Experienced vendors know that, unlike humankind, all flea markets are not created equal. Training yourself to recognize the different types will save much time, money, and frustration.

Learn to Discern

Deciding where to sell your wares is not as easy as visiting a flea market and noticing that there are a lot of people walking around. As a serious flea market vendor, you need to find places that are not only bustling but are suitable for your merchandise and your price points. But in order to do this, you must first learn what to look for.

Below are a few suggestions:

  1. Seller’s” vs. “Buyer’s” Markets: These terms are not absolutes but generalizations based on whether a flea market leans more towards being a better place for professionals to sell at or buy from. Obviously, for the most part, you want to sell at seller’s markets, where you are more likely to get better prices for your medium to high-end merchandise. However, if you sell very inexpensive merchandise or, if you don’t mind “wholesaling out” to other professionals and pickers, you might do well at buyer’s markets.
  1. Year-Round vs. Special-Event Markets: Special-event flea markets, held anywhere from once a year to once a month, often have festive feels that tend to put customers in spending moods. If you have choices, a good strategy is to plan your yearly schedule around the special-event flea markets and use year-round markets to fill in the blanks.
  1. New” vs. “Used” Markets: Although most flea markets advertise that all types of merchandise are welcome, almost all are more favorable to one type or the other. Learn which are which and stick with your type.
  1. Vintage & Antiques Markets: Though many antiques flea markets allow vendors who do not sell antiques, the shoppers they attract tend to be staunchly loyal to all things old. If you do not sell any antiques or vintage items, you are in for an uphill battle at these places.

How to Gather and Interpret This Information

The best way to get a gauge on any flea market is to take a trip there and talk with both vendors and shoppers. Some flea marketers will be guarded but many will share private information with no hesitation. I never ask vendors how much money they make but you’ll be surprised what information a simple question like “how’s it going?” will garner. One time, I was set up next to a very nice, seemingly conservative, older gentleman at a weekly vintage flea market in Lambertville, New Jersey. At the end of the day, while packing up, I somewhat rhetorically asked him how he did. I was surprised when he answered: “About $500. Not bad but this is my only source of income.”

Always dig deeper but here are some clues to look and listen for:

  • More than one vendor says: “the people here are nice but they want everything for nothing.” Probably a buyer’s market.
  • Several shoppers saying: “the stuff here is beautiful but so expensive”—seller’s market.
  • Differences in space prices. Not between different flea markets, but within the same market. For instance, a flea market I know is open on Wednesdays and Sundays. The price on Sundays is $25 per space but on Wednesdays it is only $10. The reason: on Wednesdays, it is a buyer’s market swarming with dealers who prey upon desperate vendors. On Sundays, it becomes a seller’s market teeming with collectors, end-users, and day trippers from Philadelphia and New York. Real pros know to only sell there on Sundays.
  • Do they segregate? If a flea market separates vendors by merchandise type, look for inequities. For example, if the used section of a particular market is smaller than the main section, off-the-beaten path, and costs less per space, then the market is more favorable to new merchandise. For the most part, that’s the type of shopper it will attract.

What About Love?

Many years ago, while looking for a car, I came across a Consumer Reports article that warned: “don’t fall in love with a used car, it won’t love you back.” The same can be said of flea markets. The first time I visited a certain flea market in my area I was wooed by its freshly-paved, tree-lined parking lots; its prime location just off a major highway; and the seemingly endless parade of shoppers. However, after selling there, I was rudely awakened. I did very poorly with my good quality, hard-to-find merchandise as the majority of shoppers at this flea market wanted cheap stuff that was priced very cheaply—and then, they want it even cheaper.

Remember, the flea market business happens to be a real business and its best, when visiting flea markets you are considering selling at, to process the information you gather through the logical side of your brain. Don’t get caught up in the excitement. That really happy-looking, retirement-age vendor is not necessarily smiling and laughing because she’s making tons of money. She might just be a happy person. Or, she might be an extremely broke, extremely depressed person who is very good at hiding it.

Visit many flea markets, talk to lots of people, take notes, and pay close attention to what you see and hear. And, above all, make honest and accurate assessments of your merchandise. Are your prices in the ballpark? Or, are you suffering from Antiques Roadshow Syndrome? (Thinking everything you have is older and more valuable than it really is.) Or, on the flip side, are you suffering from Nobody-Pays-More-Than-Two-Dollars-for-Anything-at-a-Flea-Market Syndrome? One to several hundred dollars sales are quite common at flea markets, especially nowadays when any vendor with a smartphone can accept credit cards. 

The Bottom Line

The most important thing for you as a flea market vendor to remember is just because you do well at one market doesn’t guarantee success at another. You need to constantly attempt to put yourself at the right markets and at the right times. The business is tough enough already without having to endure the losses incurred by constantly setting up at flea markets where you have very little chance of succeeding.

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