Thursday, January 22, 2009

Tips For Buying & Selling At Flea Markets and Swap Meets – Part Two

Tips For Buying & Selling At Flea Markets and Swap Meets – Part Two

Howdy Folks,

Welcome to part two of a two part article on buying and selling at Flea Markets and Swap Meets. Where part one dealt with buying at these venues, part two covers selling at them. Hopefully you will find these articles both informative and enjoyable. Are you ready to sell? Well then let’s get into some essential tips that should help you in your flea market selling adventure.

Part Two – Need to Know Tips for Selling at Flea Markets & Swap Meets


I started the part one article with the old adage, “Failing to Prepare, is Preparing to Fail.” The same is true here. As with buying at flea markets, you must do some preparation before you head to the flea market to sell.

1. Do Some Research. Again, this is almost a recap from the previous article, but it is important. Read those antiques and collectibles trade papers. Many of them will list upcoming specialty flea markets that deal in specific antiques and collectibles. There are glass and pottery markets, toy markets, etc. Know where you want to sell. If you are selling primarily or exclusively antiques and /or collectibles, then make sure you are selling at an antiques and collectibles flea market. Stay away from the generic “any and everything” sold markets. You will find more buyers looking specifically for antiques and collectibles at a specialty flea market, than you will at a generic market. This translates into more exposure, more sales and more money for you. A good flea market selling maxim to remember is: Variety = Exposure, Exposure = Sales. Do different markets each week, and also do different markets around your county, your state and around the country. There are some very large national markets that you may want to consider selling at, such as the Brimfield show with hundreds of dealers and thousands of buyers. You can check them out at Brimfield Antique and Flea Market Shows.

You may also want to check out some of the resources that I mentioned in part one of this article, such as the U.S. Flea Market Directory: A Guide to the Best Flea Markets in all 50 States by Albert LaFarge; the Keys Flea Market web site and the Great Flea Market web site.

2. Plan For the Rush. If at all possible, reserve a booth as close to the entrance as you can. This will ensure that buyers entering and leaving the flea market will see your booth first, and then again as they prepare to leave. And plan for the big rush that almost always happens as soon as the market is open. Some buyers are in a frenzy to grab the best deals before they are all gone, so be ready to do a lot of standing, moving around your booth, greeting buyers and answering questions, and also making deals during the first 30 minutes to an hour of your selling day. This as well as the end of the day is the time to make deals and make your most money.

3. Plan An Adequate Supply of Inventory and Money. It is always a good idea to have an inventory worth at least $1,000 - $2000 on hand. You may not need to have all of it out at one time, but it is a good idea to be able to keep you booth stocked throughout the day. An empty booth and sparse tables will turn potential buyers away. Another thing that will turn buyers away is not having enough money on hand to make change. Don’t fall into the trap that many do by thinking you can sell items and use the money you receive from those sales to make change. Trust me it never works out well when you do that. It’s a good idea to have at least $400 - $500 in twenties, tens, fives and one dollar bills, as well as perhaps $10 dollars in change – pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. This way you are always ready to make change for any sale. This will help make sales smoother and faster. This is essential during the big rush at the beginning of the day.

4. Tag and Inspect All Items. Before packing your vehicle for the trip to the flea market. Taking time to tag them after you set up is distracting to both you and potential buyers. Plus buyers will tend to shy away from untagged items, thinking the price is too high for them. Like the old saying, “if you have to ask the price, you probably can’t afford it.” And make sure all your items are tagged with clean, bright, new tags. Remove the old tags and replace them with new tags. Old tags, dirty tags will generally indicate to experienced buyers that the item is old, well handled by previous buyers, and generally unsellable. Items tagged with dirty and worn tags will generally be passed up by experienced buyers. Also ensure that prices are clearly written and reasonable. It is important to mark your items up properly.

Also make sure you have inspected your items prior to packing them for the trip to the flea market. Make sure your items are clean and not broken. Not only do dirty and marred items not sell well, cleaning them while unpacking is too much of a distraction for both you and potential buyers. Don’t go too far with cleaning, however, when it comes to metal items such as brass, copper, silver, silver plate, or antique toys. You don’t want to remove any of the patina as this can devalue the item.

5. Tables, Chairs, and Shelter. It is a good idea to invest in a pop up shelter, as well as some good folding tables and folding chairs. Make sure you have some anchors (such as 2 ½ gallon buckets full of sandbags or cement) that you can use to hold your shelter down if the wind picks up. Tables should be clean, or have some table cloths (preferably white or soft earth tones) to cover them with. Fitted sheets purchased at a thrift store work well for this. Presentation is very important to buyers and will help increase sales. Nobody wants to buy an item that is presented on a grease or oil stained table.


