FLEA MARKETS AND SWAP MEETS: YOUR GUIDE TO EASY PROFITS!
HOW TO START YOUR OWN PROFITABLE AND SUCCESSFUL FLEA MARKET BUSINESS!
STEVEN BROWN, THE FLEA MARKET GURU PRESENTS:
"HOW TO SURVIVE -- and THRIVE ! -- IN TODAY'S DIFFICULT ECONOMY"
Welcome to this web site! I'm a veteran flea market seller / vendor with over 20 years experience. I'll share with you some of my secrets of to build your own successful flea market business.
HOW TO START A PROFITABLE AND SUCCESSFUL FLEA MARKET BUSINESS
THE FLEA MARKET GURU REVEALS HIS SECRETS !
Have you seen or heard about that TV show where a masked magician reveals the closely-held, long-hidden secrets to the magic tricks used by professional magicians? Flea market vendors/sellers are like professional magicians. They are loath to reveal any of their trade secrets. I'm not faulting them. It takes many years of selling experience to learn what it takes to be successful selling at flea markets. Vendors do not reveal their secrets because it took them too many years to learn, they don't want additional competition and they don't want anyone to know their particular secrets. I'm here to change that.
Wouldn't you like to be successful and profitable business selling at flea markets? Of course you would! Here you'll find the secrets of what it takes to be a successful seller at flea markets & swap meets. I'm not holding anything back!
By all means, don't forget to have FUN! A dear friend, Asha Allison, once said "Living is simplicity...this life is meant for FUN!"
Flea market vendors thrive during bad economic times. Why not YOU? This web site will help guide you through this process.
I love flea markets! They are so much FUN, a grand adventure! I really, really enjoy meeting people from all walks of life, bargaining, learning and sharing stories. There's the fun of making money. And saving money! There's also the anticipation and excitement of discovering overlooked treasures.
~ Steven Brown ~ The Flea Market Guru ~
MY SECRET TO FINDING THE VALUE FOR ALMOST ANYTHING!
You will find that more often than not the only time you will have to conduct research on your new items is during the evening. Thus your only information resource(s) will be from the Internet. Any you've probably discovered already, to find information you can use out of a gazillion search engine results is incredibly daunting, to say the least!
Let's look at a likely scenario: in addition to your ongoing flea market business you purchase someone's entire estate. Lets assume that the person was a "pack-rat" (i.e. hoarder) and they have an abundance of items. Your job is to sort it all out and discover what's valuable (and what's not). If you find yourself in such a position you will be quickly overwhelmed, especially if you are not well-versed in identifying and valuing antique items (don't feel bad, very few folks have this skill). You can easily wind up with 20 (or more !) entirely different categories of antiques.
That is when you want to get your hands on as many collectible and antique identification / pricing guides as quickly as possible. But if you buy the guides new from the publisher, or from a local bookstore, you will easily spend thousands of dollars.
You can save yourself a lot of trouble -- and endless frustration -- by using the pricing guides below which are linked directly to Amazon.com. Often you can receive a significant discount. And you can receive a greater discount if the price guide is classified as "used" (i.e. previously owned). Amazon is very specific in describing the exact condition of their used books. I'll look for used copies that do not have a lot of highlighting or hand-written notes, and sometimes I'll order pricing guides that are perhaps a couple of years old.
Here's a small sample of what is available to you with Amazon.com. And in the section that follows you'll find a Free Tool: Your Own Exclusive, Personal Custom Search Engine for Amazon.com!
This is a good place to start! At the very least you'll learn what the approximate value of your antique items are. This enables you to avoid under-pricing or over-pricing your antiques.
With any antique silver pieces, you must be able to correctly identify the Maker's Mark. Without this essential information the piece is worth only its scrap value for its silver, regardless of how old it is. But once you can identify its origin and when it was manufactured, THEN you can command -- and get -- it's full value.
You'll be surprised how much there is to learn about antiques. This book provides you with a good solid basis from which to start -- or fill in any missing gaps in your knowledge. I've been in this business 20+ years and I'm still learning!
You won't believe how many years it took me to discover this great resource (you can read about it in the next section). In the meantime, if you buy and sell vinyl records GET THIS PRICE GUIDE -- you be happy you did!
Pocket Guides by Antiques Roadshow: I LOVE them! TIP ~ read the guide BEFORE going out to buy such items. Because when the seller sees you perusing a price guide they'll naturally think they've overlooked something important -- and then they'll raise the price on the item you're interested in. Use the strategy of poker players: Never Tip Your Hand!
WHATS IT REALLY WORTH?
So How Much Money $$$ Can I Get For My Stuff?
