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How to become a market vendor: A step-by-step guide

Artwork of various market items, including food, crystals and a t-shirt.
Image Credit: Nina Hepplewhite

Small, independently owned businesses can have a hard time getting off the ground. With licensing fees, rent, and maintenance, sometimes owning a physical storefront is out of the question. But going online only can be tough as it’s hard to let people know that you even exist.

There’s a happy middle ground, however. Markets! Markets allow small businesses to have a temporary physical storefront alongside other small business owners. So what’s the process?

1. The obvious steps

The obvious steps are exactly that; you can’t sell your products at a market if you don’t have products to sell. These steps include starting your business, producing whatever products you want to make, and developing a core customer base.

Alayna Hryclik is the owner of Soft Flirt, a London based home decor and lifestyle brand. She said her business got its start through just friends and family.

“Start with small markets and pop-ups and then once you have something that’s working, work your way up from there.”

“I had just kind of been making a lot of art that wasn’t super conceptual, just kind of cute stuff that friends and family liked,” she explained. “Eventually it turned into people asking about it and I was able to start doing smaller markets and pop-ups.”

2. Register with the Ontario Business Registry

Before you can do any selling, you need to register with the Ontario Business Registry. The registry allows businesses to interact with the government regarding their business 24/7. Registry can be done online, and the entire process is laid out on the Government of Ontario website. Sole proprietorship and partnership registry both cost $60.

Once your business is registered, you’ll have a nine-digit Ontario Business Identification Number (BIN) from Service Ontario, which is used for making an account with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). Another thing to note, if your business makes $30,000 gross or more in four consecutive calendar quarters, you will need to charge GST/HST on your products.

3. Make sure you have the proper licences

If you’ll be selling food at your stand, you need to make sure you meet the requirements in Ontario’s food premises regulations. You’ll also need to send a Notice of Intent to Operate as a Special Event/Market Vendor form to the local health unit at least two weeks before the event.

If you aren’t selling food, you won’t need to notify the Health Unit or the City of London. In London, you do not need to have a business licence to operate as a market vendor, but be sure to check your own municipality for what’s needed.

4. Go to markets

Some of the best advice Hryclik gave was to go to markets before you apply to them to see if you like what’s going on.

“If you see one advertised and you think it might be in your alley with what you’re doing with your product or with your art, definitely go to the markets, take a look around, and support the other artists there.”

She added that making community connections with other vendors and market organizers will lead to opportunities to sell your products more naturally than cold-calling or applying to every single market possible.

5. Find your niche

One of the more important things you can do as a business owner is to find your niche. As Hryclik put it, “if you have too much going on, you’re just going to get lost in the shuffle.”

Figuring out your demographic and catering to that demographic is what is going to bring in people that want to keep coming back to buy your things. One of the ways you can do that is lowering your prices to suit your audience.

“My range of prices ranges from $2 to $55. So there’s a lot of opportunity for people to pick up something small, or if they have the budget for it, something bigger.”

6. Apply to the markets

Once you find a market you like, you apply! If the market has a website, like the Western Fair Market for example, you’ll be able to apply online. Otherwise, contacting the organizers directly is the best way to get a spot at a market.

Hryclik recommended starting with a smaller market first before applying for one of London’s bigger markets.

“Some of the markets can get really expensive too, and you don’t want to be shelling out all of this money and vendor fees only to do really poorly and get discouraged,” she explained. “Start with small markets and pop-ups and then once you have something that’s working, work your way up from there.”

Sharing a table at markets with other vendors is also a good way to dip your toes into the world of market vendors, as it allows you to split fees with a fellow maker, as well as taking some of the pressure off of you to have enough products for a full table.