1. Choosing your spot. Try to pick a spot with the heaviest foot traffic. This is just good common sense. Try to avoid remote spots, even if they provide shade. Remote spots are generally utilized by novice sellers, and they receive the least amount of foot traffic, and thus the least amount of sales.

2. Showcases. People like to handle the items they are considering purchasing, so use showcases sparingly. It takes time to unlock and open them to retrieve items for buyer inspection. Try to use them only for small and expensive items. Buyers will understand this.

4. Setting up tables and chairs. When setting up your tables, always leave enough room for three people to walk side by side between your rows of tables. This will encourage browsing as people do not want to be crowded while they are browsing. Having enough room between your table rows is an invitation to potential buyers to browse. If you bring some folding chairs to sit on (and if you don’t. you’ll wish you had!) set up one or two near the front of your booth as an invitation for tired or elderly buyers to have a seat and rest. This type of customer service will go a long way toward encouraging sales. Set up your chair or chairs near the back of your booth, at least 4-5 feet behind the back end of your tables. You may also want to invest in a small folding camping table (about 18 inches square by 18 inches tall) to set next to your chair. This can be used to place a cup of coffee or glass of water, tea or soda on while you are helping customers.

5. Special Items and Unsold Items. When you have special items, especially those that you are certain will be good sellers, don’t bury them in a crowd of lower selling items. Place them where they will be seen by potential buyers looking for that something special. When you have items that aren’t moving as well as you would like, move them around every hour or so. This will give your booth and tables a “new look” that may encourage browsing, even by folks who have already been to your booth.

6. A Special “Attractor”. A special attractor is usually a large item, often too large to be placed on a table, usually showy, that is placed out in front of the booth. Although it is there to be sold, it is also there to attract people. It is designed to catch their eye and draw them into your booth. Even if you don’t have a large cigar store Indian, or floor standing Victrola, you can put some larger unique items on tables near the front of your booth. The idea with the special attractor is to advertise your booth, so make your special attractor a good one.


1. Attitude. One of the most important aspects of customer service is attitude. Always keep a pleasant attitude not only when dealing with customers, but even when you’re not. You never know who is watching or within listening range. Always greet each customer with smile and a hello. Be courteous and friendly. Be willing to talk and know when not to. You don’t want to be too pushy and drive your customers away.

2. Encourage. Be willing and ready to encourage and accept offers whenever possible. Never have rack hard firm prices. Always offer a discount, and don’t be afraid to take an occasional loss. By encouraging sellers to “wheel and deal,” you are building a customer base, and good customer relations. Word of mouth among buyers travels fast, whether good words or bad, so always be cognizant of this aspect of your customer service.

3. Know your items. Be ready, willing and able to answer any questions your customers may have. If you know the history or provenance of an item, or any known facts about an item, being willing to share this information will go a long way to closing a deal on that item. And be honest about the item. Resist the temptation to embellish an items history.

4. Be helpful. Always offer to pack the buyers item for them and have boxes – bags – and packing material readily available to do this. Never use newspaper as it can stain some items. Use plain unused newsprint (available at some packing stores or newspaper offices) or clean white butcher paper. Always give your customers your business card, and always put one in the box or bag with the item. You may also want to include a flyer as well which will list not only your online selling venues, but which flea markets, swap meets, or antique and collectible shows you will be selling at in the near and or distant future. Keep your customers coming back. A little self promotion can go a long way.


Plan for the future. Don’t wait until the last minute to schedule your next flea market sales opportunity. Plan ahead. Also, if you have a helper with you, take a break during a lull in the selling, and look around the flea market. Take a look at what others are selling, what their prices are, what is actually selling as opposed to what is not. Ask questions and take notes (just don’t be obvious about it), and use the tactics of successful sellers to improve your selling methods. If you are planning to attend an unknown market, ask around and get the advice of some of the seasoned dealers who may have attended the unknown market. Most dealers are willing to help, and as you get to know them, especially after meeting them at several different markets and shows, you will become part of the dealers social network. A benefit that can go a long way to a successful selling career.

Well, that’s the end of part two of this two part article series, with 15 more need-to-know tips for successful buying and selling at flea markets and swap meets. As always, I appreciate you stopping by and reading my blog articles. I hope you find them informative and enjoyable, and I hope you’ll please consider signing up to follow this blog, and subscribing to it for more great articles. And don’t hesitate to leave your comments. They are always welcome. Until next time my friends,


Whiskey Jack

Today’s Word of Wisdom: “Don’t be easily discouraged. Every path has some puddles.”

1 comment:

Meliss @ Shabby LOCO! said...

Thanks Whiskey Jack! I am a hoarder OOPS! I meant,Collector and I am addicted to the hunt! buuuttt I realize that I must part with some treasures so I will be doing my first Flea in a couple of months, it sounds like alot of fun! (And hopefully profitable too!) Thanks Again!