Have you ever tried to sell something that you knew was valuable - but no one would buy it?
There is ONE CARDINAL RULE in the flea market business that you cannot afford to ignore:
~ An item -- Any Item -- is worth ONLY WHAT SOMEONE WILL PAY YOU FOR IT ~
It's a hard rule, to be sure. Nevertheless, this is a rule that you cannot afford to ignore. This is where the pricing of your merchandise is of vital importance. It can be a challenge to determine what price to ask for things you're selling. It's really a question of what buyers are actually willing to pay for your merchandise.
For pricing your merchandise you want to do this well in advance of the market--and be sure to set the prices for Everything you'll be selling. Also, some of your prices may change from week to week, depending on which market you're selling at.
A reader posted this question:
"I found a great deal of good info from this lens, but can you clarify on the pricing thing? I buy from a wholesaler and my retail is usually 3x the wholesale. If I go by your 50% rule, I'd have to sell at a high volume to make any decent profit. Should I price 5x higher than what I bought at wholesale? Thank you."
The pricing information I have here are GUIDELINES only. If you have a price strategy that is working well (such as Tom's 3x above wholesale), by all means stick with it.
If you regularly purchase most of your stock from the same wholesalers, this usually eliminates the need for alternative pricing strategies. Since you know what your cost is and what the market will bear, you'll be safe with a simple markup policy.
If, however, you make your merchandise purchases from diverse sources other than traditional wholesalers, you'll find that the simple mark-up process will not apply. That's where the strategies presented here come into play.
A good rule of thumb for pricing any merchandise which can be purchased in retail stores: The magic selling price seems to be about 65%-75% less than an item's retail price. I've experimented with pricing merchandise at half of its retail price--and failed miserably. Buyers (especially women) will Not buy anything from a flea market when they know they can buy it on when it's on sale for a similar price in a store. For example, say you're asking $18 for a "doohicky" (whatever that is!) which sells for $25 in stores. No one will buy it from you--but they will buy it from the store when it goes on sale for $18. The same principle applies even if a "doohicky" retails for $250 and you're asking $180 for it: No Sale.
~ TIP ~
You are not always going to have lots of buyers, even if thousands of people are attending your event. That being said, if someone is haggling with you--and they walk away Without the Item--you've LOST. Whenever this occurs, I'll often call out to the person "OK, I'll give it to you for X dollars." -- as long as this amount is exactly what they offered then they'll buy it. Besides, you're still making a profit. On a slow selling day (which usually means low sales) this technique can turn your day around and provide you with greater sales and therefore greater profits.
With any potential buyer, take the time to find a price you'll both be comfortable with. Create a "Win-Win" transaction.
~ TIP ~
Sometimes buyers at flea markets think that they're getting a good deal only if they can beat the seller down to the lowest possible price. Use some common sense here and avoid these very rude and inconsiderate individuals! Don't waste your time haggling with them or even talking with them because they will distract you from communicating with legitimate buyers. If you do choose to engage with and interact with this type of person, you'll find that they leave behind a palatable psychic garbage dump of Negative Energy in their wake. This negative energy is hard to get rid of and it will repel potential buyers.
For heaven's sake, you need to make a living too. I'll never forget the women came back repeatedly one afternoon, offering me .35 cents for a $5 item. I've long forgotten what the item was--but I've never forgotten that woman!
OK, SO HOW MUCH MONEY CAN I REALLY MAKE?
"You Make Your Profit When You Make Your Purchase"
"You make your profit when you make your purchase." ~ Long-time Flea Market Vendor
By now you're probably muttering under your breath "For heaven's sake, Mr. Brown, WILL YOU TELL ME HOW MUCH PROFIT I CAN MAKE!"
Nope. I cannot tell you how much profit you will make; if I did I'd be lying to you. No one can tell you how much profit you can/will make. However, if you follow my advice you will make a profit! How much profit you'll make is entirely up to you. Your profit begins long before you show up at the flea market. Your profit begins at the moment you purchase inventory to resell. The advice quoted above has guided me for many years. When you buy merchandise for resale, if you're able to purchase it at a low enough price, you'll be making a profit no matter price you sell it for. That old-timer made a very good living by selling a huge volumes of tools that he purchased at auctions for pennies (or less) on the dollar. He really knew his business!
Ok! Here's my some "Rule-of-Thumb" guidelines for determining how much of a mark-up your merchandise:
"Five-to-One" / "5:1". With items that I purchase to resell my goal is to resell it for at least 5 times what I paid for it. This is also a good rule of thumb to use for making purchases of individual items (at garage sales, estate sales, etc.) to sell later. If you use anything less than 5:1 markup you'll find one (or more) of the following results. You'll be able to cover your fuel and expenses...but you'll have very little profit at the end of the day. And you won't have sufficient reserve funds for purchasing additional merchandise. Either of these two scenarios can - and eventually will if not corrected - bring your business to an abrupt halt.
