How to start a market stall

Setting up a market stall can be a great way to start a business: Here's our Startups guide on how to become a market trader

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What is a market trader?

Becoming a market trader is a great way to start your own business, as it’s a fairly low-cost and straightforward industry. What’s more there has never been a better time to set up a market stall and start trading. According to a 2009 report by the Retail Markets Alliance, markets in major cities largely outperformed high street shops during the recession, as people increasingly sought original and inexpensive bargains. The findings of this research revealed that the UK’s retail and wholesale markets sector has an annual turnover of £7.6bn, generated by 47,000 small to medium businesses. And in addition, the UK’s 1,400 markets employ around 95,000 people, which is good news for the turbulent job market.

As a self-employed trader (read more here about registering as self employed) you can enjoy working in a friendly environment and among like-minded people, while selling products you’re passionate about, or perhaps that you have made yourself. If you’re not planning on selling your own goods, deciding what to sell and then finding the right products are often the hardest parts about opening a stall. It’s worth investing time and effort into sourcing your merchandise, because if it doesn’t sell, your business won’t survive for long.

Before setting up a market stall, it’s important to be aware of what the job entails. While running a market stall can be flexible, traders tend to work long hours, and depending on the type of stall, the working day may start extremely early in the morning, especially if the trader needs to attend wholesale markets first thing. Setting up the stall in an eye-catching and presentable manner is crucial, and may take an hour or two, so factor this in when evaluating your working hours. Some markets are outdoors, and some are covered, while some run everyday, others once a week or just at weekends, and others may only be on a monthly or seasonal basis. It’s not uncommon for traders to work at a number of different markets during a given week, so you may decide it’s more lucrative to spread yourself over a number of markets, depending on where you’re based and how feasible it is to do this.

Who is it suited to?

To become a market trader you don’t need any specific qualifications, although good numeracy skills and a strong grasp of English are important. It’s hugely beneficial to have a personable attitude and a flair for sales, because ultimately this is what will determine your success. Darren Lovatt, senior market officer at Newgate Market in York explains that solid retail expertise and knowing what sells are crucial attributes of a successful trader. As well as strong communication and negotiating abilities, excellent customer service skills and heaps of enthusiasm will go a long way to help you achieve your goals.

It’s important to bear in mind that market traders must legally be 17 years or over. Most training will be informal and will involve practical experience by learning on the job and observing others at work. However, there are a few courses available via local authorities, which you may find useful. You may also benefit from lessons in bookkeeping or short business courses, although these are not obligatory to set up your own stall. It is possible to learn basic business skills without signing up for a course, however make sure you know how to work out profit margins and calculate your costs and that you’re comfortable with the financial aspects of running a stall before launching.

Above all, before you commit to setting up a stall, make sure you’re aware of what the job entails. Days can be long, with many hours spent standing on your feet in the open air, although this is what tends to appeal to people desperate to escape the nine-to-five office job stuck behind a computer. Matthew Crawford, who set up his own Caribbean takeaway stall, Easy ‘Nuh, and won the Make Your Mark in the Markets competition in 2009, explains: “Running a business on a market is rewarding, but also extremely challenging – before you invest too much time and finances to your potential project/career change, you need to know it’s suited to you.”

Action point:
See if you can get a Start Up Loan to help you start a business idea
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Ready to get started? Find out everything you need to know about how to start your own business here.