7 things I learnt from running a market stall

Written by Fifi, founder of SouthEast15

I love a market. Any market. Food, art, fashion, vintage. You name it, I will be there perusing the market stalls with a flat white in hand (like a real market w*nker) with no particular purchase in mind but just chasing the thrill of possibly finding something unique to take home with me. 


Sometimes, during all the perusing and the coffee-sipping, I would wonder what it would be like to run a market stall. I dunno, it just looks kinda fun, doesn’t it? Like playing grown-up shop. 

Well, I finally got the chance to run my first ever market stall at Peckham Festival selling our SouthEast15 merch. Not only was it great fun but also a super valuable experience, so I thought I would pass on some tips on running a market stall and why, if you have a small business or you’re a budding entrepreneur, it might be a smart option for you.

1. It’s a cheap and quick way to test a business idea

Chilli sauce, vintage shirts, craft gin. Whatever your idea, a pop-up market stall can be a great way to start a business or test a business idea. It’s relatively cheap and quick to set up - so not much risk involved. If you have a variety of products, different flavours or multiple product colour ways, then it can be a great way to see what items people are drawn to and even better, you can even get instant feedback -ask people what they prefer. This can save a lot of costs in the long term, you can use this as research of what to stock more of / what to stock less of / what to push in your marketing campaigns/ what to bring more of to your next market stall. If you’re at the beginning of your business journey then testing your new idea at a market will very quickly indicate whether there is interest in your product or service and how much are people willing to pay for your product.

Tip/learning: One of the things I was testing with our market stall was a new print design. So far our merch has centred around Peckham designs (which have been really popular) but I wanted to test whether people were interested in my illustration style and concepts which are inspired by SE15 but not specifically using ‘Peckham’ as the focus. I wanted to see what people thought of our new ‘It’s raining women’ print - a playful representation of female empowerment. It sold really well. This showed me that there is room for us to expand our designs as people are interested in our style and ideas. This was a relatively inexpensive way for me to test a new design idea and get real-time feedback. It was amazing to see how the design resonated with people and they were able to tell me why they wanted to buy the print - this is valuable customer feedback. 


2. Pick a market that makes sense to your business

It’s important to choose a market which makes sense to your business - do a bit of research. If you have no idea what to sell at a market then head down to various market places to see what kind of market stalls are trading there, get some inspiration! Find out what are the best things to sell on a market stall by seeing which stands are the busiest! If you already have your market stand idea ready to go, then check out various markets to see who is actually visiting them. If you are selling anything, in general, you should have a customer in mind. You need to be at the market where your ideal customer is visiting - whether that’s a Peckham market, Hackney market or Portobello market, do your research and find your customer. 

Tip/learning: I chose to trade at Peckham market as of course, I know this is predominately where our audience is. However, I also know from our site analytics that we have people visiting our site that live in Hackney, Brixton, Lewisham etc so if we were to do another market I would consider checking out markets in those areas too.


3. Get to know your customers 

So, you have done your research and picked a market where you know your ideal customer will be visiting - this is now your chance to get your product in front of your target customer. This is a unique opportunity to get instant feedback on what it is you’re selling - you can use this to develop or hone your product or service. It is also a great way to do some customer profiling research. You can find out not only primary demographics (gender/age etc) but also observe the ‘type’ of person interested in your products, chat to them. You might be surprised to learn some customer characteristics you hadn’t considered. All this is valuable information not only for product development but also for your marketing approach.

Tip/learning: Selling our merch online, I am never sure how people interpret the concepts (i.e ‘Peckham Girls Do It Better’ tote is playful and tongue in cheek) so I loved actually seeing peoples' reactions and understanding why they were drawn to certain designs. I was also interested to learn that a lot of people were buying our merch as gifts for their Peckham housemates, or as housewarming gifts. This could be useful information when it comes to planning any marketing . I might now consider focusing some of our marketing activity around promoting particular prints as a housewarming gift targeted at a certain customer segment.

4. Your display is everything

The design and presentation of your market stand plays a massive role in whether it will grab someone's attention to stop and have a look. The way you choose to style your stand is obviously dependent on what you are selling, if you need inspiration then Pinterest is the perfect tool to find market stall display ideas (have a look at our mood board). You want your market stall display to look eye-catching and inviting but don’t overdo it, your product needs to be the main feature. Make sure your products are neatly laid out making it easy for passers-by to see. For example, don’t lie everything down flat. Think about height and angles - make sure people can see your display from every which way. Have clear market stall signage - if it is not obvious from a distance what you’re selling, make a sign. Clearly, show prices, my advice would be to make it visible from a distance, people are more likely to come and check out what you’re selling if they know the price range, it not only helps overcome British awkwardness but for some people they make the decision to check our a stall if they know it is within their spending budget. 

