Market stalls offer a range of benefits to owners, including an outdoor working environment and the ability to be your own boss. Markets and car boot sales generally have relaxed, natural working environments which have broad appeal. If you’re thinking of setting up a market stall, this guide will help you get to grips with what’s required to succeed in this traditional business area.
Why start a market stall?
Depending on the level of income sought, market stalls offer flexible working hours and may allow owners to leave work earlier to coincide with closing hours. Market stalls also offer a chance to work outdoors in the fresh air, and there’s a distinctly social, community-building aspect to running a market stall that appeals to many people.
They’re also a great way to start on your entrepreneurial journey as there’s a lot to deal with, including supply-chain, stock, book-keeping and other essential aspects of running a business.
Start-up costs are also at the lower end, making them more suitable for first-time business owners.
The location of your market stall is important in order to attract both general footfall and dedicated traffic. Picking the right market is the first choice – some car boot sales or markets attract a certain type of people, who are often looking for a certain product. Make sure your product or range of products will be suitable for the market, and also try to make sure you aren’t treading on an established trader’s toes. Competition can be healthy, but markets can also be close-knit communities. Do your research.
Your location in the market is also important. Patrons will generally walk a specific route round a market or car boot sale and there will be superior and inferior ‘plots’ based on where footfall is most concentrated.
It’s important to understand the market where you’ll be based – fortunately you can conduct free research just by standing around and seeing what products sell. If you’ve got an idea to bring in a new product, you can even ask people walking around if they’d be interested in your stall. It’s a great way to gauge demand.
Bear in mind that unless you know a lot about the product you’ll be selling, you’ll need to become knowledgeable, not only in terms of its price and uses but also how to get in touch with suppliers, any market developments, competitors at your market, etc. Many people still visit market stalls because the owners are de facto experts (after years of experience).
Favourable terms with suppliers will be beneficial, particularly if you are competing with other sellers in and around your turf. Make sure you build personal relationships with the suppliers you deal with, and don’t be afraid to haggle – profit margins can often be relatively narrow and so haggling on prices can make the difference between turning a profit and not turning a profit.
People skills are possibly the most important skill to have when running a market stall, both in securing the sale and also securing repeat custom. Interacting and general social skills are important, of course, but you must also be able to haggle effectively – poor haggling skills can turn people off as the encounter moves from jovial to confrontational.
The ability to stay focused and upbeat on tougher days, such as when the weather’s bad, or you are feeling ill, is important. Running a market stall is very much a customer-facing job; if you struggle around people and find it difficult to make small talk, you may find the job difficult. However, as with all skills, these can be learnt, mostly by generalised social experience.
In addition to people skills, maths skills are important, as you’ll need to add up prices, take money and give change, often without a till. On busy days, you may be juggling two or three different customers, all making different purchases. Being able to cope with pressure, and still maintain a positive attitude, is beneficial.
The logistics of running a market stall can be complicated. Getting set up is more difficult if the items you sell are bulky or fragile. You’ll also need to transport the stall itself; hiring or buying a van is an option, which will add to the start-up costs. Making sure your suppliers ship your goods on time, so you have stock on market days, is also a logistical challenge, as is keeping up with repeat orders so that stock is replenished when needed, at the lowest possible cost.
Haggling is a daily activity for market traders; most customers will attempt to get a better deal than the advertised price. In fact, some traders (particularly those at car boot sales) do not price up their goods and instead rely on the ‘moment’ to decide the price, using the money made on more profitable sales to balance out the money lost when the buyer has driven a harder bargain.
Haggling can be learnt; the important thing is to always keep negotiations friendly. Saying no with a smile and an open mind will be better received than if you’re visibly annoyed.
Insurance and compliance
You’ll need public liability insurance and professional indemnity insurance as standard; bear in mind that most policies will cover your market stall should you decide to move to a different location, reducing the financial impact of a move should you find a more suitable area. However, check with your provider before you make a move to make sure it is allowed under the terms of the policy.
If you choose to employ staff, make sure you take out suitable employer's liability insurance to cover you in the event of a dispute.
You should also check with the Health and Safety Executive
(HSE) to ensure that the goods you sell are not subject to regulations e.g. hazardous chemicals.
Your first step
A great way to get acquainted with market stalls is to try your hand at car boot sales. This not only helps you to spot a bargain but also introduces you to the more social aspects of the lifestyle, which can be particularly helpful if you are not naturally a social person.