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
Steps in this market stalls guide:
- What to sell on a market stall: planning and preparation
- The rules and regulations for setting up a market stall
- Market stall costs and potential earnings
- Beyond the market stall – what’s next?
- Contacts: market stall suppliers and finding market stalls for sale
- See if you can get a Start Up Loan to help you start a market stall business idea (external site, opens in new tab)
What is a market trader?
Becoming a market trader is a great way to start your own business – or to test if a business idea is viable – 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. Market stall owner Samantha Wallace, of honey sellers From Field and Flower, notes “People seem to be more and more ingredient and food aware…That’s created a genuine interest in reconnecting with simple products that are not heavily processed and knowing the producers that make them”. Former market stall trader Susan Ma, of Tropic Skincare, echoes the sentiment in saying “People are becoming much more aware of what they put on their skin…it’s an exciting time to be involved in the natural beauty industry as an entrepreneur.”
According to a 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.
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. Honey market stall owner Samantha Wallace, in an interview with Startups in Borough Market, notes, “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.” produced and industrialised much of the food on offer is. .”
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.
How to become a market trader
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.”
Don’t forget to run through the steps for how to start a business!
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