How to start a market stall business: The insider’s view
At a self-confessed 'crossroads' in her corporate career, Samantha Wallace felt it was the right time to get a giant leap into the world of market selling
About our Insider
Founder: Samantha Wallace
Launch date: November 2013
Based in: London
Staff: None, just my partner and I at the moment
Number of customers: 1000’s
Tell us why your market stall business stands out?
I think it’s one of the only places in London where you can try a wide variety of honeys from passionate producers across the world. It’s more like a wine tasting and we treat our honeys like wines – providing tasting notes, pairing tips, producer bios and so on.
People can find top quality honey in varieties they’d never usually get to try, let alone buy, and I think this is what people come back time and time again.
I was coming to a crossroads in my prior career (internal communications for corporates) and had to either accept redundancy or move to another role within my company, but not one I was passionate about.
My partner and I had started From Field and Flower about a year before this, with the aim being he would run it on his own, whilst I kept working for my employers.
However, the redundancy threw a spanner in the works and the business was taking off, and so when it came to it, it felt like the right time to make the leap to our business to help it grow.
It may be worth considering seeing if you can get a Start Up Loan (external partner site, link opens in a new tab) to help you with financing, and mentoring to start this business idea. You'll also need to think about registering your business, either as a sole trader or as a company - if a company, then Smarta Formations (external partner site, link opens in a new tab) are an organisation that can help you set up.
What was essential to get the business up and running?
Finding the right suppliers and finding the right products to sell. Test out products on friends and family – ask for honest opinions.
People we love tend to want to tell us only nice things, but honest, impartial and sometimes critical comments are what are required to get something that works and is sellable.
What is your average working day like?
No week is ever the same really – the constant flow of people through Borough Market means we meet some wonderful characters and some really interesting people.
On a market day, we’re up at 7am, and checking emails, doing last minute bits of admin and then we’re off to the stand. We open at 10am having stocked up and tidied up. It’s then all on chatting to customers until we close at 5pm. We usually leave by 6pm having mopped floors, cleaned surfaces etc.
Once at home it’s usually discussing the day, the ‘to do’ list and answering emails. We tend to stop and wind down around 8pm and try not to work after dinner!
What rules do you have for how you approach each customer?
We don’t have rules, but we do believe that being aware of your customer is really important.
It’s just watching body language and looking for eye contact – it helps to be able to anticipate whether someone wants to ask a question or offer them a tasting spoon before they have to ask.
People can be shy, especially tourists who may not have the best English, so we also always try and give a friendly welcome, but without trying to ‘hard sell’ – the honey speaks for itself!
What’s the best business advice you ever got?
Know your product inside and out and be passionate about it. If you don’t fully invest in it time wise, or passion wise, why should anyone else?
What do you think the market stall industry will look like in two years? Where are the opportunities?
I can only speak from a London markets perspective, and they may be very different to others, due to the fact we have a huge population and huge amounts of visitors every year from around the world. From that viewpoint I think the opportunity is still huge for small producers and businesses.
People seem to be more and more ingredient and food aware, and much more savvy about the nature of big supermarket chains and how mass produced and industrialised much of the food on offer is. That’s created a genuine interest in, and support of, the other side of the coin – reconnecting with simple products that are not heavily processed and knowing the producers that make them.
What’s the best resource for market stall owners?
I’d say when you’re just starting out the NMTF (National Market Traders Federation) is really helpful.
Becoming a member gives you public liability insurance, a must have for traders as most markets won’t let you trade without it.
They are also have discounts on other products such as stock insurance, or van insurance which can be pricey for market traders with mainstream insurers.
The other important resource is social media – more and more of us use it as a resource to find the best restaurants, products, blogs or information.
Tapping into that by using social media to talk about your business and associated topics is a really good way of getting to an audience who might not ever come across your stall by chance.
What regulations affect you most as a market stall owner?
Food hygiene and health and safety regulations are extremely important, as are food labelling rules.
What’s the biggest misconception about being a market stall owner?
That it’s a part-time job and that you’re not as invested in it as you would be if you were, say, a restaurant owner.The amount of planning, budgeting, supply chain managing and time invested in just getting the stall open is huge. Then of course you also need to sell your products and generate income.
If you launched your company again, what would you do differently?
Honestly, nothing. We started with very limited funds and we made mistakes along the way, but we’ve learned from each of them, and wouldn’t change them for anything.
The sometimes bumpy ride at the start has made our business brighter and stronger now, so was more than worth it!