March 31, 2022
By: Peter Gregory
Market stalls are a fast, cost-effective way for fashion startups to get clothes in front of a ready-made crowd. But where do you start? If you’re a market trading novice, what do you need to sort out before you can book your stall? What jobs should you tackle first?
At GB Labels, we work with hundreds of businesses, large and small, in the UK fashion industry. Based on our conversations with these brands, we’ve come up with a list of essentials for your first market stall. Here’s a checklist of what you need to do, and what you need to have, before you can trade from a market:
First off, you need to find a market! You can’t set up a stall anywhere — you need to find an existing market or event, contact the organisers and book your pitch. Here in the UK, market stalls tend to be run by councils or by event management companies. Do a quick internet search for the event you’re interested in and you’ll usually be able to find out who’s organising it in a few minutes.
If you don’t have Public Liability Insurance, you won’t be able to book a market pitch anywhere. Market organisers just won’t allow you to exhibit without it. You may need other kinds of insurance cover depending on the structure of your business and what you’re planning to sell.
Public Liability Insurance is worth having, even if you just exhibit at one market stall. It’s not expensive, and it protects your business from any claims that might arise from your interactions with the public. You might also need Employers Liability insurance (this is a legal requirement if you employ people in the UK), and you could look at Event Cancellation Insurance and Theft Of Takings Cover, too. Our guide to insurance for clothing businesses lists out every type of insurance cover that you should at least be aware of.
If you want to sell your designs to shoppers at a market stall, you need to be able to take payment by card … there really is no way around it. The use of cash has been declining for years now; in fact, in 2020 less than one fifth of all payments were made with physical money (source: ukfinance.org.uk). Debit cards are now the most popular way to pay for goods in the UK, so make sure your business can accept them!
Card readers aren’t as expensive as they once were. The setup process is much simpler these days, too. You can set yourself up with a card payment facilitator (e.g. Sumup, iZettle or Square) reasonably quickly, too. All you need is a business bank account, an email address and a mobile phone. You can learn more on our beginner’s guide to taking card payments.
A busy market stall will put your brand right in the middle of a vast sea of shoppers … but you still need to draw those shoppers in. You attract customers to your stall with eye-catching signage. Stall signage comes in all shapes and sizes. Teardrop flags and A-frames sit apart from your market stall and are meant to attract shoppers from a distance, whereas roller stands, valence banners and tabletop banners are a better option if you’re trying to get passers-by to stop and take a look.
Some market organisers don’t allow any bespoke signage at their markets, so check before you place an expensive order for custom signs. When you’re designing a sign for your market stall, be bold, and don’t try to cram in too much information. Remember that the first job of a sign is to catch the attention of a passing shopper. The next job is to compel that shopper to take a look at what you’re selling.
Depending on the market, you might need to bring your own tent. Event marquees (also known as gazebos) come in all shapes and sizes, but most markets expect your tent to be 3 metres wide by 3 metres deep.
There are two main parts to a trader marquee: the fold-out metal frame, and the canvas cover that slips over the top:
This is one area where you really do get what you pay for. Call around and get a few quotes, but make sure to factor in the overall weight of the tent, delivery times and print quality.
See if you can get a deal on some add-on equipment at the same time. You might just need a few trestle tables and leg weights, or you might want to invest in clothes rails, shelves, mannequins and more. Just remember that you’ve got to move all of this stock and equipment twice a day — at the start and end of the day’s trading period — so don’t overload yourself.
You might think that you can operate a market stall on your own, but it’s a lot easier with two or more people … especially on a busy day. If you need to use the toilet, drop money off at the bank, pick up more stock or even deal with two customers at once, then it pays to have a colleague who can cover for you.
There is — quite rightly — a lot of red tape involved in hiring an employee. You need to pay people fairly, take responsibility for their health and safety, train them up properly, make sure they take breaks and so on. If this is going to be your first time employing someone, our advice is to talk to a temp agency, and potentially an HR consultant. You should also read up on the ‘Employing People’ section of the Gov.uk website (see here).
There is a lot of paperwork involved in setting yourself up as a market stall trader. The good news is that it’s all fairly straightforward and just needs to be reviewed annually.
