I’ve seen a lot of posts giving tips on the best way to shop at flea markets or antique shows, but I have a few to add from the perspective of someone buying for resale.
Big or small, it can be very overwhelming when you walk in a antique/flea market. What do you do first? What are you looking for? How long will you spend at each booth? Whats your budget? Those can be some tough questions for someone that might just be shopping for their own home, now amplify that by shopping for what you think OTHER people might buy and purchasing those finds at a lower price so that you can resell it and make a little money.
I’ve only been in the business of furniture and antiques for measly 3 years so I am no expert and there are WAY more experienced dealers that probably have even more/better tips. This is just what I have found works best for me so far.
10 Tips for Shopping at Flea Markets as a Small Shop Owner
- Have a list – It could be a strict physical list or loose mental list, doesn’t matter, having some form of list to stick to helps keep you on track when you are easily distracted by shinny things (me). Are you looking for Furniture or small? Are you looking for multiples or one special piece? For my most recent trip to our local bi-annual antique expo, I was on the hunt for multiples of low cost smalls that people could easily pack when traveling. This is great for keeping you on budget as well. If you want to take your list to the next level include the dollar amount that you shouldn’t spend more than to purchase the item and the dollar amount that you think you could sell them for (be realistic and honest with yourself). It’s great practice.
- Cash is king – Some flea markets and antique dealers have not yet embraced mobile payment methods and some won’t take check. Cash will work 100% of the time and some dealers will give better deals if you use cash over credit card or check. It really sucks when you found a good deal, the dealer won’t take card and you don’t have enough cash to cover it. SUCKS.
- Take a vehicle with space – Don’t get stuck finding a piece of furniture that is a killer deal but because you brought your Toyota Corolla you have to leave it behind. If you are in the business of furniture, you need have/have access to a truck or something that has the room to move big stuff. Bring blankets or plastic to protect your car from dirt and rust, also good for protecting the furniture piece from getting scratched.
- First Day scoping, last day buying – Go scope things out. This is great if you’re on a super tight budget and multiple day markets. Dealer aren’t always ready negotiate on the first day of the market but it doesn’t hurt to go see where things are to and make a mental map. Go back on the last day to see whats left and pick up the better deals from the owners that don’t want to pack things up or take them home. This will keep you on budget and from over-spending.
- The second lap around – I do this all the time at antique shops and it can be applied to flea markets too. I go through the isles and pick out what I see on the first lap but, time willing, I like to go around one more time. You always find a few more things that you somehow didn’t see the first time around.
- Don’t be scare to negotiate – Most dealers at flea markets are ready to work with people to make a sale. Picking apart a vendor’s things to get a better deal is a quick way to NOT get a deal at all; as-well-as making completely insulting first offer. Be respectful. Every so often you come across a person that only has FIRM prices and isn’t willing to budge, which can be frustrating but I always just brush it off and keep walking. It just wasn’t ment to be.
- The bundle deal – A lot of the times dealers are more willing to make a good deal if you are buying multiple items from them. Ex: Maybe this bottle by itself is $3 but if I buy 2 the dealer might take a dollar off the purchase price. This is great for if you are trying to build a up collection for a dramatic display. I did this with several purchases of mine from the antique expo.
- Be ready to walk – Disconnect yourself. Sometimes you just can’t get to a mutually beneficial number with the vendor to make a deal happen. Sometimes its best to just walk away. You know your numbers and what you can buy something for vs. what you can sell it for. Profit margins are EVERYTHING in this game and now, when you are buying, is the time to be a responsible business owner and keep your pride and emotions in check. Save the money and look for a better deal. It can be hard but it is the better practice in the long run. I had a lot of trouble with this in the beginning of starting my business. I would see a killer piece and think about the beautiful the display I could create with it… *sigh*…. Got myself in a lot of trouble from over-paying and lost money doing it. All because I just couldn’t walk away. learn from my mistakes.
- Say thank you – This is a personal preference with a sprinkle of the golden rule. Show respect to your fellow dealers, they’re out there grinding just like you. By saying “thank you” (whether a deal has been made or not) and throwing in a handshake can leave a deal on a good note and create a lasting relationship for future deals.
- Share, share, share – You have to have social media these days if you are a small business owner. Its one of the only ways we can successful compete with the big box stores. A website, Instagram page or Youtube channel is a digital business card and gives your customers an insider look into what your business is all about on a more personal level. Show your followers what you plan on bring home and create some hype around what you’re shopping for. You are guaranteed to get messages asking for details about what you’re picking up and when it will be available for sale.
Hope this post helped you with your new business venture, or if you are thinking about getting into the antiques and furniture game. Its a win-some, lose-some kind of situation but it can be fun and a challenge and a lot time you’re just playing against yourself.
Here’s what I picked up for resale at our local antique expo.
Antique Syrup Buckets (these were given to me by a friend)
Vintage leather embossed wallet.
Small antique bottles in amber & clear.
Antique Ironstone pitcher and sugar dish.
And this is what I picked up for myself 🙂
A Kete (Woven flax bag from New Zealand).
& A Vintage Bicentennial 1976, 13 Star, American flag.