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How to set up a market stall

7-minute read

Sam Bromley

13 April 2022

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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.

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 – jump straight to our step-by-step guide for more.

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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, market trader was one of the fastest growing trades of 2021, so you’d be joining an exciting industry.

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 much can you earn on a market stall?

A market stall can be a profitable business idea, but how much you can earn really depends on your product, where you’re selling, and your pricing strategy.

You might decide to rent a stall through your local council, or perhaps you want to buy a van and travel to events and festivals. Costs and expenses will vary with your approach.

For example, renting a pitch can be anything from £10 to £50 a day, right up to £300 for a full week. Alternatively you could pay for a longer term pitch for £1,000 to £3,000 a year. Meanwhile with a van, you’ll have additional running and transport costs.

To work out how much you’ll earn as a market trader, you’ll first need to:

  • create a business budget – use our budget template to estimate and track your income (product sales) and expenses (stock, licences, rent)
  • keep an eye on your competition analyse your competitors to see what they’re selling and how much they charge – this can help to inform your strategy
  • estimate customer traffic – understanding footfall for your market stall is an important guide when working out how many potential sales and customers you could attract

As a rough guide, the average turnover for a market stall trader in 2021 was nearly £34,196 a year. This is based on Simply Business customer data.

Market stall ideas – what sells best?

There are loads of market stall ideas out there, but how do you know what’s going to delight your customers and make your small business a success? Here are a few of the most profitable market stalls in the UK:

  • hot food stalls
  • handmade jewellery
  • Christmas market stalls (think gifts, decorations, and festive food)
  • farmer’s markets
  • vintage clothes

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 market research will do wonders for you over the long term, as you become an expert on your product.

2. Get your pricing right

Be sure to sell goods at a range of price points:

  • cheaper items will attract people but you’ll have less of a profit margin
  • mid-range goods are affordable but have a more attractive margin, which will hopefully make up the majority of your sales
  • higher-end goods will sell less but should draw special attention to your stall

As we’ve mentioned, 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.

3. Know your target market

Who are your customers? Make sure you have a good understanding of how your product or food will appeal to them, and choose a market location that aligns with your values.

For example, market traders at Glastonbury Festival are asked to have a “creative and aesthetically pleasing stall” that “fits with the ethics of the festival.” Bear this in mind if you're thinking of making an application.

4. 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 with market stall stock suppliers – it could make all the difference to your eventual profits.

5. 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.

Apply for a pitch

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.

Think about the logistics

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.

How to get a market stall in London

You can apply for a pitch at one of many London markets, for example:

Competition will be high for these popular markets though, so make sure you read the application guidance carefully and try to stand out.

6. Develop the right skills

Haggling is an essential skill and important to master when running a market stall. It’s 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.

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.

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

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.

Selling food at a market stall? Make sure you’re on top of this

If you’re selling food, you’ll need to register with your local authority at least 28 days before starting.

You also need to organise:

  • food hygiene certificates for any staff
  • completing assessments for control of substances hazardous to health (COSHH)

Make sure you’re up to date with allergen legislation and food hygiene legislation too.

8. Think about market trader 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:

  • public liability insurance is a popular cover for market traders. It can protect you if someone is injured or their property damaged because of your business

Cake display at market stall
kart31/stock.adobe.com

9. Marketing your market stall

Now it’s time to get the word out about your stall.

Make your stall stand out

A clear and consistent brand that stands out among a crowd can help you gain a competitive advantage.

Think about how you use your space too, 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.

If you’re looking for food market stall display ideas, Pinterest can be a good source of inspiration. You might also want to think about buying things like tiered stands, risers, and cabinets to show off your produce to your customers.

Your online presence

Using social media to promote your business is also a good idea – 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 it as an additional channel to sell your products, or you could sell through the likes of eBay or Instagram.

Put your customers first

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.

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

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.

10. 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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Photograph: Monkey Business/stock.adobe.com

We create this content for general information purposes and it should not be taken as advice. Always take professional advice. Read our full disclaimer

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