I’ve been trying to keep busy lately. After a work injury which has left me temporarily out of work, I had a great deal of time on my hands, and I figured if now wasn’t the time to try something different, when was?
I think I’ve probably been wanting to sell at flea markets since I was about 7 years old. I used to drag my mother (who is a self-proclaimed hater of “old things”) into dilapidated antique stores off the highway on our annual road trip. At the age of 5, I gathered all of the avocados I could get my hands on in our backyard and set up shop in our front, along with a sign that said “I am sillen ovacodos”—- I believe I may have been moderately successful in that endeavor—- all things considered. At the age of 12, I began collecting and researching antique advertising memorabilia, and at about 13 I began shopping at thrift stores and reconstructing clothing to both fit and modernize it. So I guess you could say it was written in the stars… or something like that.
—-but things always get in the way, you know, which is why it took somewhat of a big push to really get me going. My first go of it would have a simple goal: “to break even” and learn as much as humanly possible about the whole process. I have now sold at two markets (one much larger than that other), and while I am still far from an expert, I have picked up some deal of wisdom along the way.
Notes on Selling Vintage Clothing at Flea Markets:
1. Location does matter —– somewhat at least. This was much more true at the first market I sold at (The Rose Bowl), which is ENORMOUS. I was in the middle of the white section on what was an extremely hot and brutal summer day. I did have some traffic, but I think many people had dropped off by the time they finally made it to my section. On another note, everyone in my section had a far larger scale than I did (their spaces were 4 times larger and they were selling dresses for as little as $10 each). While the quality of my inventory was far better, it was extremely hard to compete with. At the Long Beach Antique Market (much smaller), I was in the front row of the Red Section (prime-time spot). As a comparison, my prime spot at the smaller market was only $35 more than my second-rate spot at the Rose Bowl, and yes in this case it was definitely worth it. Occasionally, I was the first spot people hit, which meant maybe they weren’t yet ready to buy, but they ALL came back through in order to return to their cars, and many stopped. I was also one of the few people in that section selling clothing, which made me stand out among the crowd. This was crucial.
2. Bring shade. In the summer, but really any time, this is crucial. You need a canopy, but you also need fabric of some sort to hang around the sides. If you want to really look good, you will measure your fabric, and bring something eye-catching that fits your aesthetic like lace, or burlap. (This is a work in progress for me, but it really does help bring your booth together) — and while we’re at it, BRING WATER. More than you think you will ever want or need—- trust me.
3. Diversity of products is good, but too much is confusing. You have very limited space to display your things and get your “brand across”. Do you have a brand? — It might be time to narrow your scope from a bunch of really cool things to a bunch of really cool things for a specific type of person. I hate the work branding, but I’ve also witnessed first-hand what happens when people aren’t sure exactly what it is that you’re selling—- they look your way for about 5 seconds, and if they’re looking for vintage dresses but see kitchenware, they may very well walk away. Plan your booth around your brand, and make the things you want to promote the most obvious to the eye.
4. Displays matter, everything must hang. Or if not hanging, it should be displayed on a mannequin. Speaking of mannequins, get one, it helps. My first time around I hadn’t quite figured out how to display my baby clothes yet. I displayed them on a table, and while I sold a few, most people didn’t even realize I had baby clothes. My second time around I hung them all on baby hangers and placed them toward the front—- people loved them! My biggest problem was not have more product and more sizes. Mannequins are useful because unlike buying online, people have a hard time visualizing the product on an actual human— give them a visual.
5. Give the people deals, but remember what you have. I pride myself on the fact that I don’t overcharge my customers. All of my prices are fair, and some of my prices are real steals. My first time around I individually prices EVERYTHING, and I honestly believe it discouraged sales— people were afraid to haggle with me, because everything seemed so set in stone. It was also hard to keep track of in my own head. My second time, I priced everything in tiers. The majority of my items were $15, along with some for $20 and some for $30. I also had a special offer: all green tag items for $12 each if you purchased 2 or more— this wasn’t as successful as I had hoped. A select few things were priced higher including: a brocade coat and dress set, a hand-painted skirt from the 50’s and a wedding dress from the 50’s/60’s. In my opinion all of these items were still deals.
6. Bring propaganda. Do you have an instagram? Get interactive with your customers, they very well may come back to you! — and isn’t that why you got into this to begin with? Create your own community— sometimes you have to promote yourself a bit to get there.
7. Accept credit cards. I set a minimum purchase of $25.00. I only had one credit card sale, but it was my largest individual sale of the day. Just do it, it’s easy and it just may make the sale for you.
8. Bring friends, but not too many. Too many friends crowd the booth, and make customers feel awkward. One friend will help keep you entertained as well as take the pressure off of prospective customers. Sit in the back and let people browse. Below is a picture of my mom who came and helped out for a bit. Yes, this “hater of old things” said she actually had a pretty fun time!
9. Ask questions. Chat with your customers and visitors to get a sense for what they like and what they are looking for. This is part of that whole “knowing your brand, knowing your audience thing”. Give them your contact info and offer to be on the look-out for them. Take not of which items bring them in, and which they spend the most time looking at. You may want to place those items near the front next time around.
10. Lastly, bring an emergency kit. A few essentials: lint roller, safety pins, sewing kit, sunscreen, aspirin, extra hangers, scissors, yarn/rope, snacks, sharpie, extra paper.