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The markets of Brussels: their (not so secret) advantage

Analyse 01.10.2018

In recent years, Brussels residents have rediscovered the joy of the market. Indeed, their popularity continues to grow, not only with locals, but also with the districts themselves: today, every district regards the opening of a market as a means of revitalising its economic fabric. Research carried out by and the Université libre de Bruxelles (ULB) highlights the 6 main advantages of markets.

Genuinely boosting the economic appeal and reinforcing the identity of shopping districts, markets are becoming increasingly popular in the Brussels Region. The number of market locations in Brussels has risen from 23 in 1967 to 66 in 2017, almost tripling in fifty years. This trend shows no sign of abating: in the last 5 years, 15 new markets have been launched. 92 markets take place each week within the region.

According to a survey carried out by in 2017, 8 out of 10 Brussels residents use a market at least once a month, and 4 of 10 do so every week.

Driving the economy: 6,195 mobile businesses

Today, Belgium is home to a total of 6,195 companies active in the itinerant commerce sector (statistics based on information from the Crossroads Bank for Entreprises): 859 in Brussels, 3,411 in Flanders and 1,925 in Wallonia. It is interesting to note that the number of businesses in this sector has increased by 14.9% in the Brussels-Capital Region and by 16.3% in Wallonia between 2008 and 2015, while Flanders has seen an of just 3.5%.
The great majority of these businesses are very small and have no employees (92.67%).
The Bruxelles-Ville, Anderlecht and Molenbeek-Saint-Jean Districts are home to the majority of mobile businesses in the Brussels Region.

Driving employment: over 800 self-employed traders in Brussels

In 2015, the National Institute for the Social Security of the Self-employed (INASTI) identified 821 self-employed traders in Brussels in the “Itinerant stallholders-Street vendors” subcategory. Throughout Belgium, this figure is 7,349. The survey demonstrates that in Brussels, since 2000, the number of self-employed traders in this sub-category has increased significantly. Indeed, while on a national level, the increase is 4% (from 7069 in 2000 to 7349 in 2015), the number in Brussels has increased by 59% in 15 years (from 515 in 2000 to 821 in 2015).

UDriving commerce

Although markets may appear to pose a threat to static businesses, they are not necessarily in competition. 88.8 % of shoppers believe that a market increases the appeal of the district in which it is located. Indeed, depending on the products on offer at the market, it may attract a new clientele, who would never have come to the neighbourhood in the past. This can lead to increased footfall in the neighbourhood, benefiting all economic players. Therefore, the relationship between static and mobile businesses can more accurately be defined as complementary, rather than competitive. Traders in Brussels understand that this is a win-win situation. 63% say that their neighbourhood has a better atmosphere on market days. 58.6% of them say that there are more visitors to the neighbourhood and 33.8% have noticed increased customer footfall on these days.

Finally, the survey reveals that 75.6% of traders interviewed believe that stallholders do not compete with them for business.

Driving social vibrancy

Today, markets are far more than somewhere to do your shopping close to home. Being true social spaces, markets represent shopping destinations with a very important community dimension. The figures say it all: 26.7% and 22.6% of shoppers cited “conviviality” and “good atmosphere”, when asked for three things they associate with the word market.

As markets are a universally recognised form of commerce, they can be a real means of integration. They enable the integration of a wide range of recent immigrant entrepreneurs. The relatively low investment required and the simplicity of paperwork offer job seekers a way of launching their own independent business.
What’s more, markets are an ideal place for all sorts of cultural activities and events. They regularly hold special events which help to bring people together. Better yet, if these activities are based on initiatives by local residents, they can greatly strengthen links between the market and its local community.

Finally, markets represent a genuine leisure space. In contrast to large supermarkets where people shop alone, quickly, following a shopping list, time spent shopping at markets is more laid back. The stallholder is a constant presence, giving advice, listening to their regular customers’ news, etc. The idea of pleasure therefore comes to the fore. This is an aspect which markets must bear in mind if they want to survive and develop.

Driving the circular economy

Markets make quality food accessible to all. Often used as a tool for promoting healthy lifestyles, the produce found at markets is fresh and seasonal.
What’s more, at a time when sustainable development is our main concern, markets can act as a tool for raising awareness of this issue, both by selling local produce and by using resources efficiently.
Finally, markets play a key role in the development of organic foods, an ever growing sector in Brussels. Between 2014 and 2015, the turnover of the organic sector in Belgium has increased by 18%. In Brussels, spending on fresh produce has increased by 163 % between 2008 and 2015.

Incubating new trends

Retail is a living thing: it is born, it disappears, it changes shape… In order to remain fresh, new concepts must be showcased.
Markets also offer an excellent incentive to entrepreneurs. Potential entrepreneurs can test out their idea for a minimal cost. Markets are true laboratories for innovation: they represent an ideal place to test out new business trends.
For example, food trucks started out in markets, as did rotisseries, a few years earlier. A rapidly growing phenomenon, 30% of Belgian food trucks are based in Brussels. The turnover for this sector is 30 million euros. The president of the Belgian Food Truck Association, Fabrice Willot, estimates that the sector should stabilise at between 600 and 700 food trucks in Belgium in around 2020.

At the request of Brussels Minister for Economy and Employment, Didier Gosuin, and the ULB have conducted a year-study on 1781 customers and 425 stallholders in Brussels, in 28 markets throughout the capital. The result: a guide of over 150 pages, providing advice and guidance for the creation and revitalisation of the markets of Brussels.

Discover our study

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