How to start a market stall
Starting a market stall can be an excellent way to get your brand out there and start selling. From costs to equipment to legal legislation, here’s everything you need to know to get going
According to a specialist trend report conducted by Marketing Donut, local councils across the country are looking to splash extra cash on supporting local and farmers markets. Could now be the perfect time to start a market stall business of your own?
Samantha Wallace, founder of market stall business From Field to Flower, seems to think so – according to her, “People seem to [have] a genuine interest in reconnecting with simple products, and knowing the producers that make them.”
In addition, places like Borough Market in London and St Nicholas Markets in Bristol have boomed in recent years, thanks largely to their range of amenities.
Such observations suggest that markets are becoming fashionable places where people not only come to browse responsibly sourced products, but also to eat and be entertained.
So what does this mean for future market stall owners? Well, there’s plenty of money to be made – as long as you can sell the right product in the right location.
We’ve written this guide to help anyone who is looking to start a market stall. We’ll cover things like creating a market stall business plan, financing your market stall, and the types of insurance and licenses you’ll need.
Write a market stall business plan
While the process can be time consuming, writing a business plan is crucial to creating a successful market stall business. Thankfully, there are tools out there that can help budding entrepreneurs create an informative document that covers all the necessary areas.
As a result, you’ll have a business plan that gives you a sense of direction, defined financial targets, and a clearer idea of how much time you need to dedicate to your business to make it a success.
Not only that, if you ever want to turn your market stall business into a bricks and mortar shop, banks and other money lenders will need to see your business plan in order to ensure your idea is a viable investment.
So what should you include in your market stall business plan? The list below gives you a brief overview:
- Explain whether you’re setting your market stall up as a hobby, a side-hustle, or a business venture
- Describe the products you’re going to sell, and why you’ve chosen to sell them
- Provide proof that the market you’ve chosen is a viable place to sell your stock
- Detail how much you’re looking to sell your products for, and what profit margin you’re expecting to achieve
While these points are a good start, business plans need to be detailed documents.
There’s heaps of information online to help you create an in depth business plan. Why not check out our full guide to writing a business plan for more information?
Conduct market research for your market stall business
Without conducting proper market research, you won’t know whether there’s a demand for your product in your local area. You won’t know who your audience is, and you won’t know how to market your product to them. To put it simply, market research is essential.
To carry out effective market research, make sure you use multiple channels to get the most reliable information.
- Explore local markets to see what people are selling, and what the local competition looks like
- Conduct surveys to gauge whether there’s a demand for your product in the area, and how much people are willing to pay
- Have a look online to discover the latest consumer trends, and see whether there’s any conversation about the products you’re looking to sell
If you’d like more information, we’ve also written a complete guide to conducting market research.
Source your products to sell
It goes without saying that if you’re not selling your own produce, you’ll need to find suitable stockists. A good place to start is local wholesalers. Just bear in mind the following:
Make sure your values align
The stockists you choose to partner with should reflect your own brand identity and values. So if you ‘pride yourself on selling the finest ethically sourced products’, your stockists should, too.
Keep an eye on profit margin
Selecting the right stockist also comes down to profit margin. Refer back to your business plan to ensure you’re selecting partners that’ll help you to fulfill your business’ financial potential.
Get market stall equipment
It’s pretty easy to get hold of market stall equipment. There are plenty of companies that you can hire equipment from, or you can choose to purchase yours from online suppliers. Take a look at the table below to see how much you can expect to purchase market stall equipment for.
He recommends that stall owners look at retail sites such as Etsy for unique handmade market stall displays, or try browsing Pinterest for inspiration, then having a go at making their own visual displays.
EPOS suppliers such as Square can set you up with a merchant account and card machine in a matter of days. You can download its free, intuitive software onto a tablet or mobile phone, and transparent pricing means you’ll always be aware of any extra costs and fees involved.
That being said, there’s an abundance of EPOS suppliers out there, so make sure you compare quotes from a range of providers to get the best deal.
