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How to Run a Successful Market Stall

This page will deal with how to create and run a successful market stall. In my case I chose to run a stall at music festivals. If you are going to be running a different type of stall or event, take what you want from this page and skim over what is irrelevant.

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Why Do It?

There are two main reasons - to make money, to enjoy the lifestyle, or both combined.

If making money is your primary goal then you will need to be a good businessman. But you also have to sell or do something you enjoy. If you love what you are doing it isn’t hard work and people can pick up on your enthusiasm. But if you don’t like what you are doing it will show through and success will be hard. Some stall holders start a new venture and show up for a couple of festivals and then you never see them again. For them the reality and demands weren’t worth it. I have also seen new stalls where the owners came in with a business plan to make money, and were successful, but along the way they became part of the community and it became a labor of love. Most stall holders do it because they enjoy the lifestyle but also want to make some money, or at least not lose money doing it. Done right you can do both, but there is planning and investment that needs to be in place.

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Why I Got Into It

I went to a four day festival and spent a good portion of my time hanging out with the stall holders, drinking tea, chatting, seeing people come and go. Compared to my faraway tent which I had to walk back and forth to for changes of clothes, food, etc, I realized that the stall holders had it made. They had their stall on the main thoroughfare, electricity, and slept behind their stall in a van or tent. My entry ticket cost me $200 while the stall holders paid $400, but that included two tickets. So once the stall holders have their stall and something to sell or look at, they have the prime spot. I went home from this festival a changed man with a new plan.

My First Festival

I bought a cheap 3×3 meter stall and tried selling stones and crystals I was buying on eBay from Thailand. I paid the $400 festival entry fee, purchased 10 million dollars of insurance for $200, and drove 14 hours to my first event. I made some money, actually more than one of my neighbors who was a festival regular, but I ended up at least $3000 down. But what I learned from this experience was priceless and I’ve made money on every festival since. Not enough to get rich, but enough to pay for all my expenses, buy more stock, and a few trinkets along the way. I wouldn’t quit my day job but it has enriched my life. I was fortunate as I had great neighbors and all the stall holders were very encouraging and provided greatly appreciated advice. When I look back I see all the mistakes I made, and many others go down the same path out of necessity.

Have a Quality Marquee

I started off with an eBay special and it not only looked terrible but was so flimsy I was lucky we didn’t have any wind or rain. But getting into markets most stall holders start off with a cheap marquee. If you are considering getting into this look around at markets and ask the stall holders about their marquee. When you ind the professional looking stall, you will notice that they always have a top quality marquee. It is the essential piece of equipment. You can change your products, but you need good infrastructure.

The one I use now is heavy duty and could be setup permanently for outdoor use at cafes etc. It’s solid, no plastic parts, and can support my weight swinging from the roof. You’ll want water proof PVC coated sides, with Velcro to seal the corners and top. There should be holes for grommets so you can secure it when you are not there or sleeping.

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Find a Niche

Everybody has something they are good at, something that interests them, or you might stumble upon something that really sells. At my first festival I saw that there were several other vendors selling crystals. This was not a good product to sell despite my personal feelings it would go well. I was selling some smoking accessories and found that they flew out the door. So I bought some nice display cases and sold my crystals in collections on Ebay to dump the stock. With that money I purchased more smoking accessories and the rest was history. I never have achieved the lofty monetary goals I had dreamed of, but my festival lifestyle is now self sustaining.

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Be Nice

This goes without saying but many people come drop by at other festivals and say what a good vibe our stall has. If you are happy and acknowledge everyone who drops by, make small talk, and be semi occupied with a beer, the person will not feel pressured. If you are nice and your products are good, the sales will come.

Make Your Stall Attractive

Every event I go to I’m looking at everyone’s stall to get new ideas, and I always do something every event to make it look better. I’ve done well in sales in poor locations as I’ve had an attractive setup. It should also be easy to clean. I’ve gone from using tarps as a floor to using shade cloth. Tarps get dusty, have puddles in the rain, and got hot on bare feet in the sun. Shade cloth allows spilled beers and rain to flow through. It can be swept, and it folds up clean. It also looks very attractive.

