10 considerations for setting up a market stall

We spoke to a duo established in the market stall space to tell us their top tips on things to bear in mind.

This is a guest post from Sharon and Eliza of Miss Manchu. The duo received interest for more information and key tips for setting up a market stall. As such, they thought they would compile their thoughts to provide a head start for those of you embarking on this journey, or trying to decide if market-trading is for you. Here are their “Top 10" tips...

1. Is it a business or is it a hobby?

This is the very first thing you need to establish. Do you want to run a business (i.e. something that will make you money) or do you want a hobby that may make you a little here and there, but ultimately won’t pay the bills? Having done both, we can say fairly confidently that very few people want to stand on their feet all day (especially through winter) for little return.

If you want a business you need to know how to build scale from a commercial perspective. If you want a hobby, you need to make sure you’re simply happy to do what you are doing for the love of it. Markets are a great test-bed for customer feedback, and for exploring new ideas and products on your potential customer-base.

Either way, as a final thought it’s important to remember that when you set pricing, calculate your figures to consider not just the cost of goods, your miscellaneous expenses (parking, petrol etc), your time, but also allowing for enough of a buffer in your profit margin to cater for the ebb and flow of market seasonality.

2. Ask the tough questions.

Research is key. By asking yourself some tough questions and then taking the time to answer them honestly, you will start to shine a light on where the opportunities and potential risks lie; ensuring that you are ready to take the first steps on your journey to market success.

  • Can you physically sell enough of your products to make money?
  • Do you have the right team or support?
  • Are your products fit for purpose or even right for the market itself?
  • Can you sustain the length of time needed to build a profitable business?
  • Have you considered how you will develop your brand or market your products to customers?
  • Should you opt for a local market, or find one further afield…?

These are just some of the questions you’ll need to answer before jumping in with both feet. However, having said all of that, the best thing about markets are their relatively low-risk nature.

As such, some of you may simply prefer to try a few different ideas, products or places out to see what works for you. Its all part of the research phase, leading you towards your goal of running, or owning a successful market-stall business.

3. Do your research.

OK, so it may seem like we’re cheating-and-repeating slightly here, but we’re not. Research is so important that we felt we needed to say it again. Research is key! We can’t express how important it is that once you have decided that you want to build yourself a business as a market-stall holder, that you get your ducks in a row.

Check local market guides/directories (NCASS has a very good comprehensive guide) and visit as many markets as you can to get a feel for the type of set-up that many stall-holders operate. Ask yourself some more questions – do you have a vehicle sufficient to transport your goods? Is there sufficient storage on site at the market (depending on what you sell you may well need this – especially if you don’t have a huge apartment or a dedicated storage space)?

Have you checked the market stall prices? Most markets either charge a percentage of sales (often 10%) or a set fee ranging from £50-100. Try to go for a market that works on a percentage of sales rather than fixed rent. This option is a lot safer as we all know how unpredictable the weather can be in the UK, this will also minimise cutting into your profits when you are just starting out.

Consider the right market location for you, check your competition – what price ranges are market traders positioning themselves at? Would your product fit in with the local community? Does someone else have a similar (or identical) product? What type of people are attending this particular market? What is the foot-traffic like and what times would you expect to make the most money?

When would your expected quiet / off-peak period be? Can you make enough sales during your peak time alone? If the market organiser is going to charge you a set fee, how reputable is this market? Do they advertise the market at all? How are they driving foot traffic to support market traders?

Organisers always up-sell their market so be weary of this and always talk to other experienced market traders so you can get honest and objective advice. We are big believers in trusting your instincts but by asking the right questions at the right times, you will be adding to the likelihood that your market business can succeed.

4. A product for all seasons.

Anyone can sell something once, but the very best stalls have customers who return week after week for the same product. We like the say “Your product is core to keep them coming back for more”. Make sure you sell a product that is ‘seasonality-proof’.

