Flea Marketing 101

Flea Marketing 101

Often, I talk with people afraid of the flea market.  The unknown world of haggling and bargaining and purchasing is too much for them.  “I don’t know how to do it!”, they say.  Well, fear no more.  Today I have your top ten tips for flea marketing, garage saling, estate saling, or any other market you can dream of.   Interspersed throughout the post will be some of my favorite shots from the Chelsea Flea Market in NYC.

1.  Be Nice.

It’s true, a smile and a few kind words can get you a long way.  Are you in a booth with items you really like?  Tell the owner!  Frequently, the items these people sell are from their own collections.  Booth owners can be personally attached to their things at times.  Being rude and scoffing at prices, or talking bad about what someone is selling will get you nowhere!

Set of six very glam chairs! I think they were $600.

I always pick up frames I like at flea markets and consignment stores. They are often very well made and much cheaper than buying them in a store!

2.  Build Relationships.

If you live in an area with a regular flea market, get to know the booth owners.  Look them in the eye, ask them how they are doing, etc.  I cannot tell you how often I have heard the line, “I wouldn’t do this for anyone but you, but I will sell this for ___”.  If you are a frequent visitor and you show you like what the owner is selling, you are  more likely to get a great deal when you find something you can’t live without.

These old maps covering a wall would be neat.

This weird little guy was bought by a Texan visiting New York. A woman from Houston.

3.  The Earlier, The Better.

Arrive when the flea market opens for the best items.  Not only does it show you are eager and excited to see what is offered, typically, the best stuff goes fast.  Usually, I do a semi-quick look around the whole flea market when it opens to see if I spot anything awesome.  After I feel assured I saw everything and didn’t miss anything really special, I start at the beginning again, and slowly walk through the booths.

Wouldn't these headdresses be pretty on a wall as art?

Love these old letters.

4.  It Matters What You Are Wearing.

Do not take this to mean “dress to the nines” when you are flea marketing.  Many a time I have seen someone walk in a booth with six-inch Jimmy Choo heels carrying a Louis Vuitton bag, haggling with someone over five or ten dollars.  It will never happen!  The woman walks away frustrated, and the owner is left muttering about how “surely she has the money to give, look how she is dressed!”  Dress for the occasion.  Flea markets are often hot, dusty, and dirty.  Wear your tennies and comfortable clothes.

The Chelsea Flea Market is in a parking garage on two levels. This was the lower level.

A grouping of these would be pretty on a shelf.

5.  Always Ask Before You…

take pictures.  Booth owners are very protective of their items and generally distrust anyone taking pictures.  It may seem silly, but several vendors have told me people take pictures of their booth only to come back later and use the photos against them.  “Oh, I know this hasn’t sold, it has been here since __, sell it to me for __ price.”  I have been guilty of taking photos in the past without permission and irked people.  You live, you learn!

Loved the color on this necklace. There was lots of good jewelry at the Chelsea Flea!

This fish necklace is so funky!

6.  Bring A Tape Measure.

So you are flea marketing, and you see the perfect dresser for your daughter’s room!  It looks like it will fit, but you need to measure it.  The owner doesn’t have a tape measure, you don’t have a tape measure, no one has a tape measure.  Not wanting to risk it, you go home, get a tape measure, and go back later.  The dresser is gone.  Ugh.  This may or may not have happened to me. (wink, wink)  Bottom line: always bring a tape measure.  That is not something booth owners think of very often, it’s up to you!

Antique Victorian doorbell - so charming! $250.

You just attach a leather string to the back and pull it when you want to ring it!

7.  Bring Cash.

Most flea market vendors do not accept credit cards, you must bring cash.  It can also help when you are bargaining with someone if you can say, “I have the cash right now!”  Sellers often get irritated if you have worked out a price, and then you tell them, “Hold on, I need to go get cash.”  They wonder if you were just toying with them, and generally, they distrust you will come back with the money.  Take the moolah with you!

I fell in love with this antique French lithograph. It was $50 so I passed.

Love the colors!

8.  How To Bargain.

You found something you love, but you know if you bring that item home at that price, your hubby will be less than thrilled.  Here’s what to do:  1.  Step away from the booth.,  2.  If possible, do a quick Ebay search on your phone for the item.  Ebay is a great way to figure out the market price for something., 3.  Go back to the booth and tell the owner you really like ___, what is their best price?  If they quote you something too high, tell them, “I can get it on Ebay for this amount, can you do better?  I would really prefer to buy this locally.”  If it works out, great.  If it doesn’t, express your disappointment, thank them, and walk away.  Remember the most important factor in the art of the deal:  get the other person to talk more than you do.  If you throw a number out there, count in your head at least eight seconds (one Mississippi, two Mississippi, etc.) to let them respond.  It feels long and awkward at times – don’t worry, that’s the name of the game!

