How to start up a market stall

Have you got fantastic ideas for things to make and sell? Are you bubbling with concepts for fancy crafts, clothes, or gifts that might sell for loads of cash? Perhaps you’ve just accumulated so much stuff and collectables for so long that it would now classify as vintage.

A market stall can be a great way to monetise your creativity and have fun doing it. They are a super way to reach your target market directly without the need for a complicated supply chain or global network of distributors. Let’s face it, only a few of us are likely to have the skill set for that, but we all could have a good time with a market stall.

What’s great about a market stall?

With a market stall, you’ll be able to interact directly with your clients. You can get immediate feedback from your customer base. Even a little bit of insight into their thought processes…“Hmm…Mum might like that because it’s easy to use” etc. People aren’t afraid to chatter a little at market stalls, and you can quickly come to understand who’s buying your stuff, why, what they are using it for. If you’re making fancy ornaments, crafts, jewellery or something similar, you watch your target market with your own eyes. No fussing around with user personas, online feedback surveys, user analytics, or any of the tiresome things your current job might entail.

People will come to you fully prepared to buy something already – that’s the whole point of going to a market, right? Unlike an outdoor cinema, there is little capital outlay involved in a stall, so you won’t be slaving into the wee hours over your NPV spreadsheet or three-year projections. I mean, one would hope not. Here are the things you’ll want to consider if you want your handmade luggage tags/Christmas ornaments/beaded pencil cases to be a big hit.

1. Decide on a venue

Markets are popular with the British public. Even smaller markets dedicated to vegetables and fruit, like Queens Park Farmers’ Market, have crafts and clothing sections tagged onto them. Here are some popular markets where you might enjoy being a trader.

Greenwich Market

5B Greenwich Market, London

Vibe: Jewellery, crafts, fashion, and a lot more. People come here looking for something unique and interesting, something they can’t find anywhere else or buy in bulk from AliBaba.com. Sounds like the perfect place to sell your hand-knitted mouse pads!

Crafts stall prices:

These vary throughout the week, from £10 per day on Monday (£5 for an extra stall) to £55 a day on Saturdays and Sundays (£55 for an extra stall). You can pay £30 instead if you make it as a ‘Preferred spread’. According to the assessment criteria used by Greenwich Market to rate different stalls, this presumably means you’re offering something:

  • popular;
  • original and creative;
  • ethically sourced;
  • Made in Britain; and,
  • comes with handy information about how it’s used, made and so forth.

Bull Ring Rag Market

Edgbaston Street, Birmingham

Vibe: Bull Ring Rag Market runs four days a week, on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. This market is loud and international. So you’ll find oriental fabrics, lots of cloth to touch and feel, haberdashery, household items, and finished clothing.

Crafts stall prices:

Prices get higher as footfall increases from the weekdays to the weekends, here you can have a look on the Birmingham City Council website. Prices vary from £14.70 for an inner stall on a Tuesday to £30.30 for a wall stall on a Saturday. Whatever you choose, the Bull Ring Indoor Food Market is nearby, so you can pop in and get something for dinner later.

Camden Market

Camden Lock Place, Camden Town

Vibe: There are literally over 1000 stalls at Camden Market, and a huge number of these sell vintage or crafty items. Buskers make the place quite lively, so if this is something you enjoy, you will like trading at Camden Market. So if the place were to be described in three words, I’d say Vintage, Eclectic, and Retro.

Crafts stall prices:

£15 from Monday to Thursday, £30 on Friday, and £65 for a Saturday, Sunday, or bank holiday. This includes a wooden board and a stall frame, so you will need your own tablecloth, stall ‘skirt’ (so people don’t see your legs?), sign, tarp, and extension leads. It takes two weeks for them to get back to you when you first apply to start trading, so think ahead.

You’ll need to arrive before 9.30am so you can be allocated a stall, and will also need a card to pay someone called The Market Manager for your rent. FYI, when I asked a stall owner how long it took to set up his stall, he said one hour.

Note: this is one of the few places you won’t need a stall license to sell your goods, as Camden Market is a private site.

Portobello Road Market

Portobello Road, London

Vibe: Full of both fashion and tourists, Portobello Road market is mad crowded on weekends. There are gorgeous antiques and books at one end, amongst other flea market stuff, and all sorts of food stalls, gifts, performers along the market. Behind the stalls are real brick-and-mortar stores, so everyone is pretty much either here to buy, or to sell.

Crafts stall prices:

Casual designer-maker product stalls in Portobello Road itself cost £13 a day between Monday and Thursday, as you’ll see here. On Friday and Saturday, when footfall goes through the roof, you may pay around £23 (Friday) and £45-£47 (Saturday) depending on where you pitch. Three tips:

1) You can become a regular trader after you’ve been selling for 4 weeks. Stall prices then drop to between £25 for Sunday trading only and £60 for a seven-day license.

2) When you start as a casual trader, you have to pay in person at the Street Trading Office in the morning.

3) Electricity is extra. Rent a cable, and be aware that only certain lengths of the street will have electricity access, in the first place.

You’ll need to adhere to these market pitch dimensions too. This document is unexciting, but if you look closely you’ll see that only certain spaces allow gazebos. This will matter if you’re planning to sell, say, paper products which will disintegrate the second it starts raining.

The Nails Market, St Nicholas Market, Bristol

The Corn Exchange, Corn Street, Bristol

Runs from 10-5 on Fridays and Saturdays.