Tip/learning: If you can (and it makes sense to your product) pre-wrap a few items so you don’t end up faffing around - we found out wind and tissue paper is quite the challenge. I wanted people to pick up our leaflets so I put them next to a bowl of (vegan) sweets and made a sign with a clear call-to-action ‘Take a leaflet and some vegan sweets’ - clearly telling people what we wanted them to do, and they did it.

5. Make transactions easy

Cash and markets used to go hand in hand - well, not anymore. Who carries cash around with them these days? From my experience on a market stall, I will say not many. For this reason, it’s important to consider making the purchase process as easy as possible - and that means accepting contactless payments. Yep, I know it may seem like another unnecessary expense at the outset to purchase a card reader, but I think if you don’t offer this service it is most likely you will miss out on quite a few sales. We used Square card reader it’s around £30 to purchase and accepts chip and PIN cards, contactless cards, Apple Pay and Google Pay. You just need to connect it to your iPhone/iPad and you're good to go (it is super simple to set up). It then takes a small percentage of each of the sales you make (it’s a flat fee). 

Tip/learning: Do not leave it to the last minute to set your card reader up, even though it is straightforward, you want to test it out before you start selling on your market stall. It needs a good wifi/4G connection for it to work, so make sure this is available.

6. Integrate your offline and online marketing efforts

Okay, this may sound a tad advanced for just running a market stall. But this goes back to being clear on what the purpose of your market stall is. For many small businesses running a market stall is not just about making sales but also brand awareness - getting your business/products out there in front of people. For us, our primary goal running a market stall was to promote SouthEast15, by telling people who hadn’t come across our site what we are all about. Many brands don’t have a physical store or space so a market stand is a great way to maximise your marketing strategy by merging both online and offline efforts. For example, by having a simple sign on your stand with your social handle encourages people to follow you on Instagram/Facebook/Twitter - my advice would be to choose one and put that on your sign. 

Encourage people to take pictures of your stand (which is why a well-presented and branded stand is important) or the products they have purchased and ask them to tag your business (attach a card to their purchase with your social details on), not only will this organically help spread the word but it also makes for great user-generated content which you could repost (and credit). Another idea would be to have leaflets/flyers on your stand or to give out which includes a clear message about whatever it is you want to promote. Be smart with this though. Really think about the one thing you want to tell that person or the one thing you want them to do. Don’t try and cram everything on to a flyer! You could also include a QR code which people can scan taking them quickly and directly to your website or certain page. For example the main message on our leaflets was to tell people ‘what’s on in Peckham’ we added a QR code which people could scan to take them directly to our events page. So not only is the purpose of our leaflet to promote our events page but it is useful to the person who has picked it up. 


It also works the other way round too - ahead of your event post on your social channels/your blog/website that you will be down at such and such market, this will hopefully encourage your customers/readers to come down and say hi (giving you the opportunity to meet your customers) as well as giving people the chance to see/try your products in person, as for some people, not being able to see a particular product in hand might be a barrier to purchase.

Tip/learning: Set up trackable QR codes on your leaflets so you can actually see if people have used it. Make sure you utilise your market stand, this is your chance to tell people about you and your brand story.

7. Two is better than one

So, this is just an observation. We found that when we had 2 or more people working on our stand we sold more. My analysis of this is, we think when there is just 1 person running a market stand it can sometimes be a bit intimidating for the passer-by. They may want to browse your goods but could feel if they come over they will feel obliged to buy something as the market stall owner is standing there staring at them. This might put them off coming over all together. I know from my own personal experience I like the chance to have a look at a stand in my own time without the seller attacking me with conversation the minute I walk over. So, I would say be welcoming, friendly and ready to answer any questions but don’t crowd people, give them a chance to have a look! So, we found when there were 2 of us chatting on the stand it made people feel more comfortable to come over and take a look, which then more often than not turned into them buying something. 

Tip/learning: See if you can rope in a pal/lover/mum/dad/sister/pet to help you out! If you plan to run your own market stall be prepared to engage with customers - which means being chatty, happy and confident. 

If like me you have always wondered what it would be like to sell at a market then it is time to put aside your fears, bite the bullet, and get started with your idea! Some of the most successful brands started from humble market stall beginnings like Innocent smoothies. 

Count yourself lucky we resisted from any shite Del Boy/Only Fools and Horses market stall jokes. Journalists take note - we know you haven’t stepped into Peckham in a long time (if ever) if your opening line is ‘Peckham, home to Del Boy’ Bye.