Choose a market to sell in
First things first, you’ll need to research the types of markets that are out there. Generally, different markets attract a different kind of audience: for example, you won’t find the same crowd perusing a country farmers market as you would in the tourist markets of Camden Town.
Walk around your local markets to soak up the vibe, and gauge the trends among stall holders.
You’ll then need to conduct thorough research into the local markets on your list.
- How often you’d like to trade – for example, is it a weekly or bi-weekly market?
- The average footfall of the area – implies whether there will be a solid number of market visitors
- Pitch and rental costs – make sure you balance this with expected profit margins
- Travel and parking arrangements – is the market accessible for you and your customers?
- Whether the market is indoors or outdoors – this can have an effect on footfall, as well as your selling environment
- What kind of vibe you’re after – are you looking for a competitive selling environment, or something more relaxed?
While it’s perfectly possible to start a market stall with your savings, if your goal is to turn your market stall into a fully-fledged bricks and mortar store, you may need more of a cash injection behind you.
Thompson continues: “There are lending organisations and bodies such as Responsible Finance who offer impartial advice, and can point you in the direction of non-predatory lending providers according to your business size and scale.”
This is where business loans come into play. We at Startups have partnered with two business loan providers to offer our readers viable options for starting their dream business.
Start Up Loans – a government-backed scheme where you can borrow up to £25,000, with a fixed interest rate of 6% p.a.
Know Your Money – business loans are similar to startup loans, except they are not just for new businesses and don’t have the same caps. Select this option to compare business loans with KnowYourMoney.
You should also consider how you will track your finances. It's best practice to use a business bank account to separate your personal and business expenses and income.
Get up to date with market trading rules and regulations
Unsurprisingly, you can’t just rock up to your local market and start selling. There are rules and regulations that you need to research and adhere to before you start trading.
✓ Obtain a market stall traders’ license
According to existing market traders, a trader’s license can cost in the region of £1,000. However, you need to get in touch with your local council to apply for one, and to find out exactly how much it’ll cost.
There are temporary, casual, or permanent licenses available. However, according to gov.uk, you’ll need to have held a temporary or casual market trader license before you can apply for a permanent one.
You’ll only be allocated a fixed pitch once you have a permanent license.
✓ Register for self-assessment with HMRC
As a self-employed business owner, you’ll need to file your own tax returns. Keep a solid record of your income so you can correctly fill in the necessary online forms at the end of the year.
Bear in mind that you could be heavily fined if you don’t register for self-assessment within three months of starting your business.
✓ Get market trade insurance
Your business insurance should cover you for:
- Public liability insurance – to cover you if a customer injures themselves at your stall. You’ll typically need cover up to £5m
- Product liability insurance – to cover you if any items or produce you sell cause harm to the buyer
- Employer’s liability insurance – a legal requirement if you hire staff, even if they’re casual helpers
If you’re wondering whether or not you need a specific license for the products you’re selling, the government has a useful web tool that can tell you which licenses you need based on the information you enter.
Promote your market stall
According to a survey carried out by US company Clutch, 75% of people are more likely to shop somewhere that aligns with their own values. As a market stall holder, you can hone in on those values, whether they’re all about sustainable produce, local specialties, or organic products.
How? By communicating your values through digital marketing. But how do you use these channels well?
Keep your branding consistent across all of your communication channels. Your social media channels and website should resonate with your values, just as much as your stall signage, business cards, and carrier bags.
Have a business website
These days, a business website is essential. Many potential customers will want to learn about who you are and what you do before they decide to buy anything from you.
You may even want to create an ecommerce website to supplement your face to face sales.
You can purchase a domain name (i.e. the name of your website) for as little as £15/year. The cost of hosting your website starts from £6 a month for a shared server, while private servers with the highest security credentials can cost up to £75 a month.
Building a website is a time-consuming process. You’ll need to source high quality images and high quality content, then spend time playing around with the drag-and-drop functionality of your chosen template to create the best design.