There is no point selling a product that only makes you money during the summer months (unless you want a summer only business). If you going to choose a product that is only going to sell at breakfast time, then make sure you have the foot-traffic to capture that window of opportunity. Value is also imperative.

Everyone loves a bargain, but if you are going to sell a high-end or quality product, then make sure the product and the customer experience itself ‘shouts’ (not literally!) quality. By doing this your customers will understand the ‘value’ of what they are paying for. People are more than often happy to pay a little more for something, knowing that it’s simply worth it.

5. Be part of the community.

When you start your market-stall you will soon learn that there is a market culture.

This underground club is your friend. Everyone leans on one another for advice on how to further improve your stand (yes, they actually do critique your stand and product/s) and up-coming happenings within the community that you should be aware of that may effect your trade.

Don’t forget though, most communities have their gossips – market’s are just the same (but it’s all usually in good humour)! Don’t shy away from getting to know your neighbours and support one another.

6. Always test and learn.

Always be flexible in your attitude and approach. If something doesn’t work, then change it. This can range from the product itself or something as simple as the words on your sign.

7. Be proud of your brand and shout about it.

Social media is here to stay so get used to it and use it! It gives you a brand channel and presence within the online space and by using Twitter, you can talk directly to your fan base to promote special offers.

In turn, advocacy and word-of-mouth will prove invaluable. A lot of market traders forget the value of branding their stand to its full potential. An eye catching and eligible sign can go a long way.

Be proud of your stand and treat it like a shop front. Always keep your stand tidy and clean – sounds obvious but people buy with their eyes so don’t give them an excuse to walk away.

8. Good staff count.

Reliable staff are hard to find so we would recommend asking fellow market traders if they know of anyone they would recommend.

This also indirectly holds your referral responsible for their recommended hire. On average, staff are paid £50 for 8 hours work (about £6 an hour) but if you want to keep happy staff on board for the long-haul we would recommend going for a slightly higher rate if you can afford it.

It also goes without saying that you should be hiring staff that are cheery, hygienic, trustworthy and responsible.

9. Be prepared with the right documentation.

When you start your market stand, organisers will usually ask for the following (our recommendations are below but of course there are alternative suppliers):

Product & Liability insurance:Combined Market Insurance Traders Note that this only covers your product and public liability insurance, not general insurance for lost and stolen goods. CMIT recommends Hayes Parsons Ltd for further insurances.

To register your business:Simply Business - Check Companies House first to see if your name has been taken.

Hygiene and food certification:Hight Speed Training - Training courses are also available from NCASS. Be ready for hygiene inspectors to come around to check up on you, your organiser will usually tell you when they are due to arrive.

You will always need a fire extinguisher if you serving hot food and a first aid kit as a starting point. Post inspection, you will receive documentation which will give you an opportunity to fulfill your hygiene obligations and then you will be sent a star rating.

10. Know when to hold em’ and know when to fold em’.

You need to believe in yourself with passion! All of us know that winter is cruel when you have to get up early to set up your stall and then stand in the cold for up to 8 hours, however it is the harsh reality of owning a market stall.

You need to persevere if your earnings are going to prove fruitful in summer to justify working through winter. This goes back to our early points about research. Look at your numbers to see how you are tracking and if you are breaking and can see potential uplift over the longer term – then it maybe worth sticking through winter.

Folding (deciding not to continue) does not say to the world that you have failed, it says that you are smart enough to recognise that you need to change direction. Most first businesses and many more entrepreneurs fail at some stage. It’s part of the process.

However, it’s a good idea to set yourself specific performance goals (they don’t always have to be purely financial goals in the early stages of a market-stall business) over a period of time, but if you still can’t reach them then you can ‘fail’ with the knowledge that you gave it your all, learnt plenty and can take those lessons into your next project.

Whatever you choose to do, we hope that we have equipped you with some helpful tips to be market-ready and at the very least, have given you something to think about if you are trying to decide whether to explore this kind of business.

We wish you good luck and hope that you enjoy your journey!

If you'd like to know more about starting a business, find out about how Escape can help.