You won't always be able to get a 5:1 return. When something does not sell after a couple of flea markets, then it's time to drop the price. You'll learn as you go. And that's part of the fun! Also, lowering the price converts those items into cash, which allows you to purchase fresh inventory!
~ TIP ~
It is very important that you NOT focus on "How much money" you want to make WHILE you're selling. As Kenny Roger's advises in his song 'The Gambler': "You don't count your money when you're sitting at the table. You count your money when the dealing's done." This same advice applies to selling at flea markets.
Be careful not to get too emotionally attached to anything you're selling (especially if you're selling personal possessions). This alone makes it Very Hard to sell! You may cherish it and you may feel your price is justified (as it well may be). But do not neglect the FIRST CARDINAL RULE of flea market selling:
~ Any Item is Worth ONLY What Someone Will Pay You For It. ~
(see WHAT'S IT REALLY WORTH?)
Kenny Rogers: "The Gambler"
"...You Never Count Your Money,
When You're Sittin' at the Table,
There'll be Time Enough for Ccounting,
When the Dealings Done."
AWNING, AWNING, WHO NEEDS AN AWNING? ~ YOU DO! ~
Awning / Canopy / Gazebo / Screen Room / Shade Room / Merchandise Tent
"Do I Really Need an Awning / Canopy?" I'll answer this question with another question:
QUESTION: In how short of a time would it take for you to get heat stroke by standing outside on a hot day on hot pavement with no shade???
ANSWER: Don't answer that question -- just get thee a canopy! Because without one you can easily get heat stroke.
When you are selling at any open-air market -- without any means of shade -- you are essentially placing yourself inside a HOT OVEN all day. No matter what the air temperature is, the temperature of the pavement will be hotter. The heat from the pavement penetrates up through the soles of your shoes, up through your feet, and shoots directly up into your torso, raising your body's vital core temperature to Dangerous levels. Even if you're wearing a wide-brimmed hat, you'll still getting "fried" if you are not protected by constant shade. And without any shade even drinking lots of water will not prevent your body's core temperature from rising dangerously (although you DO want to drink lots of water throughout the day even when you're in the shade).
My neighbor, a nurse, likes to remind me to stay out of the sun as much as possible whenever I'm selling. She's seeing an increasing number of skin cancer cases than ever before -- and this is in a region of the United States that historically does not have skin cancer. Have I convinced you yet of the necessity of getting a canopy?
There are 3 main types of canopies you can use for your selling booth. The first type is a shade canopy with plastic poles. The second is a pole-and-tarp awning. The third type is a pop-up awning. If you are only going to sell once or twice you can get by with a plastic pole canopy. But make sure YOU stay under it's shade, since they provide only a small area of shade.
For serious sellers, investing in a pole-and-tarp or pop-up type of canopy is a must.
Pictured above is a pop-up canopy/awning I once used. When folded-up it stands a little under 5 feet tall with a base of 12 square inches. It fits easily into a sub-compact car!
These are less expensive than pop-up style awnings. They're made from 1/2" metal poles and covered with a tarp. I started out using a pole and tarp awning. However, I disliked the weight--the poles alone weigh twice as much as an instant pop-up canopy/awning. That being said, if you need to cover an extra large selling area, Pole-and-Tarps are the best way to go.
TARP / COVER GUIDELINES (FOR POLE-AND-TARP AWNINGS):
no, No, NO! Plastic tarps HOLD the heat in (been there, done that! )
BLUE TARPS, however, are perfect to use. They are woven together and the weave allows the hot air to escape (um, no puns intended! ). Also they're handy to use as drop cloths, protecting your merchandise from the dirt/grime that's always on the ground. Buyers much prefer to browse items displayed on drop cloths instead of on the bare ground.
SILVER-COLORED TARPS are the BEST: they reflect light and heat, and retains the shade's cool air.
~ TIP ~
All pop-up awnings/canopies are made the same, right? Wrong! And it is a BIG difference. Inexpensive pop-up canopies have two drawbacks: 1. Their frames are not very strong; 2. Their legs are splayed (like the one in the photograph above).
The splayed legs present several problems. The front two legs will ALWAYS stick out and trip people as they walk by or browse your goods. In the above photograph I avoided this hazard by leaning an antique tobaggan against the leg on the right (besides, where else could you get an antique toboggan in the middle of summer?). This method may not always work, depending upon the arrangement of your tables,etc. More importantly, these two exposed legs cause you to lose valuable selling space. You also cannot put such awnings next to each other because of the difficulty with the legs.
