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Market Stall Start-Up to Retail Empire

This flexible route into self-employment could be the beginning of your retail empire. Linda Whitney reports Market Stall Start-Up to Retail Empire

Marks & Spencer began trading on a stall at Kirkgate Market in Leeds, Tesco started on Hackney market and housewares chain Dunelm began as a Leicester market stall selling curtains.

The UK’s 1,227 traditional markets offer a faster, less costly and bureaucratic way into business than a high street shop. Over 32,000 traders use them.

“The greatest strength of the market format is its flexibility and adaptability. If there is demand, markets give traders the opportunity to grow their business,” says Joe Harrison, chief executive of the National Market Traders Federation, the national body for market and street traders, events retailers and mobile caterers.

So if you fancy starting a market stall, here are a few things to consider:

Are you a natural market trader?

Even though most market traders no longer ‘cry their wares’ (though some do), they tend to be more active sellers than most shop-based retailers. So you need the confidence to interact in a lively way with customers.

Many market traders (and customers) love the banter of the market and the ability to build customer relationships increases sales.

Many markets also start early and involve long hours and on outdoor markets you must be hardy enough to withstand cold or wet weather. If you’re not, try an indoor market instead.

Finding the right market

Research your local markets. What products do they offer already and how could your business fit in?

Some markets focus on particular types of products, such as fresh produce, plants or hardware. If you offer a relevant product, you know that customers visiting these markets are seeking what you are selling. On the other hand, you’ll face a lot of competition, so you must offer something different.

Check what people are saying on platforms such a Facebook and Twitter about a particular market. Note the complaints and the praise and use it to help you choose your market.

The NMTF suggests visiting markets and asking customers whether they would buy your kind of product, how much they’re willing to pay, how they want to make payment and how often they will buy from you.

What are the costs?

Once you’ve chosen a market, find out how much stall rental costs.

Most markets are operated by local authorities, but others are run by private companies. They may offer a plot with a stall provided or just the plot alone (likely to be cheaper) where you provide your own stall.

Costs can be as low as £20 a day. The NMTF’s database of markets lists contacts. See

Joe says: “A variety of market operators now offer rent incentives for new businesses on their market, so see if the markets you are interested in do this.”

Remember that with a market stall, unlike a shop, you’re not tied to one location.

Joe says: “You don’t have to stay at one particular market. If you want, you can trade on a number of markets on any number of days.”

This can be a good way to research which locations are best for your particular products.

There will be some paperwork, but not as much as that involved in taking a commercial lease and the financial outlay - and thus the risk - will be lower than leasing and fitting out a high street shop. Don’t forget to factor in the cost of transport. You may need to buy or lease a van. You will probably need insurance.

Joe says: “Most market managers ask traders for proof of public and product liability insurance.” The NMTF offers members cover under an umbrella public, products and employers’ liability policy.

If you’re new to retail, check out the guides and training courses offered by the NMTF. If you need start-up funds, it’s also a referral partner to the government backed Start up Loans scheme.

Give yourself the edge by having a three to five-year business plan. Many traders don’t.

Joe says: “Entrepreneurs with realistic and robust business plans are more likely to succeed in their first year of trading on markets or market-type events.”

The NMTF offers a guide to developing a business plan.

Remember, the level of trade when you’re outdoors is very weather dependent, so your income can fluctuate more than it might in a shop.

Once you get started, make connections

“In order to succeed, it’s important for market traders to interact and build a network of customers to gain genuine feedback and learn which products sell,” Joe says. “There is a sense of community with fellow traders, offering a great opportunity to learn from them.”

When sourcing and buying products from wholesalers, research which suppliers are reputable and recommended. Get invoices and receipts for every purchase, ensuring they’re compliant with trading standards legislation. See www.

You need not limit yourself to markets - consider selling your wares at events and festivals too. Many market stalls, just like shops, now also have websites and a social media presence. Monitor posts or tweets to see which products are most popular and sell well.

“Your first year is the most valuable for seeing what works for your business and what doesn’t,” Joe says. “Keep open to new opportunities, test different products and services and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.”

My sweet life on the market

Debbie Denby runs Debbie’s Sweet Cabin in the recently redeveloped Trinity Market, an indoor market in Hull.

She says: “I started the business selling newspapers, magazines and tobacco, as well as refreshments and sweets. Over the years, I’ve let less profitable lines go and now focus on traditional sweets. Businesses in traditional retail markets need to specialise in order to attract new customers.”

Debbie loves the diversity of customers. She says: “The best thing about market trading is the diversity of customers you meet. You never know who’s going to walk up to your counter to purchase your products.” Read more like this

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