An Investigation and Analysis of the Second-Hand Sector in Europe

1st January 2008 | Publications

The sector analysis of the Second-Hand sector underpins that the sector seems to comparatively heterogeneous on the European level. The numerous different kinds of businesses and business fields along with the different corporate structures and employees contribute to the high variety of the sector. A closer look at the sector, however, reveals that there are common features in the individual partner countries and on the European level, e.g. the employment structure, business fields, parallel trends, clientele as well as the differentiation of the enterprises acting within the sector into profit and non-profit companies. A great number of common features could be identified on the corporate level. Thus the corporate structures within a type of business (e.g. owner-operated businesses, franchiser companies, department stores) as well as the work tasks and processes are comparatively similar within the different business fields. Against the background of the Second-Hand sector as an autonomous sector with prospective growth, there is the option to create above all uniform and generally accepted structures. Uniform criteria and aspects offer the opportunity to further professionalize the sector. As the Second-Hand sector is facing strong competition from the market for new goods, it is urgently necessary to improve the sector’s image through adequate professionalisation and an increase in quality. Eventually it is crucial that a better comparability of the sector with the market for new items is established as well as more transparency.

A considered starting point in terms of comparability is represented by the quality of Second- Hand enterprises. As quality is a very good and tangible criterion for comparability both for the enterprise and external actors (e.g. customers), this should form the first starting point towards professionalisation. The introduction of quality standards would be a first and decisive step. As the term quality with regard to business processes and structures is quite wide, it has to be delimited first. The first question is how the quality of an enterprise is generally expressed. There are different approaches. Quality can be expressed by the sold goods, the service, the corporate processes, the external presentation of an enterprise as well as the in-firm structures and work processes. All these aspects have one prerequisite in common. In order to meet the quality demands in every respect, the enterprises need well trained, qualified personnel on the different business levels and fields. A better and above all sector-specific and uniform European qualification of the persons engaged in the Second- Hand sector can further harmonize work processes and achieve better results (e.g. in the presentation of the enterprises, the range of goods on offer, the purchase of goods etc.). Above all the currently existing corporate qualification approaches underpin that the qualification of the personnel is the key to a better quality and professionalisation. Approaches for qualification strategies could thus be identified above all in the larger enterprises or Second-Hand networks (e.g. in Belgium, Germany, Finland). As these companies have a comparatively good standing in the market due to their overall good quality, an interrelationship between quality and qualification can be assumed. Corresponding results as well as the fact that the sector analysis could also identify a need for qualifications in smaller enterprises call for an urgent development of a Europe-wide uniform qualification strategy for the Second-Hand sector. This demand is underpinned by the increasing cross-border trade in Europe which is also involving the Second-Hand trade. In order to safeguard the uniformity and comparability, adequate quality standards must also be developed for the qualification of the work force. Thus firm criteria can be determined which – if adhered to – could support a transnationally equivalent qualification.

Due to the different need for qualification in the enterprises it seems to make sense to start with the development of qualification concepts based on the determined quality standards. With a view to the development of adequate new qualifications for the Second-Hand sector and their sustainable implementation and against the background of the practical application in the enterprises, an additional guideline for the development of qualifications seems to be advisable. This guideline can serve as a corporate means of support. In order to sustainably implement the qualification within the European sector where the majority of the operating enterprises are small and medium-sized, it is necessary to engage in a re-structuring of the sector. Thus the merger of enterprises and/or the creation of networks support the exchange of experiences and strengthen the innovation and competitivity of the companies. The sector analysis has shown that there are numerous networking and cooperation projects within the European Second-Hand sector without resulting in actual new networks due to the lack of know-how of the actors. A network design should be developed to support these projects which may be seen as a major contribution for the professionalisation of the enterprises. This may also be seen against the background of the introduction of sector-specific qualifications. As the qualification measures and strategies are not profitable for smaller and medium-sized enterprises as the ratio between expenditure and benefits is too low, the creation of networks within the Second-Hand sector as partnerships of convenience (e.g. for qualification) is of great importance.

The development of adequate products not only supports the Second-Hand sector on its way towards uniform qualifications but also means a crucial step towards more professionalisation. Furthermore it may be assumed that the development of uniform quality standards as well as qualification approaches and concepts will exert a positive impact on the Second-Hand sector in Eastern Europe which is still comparatively underdeveloped. With the aid of adequate measures, the emerging sector could get a positive support right from the start. These countries offer the opportunity to create a Second-Hand sector with flawlessly functioning structures without an exhausting breaking down of existing structures.

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