Frankfurt Christmas Market, The Bull Ring Markets and Markets in General

Birmingham’s Frankfurt Christmas Market taken by Birmingham Culture

It was rather shocking to hear on Radio 4 recently a You and Yours item on the rise of Christmas Markets in the UK where they did a special feature on the Frankfurt Christmas market, a market that attracts 3 million visitor, bringing in upwards of £100m extra expenditure to the city, but where much of the item was taken over to complaints from the establish City Centre market complex – the Bull Ring markets – about in effect the Frankfurt Market taking trade away from them.

This view I completely disagree with. I use both sets of markets and they are fundamentally different in what they offer, like chalk and cheese, but it disappointed me that something as positive for the City as the Frankfurt Christmas market should still get flak. The Council is obviously a tune to these harping comments so much so that in a recent advert for the Christmas markets in the Guardian they felt they also had to mention the Bull Ring markets which made the advert fail in my eyes.

This got me thinking about the Bull Ring Markets on how they might increase there custom. Their publicity talks of 6 million visits per year, obviously not enough. They sit adjacent to the Bull Ring shopping centre which has over 750,000 footfall per week and so clearly they are doing something wrong if trade is not as it might be. As with many markets they cater for the lower end of the market but they have real strengths such as the fish and meat markets where the range is impressive

.Bull Ring Fish Market taken by Manic Street Preacher

.So how can they attract some of that footfall. Some suggestions

  1. Extend Opening hours Firstly I would say that for anyone working the markets hours are limited. The open air market doesn’t open on Sundays or Mondays and they are usually closing for business about 4.30pm. So one suggestion is to have a late night opening night. Perhaps Thursdays to fit in with other shops.
  2. Diversify the offer The markets need to diversify to attract different clientele – so another suggestion might be to allow the market stalls on the Sunday to become an Arts and Culture market. Even though hundreds of thousands of people flock to the Bullring they don’t always know what is on their doorstep and this might just get them to walk the 20 yards down to the markets
  3. Talk to the Bullring about a markets promotion within the Shopping Centre. They are not in competition, rather they really complement each other.
  4. Market themselves better using web technologies and social media. Their marketing is so stuck in the 1950’s (if they had had the web in the 1950’s). Talk to some of the independent markets that have sprung up like 24Carrots for tips. Or perhaps other cities do it better?
  5. Look forwards not backwards In discussions about the potential relocation of the wholesale markets recognise it as an opportunity and not a threat and push for an extension of the retail markets – perhaps with a flower market
  6. Do trial local markets elsewhere in the city.  This then brings me onto another bugbear. Markets are often said to be ways for new entrepreneurs to get on the ladder of success. Alan Sugar for one is someone who honed his skills as a market stall trader London it seems has many 100’s of local markets, how many has Birmingham got…precious few and why is that? Well one reason is that Birmingham City Council control all markets in Birmingham and so any independent proposals for street markets would need the Council’s approval. This is what the Council says about proposals for open air markets.

‘Prior permission of Birmingham City Council must be sought before holding an occasional market/fair. Outdoor markets/fairs will not normally be permitted but special permission may be granted for some stalls in certain circumstances on application’.

Yes they are not very positive. Perhaps it is time to reconsider the Council’s approach to local markets. There are a number of  farmers markets and a few independent arts and crafts markets in Birmingham, but they again to do not supply the basics and as not everyone can afford the £3.90 return bus fare into the city centre to visit the Bull Ring markets lets have a debate about the scope for new local markets in Birmingham and lets sing praises for our Frankfurt Christmas Market



  1. Good to see the agit-prop nature of this. It is a multi-layered issue; where to start?

    I would, as you say, foster greater collaboration. Get the locality ‘actors ‘ talking to each other – to try and work with each other…at least try some new options. The Market does seem to have a stand-alone feel. So collaborate-cooperate…the new necessity .

    1. Yes Stuart…multi layered. Markets are great and we don’t have enough of them. I think the Council needs to let go and positively encourage such local trading where it can support local centres and local entrepreneurs. And the Bull Ring Markets perhaps as well need to step outside of Council control…a bit like the Museums Trust to make them more lively and engaged.

      Patrick Willcocks European Policy and Urban Affairs Adviser 07986453307

      Sent from my iPad

  2. Market heaven. · · Reply

    Markets do seem to be stuck in the 1950’s. Horrid, small, spaces…And the market traders can be very rude to the very people who are their customers. They just seem to shout and say disparaging things when their (strong) dialects are not understood.
    But you’re right. If they advertised the wonderful, delightful,cheap, fresh, (even) organic foods which are great marketing points in this recession then people would come…and your suggestion of the opening hours should be heard.

    Also, I would love to eat the fresh fish from the markets at a clean place in the market where new and emerging chefs could try their cooking wares using market products and a new type of foodie heaven . Current places to eat in markets are not somewhere I want to sit and dine as they ‘look’ dirty.

    1. Great idea about chefs and cooking the produce. They need to put on such things as special promotions as well. Jamie’s Italian is just next to the market….why not borrow one of their chef’s even just with a temporary stall to do some new recipes.

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