Have good lighting that doesn’t get hot or use lots of power. You’re on a generator so have to be careful as to power load. Sure it’s the promoter’s responsibility, but I’ve been at festivals without power as the generator has blown and everyone starts looking at their electrical usage. I’ve gone from three 250 watt construction lights, to small spotlights where the bulbs kept popping at $8 each. Now I use 10m rope LED lights which uses only 50 watts. I have a blue one outside on the front, and a soft white one that drapes around the ceiling. This also cuts back on setup time as I’m not up and down a ladder running cords everywhere.

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Have a decent vehicle

You’ll have a lot of gear if you get into doing markets. A van is preferable as you can load lots of stuff in and it’s lockable. Once at a festival you can sleep in the van too, especially nice when it’s bad weather.

Network

Talk with everyone and show you are mature, reliable, and discreet.

Be compassionate

Lend a hand where needed and look after each other. Look after everyone you see. There will be times you find some one out of their head or dehydrated. Practice random acts of kindness. It doesn’t cost anything to be nice and will bring good karma.

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Tips and Tricks

This section will pack a lot of information into a small space.

To be successful you need to look at the type of events that you are interested in or will be successful for you. Check out the entry fee, length of the event, driving time, and see if it’s profitable for you. Sometimes it’s worth going a long ways to an exceptional event and accepting that you may not cover costs but it will be greatly reduced in expenses for you, and could be an event that you couldn’t afford otherwise. Generally if you feel that strongly about attending, you will do all right in sales.

Put in the hours. You will want to close up at time and see what is going on outside your stall or to socialize, but when you are open is when you make the sales. Apart from making sales, if you are on a circuit where you know the crowd, your stall will become popular and you’ll not want to leave for long. I generally stay open late and try to be one of the last stalls to close. This can be 2-4 am sometimes. But you’ll also miss out on business if you are not open in the morning. With two people running the stall, one can go to bed earlier and open earlier. You’ll maximize sales this way, and you’ll learn what times of day you will be busiest. At a certain point, especially at music festivals, everyone will be wasted and you can close up and go enjoy yourselves.

If you are doing a multi day event a good setup is to have a 3×3 meter stall at the front for the public, and another 3×3 stall behind a curtain or wall where you can have your private area for cooking, changing, water, clothes, etc. Then you park your van or have your tent behind the second marquee. If you place a tarp over your tent or van you will have darkness to aid in sleeping and provide privacy. If you do this be sure to allow for airflow between the tarp and your van or tent to stay cool.

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You want to make your stall inviting but you also want to control access to the back. You’ll have to experiment to find what works for you. Not only do you want your stall to look good but you want to contribute to the festival experience and if your stall looks good, your neighbors will be happy too. Markets are definitely a community and it takes a group effort to make it come together and succeed.

  • Use good quality electrical cords and power boxes. Ensure they are always in good shape.
  • Enjoy yourself, it will reflect in your sales.
  • When setting up check out the sites available (if not booked into specific spots) and look at thoroughfares, proximity to stage, volume of music you are comfortable, who else is around that you might enjoy as a neighbor, and where the bathrooms are.
  • Have a variety of products. There are two approaches to selling. Some stall holders sell high ticket items and can get through an event with only a few sales. I prefer to price items affordably at varying price points. I have items at $2, $5, $10, $20, $30, $40, $50, and $65. Try to set your prices so you can make easy change.
  • Bring your own supplies of water, toilet paper, flashlights, and some food. Bring clothes for every type of weather. Expect it to be colder, hotter, and wetter than you think and you should be well prepared.
  • Be organized. Designate large containers for electrical cords, marquee accessories, stock, and food. Have a good bed and bring earplugs.
  • Have fun!

You might also be interested in reading my experiences with running a market stall at music festivals

References

None - all the information here has come about through real world experience.

Commerce | Business| Small Business


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