5 successful businesses that began as market stalls

4 min read

13 November 2013

It may not be the most glamorous of settings but the raw competition of a market is a great place for a company to cut its teeth.

1. Marks and Spencer

This British institution was co-founded by Belarusian Michael Marks, who arrived in the UK as in 1882 and began trading on a penny bazaar stall at Kirkgate Market in Leeds.

One of Marks’ fellow traders, Isaac Dewhirst, had lent him £5 to get the stall off the ground and taught him some English.

When Marks approached Dewhirst with a plan to go into business together, Dewhirst declined but recommended his former cashier – Thomas Spencer.

The two grew their business all across the country and it was eventually handed over to Marks’s son Simon, who is credited with turning it into a retail giant.

M&S now has more than 1,000 shops all over the world and a revenue of almost $10bn.

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2. Tesco

Tesco was created by Jack Cohen, the son of Polish migrants, who began trading in Hackney Market, east London, in 1919.

Cohen fought in WW1 as a pilot and used his demob money to buy surplus groceries which he sold at the market. On his first day Cohen made a £1 profit on sales of £4.

Cohen created the Tesco name by combining the initials of his supplier – TE Stockwell – and the first two letters of his own last name.

The first bricks-and-mortar Tesco was opened at Burnt Oak, Edgware Road in north London.

The company has since grown to become the third largest retailer by revenue (after Walmart and Carrefour) in the world.

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3. Innocent Drinks

Innocent was founded by friends Richard Reed, Adam Ballon and Jon Wright, while they were working in advertising.

They sold their smoothies at a music festival in London in 1999, inviting their customers to put their used bottles in bins marked “yes” or “no” depending on whether they thought they should quit their jobs and start a smoothie business.

At the end of the day the “yes” bin was full and there were just three bottles in the “no” bin.

The three quit their jobs the next day and spent 15 months developing the product before finally bringing it to market, backed by £250,000 from American investor Maurice Pinto.

In 2009 the founders sold a 10-20 per cent stake to The Coca-Cola Company for approx. £30m. Coca-Cola now holds a stake of over 90 per cent.

4. Dunelm

Dunelm was founded by husband and wife Bill and Jean Adderley as a Leicester market stall selling curtains in 1979.

It has since grown to become a significant player in homewares retail, with more than 4,000 employees and a turnover of more than £600m.

The company was floated on the London Stock Exchange in 2006 valued at more than £360m and is now a constituent of the FTSE 250 index. 

Bill and Jean’s son Will Adderley remains part of the Dunelm team as executive deputy chairman. 

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5. Grainger Games

Grainger Games began as a stall selling computer games at Grainger Market in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne.

The company was incorporated in 2001 and began opening stores across the northeast.

Given the difficulty experienced by competitors Game and HMV, which have both gone into administration recently, you might expect Grainger to have struggled during the recession.

However the company has continued to post growing revenue figures, open new stores and take on employees. In 2012 Grainger opened its 68th store, had nearly 400 employees and a turnover of more than £40m.