Business Advice has put together a step-by-step guide to setting up a market stall, outlining the essential starting points for new traders with some expert pointers from the duo behind an up-and-coming fabrics business using markets to establish the brand.
The British market stall has undergone somewhat of a facelift in recent years. Its East End image has diversified to put higher-end brands alongside traditional grocers. What hasn’t changed, however, are long days in unpredictable British weather and the sense of community among traders.
For entrepreneurs, market pitches provide an ideal entry to market, granting access to potential customers with the chance to receive direct feedback on products. Jack Cohen’s barrow at Hackney’s Well Street Market sowed the seeds for Tesco in 1919, and some small sellers have reached national supermarkets having been spotted at a market.
Our guide will help new traders get their head around the regulations and licensing requirements needed when setting up a market stall, before we reveal the advice one trading business had to offer.
Trade regulations and licensing
Even for the smallest market trading businesses, selling goods to the public means many typical retail regulations must be adhered to.
Public liability insurance is the most crucial legal requirement for any trader, and you won’t be able to set up without it. It protects sellers against accidents while trading, and usually covers claims up to £5m. The Combined Market Traders Insurance Association (CMTIA) offers specialised cover for sellers.
Meanwhile, the Trade Descriptions Act requires market traders to ensure all goods are accurately sold to consumers. Under the act, retailers making false claims about products – for example, the origin country of fruit and vegetables – are committing an offence.
The Consumer Rights Act is another piece of legislation designed to protect consumers, holding retailers responsible over faulty goods. In instances where the customer simply changes their mind, a cash refund is not legally required, but customer satisfaction might see a retailer offer a credit note instead.
For traders serving food and drinks, hygiene legislation is in place, putting temperature requirements on transported goods as well as labelling rules. Stalls also need to be registered with the Food Standards Agency.
Before you start selling, you may well need a market stall licence from the local authority you are trading in. The licence will dictate where you can place your stall, its size, and how long you can run it for.
Failure to present a valid licence could result in a fine or your goods being seized. Most council’s offer both casual and permanent licences, with the former giving you an opportunity to test the potential of your goods without the commitment of a long lease.
Finding a market pitch
Once you’ve secured your licence, you can begin the search for a market pitch. Local authorities allocate council-run markets spots themselves, but privately-run markets will have an independent registrations process.
StallFinder.com offers an online search tool for thousands of private events open to market traders, and most local authorities offer pitch availabilities on GOV.UK.
Elsewhere, car boot sales can be the perfect place to become familiar with the demands of a market stall, and represent a low-risk entry for traders. Car Boot Junction holds a directory of car boot sales across the UK.
Marketing and social media
As with any small business, a strong marketing strategy can improve both brand awareness and actual footfall to your stall.
Some market organisers have begun to bring their markets to life through social media, showcasing what traders are offering. The official Instagram for South East London’s Brockley Market, for example, creates a vivid image of the produce available.
A healthy cash float is essential in making sure customers aren’t turned away, particularly as expectations for flexible payment options increase.
With case use in decline, portable, contactless card readers create faster transaction times for traders and better convenience for customers, meaning more sales.
Stray East’s top five pointers for market stall startups
To get the inside track on successful market trading, Business Advice sat down with Martyn White, co-founder of Stray East, a home furnishings brand that has become a familiar fixture of markets in the South West of England and now with sights set firmly on London.
Founded at the start of 2017, the business sources its product from a small supplier in Rajasthan, India and is committed to bringing ethical and sustainable goods to the UK.
Merchandise your product effectively
“Like a regular retail shop, the display of the item is really important. In our case, if it’s clothes, we put them on a hanger, if they’re cushion covers, we put an insert inside them. People don’t want to unfold throws, but we sell five times as many if they are on display.
“But, don’t waste too much time trying to get that right – every market is different. We spent a lot of time mocking up stalls before our first market, but the product speaks for itself. Don’t be afraid to rotate stock based on what you can see is working. Also, having any relevant literature to tell the story behind the product really helps.”
Play to the day
“If it’s a cold day, we’ll bring our thick blankets, but if it’s a sunny day our colourful cushion covers will work better. If it’s raining, we know to set our stall out differently. It’s important to play to the day and be able to adapt your offering.”
Invest in payment machines
“Considering the amount of sales we’d have lost if we didn’t accept cards, it’s really worth investing in mobile payment methods. Find a company that takes a small percentage of your takings without monthly costs. We use iZettle.
“People will often browse a market without cash, and when they say they’re going to a cash point, by the time they’ve got there they’ve either bought something else or talked themselves out of it. You’ve got to get people to buy while they’re there. Invest in a 50p chalkboard to show you accept cards. That really worked in drawing people to our stall.”
Be informative without being too salesy
“If you see someone looking at your product, lead with something informative about it. It being ethically sourced, for example. You then see them move further towards you instead of backing away.
“By engaging in conversation, they’re invited to make the commitment without being pressured, whereas the bold, old-school approach to cutting deals doesn’t tend to work.”
Invest time into finding the markets that work
“The cost of being there isn’t always an indicator of how well you’re going to do. Different stalls do well in different markets on different days. It’s also much easier to promote on social media when you’re reappearing.
“Having a consistent market should be the aim. It is disheartening when you barely make any sales after your first few markets, but it just takes time to establish a cash flow. Even for food stalls, you eventually start seeing repeat customers who tell other people about your business.”
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