Vibe: Bustling and busy! Many jewellery stalls (they won’t accept any more for now), photography, unusual gifts, antiques, and lots of interesting finds that don’t fit into the usual categories.

Crafts stall prices:

Included in crafts stall prices are an umbrella, tables, electricity access, and a parking space nearby St Nicholas Market. Regular traders pay £25 per Friday and £30 for a Saturday stall. Casual traders pay £5 more for each. After you trade five times, you win the right to trade regularly. There are also discounts for both under 21s and new traders, which is lovely, we think.

If you only have a small collection of things to sell, you can sell from a suitcase. If this interests you, there is an £8 charge and you will need a suitcase trading license.

Note: suitcase sellers are not allowed to yell out their wares, so you won’t need to be scared about this happening.

All Saints Garden Art & Craft Market

All Saints Garden, Trinity St, Cambridge

Vibe: Everything and anything crafts-related can be found here. From ceramics and glassware to woodcrafts, paintings, leather, and papercraft. Priority is given to traders who have something to offer that is different to current traders because diversity and distinctiveness are good things. Also, you will find it easier to get a pitch if you are ready to trade regularly rather than sporadically.

Crafts stall prices:  £32.09 daily. I don’t know why so specific, but there you go.

You can sign up for a stall at All Saints Garden Art & Craft Market here.

2. Licensing and regulations

All the markets above require you to have some form of public liability insurance. You can apply for special market trader insurance for your business from the Combined Market Traders Insurance Association (you are allowed to call it ‘CMTIA’ after you’ve been in the biz a while). For £57 annually this will cover claims of up to £5,000,000 – let’s hope nothing that serious happens, though. The National Market Traders Federation also offers public liability insurance for up to the same amount, as this is considered standard. In addition to this:

  • You should get a market stall license from the local council, which can be a temporary/casual or fixed license.
  • You mustn’t lie to or mislead your consumers about where your goods come from, as per the Trade Descriptions Act.
  • You should adhere to the Consumer Rights Act. Be aware that consumers have a right to return and receive a refund in certain cases. Goods that are not of satisfactory quality, unfit for purpose, or as described can be returned and/or refunded, basically.

3. Documentation

The application process for a stall varies depending on where you want to trade. Using Camden Market as an example, you will often need things like:

Proof of identity – UK or foreign driving license, valid passport, valid national ID card, or a recent benefit entitlement letter

2 forms of proof of address – 2 of the following: UK mortgage statement, UCAS letter, TV License or Direct Debit schedule, Council Tax bill. There are more here.

Registered company name – if you have an official one for a limited company.

Business ownership details – if you aren’t a limited company.

4. Something unique to offer

At FindMeAStartup, we’ve gone through a lot of different market websites. A common theme, ironically enough, is Uniqueness. Your product does not have to be out of this universe, but you need to offer something at least slightly different to the other traders’ goods. Even the Bull Ring Rag Market in Birmingham, which sells only fabric-related stuff, provides massive diversity.

Whether you’re selling feathered remote control covers, sequinned cereal bowls, or 3D-printed car window decorations, originality will make your stall stand out. What you want to keep in mind at the same time, is the AIDA Model of Awareness, Interest, Desire, and Action. If you’ve never been in marketing or sales before, this is the process you want your customers to go through so you can move products. A fair idea of how this works might be:

Awareness – Customers can’t buy from you if they don’t know you exist. Make a flashy sign for your stall, create an amazing layout of your goods, generate word-of-mouth, print leaflets, etc.

Interest – Grab their interest, for example, let them watch you make your goods, answer their questions and link product features to customer benefits;

Desire – Now kindle their desire to buy as you make it clear how your novelty chopping boards will transform them into the life of any party;

Action – Basically you’ve just won, congratulations. The customer buys your retro egg slicer, or whatever, you just count out their change.

5. Some form of accounting

As you scale up – perhaps through an online store or custom orders – you’ll need to start keeping track of your profits and losses at the very least. Income statements are the simplest of all the financial documents, and you can download a template for free here. These can take a little getting used to, so here is a (relatively) user-friendly guide you can use for help. There is almost nothing to lose if you start messing around with one of these for a one week period, for example. Even if you throw it out, you’ll get an idea of how it can be helpful later for a real financial period.

Enter your material costs, such as wholesale beads and string, paint, canvases, hemp for your hemp shower caps, or whatever you use, to get the whole financial picture. Factor in your:

  • transport to and from the market
  • stall rent
  • electricity costs (cables and wires, in most of the cases we’ve looked at)
  • materials for your stall (table cloth, signage, paper bags for customers)
  • business cards, if you’ve thought that far ahead.

Some real stallholders opinions

I asked a few stallholders at Totnes Market today what they considered the best and worst aspects of their jobs. Here’s what I got before I left to get food.

Best aspects

“Definitely being my own boss. Oh yeah, definitely!”

“I move from market to market, and one of the best things is meeting so many different people.”

“You are your own boss!”

Worst aspects

The rain and the cold.” – this man made a sad face about it, too.

“The cold in winter…I get [literal] cold feet.”

“Sitting in traffic for an hour to get here.”

If you are losing money, live in one of the UK’s most congested cities, or if the cold and rain bother you a lot, this might not be the career for you. I mean, winter in the UK sucks. To be fair, though, these don’t sound like seriously bad downsides to me. What do you think?

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