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How to Be Successful in Selling at Your Local Flea Market
Welcome to the New Millennium
As the party that was 1999 came to an end, I was fortunate enough to leave the 9-to-5 world and take a shot at making my way as an independent business man. I did this as music retailers were beginning to face the digital revolution that was causing compact disc sales to quickly drop as terms like "mp3," "downloading" and, of course, the dreaded "file sharing" became more commonplace with each passing day. While the corporate store I was working for as well as the major record labels struggled to figure out their next move, I decided to try to find my own way through this new, ever-changing electronic frontier. I made a website to sell music.
Since online retailing was still in its early days with eBay just beginning to boom and Amazon still better known as a river than a website, I knew I would be unable to make an immediate success of my own solo endeavor just by creating a website, no matter how cool and hip it was. So I did what all wise entrepreneurs do -- I stayed focused but diversified. I decided in addition to my website, I would try eBay and I would supplement online sales by vending at my local flea market.
I had actually been selling occasionally at the flea market for several months prior to leaving my job because I had become addicted to auctions -- the real world kind not the eBay kind -- and was getting tons of odds and ends that I was able to turn into quick cash. But as I had now developed some sources for discounted compact discs and videocassettes and even now and then managed to stumble across some nice deals on the new DVD format that was becoming all the rage, I found my business evolving almost without any direction from me.
Had it not been for the flea market in those early days of my attempt at financial independence, I would have had a hard time making it for more than a few weeks. Though eBay was a large part of my income, the flea market was a close second. It was also much more enjoyable than eBay and a good deal less stressful -- no packages to prepare, no deadlines to meet and no quirky computers to occasionally have to beat with a hammer. This is what I learned while having fun...
The Jack Of All Sales
As I mentioned, I originally began selling at the flea market because I was hooked on auctions and finding great deals on a wide variety of products. While I was very knowledgeable about some things -- music, movies, comics, etc. -- I was also lucky enough at the time to have someone in my life who was very informed about things such as glassware, clothing and antiques. Together we were always ready to take advantage of excellent deals we could then turn around at a nice profit.
So my initial flea market experience consisted of trucking in a bunch of one man's junk to set up a table in search of the other man who would recognize the treasure. This worked amazingly well with most items selling for several times what we paid for them, even after the haggling that bargain shoppers are known for. I was what I now call a Jack of All Sales -- a vendor with great prices on a variety of merchandise and, as a result, a variety of customers.
The secret to selling to these customers was communication. When I worked in commercial retail, we were constantly being reminded of the need for suggestive selling. Sometimes this was logical -- if they buy a CD player sell them batteries -- and I did not mind because this was at least helpful. After all, I would hate to get home and realize I could not play my new CD because I did not have batteries for the player. Other times it was annoying... "Gotta push those Lion King coffee mugs!" But I found at the flea market, suggestive selling was part of the flow.
This works so well because it is the reason buyer is there -- to find out what you have to sell. They are looking for deals and they want to know what bargains you have to offer. So when they mention that they enjoy gardening, they are glad to hear about that unusual flower pot you have for a dollar or if they are a big movie fan they would love to see the handful of DVD's you are offering even though they do not yet have a player. And hey, if they turn out to be a Disney collector, go ahead and show them that Lion King coffee cup.
To maximize your sales with this type of selling, you need to know your market. If you are in an area where hunting and fishing are popular, watch for fishing poles and hunting gear when you are buying items you plan to resale. A lot of do-it-yourself home improvement enthusiasts or people who work on their own cars? Keep an eye out for deals on tools or items that can be used in these projects.Your buyers will learn that you are the guy with a bit of everything and great prices if you play your cards right.
But do not fall into the trap of just buying things to sell because they are cheap. Always look for good deals on quality merchandise that there will be a demand for in your area. If you have a dollar store quality hammer, you might be able to get a dollar for it, but the customer is going to know it was no fantastic deal. But if can offer a slightly used Stanley 16 Oz. Curved Claw Jacketed Fiberglass Nail Hammer for $5.00, well, a craftsman knows what that's worth! Remember, to be successful with this type selling, you will need to know that sort of thing as well.
As I came to rely more on the flea market as a source of income rather than just a pleasant way to spend a summer afternoon, I decided it was time to move inside with a proper booth of my own. This luxury meant I was able to bring in my merchandise and set up what basically amounted to a small shop. After leaving my regular job I had begun to offer more and more music and movies at the flea market. When I moved into a regular space, I shifted even more of my focus to these areas.
I still had other items to offer and still went to auctions seeking great deals to pass on. I still had my partner helping me and we still had a wide variety of items to offer. But more and more my shelves were filled with entertainment related products and slowly my clientele began to change as well. I was transitioning from a Jack of All Sales to a Specialist. And my customers loved me for it.
I was now getting to the point where I was on a first name basis with several customers who I would see at least every few weeks. I knew Robbin would want to know what classic rock I had found on CD and he really loved the obscure Southern Rock stuff. Phillip was always looking for hottest dance hits (and of course there was his secret passion for bossa nova -- don't tell the wife). And then there was Ty who would come to dig through the comic books but always ended up with something hip hop in his bag as well.
I quickly learned that this was what was expected of The Specialist -- to know not just your market but your customers as well. I found that now instead of looking at the big picture as far as what sells well in my area, I was looking at the details as in whether or not I had a specific buyer for an item. Certainly I was still buying for the market at large, but I was able to fine tune my purchases to maximize my sales.
Once you are a permanent vendor at a flea market, you will find your reputation is your best selling tool. My customers knew I was looking out for them and seeking items they wanted and needed at the best price possible. My fellow vendors knew I would keep them in mind if someone was looking for something I could not provide and I knew they would do the same for me. Treating people fairly is the foundation for building a reputation. At least it is for most of us...
There was always another kind of seller around at the flea market. I called this type of seller The Schmoozer. You know the type -- he could sell refrigerators to Eskimos and space heaters to Navajos. He was everybody's best friend and always had the "sweetest deal you will ever find". Now I am not one to judge and there is a certain amount of truth to the adage that a fair price is what the market will bear, but I never cared much for The Schmoozer.
This type of seller just does a better job maintaining control of the conversation to direct the customer where he wants the buyer to go. But to me the joy of selling is helping people find something they will truly be happy with. Could I talk a guy into paying $2.00 for that dollar store hammer we talked about earlier? No. But The Schmoozer can. Is that a good thing? I guess that depends on your morals, but to me it seems to be taking advantage of people. While it may not be criminal, it is certainly unethical.
I originally wrote this hub in response to a question regarding how one seller at flea markets can sell junk at exorbitant prices while quality merchandise sits at better prices on the table next to it. In my experience, the people selling that type of stuff usually fall into this category of seller. It is not a selling method you can learn so much as a talent you may have. But then again, these were the guys who tended not to last long. Funny thing about people -- no matter what you can talk them into, eventually they realize it when they get screwed.