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Becoming a market trader

If early starts and cold weather don’t put you off, being a market trader offers professional freedom

RUNNING a market stall has lots of advantages if you are looking for possible money-earners. While it suits morning larks better than night owls, market traders get around the area, meet loads of people, and finish their working day early.

Better still, they only work when they feel like it.

In order to keep a good pitch in a market rather than popping up all over the place where your regulars cannot find you, you have to turn up on a fairly regular basis, but nobody expects book sellers to turn out in a rainstorm for example, and once you are established, a couple of weeks away will not hurt your business. It is also up to you how many days a week you work.

Sell something that is not currently being sold in the markets around you. Apart from not having any competition, you will avoid annoying pre-existing stallholders.

English books sell well in areas with a big student population and lots of British expats. British groceries are trickier – but again can be successful in areas with large expat populations.

Best however, is some sort of handicraft you make or produce yourself and that can appeal to visitors to the market, including tourists. Cards made from local dried flowers, patchwork cushion covers, simple wooden items; the range is enormous.

Another worthwhile idea is importing items from neighbouring countries; earthenware cooking utensils from Spain, sandals from Italy, flower bulbs from Holland.

Wherever there is a price difference between one country and another, there is a business to be built.

Dealing with foodstuffs is trickier and requires much more stringent checks and paperwork than dealing in non-edible goods.

The exception is if you are already registered as a farmer or local producer. The rules are then more relaxed and you may find it worthwhile selling your own honey, jams and chutney for example.

Foodstuffs you sell must be related to your agricultural production, however. As an onion farmer you could sell onion soup, onion chutney and perhaps even fried onion rings, but would struggle for permission to sell chocolate mousse. The nitty-gritty of setting up as a market trader is more complicated than back in the UK but absolutely do-able, so do not be put off.

Firstly you must be registered as a business. If you are already running a business you need to check whether your business status allows you to set up a stall and sell goods. For example, gardening is a different type of business to selling gardening tools. While the auto-entrepreneur status is more flexible in the jobs you can carry out, the move to selling goods will make your business a commercial one – different from creative (artisan) or professions libérales. You may find you need to re-register.

Your first port of call should be your local chambre de commerce who can tell you whether you need to re-register. Take someone to translate if necessary. You will need to have decided a name to register the business under, proof of ID and address, and cheques for around e200 to cover costs and chambre membership.

Next, you will have to arrange third party insurance – which for a market trader is around e100/e150 a year, and can be bought from any insurance broker.

Having got your official papers back in the post from the chambre de commerce, including your siret number, you go to the préfecture and apply for your market trader’s card – carte permettant l’exercice d’activités non sédentaires. Without it you will not get a pitch on the market. This card is free, you just hand over the paperwork from the chambre, your insurance papers, plus proof of ID and address and a passport-style photo of yourself for the card.

You then make a formal application to the market where you want to trade.

You make this application by letter via the mairie and normally, within a week or two you will be invited to turn up at the market very early with all your paperwork, and should then be allocated a pitch by un placier – which is the job title of the person allocating pitches. The cost of pitches varies, starting at a modest €1 per metre.

Although your takings will be mainly in cash, you have to keep strict accounts for your tax declaration and your declaration to Urssaf who deal with social security contributions for self-employed people.

Keep receipts for all your expenses, including business items such as internet and phone – as you can claim a proportion of them for business use. Employing a bilingual accountant makes life easier unless you are confident about both your French and financial skills.

Finally, do not be put off by the paperwork involved.

Being your own boss

Back in 1995 when Mark Woods was looking for a change of direction that would give him more time to spend with his kids, he hit on the idea of running a market stall. He has been doing it ever since so we asked for his tips on how to start.

“The beauty of it is that you only work mornings. Most markets are closed by midday,” he said.

Running a market stall also means you can do as few or as many markets as you like: “It just depends on how far you want to travel and how much money you need to make.”
Mr Woods works in markets around Lodève in the Hérault (34) selling Spanish pottery which he imports. Setting it up was simple as he had often visited his cousin on the Costa Brava which is well-known for its earthenware and coloured glazes.

He found suppliers by getting a list of potteries from the tourist office and going round them all to see their work. Choosing his stock was not difficult – he just sells things he likes.

When he started there was a big price difference between Spain and France and a pottery mini boom until about 2000 meant he had two or three competitors. Today he is the only one left.

As for paperwork, he says “frankly there isn't much” which might come as a surprise to anyone struggling with French bureaucracy, but once your business is set up paperwork is reasonably light. He is registered as a commerçant, and his business is a micro-entreprise so he does not touch TVA (VAT).

For him, the main hurdle about having a market stall is the placier as he runs the market and all-importantly, decides who gets which pitch.

At the beginning, you have to fight tooth and nail for your place – especially at the best markets. Regulars get regular places and newbies get leftovers, replacement pitches and
odd corners – perhaps nothing at all.

Sometimes the placier works on a “first come first served” basis, but sometimes friends get preference, you just have to see which way it goes.

For seasonal tourist markets, you have to start in April in order to get your regular place and get to know the market. Placing is vital because if you end up in a corner beside the bins you will make far less than just outside the newsagents.

“Sometimes placiers give you fewer metres than you ask for – but at the beginning it can be a good trick to ask for a tiny stall and be accommodating and offer to squeeze into a corner. Then you can ask for a bigger space after a few weeks.”

Other stall keepers can be a mixed bunch: Some helpful, some less so. People selling easy-to-steal items (cosmetics, hair accessories, CDs) are generally quite tough and will not have time to chat.

Mr Woods adds: “You will get a better reception from other stall keepers if you are selling something new and nutty. Selling women’s clothes, you might get hard looks, and often the regulars will make the placier put you in a corner.”

In big markets like Montpellier and Béziers people can give the placier up to e50 to get a good place. Although he does not approve Mr Woods admits sometimes it is worth rounding up the fee, by a euro or so, in order to butter up the placier, but that will not work everywhere.

Once you have a pitch, offer your neighbour a coffee, make friends so you have someone to watch the stall when you nip to the toilet.

Also watch out for vans, because loading and unloading can be trouble spots – you have to fit in with everyone else, not block anyone, especially a regular. There is a kind of rhythm, an order to it and be careful not to tread on anyone’s toes.

There are three down sides: You have to be able to get up early and be physically hardy; there is also the weather, especially rain: cold winter days when you get rained on and sell nothing; finally, standing around for hours.

The best thing is you are your own boss: “You can work when you like, or make it seasonal. It is an ideal add-on to looking after holiday homes, or running a chambres d’hôtes”.

Top tips

Get used to getting up early – and standing for hours, possibly in the rain

Sell something different from other traders

Keep in with the placier

Ask for a small site at first – you can always ask for a bigger one once you are established

Make friends with those in neighbouring pitches

Trade secrets

For a full run-down on being a market-trader see the website www.fnscmf.com which has information on all aspects of market life (only in French).

To find out times and locations of any market in France, using an easy-to-navigate map, go to www.marchedefrance.org

If you like the thought of buying fresh produce from local farmers but wilt at the prospect of lugging it all home, help is at hand. The website www.paysans.fr brings together local producers and consumers, cutting out the middleman. (Site in French.) All purchases are delivered to your door and you get a free gift with your first order.

In order that professionals are not in unfair competition with amateurs or people selling on the black market, private individuals are only allowed to set up vide grenier (car boot) stalls twice a year.

In practice this rule is stretched but if a licensed stallholder thinks you are stealing their trade, they might just shop you to the authorities.

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