Business Advice

“Excellent testing grounds”: Five tips for trialling a side-hustle at a local market

Errol McClelland /

Local markets are excellent testing grounds for new products and new businesses and there’s no telling how far you can take it ⁠— whether it’s starting a regular weekend side-hustle or the beginning of something global

In just over three years, TurmeriX went from being a stallholder at a local market in Daylesford to a global distributor, selling into the UK and various countries in Europe as well as North America.

Here are some of the lessons I learnt by starting small. 

1. Get the basics right

Launching a new product can be costly and time-consuming, so local markets will give you a shortcut to getting it out there.

However, you still need to make sure your product is safe and legal, so make sure you cover off all the essentials in relation to the product. This might include labelling (for food products this could be an ingredients list, plus country of origin), quality assurance, and insurance (go with a reputable broker that specialises in your niche as they will know the trickier parts of what’s needed in your industry). 

You can classify yourself as a business, in which case, make sure you have an ABN. Alternatively, sales can be counted as ‘income from a hobby’ if you’re just trying to earn pocket money while you’re working out whether your concept is likely to go anywhere.

Different markets have different rules about whether or not you need to be a registered business and some industries are stricter than others. For example, we started in the health food category, so we had to make sure we adhered to all the rules for the sector. 

2. Earn trust quickly

The issue with market stalls is you could be there one week and then gone the next, so how do you get potential customers to trust you enough to buy then and there?

First of all, you need to give them some way to follow you, whether it’s a business card or social media handle. That way they’ll see you intend to stick around for a while. This helps with referrals too.

For a health product, it’s a little harder to earn trust. I decided from the start that if the customer wasn’t happy with their experience, there would be a money-back guarantee. I knew the product worked and had confidence that people wouldn’t come back for a refund unless they were genuinely unhappy. 

We had a couple of returns in the very early days, and that was primarily because turmeric has a ‘unique’ taste, and we were still working out a formula that didn’t affect product performance. I believe we have done that now.

Plus, since increasing the range of products on offer, our returns have since dropped to virtually zero. 

3. Test drive your customers

There are markets and consumer shows all over Australia, which means you can test a range of localities and demographics to find out where your product fits among various market segments.

It also allows you to test different socio-economic groups and gauge overall acceptance and saleability.

You can talk to people directly and monitor the most frequently asked questions, which means you learn a lot in a very short time to hone your pitch.

My first market in Daylesford pulled in $3000 in sales, but my best day was a market in Katherine where I sold $8000 in product. 

4. Small investment, big returns

There’s little overhead to apply for a stall ⁠— usually, about $50-100 a day plus the wholesale price of your products ⁠— so the exercise is often cash positive.

The biggest investment is your time, but most business owners starting out are happy to work for minimal profit in the beginning.

Consider also that most market organisers are looking for new, innovative products to keep their market looking on-trend, so they often welcome newcomers. 

Keep in mind that consumer shows do cost more ⁠— from $500 to several thousand dollars for a stand⁠— but often attract larger, more targeted audiences.

Select these with regard to how strongly they will attract your intended market. 

5. Find your people

Markets give you huge exposure to a range of people ⁠— but it’s not just about finding customers, you might find future business contacts too. If your product sells well at the market stall level, it’ll attract interested parties who may see the potential for other bigger channels. From there you can collect contact details and form a sales team or distribution network. 

At the Gisborne Market in Victoria, a man asked me how he could get involved in the business. He later became my first Victorian distributor. 

When I did my first market in Daylesford, the organiser Raoul was more than accepting of a new product category and a great supporter.

After launching successfully, I made my way to other markets along the coast and via regional shows through South Australia and the Northern Territory. The large range and sample size of potential customers I encountered gave me the information I needed to then scale my business so the model could be replicated across the country⁠ — and now across the world.

Whether you want the same for your business is up to you, but a market stall is a great place to start.

NOW READ: From a Daylesford market stall to global distribution in three years: How to scale rapidly

NOW READ: Work smarter, not harder: How to scale a service-based business model

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Errol McClelland

Errol is the founder of TurmeriX.

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