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How to start a market stall in the UK

5-minute read

How to start a market stall in the UK
Sam Bromley

Sam Bromley

14 August 2018

Tesco, Marks & Spencer and Innocent Drinks all began life as market stalls. If you’ve got the right product and excellent business skills, setting up your own could be a brilliant move.

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If you’re wondering where to start, we’ve got you covered. Market traders need to think about everything from suppliers to stock to the legalities – read our step-by-step guide for more.

Why become a market trader?

If you’ve got an idea for a product or want to get a feel for buying and selling goods, setting up a stall is a good option. Budding entrepreneurs can learn lots about business and what it takes to succeed while keeping start-up costs relatively low.

What’s more, markets are vibrant places and a big part of British culture. You can work indoors and outdoors, rain or shine, with lots of people from your local community and sometimes further afield. No two days will be the same.

And of course there are all the usual benefits of going self-employed – you can be your own boss, your hours will be flexible, and you can manage your own career progression.

How to become a market trader: step-by-step

1. Decide what you’re going to sell

Your goods will be integral to your success, so you should have a clear idea of what you want to sell, along with your unique selling point. This would be a good time to write your business plan, which should help you clarify what you want to achieve with your business.

For instance, do you want to develop a new product entirely (like Levi Roots with Reggae Reggae Sauce, which he sold at Notting Hill Carnival)? Or do you want to source and sell a range of goods, maybe from well-chosen suppliers that gives you the edge over your competition?

You can go to local markets to see what products sell – you could even talk to punters to find out whether they’d buy your product. Getting into the habit of researching will do wonders for you over the long term, as you become an expert on your product.

Be sure to sell goods over a range of price points. Cheaper items will attract people but you’ll have less of a profit margin. Then you can have mid-range goods that are affordable but have a more attractive margin, which will hopefully make up the majority of your sales. Finally, there's higher-end goods that will sell less but should draw special attention to your stall.

A market trader’s salary is variable and linked to the price of your goods and the hours you work, so be sure to think about this carefully.

2. Consider your suppliers

You should make sure your goods are high quality and that you trust the people you work with, whether you’re creating a new product or you’re selling a variety of products.

Again, research is hugely important. Shop around and build personal relationships to secure a great deal – it could make all the difference to your eventual profits.

3. Think about your location

You might choose to work in one location or several depending on what you want to get from your business. Research the markets in your area and decide on the ones that would be most suited to your product.

You won’t be able to turn up at a market and start selling there and then. You usually need to apply for a pitch – this might be with the market themselves if it’s privately run, or with the local authority.

You can search online for markets and pitches to discover your ideal location and how to apply.

Remember that location has a big say in the logistics of your work – you’ll need to transport goods, so decide whether convenience is important. With this in mind, you’ll probably need to have a driving licence and a good vehicle to get your stuff around. If you think you may need a van, check out our article on the best commercial vans as a starting point.

4. Develop the right skills

Haggling is an essential skill that’s important to master as a market trader, useful from negotiating prices with your suppliers to selling your products to customers. Some of the other skills you’ll need are:

  • creativity when branding and marketing your products and stall
  • proficiency in business and maths
  • spreadsheet and bookkeeping ability
  • being physically fit

You don’t need any formal qualifications to become a market trader, but you might find experience in handling cash and customer service useful.

5. Sort out the legal side

You need to apply to your local council for either a market stall licence or a street trader licence, depending where you want to set up your market stall.

If you’re selling food, you’ll need to register with your local environmental health service at least 28 days before starting. You also need to get food hygiene certificates for any staff, and complete assessments for control of substances hazardous to health (COSHH).

You should be aware of (and keep up to date with) legislation, including:

  • The Trade Descriptions Acts
  • The Sale of Goods Act
  • Food hygiene legislation

You’ll also have to register as self-employed with HMRC as soon as possible. You need to do this within three months of starting trading, and then complete your Self Assessment tax return each tax year.

Finally, if your turnover reaches the VAT registration threshold of £85,000 of any 12-month period, you must register for VAT. You should keep clear records and save the receipts you need to pay tax on.

6. Think about market traders’ insurance

Even if you’re really careful in your day-to-day work, against the busy backdrop of the market, accidents and mistakes can happen. It’s a good idea to consider market trader insurance when setting up your business:

7. Marketing your market stall

Now it’s time to get the word out about your stall. Make it look great to gain an advantage, with a clear and consistent brand that stands out among a crowd. Think about how you use your space, because the size of your pitch will probably change across different markets.

You might want to get a few essentials printed – think about price tags, business cards and even signs to adorn your stall.

Making things easy for your customers is a big plus. While many customers might still expect to pay cash, having a card reader will help out those who don’t carry paper money.

Using the internet to market your business is a good strategy. You can use social media to promote your business – perhaps there are special offers you can give to people who engage with you online. To gain more ground, you could create your own website to promote your business and use as an additional channel to sell your products, or you could sell through websites like eBay.

As you’re the face of your business, your personality is your brand. Don’t slump behind your stall, but stand up and talk to your customers. Greet your customers cheerfully and don’t launch into a hard sell straight away – it’s likely that your customers will be inquisitive, so be prepared to answer their questions. You’ll want to become part of the community, so displaying a positive attitude can work in your favour.

8. Take your business further

We mentioned Levi Roots, who’s an example of someone who started small and extended his product into supermarkets and beyond. A market stall can be a great way to test your product and get feedback before you start selling it more widely.

So, keep an eye on opportunities to get your wares out there to more people – you never know what might be round the corner!

Good luck with setting up your own market stall – let us know how you get on in the comments below.

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