You’ll almost always need a risk assessment. A risk assessment document is basically a list of what could go wrong, and what you would do about it, when running your stall. Some organisers expect you to submit a separate COVID risk assessment document, too. The HSE has a risk assessment template on its website (see here).
Some local councils will expect you to apply for a market stall licence (see gov.uk) and/or a street trading licence (see gov.uk). You might also be asked for paperwork relating to fire safety, electrical safety and/or insurance, too. Most organisers will ask you to supply paperwork digitally in the lead-up to the event, but just in case, keep a print-out of everything in a folder, and keep that folder with you at all times.
You should keep records of every sale you make from your stall, too. The easiest way to do this is with your smartphone or tablet. If you have to keep paper records, make sure you jot down the item(s), the price and the time of each sale. You will find it much easier to take stock, cash up and figure out which times are busiest if you’ve got it all recorded in one place.
Your cash box can be a high-tech cash register or a simple zippered money belt — all that matters is that your ‘cash box’ lets you store your takings securely. If possible, your cash box should be set up in such a way that you can count cash out of sight of customers. It should be easy for you to move around, so that if you need to take a trip down to the bank half-way through your trading day you can do so without feeling like an easy target for thieves.
Cash boxes should always have a float — that’s a ‘starter’ amount of notes and coins that allow you to give shoppers correct change. You should ‘cash up’ at least once a day (‘cashing up’ is where you count and record how much you have, in notes and coins, in your cash box), and try to deposit money in your bank as fast as you possibly can.
If you have Theft Of Takings Insurance, read your policy carefully before investing in a cash box. Your insurance may only be valid if your cash box meets certain standards.
You can’t make sales on a market stall without power and light … especially in winter. Fashion customers won’t buy clothes if they can’t see them properly, so you need a lot of bright, clean light in your tent. The same goes for your card machine: you have to be able to take card payments throughout the day. If you lose your card reader before your day is done, you will lose sales.
Some market organisers will offer you a power hookup, but you should bring a backup power source with you, too. Invest in a USB battery pack (also known as a power bank) and a few LED lights (battery powered or with USB plugs), so that you’ll always have enough light and power to trade.
USB battery packs are fine if you just need light and a card reader, but if you’re planning on running a lot of power-hungry equipment on your stall (patio heaters, screen printers and so on), then it might be worth getting a generator. Generators are noisy machines and they spit out emissions, so it’s not surprising that some organisers only allow generators that meet specific environmental standards. You will also need secure fuel storage facilities and fencing to protect members of the public.
If your business doesn’t already have a small van, then now may be the time to get one. You need a way to transport stock and equipment to and from your market stall. Taxis and van hire companies are one option, but they tend to cost more money and take more time to organise. If you’re planning on trading at a lot of market stalls over the coming months, then it may be worth buying a van or a company car.
You can treat the cost of a vehicle as a business expense, but there are specific rules you must follow depending on how your business is set up (sole trader, partnership or limited company), how you pay for the vehicle (cash, finance or hire contract), and how you account for mileage. Ask your accountant for professional advice on vehicle expenses before you go shopping — it’s important to get this right from day one.
Last but most definitely not least is your branded merchandise! A stall isn’t just a selling opportunity: it’s a branding and marketing opportunity too. If someone finds you at a market and falls in love with your products, you need to make it easy for them to tell their friends. Invest in some branded t-shirts, carrier bags and satin ribbons. Make sure that everything you sell is labelled with your logo (we can help you with this). Get your branding onto your marquee and van, and don’t be afraid to hand out business cards promoting your website and socials!
Not only is a market stall a great way to make money, but it’s a great way to learn what sells. Website stats won’t tell you what shoppers think of your clothes, and neither will the opinions of a few retail buyers. You have to get your hands dirty.
With a market stall, you get to watch a shopper interact with your business in real time. You watch shoppers approach your stall. You study their reaction to your products. You listen to what’s important to them as they make a decision on what — if anything — they’re going to buy. You learn just as much from watching a shopper who doesn’t buy as you will from watching a shopper who does. That’s the kind of intuitive knowledge you can’t pick up in the classroom … so get out there, set up your tent and learn while you earn!
Thanks for reading!