Fires, floods and now coronavirus – small business owners at Dandenong Market are doing it tough.
“Add in the complexities resulting from Covid-19, including more than half of our market closed due to Government directives,” marketing manager Judy Robertson said.
“And it’s clear that businesses need to embrace new solutions and new ways of thinking to survive and thrive into the future.”
The pandemic has dramatically impacted the market as the community knows it, with the temporary shutdown of around 120 general merchandise businesses from late March.
The closure of all dining areas severely affected the popular street food businesses.
All of the market’s large-scale festivals including World Fare, the largest free event on the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival’s calendar, were also cancelled.
To help the market adapt and innovate, Mrs Robertson was invited to a COVID-19 industry response recovery program supporting a wide range of businesses.
The program is a joint initiative between La Trobe University’s renowned MBA team and early-stage business investment firm Investible.
“The program is designed to give business owners the mindset, resources and network needed to make confident decisions in this changing world,” Mrs Robertson said.
“It’s offered clarity during some of the confusion.
“Working with industry experts, the program is providing me with the commercial framework to validate what the Market needs to focus on to future-proof the business.
“In turn, this will help support the 200 small family businesses at the market.”
It’s all about ‘pivoting’ in the face of unprecedented change, according to Mrs Robertson.
“We’ve already spoken to our traders about making swift transitions to online shopping and new delivery models.
“It’s clear that businesses will need to embrace new solutions and new ways of thinking to survive and thrive into the future.”
There have been upsides to the pandemic.
“Although we have many loyal customers who continue to shop with us, we’ve seen even more people coming to support small businesses at the market,” Mrs Robertson said.
“We have customers shopping for elderly family or neighbours.”
She said many traders had donated to local charities or provided free meals for those in need.
“Recent months have stressed the importance of acting with kindness and compassion – especially when it comes to supporting our local communities at a time when most small businesses are struggling.”
Dandenong Market has remained open for the community through World War 2, recessions and The Great Depression.
“In many ways, community is at the heart of what we do and who we are,” Mrs Robertson said.
“We have tried our best to stay true to our mission amid many difficult decisions and uncertainties over the past few months as we’ve watched many businesses forced to close and many customers needing to stay home.”
During the initial stages of Covid-19, market traders were granted free rent for three months, thanks to $1.5 million from City of Greater Dandenong.
“This has allowed those traders who have been allowed to open the opportunity to build a reserve so they can continue to trade while customers slowly return.”
Ms Robertson said it was more important now than ever to support the local traders.
“What we are asking is simple. Continue to shop at the Market.
“Buy a takeaway meal while you’re here. Buy an extra one for a neighbour or relative – or to take home.
“Buy local. On behalf of our small family businesses, we thank you.”