How to be a vendor at festivals, food markets & events in the UK

Small Business Advice 14 December 2017

There’s never been a better time for vendors to trade. Music festivals, moving feasts, town centres and street markets are providing ample trading opportunities throughout the UK while credit card readers allow mobile card payment processing from anywhere. According to the Association of Independent Music Festivals, each visitor spends more than £466 on average for a single event (this includes the ticket price). Vendors have also been boosted by the recent surge in the UK street-food scene. With consumers being thriftier than ever, new markets are popping up with food vans, trucks and stalls providing restaurant-quality food at fast-food prices. We’ve put together this short guide to help you start out as a vendor.

Do I need a trading licence?

It depends on your business type. To sell items from a trailer, stall or any kind of receptacle in the street, you’ll need to apply for a street trading licence – you can do this by visiting the gov.uk website. Trading without a licence can lead to a £1,000 fine.

However, you won’t need a licence if you’re:  

  • Trading as a pedlar under certificate issued by a police authority Pedlars Act, 1871, 1881
  • A market trader operating at a licensed market venue
  • A news vendor selling only newspapers and periodicals
  • If you are trading on private land you may not need consent.

Whether you need a licence or not, you will have to register your business with the local council. This needs to be done at least 28 days before you start trading. You’ll also have to join the National Market Traders Federation (NMTF), which provides liability protection of up to £10 million for small businesses across the EU.

To sell food you need to apply for food business registration at least 28 days before you trade. Failure to register can lead to severe penalties and result in a prison sentence of up to two years.

How much will it cost to start up?

It depends. Ask yourself how much you can afford to invest. The following figures and information put together by streetfood.org might help you decide which sector is right for you:

Under £5,000

​- Small 2nd-hand catering trailer in good condition for roadside / industrial estate trading

– A 2nd-hand Victorian baked potato oven

– New market stall and basic catering equipment

– New hog roaster

£5,000 – £10,000

– Small new trailer for shows / events

– Mid size new trailer for markets / car boots

– 2nd hand van conversion

– 2nd hand sandwich snack truck

– 2nd hand ice cream van

– 2nd hand kiosk for licensed pitch / town centre

– Refrigerated vehicle for delivering buffets

£10,000 – £20,000

​- New mid-range trailer for shows / events

– New large trailer for markets

– New small van conversion for roadside

– New kiosk for town centre pitch

– Good 2nd hand ice cream van

Up to £50,000

– New high quality high output trailer for large shows / events

– New large van conversion for events

– New top of the range kiosk with coffee machines etc.

– New sandwich delivery truck

– Delivery / vending franchise

£50,000+

​- New large van converted for events.

How do I start trading at an event?

Firstly, you might want to research which events and locations are most suitable for your business. Identify where your audience is. Try networking with other vendors and small business owners – find out which events are the most difficult to work. This can help you figure out the most profitable places for your business to operate.

Once you choose a suitable event, contact the organisers and the sponsors to find out specific details. Ask how many people attend, their age, their interests and how they correlate to what you sell. Try to project and set a target for your sales to help you define success. It’s likely that you’ll need to complete an application. However, with so much competition, it’s vital that you prepare everything in advance (like photographs, documents and certificates etc.) and that you submit your application on time.

How do I prepare for a pitch?

The pitching process normally takes place months before the event starts. For instance, the festival calendar unofficially begins in the autumn proceeding summer events. Most festival ticket applications shut by March. This leaves about a month for businesses to complete documentation and pay for the pitch – which can be expensive. It costs around £10,000 to pitch at Latitude, however, sales can alleviate the cost.

Think long and hard about your competition. What are other vendors selling or are there any nearby at all? For example, if vintage clothing is done to death in your location, then you might want to be more creative in your approach. Ask yourself what makes your business different? You might even want to offer introductory deals or vouchers to increase customer retention. Think about if there’s any other company you could team up – if you sell burger and chips, then a beer from the microbrewery could be the perfect accompaniment.

How do I boost my chances of selling more?      

Once you’re approved to sell, make sure you’ve organised stock and supplies in advance (do not buy or order any stock before you are approved to trade at the event/festival). You’ll need your stock delivered on the first day of the event – but how much stock? This is why research is so important. Read our guide on small business festival and event trading to find out all the details you need to sort out before the big day. 

Taking card payments can also help you sell more. A mobile card machine helps reduce queues with a faster, more flexible service away from your till. All of our card machines accept Contactless payments, Apple & Android Pay out of the box. By taking card, you’ll hold less cash on your premises and therefore increase your business’ security. If your product consistently sells out, don’t be scared to reinvest your earnings. If you’re a food vendor, you might consider renting a professional kitchen, and kitting your food truck out with a proper EPoS (Electronic Point of Sales) and appliances.

Leave a Reply

Your choice regarding cookies on this site

We use cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. Manage Cookie preferences

We have placed cookies on your device to help make this website better.

You can use this tool to change your cookie settings. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

For more information visit our Cookie page


Necessary Cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website.