How to start a market stall

Don't be mistaken for thinking a market stall is below your entrepreneurial dreams; some of Britain's greatest entrepreneurs started by staking high and selling cheap. Whether it's apples and pears or consumer electronics, don't miss our guide to market stall heaven.

Not all entrepreneurs would consider a market stall as their first step in setting up a successful business - but it's a tried and tested formula that can turn into a lucrative venture overnight.

Tesco, Matalan, Innocent Smoothies and Marks & Spencer are all examples of the multitude of brands which have grown from simple foundations on the market stall.

For self-starters with a passion for selling and a desire to get back as much as they put into a business, starting a market stall is a serious option.


Day-to-day

When it comes to selling on a stall, the day job varies enormously depending on what you're punting and what your ambitions are. Fishmongers, grocers and florists across the land get up at unholy hours to catch the earliest trade.

For others, it's a lifestyle thing. Some of these will only trade part-time or even just on a Saturday - many clothes businesses work this way, for example.

Many of those who sell only once a week spend the rest of their days producing their goods. While you make your own hours, don't be surprised if you find yourself up at the crack of dawn and stumbling sleepily into bed late at night.

How much you make and how long you stay on your stand will be influenced by a few factors and you can expect your daily takings to be influenced by the weather, events in your area and the time of year (Christmas can never come too soon for a stall owner).

Market economies

Regional economies vary and some provide a better income for market stalls than others so it is vitally important to research all the potential plots within your reach to figure out which one has the biggest gap for what you want to sell.

Market stalls have been compared to gambling habits due to the unpredictable nature of your earnings, but you can raise your chances of a decent profit with proper market research.

Figure out what's in demand and whether it's being catered for. Is there a gap for the things you want to make or source, and sell? You could even ask around amongst the shoppers and see if they would buy from you if you set up locally.

Starting a market stall brings a lot of options in terms of what you will be selling. If you don't know what you want to sell, or don't know where to get supplies from www.thetrader.co.uk has an online stock buying directory with hundreds of wholesales sorted into useful categories.

Other than this, many stall owners utilise dealers, boot sales and charity shops to look for stuff to sell or materials to create new products with.

Natural skills

To succeed on market stalls you'll need a few a priori talents. Here's a list of talents that will be a huge advantage:

•    A passion for what you are creating and selling

•    In depth knowledge of your goods and industry

•    Understanding the competition

•    A snappy sales technique

•    Ability to rise early and work long hours

•    Good communication skills

•    The all-important ability to haggle without putting off potential buyers

Training

The training you need depends on what you sell - to use a silly example, an understanding of seasonal fruit will not help you if you are selling clothes but will be essential if you're working on a fruit and veg stall.

Some aspects of the job are universal, such as the ability to sell your products with confidence and passion. Selling involves a very specific form of interaction, so unfortunately a public speaking course probably won't help you!

As with everything in business, there's no training like on the job training. So offer to help out at a stall, even if it's unpaid, before you hurl yourself headlong into the business.

Premises

Many local councils have started to rent out stalls, including all necessary covers and slips, with plots regularly available. These vary in costs depending on location. An example of the cheapest you can find is £20 a day for a 10-foot plot in Harlow, compared to a more expensive £42 in Luton for the same size.

Many councils rent out stalls and plots in sets of twelve weeks. In Newcastle, a fully inclusive rent of everything necessary to run your stall in the same position each week will cost £336 for twelve week period.

If you choose to rent a plot without an included stall, prices will be lower. The average cost of a 10-foot plot is around £14 for a day.

A new market stall construction can be bought for a one-off payment of £130 but this largely depends on the size of the stall. The average size is 10ft by 4ft and this costs about £200 at www.market-stalls.co.uk if bought with covers, clamps and boards for the stall.

If you're lucky, you may be able to buy a second hand market stall in good condition from www.curlew.co.uk but be wary as many will have had a lot of use.

Market stalls can also be rented from the website above at a price of £30 for three months.

If you do not take advantage of a starter kit, a market stall cover will cost £10 or more for larger stalls. Market covers have a life expectancy of up to a year and are essential for maintaining the condition of your goods in all weathers.