Another drawback to splayed legs is that it is difficult to attach tie-down weights to them. Without proper anchoring the entire canopy can take off like a kite in strong gusts of wind. I've seen it happen. Once the awning goes airborne the frames warp from the stress and are quickly rendered useless.
If you are just starting out selling at flea markets and have little money to invest, I suggest starting with the splayed-leg type of awning. They're generally the least expensive awnings (under $100) and can be found at most hardware and sporting good stores. Just be careful and anchor it well. Be gentle with it and it will serve you well.
The other--and much preferred--style of pop-up awning (picture below) has an extremely strong, reinforced frame. I've seen vendors hang clothes from three sides of the canopy, adding a load of about 100 lbs to each side. Talk about strong frame! With the other, splayed-leg style I didn't dare hang any load of more than 10 lbs. from each side!
You can see from the photo below that this style has STRAIT legs. This make a Big Difference overall strength of the frame (and potential buyers will not trip over the legs!). You can easily use two or more of these awnings side by side to greatly increase your covered selling area.
Also, these canopies can be set-up in as little as 1-2 minutes (or in 5 minutes if I haven't had my morning coffee). Easy set-up means easy take-down. Which is important at the end of a long, hot, selling day...when you are dead tired, it only takes 4-5 minutes to collapse the canopy and put it in its storage bag!
Side panels are optional with some pop-up canopies. These side panels very useful for keeping out rain, providing shade and securing the contents if leaving the awning up overnight.
~ TIP ~
Here's how you can make your own inexpensive side panels for rain protection: get a roll of 3-4 mil. thick clear plastic sheeting at least 50 feet long...wrap it around at least 3 sides of the awning and secure it with spring clamps. It does a great job both of keeping you and your merchandise DRY while keeping you 'Open for Business' when it rains! While most of the other vendors get rained out.
Oh!...and always travel with 6 or more cheap (and I do mean cheap, they cost .99 cents and are good for one use only) clear plastic drop cloths. This way, if there is an imminent threat of rain, unroll the plastic over any exposed tables & merchandise. Tuck the ends under the table (or clamp the ends down). This keeps any exposed merchandise dry and keeps you open for business! When someone expresses interest in an item, just pull it out from under the plastic and hand it to them to examine.
Now, having said all that, I can't help but recall the time I sold during a long heatwave. Hot. 102 degrees in the shade. Not a cloud in the sky. While loading supplies I neglected to pack--for the very first time--any plastic tarps. Yep, it was hot all day long. Still 102 degrees when a thunderstorm quickly rolled in and unloaded its buckets of rain! I had to take down my booth and close up shop for lack of drop cloths (while the other vendors stayed open!).
~ TIP ~
Always check the weather forecast the day before an event.
AWNING / CANOPY WITH STRAIT LEGS
THEFT: HOW TO PREVENT IT
PUTTING A STOP TO THOSE "FIVE-FINGER DISCOUNTS"
Melinda submitted the following question:
"I am getting ready to sell jewelry at a local flea market. It is not anything real expensive but it is very pretty. I was wondering about how to protect my merchandise from being stolen? Because of the size of the merchandise, I think it would be easy to do. Any tips?"
This is a great question! Theft prevention is one important issue that all sellers must be vigilant of. You've heard the phrase "due diligence"? I call flea market theft prevention "Due Vigilance".
For new sellers, dealing with theft of merchandise -- and avoiding theft -- can be unnerving. To help remedy this here are some guidelines you can utilize:
The size of your merchandise does not matter to a thief. Certainly smaller items are easier to purloin. A thief once stole a heavy and bulky electric motor from me. It was the one thing I didn't bother to keep an eye on since I figured it was so bulky and heavy that no one would bother trying to steal it. Was I ever wrong!
When you lay out your tables, keep your expensive items located in a central area of the tables. Have the less valuable items on the outlying tables further away from you.
~ TIP ~
Here's my "2-1-2 Strategy" for theft prevention. When handing your Expensive Items to potential buyers, only give out TWO items at any ONE time to any TWO customers to examine. And always make eye contact with and acknowledge anyone waiting and tell them you'll "Be with them in a minute." (that's very important!) Meanwhile, keep your main attention focused on the folks handling your expensive goods. I have experimented with handing out expensive items to 3 customers at a time. This doesn't work because each person will have questions. Typically, each person will usually have 3 questions, so that's 9 questions you're busy fielding at the same time! Talk about confusing!