Alternatively, you can pay a digital agency to build a website for you. However, this can cost upwards of £1,000.
Promotional material for your market stall
It’s worth investing in signage for your stall so that people become familiar with your brand name. Durable foamex boards cost from around £32, and hold up well in outdoor conditions.
Branded carrier bags are a good way of spreading your name around your local area. Make sure you include your brand name and an image or slogan that encompasses the products you sell, so people know why they should come to you.
Social media is a free and powerful tool that, when used wisely, has the potential to increase your stall’s footfall.
Many people come to markets for a more personable experience. They want to build relationships with market stall holders, so if you notice someone is becoming a regular customer, offer them a loyalty card or give them special discounts.
Customer service: become the face of your market stall
If people like who you are, they’ll come back. Be friendly to your customers. Talk to them about their day if you’re not too busy. Smile.
On top of that, make the purchasing process as convenient as possible. If customers don’t have cash, have the pay by card option ready. EPOS systems can be as simple or as complex as you wish – a card reader and a mobile phone may be all you need.
This means it’s important to have:
- An approachable, personable and enthusiastic attitude. Friendly customer service goes a long way in market selling
- A good grasp of English. On a busy day, you might be fielding questions left right and centre, and will need to be able to provide customers with the information they’re seeking before they buy
- A flair for sales, and confidence in negotiating
- Good numeracy skills. You’ll need to be able to add up prices speedily, and if you’re given a wad of cash, you’ll need to return the right change quickly
- Some prior experience in retail
Moreover, you should be able to endure long and challenging days. Samantha Wallace gives an idea of the hours you might expect, although these won’t be the same for everyone, and may depend on your market’s opening and closing times:
Aside from having the required professional experience and personal skills, you’ll need to familiarise yourself with the processes that come with owning a small business. These include:
- Understanding profit margins and costs
- General business skills
There are plenty of short courses online that will bring you up to speed with the above. The beginners course to business provided by the Open University is free, and requires just 15 hours of study.
Become a member of the National Market Traders Federation (NMTF)
The NMTF is an organisation that represents market traders, street traders, events retailers, and mobile caterers. It’s there to assist market traders with general, legal, and financial advice.
By becoming a member of the NMTF, you’ll also have access to market traders’ insurance, liability protection, and access to discounted mobile card machines.
So what are the annual subscription rates?
- Single/Sole Trader Membership: £140.00
- Dual Membership (two persons in partnership) £210.00
- Triple Membership (three persons in partnership) £280.00
- Quadruple Membership (four persons in partnership) £350.00
Starting a market stall: 7 top tips from experts
We talked to several people who have plenty of experience in the market trade. They’ve offered us the following advice:
- Talk to other traders – learn as much as you can about the trade before start
- Register as a sole trader, not a limited company (to reduce tax bills in the early stages)
- Brush up on your social media skills; this is an effective marketing channel!
- Take a measured approach when it comes to initial stock purchases
- Negotiate small minimum order quantities to test product, price, and promotion combinations
- Ask for feedback in real time; keep a dialogue open with existing customers
- Stay on your feet, stay passionate, engage with your customers
What’s next? Beyond the marketplace
Did you know Marks and Spencer, Dunelm, Poundland, and Superdry all started off as market stalls? The founders of these big brands had two things in common – a unique concept, and an immense amount of drive.
To take your business from a market stall to a shop, you’ll need a great concept, a hefty cash injection, a confident business plan, and the drive to battle through any roadblocks. One person who managed to do that was Levi Roots.
Before making it big in British supermarkets, Roots began his business selling his Reggae Reggae Sauce from a market stall at London’s Notting Hill Carnival. He grew his brand’s popularity by playing reggae music as people perused his products.
However, it took him 16 years of rejection and an eventual £50,000 investment from investor Peter Jones to take him and his products to new heights.
His story goes to show that having a market stall really is just the beginning. If you can create a brand, a social buzz, a reason for people to come back, and you have plenty of drive, you have the perfect recipe for a future retail store.