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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 – our step-by-step guide will help get you started.
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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
Be sure to sell goods at a range of price points:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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 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.
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:
Make sure you’re up to date with allergen legislation and food hygiene legislation too.
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:
Now it’s time to get the word out about your stall.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Sam has more than 10 years of experience in writing for financial services. He specialises in illuminating complicated topics, from IR35 to ISAs, and identifying emerging trends that audiences want to know about. Sam spent five years at Simply Business, where he was Senior Copywriter.
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