If you’ve ever wondered where the cheapest shop space is (outside of using your house), the answer lies in municipal markets or trading areas. This is a great place to start if you cannot afford traditional shop rental. I don’t know why more South Africans don’t take advantage of this, considering the price is around R50 – R100 per month on average, many South Africans don’t want to start on the ground floor and instead rather stay in poverty as they want quick solutions.
The informal trading business
Any city in South Africa has informal trading areas, broadly there are two types: the daily sidewalk trading and the market day trading, what I will refer to as flea markets. Flea markets are open on various days depending on the location, in Cape Town, we have the Parow Market which is open Wednesday, Friday and Saturday and we have the Milnerton and Muizenberg markets which are open on a Sunday (Milnerton is open Saturday as well I think). Some traders trade at both Parow (which is closed on Sundays) and at the others which is open on a Sunday.
I did a quick search as an example and found Knysna which has the following areas:
• Templeman Square
• African Craft Market
• Sedgefield Taxi Rank
• Knysna Taxi Rank
• Buffalo Bay
How to sell
These markets are just demarcated areas where stall owners put their table in the morning, sell their goods and then pack up once things slow down later in the day. You need tables or shelving and you also need transport to and from the market.
What to sell
This is what makes or breaks this business – how to make this a sustainable business not only to feed yourself but grow it to more stalls and even a shop. Firstly there is a large gap between a market stall and a shop but it is not impossible to breach. Sadly due to the economic situation in SA, some have even downgraded from a traditional shop to market stall just to keep food on the table.
Now the question is what to sell? Firstly you have to look at the area where the market is located, which is often lower income or has a high influx of lower-income people (not surprising considering the majority of South Africans are poor), but not only that people come to flea markets to look for bargains.
I have been to three municipal markets in Cape Town and I have passed the Joe Slovo Park area on a Saturday where there is informal trading done. And the socio-economical status of the area seems to determine what is sold. Example Parow (once a middle-class area, that has seen shocking urban decay in recent years) and Joe Slovo Park there was a lot of sellers catering to lower-income people: secondhand clothing, distressed food while in Milnerton and Muizenberg they have maintained the “traditional” flea market atmosphere: people selling trinkets, military memorabilia, bric a brac, nice food and ice cream (Parow has mainly cheap Cape Malay food: samoosas, dhaltjies (chilli bites) and koeksisters and one Asian guy selling cheap food). I saw the same thing at Joe Slovo Park lots of secondhand clothing and maybe even secondhand building materials.
Another thing to look at is what kind of person shops at a flea market (know your customer), we have already ascertained that it is someone looking for a bargain, but it can also be people looking for unique items such as collectables (in the more affluent areas).
That being said here are some popular flea market products:
Freshly made food
Salvage and distressed food (tinned and dry foods)
Clothing and shoes (new and secondhand)
Toys (new and secondhand)
Shop soiled appliances
Various electronics (working and not working)
Secondhand tools (very underrated considering how expensive tools are)
Flea market services that are popular:
Bicycle repair, services and spares
Watch and jewellery repair (done on site)
Photo framing (used to get orders)
What does a successful flea market business model look like
If you are selling a product, you need to get something that you are the only one doing it or you are the cheapest. Salvage food is a good example, you will see the same people selling it for years and they religiously guard their sources. You need to develop contacts or go out and find items to sell.
Many people who sell at flea markets offer a free junk collection and clean service which means they get their stock for free while others loiter outside dumps looking for items to sell. I think the sweet spot is somewhere in-between: example if you know someone that buys job lots on auction, offer to take the broken things off his hands for cheap. Most people that buy at auction don’t have the time to fix the broken stuff, especially if its low-value items.