It is a good idea to have at least ten market clips to secure your cover. Your counter boards must also fit well on the stall.

When market traders start-up they often use their house as a make-shift warehouse and office. As they grow more space is needed to manufacture or store goods. A space away from your home will also give you a focus that may not be easy otherwise.

One of the most important factors in choosing premises outside of your stall will be the environmental conditions. You have to be sure that the goods you are creating and selling can survive without damage.

It is always good to plan for a bigger future and make sure your stock room can hold enough to supply more than you are currently selling - you never know when a big order might come in.

Renting prices on store rooms vary greatly across the UK but a few hundred pounds a month is a typical amount to pay for a standard space.

Staff

Most market traders employ a very small number of casual workers and, when starting out, it is unlikely you will be employing anyone other than yourself. Lone work literally means you reap what you sow and this is one of the main attractions to starting a market stall.

If you do choose to take on staff, make sure they are properly trained and remember they are covered by the same employment rules and regulations that apply to everyone else who works for a living.

Market stall pay is usually minimum wage, but most traders offer 'performance-related pay' in the form of a tip at the end of the day, week or at Christmas.

Money

Hard work, experience and knowledge of the market could earn you sales of up to £3,000 a day. Keeping detailed records of your sales and margins will help you work out pricing and stock for the best sales volumes.

Don't forget to factor in costs like transport and, if you need it, power in the form of a generator, on top of staff and stock expenses. When it comes to your van, arrange where you'll leave it during the day to avoid risking a parking fine.

Just because market trading is predominantly cash-in-hand, it doesn't mean you don't pay tax. You'll need to fill in a self-assessment form annually and report honestly what you owe, as well as VAT return if you sell more than £60,000 in stock a year.

First steps

First-hand experience of market stall selling will be an invaluable experience for your start-up business. You may find it useful to start off at car boot sales rather than going straight into market stalls too.

Work out how many days you can realistically work on the stall front and how many days need to be spent on preparation.

Make sure you talk to your bank early. Although costs for starting up a market stall business will be lower, capital is required for investing in stock, transport, wages (if you are employing people) and buying the stall itself.

Read our feature: How to start a business: the ultimate checklist.

Tips:

•    Keep a wholesale price list with you at all times so that you can work out discounts for bulk purchases while still maintaining your profit margin.

•    Build gradually. Learn about your customers and use the opportunities they give you.

•    Be prepared for seasonal changes. There is nothing to be gained by feeling disheartened if sales slow after the January sales, and neither should December sales be used as a consistent figure for growth.

•    Depending on what you are selling, conferences and events are fertile ground for new sales.

•    You will be responsible for rubbish around your stall. Not tidying up at the end of the day is an easy way to lose your plot.

•    Aim to earn at least double your stock prices.

•    Establish good relationships with your suppliers, if you are reliable and dependable you will get better deals on stock.

Use the internet

The general view of market stalls may not lend itself to the idea of advertising on the internet, but having your own website could really help you generate a following.

The internet could become a useful second vehicle for sales. Just because you sell your goods on a market stall doesn't mean you shouldn't also sell them on eBay, for example.

It will also be your biggest opportunity to grow your business from a market stall into a high street shop, as the fan base you create can be wider and sales numbers can be far higher.

Surf the web for information relating to starting your stall; for example details about your local council, by-laws and, in particular, the website of the market you want to set up shop in. This will give you lots of insider information before you get going.

Common pitfalls

Not dedicating the necessary time. Market work is hard and will require a large investment of your time.

Not putting money back into the business. Once you start making a profit, keep in mind your stall needs to grow, change and improve to continue bringing in money.

Fear of haggling. Do not be afraid to aim for a lower price from suppliers and, as importantly, don't expect to sell for your asking price either. Add a little on in preparation for a bargaining match.

Acquiring too much stock. Perishable stock or damaged goods could become a drain on your profits if you miscalculate.

Not abiding by licensing rules. Research the markets you are in to understand what you can and cannot do.

Not being able to compete with the big online names: You have to create a reason for customers to come into your stall. Use our feature on 37 ways to beat your competitors for inspiration.

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