If there were four of these, I would have found a way to get them home! French Louis chair child's size!

This booth had lots of neat things in it.

9.  When You Really Love Something…

If there is something at the flea market you are dying over, and you have not been able to work something out with the seller, I have used the following tactic with success.  Go back to the flea market right before it closes, and try to negotiate with the seller again.  Often, these vendors have to pack up their items at the end of every flea market weekend.  They would rather not bring items home if they don’t have to.  It never hurts to try, what do you have to lose?

Lots of pretty things to ponder, "What could I do with this?"

Isn't this chair cool? It was super comfy, too. $350

10.  Other Little Tidbits.

* Bring one of those reusable grocery bags if you think you will be hauling things home.  Flea markets will frequently give you flimsy plastic grocery bags to put items in, and they can break easily.

* Don’t forget water.  Bringing a bottle of water is a good idea since flea markets can be expansive and involve a lot of walking.

*  Bring your own snacks unless you are into consuming a lot of junk food.  Flea market food (if yours has it, not all flea markets do) is typically not the healthiest and/or conducive to refueling your body after lots of walking.  Stash some healthy snacks in your purse in case you stay longer than originally intended.

*  If you have a cute baby, bring him or her.  You are probably laughing right now, but I am convinced cute little babies bring better prices.  Try it, you’ll see!


Hope you benefit from these tips!  I am always interested in hearing your thoughts and comments!  Feel free to post them in the comments section, or email me at submissions @ AStoriedStyle .com.

Happy Shopping!

  • Mommy Chic
    Posted at 22:49h, 04 September

    Do you have a favorite flea market in DFW? I miss all the ones we’d stumble upon when we lived in NY (and had no room in our apt for any “treasures”!). I’ve been scouring estate sales lately (lots of time on my hands as we count down to baby!) in search of furniture and art. I love the hunt and watching people haggle over a dollar or two.

    Love the pictures, btw. I miss the Chelsea Flea! And NYC in general….

    • Grace
      Posted at 10:14h, 05 September

      Hi MommyChic! I really like to go to the Fort Worth Flea in the Cattle Barn on the Will Rogers property. (off of Harley Avenue) It is open every weekend (Saturday and Sunday). In my opinion, it is one of the best kept secrets in Fort Worth!

  • Kat
    Posted at 16:41h, 05 September

    LOVE THIS POST! I absolutely love going to the Fort Worth Flea Market. I have my favorite vendors and know now which people are willing to work with you on price, and which ones won’t budge. I like hearing their stories and learning the history of the pieces that they have brought to sell. You might say, Grace, that they each have their own story to tell … maybe a fun series of flea market vendor interviews is on the horizon. Wink, Wink! Let’s go to the flea market together soon. I love hearing you haggle.

    My biggest tip: “Ask how much an item is. Listen to answer. Then say “okay, thank you.” And either slowly walk away (even if you love it) or look at other objects in their booth. I can’t tell you how many times the seller dropped the price just by me attempting to leave. Come back and check on your item again later and if you have to have it, go ahead and offer up a new price.”

    • Grace
      Posted at 21:21h, 05 September

      Thanks Kat! Hmmm…that could be an interesting post series!

      Yes, I have seen Kat’s “biggest tip” in action! It does work. 🙂

  • Mommy Chic
    Posted at 22:37h, 05 September

    Oooh- FW Flea! I forgot about that one! Haven’t been there in years. I learned some good negotiating tactics when bargaining with the dealers in Chinatown – ha! First rule (when my husband was a sales exec, also told me this): He who mentions the number first, wins. Put to practice when we saw a Crate & Barrel couch at an estate sale in my neighborhood. I asked how much she was asking & she asked what I thought. I said $75. (Didn’t know it was new CB, just thought it was an old mid-century piece.) She took $80 and we had an originally $1600 couch in great condition! People were offering double before we could finish loading it! It had been sitting there for hours without a price and I guess people were afraid to ask! 🙂

    • Grace
      Posted at 21:26h, 06 September

      Ha! Love it, Mommy Chic! I have also used the “he who mentions the first number wins” line before. 🙂

  • Kelly
    Posted at 07:17h, 08 September

    GREAT post!! Very useful and pertinent information. Love the visual I get of the seller sweating in furious mental calculation as you calmly count to 8. Ha!

    • Grace
      Posted at 21:52h, 09 September

      HA! I know, right? I also use this tactic with my children, waiting for them to answer questions sometimes. Especially if I am correcting their behavior. It works in many situations. 🙂 Thanks for the comment, KK.