of both earthly and spiritual needs.
  1. Visibility
  2. Accessibility
  3. Memorable
  4. Flow (The space should make it easy to navigate and orient yourself.)
  5. Well-Managed Parking (Effective parking requires management to ensure regular turnover.)
  6. Nearby Amenities (Locate near restaurants, retail, housing, transit, office workers in the neighborhood.)
  7. Confluence (Seek the places where people naturally come together already.)
  8. Inclusiveness (Market should welcome everyone and not be any one group's "turf.")
  9. Scale (The size should feel appropriate for the place.)
  10. Spin-Off Opportunities (Market activity should provide a valuable customer base for neighboring businesses.)

3. The Right Mix

‍‍China's fabled Sunday Market in Kashgar is the gathering place for over a hundred thousand eager hagglers every week. In recent years, the Chinese government has spent over $1 billion building and improving markets.
  1. Internal Competition (Competition between vendors builds quality, variety, and keeps prices reasonable.)
  2. Owner-Operated (Customers like dealing with the boss.)
  3. Choice and Selection (People love to comparison shop.)
  4. Multiple Price Scales and Quality Levels (This serves multiple tastes and incomes.)
  5. Passionate Vendors (Vendors who love markets as a way of life pass on the love.)
  6. Innovative (New ideas keep the customer engaged.)
  7. Local (Consumer demand for local products is booming.)
  8. Balance (Showcase classic merchandise, but always a bit of the new.)
  9. Clarity (Stall-by-stall specialization works best.)
  10. Turnover (Eliminate the things that don't work.)

4. The Right Mission

‍‍In October 2014, after two years of rebuilding, recruiting, and planning, the Boise International Market (BIM) opened on the site of a once-dilapidated and partially burnt down strip mall in the “Bench” neighborhood of Treasure Valley. The Market began as an incubator program for small businesses, focusing in particular on Boise’s large refugee and immigrant population. Today, only a few months since opening its doors, the site has 27 vendors and restaurants selling food, clothing, and other products from all over the world.
  1. Intention (Set clear goals.)
  2. Creates New Opportunities (Provide entrepreneurs low-cost entry into retailing.)
  3. Self-Sustaining (Operational self-sufficiency is crucial.)
  4. Nurtures Vendors (Provide support for farmers, immigrants, fledgling entrepreneurs.)
  5. Promotes Socialization
  6. Supports Community Health (Provide healthy food at low prices.)
  7. Local Culture (A market is the town square of a community.)
  8. Creates New Models  (A Market creates self-determination for local economies.)
  9. Makes People Happy

5. The Right Public Spaces

‍‍Chicago's Daley Plaza is transformed into in open air market every Thursday during the growing season.
  1. Sense of Entry (The market is an oasis.)
  2. Seating (Seating gives the opportunity for rest, chit-chat, snacking.)
  3. Maintenance (Upkeep is the key to ongoing public enjoyment.)
  4. Comfort (A market should provide seasonally-appropriate shade, heat, or light.)
  5. Attractions (A mix of uses offers things to look at, such as other people and different retail activity.)
  6. Art (Art creates an aesthetic connection to a place.)
  7. Formal and Informal Qualities (Do not over-program or over-design.)
  8. Welcoming (Make sure everyone feels at ease.)
  9. Flexibility (The space should be able to sustain many activities.)

6. The Right Connections

  1. Reflects Community (The market should be a symbol of community identity.)
  2. Partnerships (Involve other organizations whose mission overlaps with the market.)
  3. Accessibility (It should be easy to get to by many modes—car, foot, bike, and transit.)
  4. Neighborhood Links  (The market can bring different communities together.)
  5. Bike Trails/Greenways (Expect to see more and more of this.)
  6. Retail Opportunity (Markets and nearby stores should strive for mutual benefit.)
  7. Housing (Nearby residential provides a built-in customer base.)
  8. Local Economy (Use the market as a hub for local revitalization.)
  9. Sense of Giving Back (Demonstrate how the market strengthens local connections.)
  10. Cross-Cultural (The market should be a great venue for sharing foods, ideas, and stories.)

7. The Right Economics

‍‍Pike Place Market is visited by more people in downtown Seattle than sporting and entertainment events combined. The market is self sustaining and has just completed an economic impact study that will be used to launch a major capital campaign.
  1. Sustainable Foundation (Be realistic about the financial underpinnings.)
  2. Fundraising (Try to "bury" capital costs and open debt free.)
  3. Fair Rents (Create a new level of affordable business opportunity.)
  4. Supports Community Health (This benefit can help justify public investment.)
  5. Spin-Off (Markets are natural incubators for small businesses.)
  6. Job Creation
  7. Encourages Investment (Markets boost value of surrounding real estate.)
  8. Keeps Money Local (Markets stem the flow of local dollars to out-of-town corporations.)
  9. Hand-to-hand Economy (Such direct exchanges are endangered in a cashless society.)
  10. Transparent and Non-Exploitative (Achieve accountability in all operations.)

8. The Right Promotion

‍‍Detroit’s Eastern Market, one of the greatest classic market districts left in the United States, promotes Flower Day to colorfully kick off its spring season. The event is the market’s largest annual weekend drawing more than 100,000 shoppers.
  1. Stretches the Dollar (Don't overspend on expensive advertising.)
  2. Events/Demos (Customers love them.)
  3. Public Relations (PR is a better use of money than advertising.)
  4. Promotion and Press Releases (Stamps are cheap.)
  5. Market Image (Keep it clear, compelling and consistent.)
  6. Partners (Markets are a great venue for other groups with overlapping missions.)
  7. Educational Opportunities (Markets are great places to learn about agriculture, health, and community.)
  8. Builds Local Value
  9. Community Connections (Markets provide a forum for interaction.)
  10. Sponsorships/Fundraisers (Encourage funders and civic leaders to support the market.)

9. The Right Value

‍‍Cathedral Square, Milwaukee WI. Small town markets have reappeared in town squares across America matching local farmers with city folk who are hungry for quality products as much as the social gathering.
  1. Quality Products
  2. Quality Experience
  3. Boosts Local Economy
  4. Creates Local Jobs
  5. Increases Social Capital (Shared experiences build community.)
  6. Affirms a Sense of Place
  7. Dividend (Help save a farm when you buy that tomato!)
  8. Enhances Psychological Well-being (It's a fun way to feel good.)
  9. Supports Local Food Systems
  10. Sense of Community Ownership (It's our market.)

10. The Right Management

‍‍After completing a multi-million dollar renovation of its historic Findlay Market, the City of Cincinnati assigned management duties to a non-profit corporation formed specifically to operate the market with the mission of balancing entrepreneurship and social goals. Many cities are transferring market management to such entities.
  1. Fair
  2. Flexible
  3. Firm
  4. Open-Minded
  5. Forward-Looking (Embrace the art of planning.)
  6. Promotion-Minded (Promote the market at every opportunity.)
  7. Outreach (A diverse market is a strong market.)
  8. Capitalizes on Niche Opportunities
  9. Maintains Good Relations (Maintain relationships with vendors and customers.)
  10. Effective Behind the Scenes (Do whatever it takes to get the job done.)
  11. Front of the House (Market managers are hosts as well, both for vendors and customers.)
David O'Neil
David O'Neil
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