Market stall sector trends

Woman looking through variety of bags in outdoor market

(last updated July 2019)

What has been happening in the market trading sector

In common with all independent retailers, market traders have suffered in recent years from increasing competition from the multiple supermarkets, major national chains of clothes shops, footwear shops, bookshops, the online retail giant Amazon and so on. Since 2009, the retail markets sector has shrunk by over a third. This has meant that in some places market traders dealing in certain products have found it difficult to survive.

Some markets have seen a complete change in the nature of the goods sold, for example, the disappearance of traditional fruit and vegetable stalls, secondhand bookstalls, china stalls and so on and the introduction of more upmarket goods such as delicatessen lines, florists and crafts. Check out the market you propose to operate from to make sure that the range of goods for sale matches the requirements of local customers.

In recent years there has been an increase in the number of farmers markets as farmers and other rural businesses have sought to diversify and find different ways of marketing their produce. According to the National Farmers' Retail and Markets Association (FARMA) there are regular farmers markets held at over 500 locations in the UK, around half of which are certified by FARMA.

In many areas local councils have recognised that their markets are very valuable and not only provide local residents with a wide range of affordable goods, but also attract holiday makers and visitors to them because they are colourful and enjoyable venues to attend. These councils have played an active part in making sure the market can survive, for example, providing easy access to parking and bus services and ensuring that the right mix of stalls operates. Over half of all retail markets are run by local authorities and many have invested heavily to improve them. With a total turnover in excess of £2.5 billion and about 55,000 people employed in it, the retail and wholesale market industry is a major contributor to the local economy.

In 2012, the Love Your Local Market campaign was launched by the National Association of British Market Authorities (NABMA) to encourage shoppers to visit their local markets. As part of the campaign, the government included the following advice to market traders on the website:

  • arrive early so you're set up and ready when doors open
  • get extra footfall by setting up near a café or toilet
  • judge your stall from a distance to be sure it will attract the attention of passing customers
  • prepare yourself for the weather - good or bad
  • make sure you have plenty of change for your float when you open
  • have everything you need, like bags, money pouch and so on
  • price competitively so people feel they're getting a bargain but sensibly so you don't cut your own throat
  • smile - it makes people well disposed towards you and shows confidence in your goods
  • connect with people
  • interact as much as you can with fellow market traders

The original National Market Day developed into Love your market Fortnight, which takes place annually in May. The aims of the event are to raise the profile of markets in the UK, encourage start-ups and attract more young people to markets. Steps to encourage young people to use markets include setting up hot food areas, improving branding, extending opening hours and providing free wi-fi.

The National Market Traders Federation's 'NMTF First Pitch' scheme tied in with Love Your Local Market and was a start-up scheme designed to help first time market traders by providing them with mentoring and discounted rents. Funding for the First Pitch scheme was on a short-term basis and has now come to an end. 2015 saw NABMA and the NMTF launch the 'Mission for Markets' initiative designed to carry out a health check on markets in the UK, to highlight best practice and to enable the sharing of resources so that market traders and operators can improve their performance. Recommendations coming out of the initiative included the need for market traders to:

  • regularly audit their skills and identify the skills they need to sustain and grow their business
  • embrace new technology, including cashless payments, e-commerce and social media

There were 1227 traditional markets in the UK in 2016, with about 32,000 market traders. In addition there are 26 wholesale markets. Over a fifth of NMTF members traded only on the circuit of fairs, festivals and shows that take place from one to four times a year.

Keeping up to date with developments

NABMA is a special interest group within the Local Government Association and represents market operators - primarily local authority based, but also private operators as well. NABMA collaborates with the National Market Traders Federation (NMTF) on various initiatives to promote markets in the UK.

The interests of market traders are represented by the NMTF which offers members a range of benefits. The NMTF is very active in promoting the interests of markets across the UK and also produces the trade journal Market Times and 'NMTF First', a practical guide about market trading. Visit the NMTF website for further information.

The Mission for Markets website includes statistics on the markets industry in the UK as well as information about the issues that the campaign seeks to address, such as market traders' and operators' skills and the local, national and European legislation that regulates the sector.

The National Farmers' Retail and Markets Association (FARMA) is a co-operative of:

  • farmers
  • producers that sell locally
  • farmers market organisers

It certifies farmers markets so that customers can be sure that it is a genuine farmers market and that the Association's rules have been met. Visit the FARMA website for more information.

You might also want to join a trade association representing the particular line of business in which you will be setting up. Often these associations produce specialist journals which contain lots of articles and advertisements to help you with your business. The Trade Association Forum website has a list of member associations that you can search online.

Car Boot Junction is an online directory of car boot sales around the UK that operates an approval scheme and also has a discussion forum, guidance for those selling at a car boot sale for the first time and links to useful resources.

Trade shows

You will be able to obtain a lot of useful information if you go to a trade show or exhibition for your type of business. The Exhibitions UK website includes details of forthcoming exhibitions in many different industry sectors.

What does the * mean?

If a link has a * this means it is an affiliate link. To find out more, see our FAQs.