For selling at large markets, it's better to have a friend help you in the booth, particularly if there will be a lot of people attending your event. But do not deviate from the "2-1-2 Strategy". The larger the crowds, the more important this strategy is.
~ TIP ~
You have, haven't you (just say "Yes sir!" ), determined beforehand what prices you'll be asking for ALL of your merchandise?? If you haven't determined the asking price of any of your merchandise, DO NOT PUT IT OUT. If you try to price items "on the fly", the vultures (a.k.a professional buyers), sensing your confusion, will move in for the "kill" (a.k.a. buy your merchandise at a ridiculously low price).
OK, let's get back to the subject of thieves. By following the guidelines above, if the crooks are going to steal from you, they'll be forced to steal from your lower priced items from your outlying tables. Ahem, you have put those items that just won't sell out on your outermost tables, haven't you? (nudge, nudge, wink, wink).
~ TIP ~
Here's another scenario. Someone asks to see one of your expensive items (let's say it's a camera). You, of course, hand the camera to them to examine, while explaining its features. This "potential" buyer will then begin to yell:
"Are you CRAZY? This is the worst camera I've ever seen! WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU? Look at what's wrong with it..." They will yell and wave their arms about frantically to grab the attention of anyone near your booth.
If this happens to you, KNOW that this is a set-up for an outright theft or a swindle! The FIRST step is to take a deep breath and force yourself to stay CALM. The SECOND thing you need to do is get the merchandise BACK in your hands with a minimum of fuss! Reach out for the camera and say "What part is broken?" While they point it out to you, say "Let me take a look at that" and forcefully (but not abruptly) pull it out of their hands and securely put it away OUT of their reach.
~ TIP ~
Tell the thwarted thief to take a hike and call security if you need to. Also alert your fellow vendors. For example, call out to them "HEY SAM! I'VE GOT A THIEF OVER HERE!" This really turns the tables on the thief! We all dislike thieves...and thieves really hate any attention. Upon hearing you call out this warning to your neighboring vendors, the thieves will instantly disappear!
Often thieves will work in pairs, where one creates a loud, distracting commotion, while their partner (with no one watching) steals whatever they want.
~ $1 TABLES - "ANYTHING HERE FOR ONE DOLLAR!"
"Bargain, Bargain...Who's Gotta Bargain?"
You've seen them...towards the end of any flea market: "$1 Tables" where any item on the table is only $1. This seems like a good idea, but in practice it fails miserably.
Towards the end of any flea market, vendors will stack s-l-o-w moving merchandise on a table with a "EVERYTHING $1" sign. One reason this fails is that the majority of vendors put their $1 Table up about the same time, late in the selling day. But more importantly, Buyers know that the vendors are trying to get rid of stuff that hasn't sold. And so they automatically ignore any $1 table.
~ TIP ~
Put your "$1 Table" up at the START of the flea market! Your merchandise will be fresh and will attract many bargain hunters. And you won't have any competition! Plan ahead for this and make sure you have plenty of items specifically to sell at this enticing price (i.e. don't discount your regular merchandise for your dollar table. Instead get additional merchandise just for this purpose. For example, stock up on paperbacks books, especially Romance novels).
This tactic draws more people to your booth, providing you with greater opportunities to:
1) Create a CROWD of Interested Buyers (crowds draw more people!).
2) Gets rid of your slow moving items.
3) Attracts more people -- people who will buy your higher-priced merchandise!
4) Make more money (but you already knew that!).
Vendors who apply this strategy report a significant increase in the numbers of folks coming to their booths.
Here's another "Magic" price: $20. Why? Because folks withdraw their money from Automatic Teller Machines in $20 increments and so they're automatically thinking in terms of what they can purchase for $20.
WHAT YOU CAN EXPECT TO FIND AT THE FLEA MARKET
Those, um, Unexpected Purchases!
This is the World War II submarine--the USS Pampanito. Although you can find practically anything for sale at the flea market - you will never find this particular item for sale!
The USS Pampanito is located at Pier 45 of the San Francisco Fisherman's Wharf Marina. It has been restored and is open for public tours. It is a fascinating piece of our American history.
To all of our Armed Forces -- past and present -- "Thank You so much!"
You just never know what you'll find at the flea market! Keep your eyes and your mind open to discovering overlooked treasures.
Here's the link for additional information about this historic submarine:
"How To Make More Money Selling At Flea Markets And Swap Meets" by Steven Brown: The Flea Market Guru is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Thanks for dropping by! This is THE place for sharing your experiences and tips. This section is for both buyers and sellers. Got a question, ask away! Have an experience you'd like to share? We'd love to read it!