Do's and Don'ts for Flea Market Vendors

Outdoor Saturday flea market at Plaza Constitucion
Richard I'Anson/Lonely Planet Images/Getty Images

There's more to making money at flea markets than piling stuff in your booth and waiting for shoppers to stroll by. To make yours profitable, learn from the best flea market selling tips.

Choosing the Right Booth

  • Do attend all of your local flea markets before renting a booth at one. Pay attention to what the vendors are selling and for what prices. Watch the shoppers, see what goods draw them into booths and what they actually buy. If you're hoping to sell high-end vintage furnishings, you'll want to mark the flea market with primarily seconds and knockoffs off of your list.
  • Do talk to all of the flea markets on your short list to ask about booth rental prices, merchandise rules, the approval process, legal and tax requirements, and whether there's a booth available. There's no point in getting your heart set on a particular market if there's a two-year waiting list and your goods aren't approved.
  • Do try to rent a booth near the main entrance if spaces are assigned. Flea market shoppers tend to comb through the stalls when they first arrive and speed by with a glance as they get tired, especially at large flea markets.

Picking Merchandise to Sell

  • Do buy merchandise at a price low enough to mark up for resale. It doesn't matter how fabulous that mid-century sideboard is if you can't make a profit.
  • Do pay attention to trends in antique and vintage merchandise. If something is hot, hot, hot right now, you'll lure shoppers into your booth by having it. 
  • Do source merchandise from a variety of places. If you get everything in one place and it dries up, you're out of business.

Setting Up Your Booth and Displaying Merchandise

  • Don't wait until the last minute to set up your booth on market days. Instead, get there at the earliest time vendors are allowed to arrive. Serious flea market shoppers storm the gates as soon as they open, and your booth needs to be ready.
  • Do arrive at the flea market before they open for vendors if the booth spaces aren't assigned. You need to be among the first in line to get a space near the entrance.
  • Do shelter your booth with a pop-up tent canopy. It differentiates your booth visually from those on either side and makes it seem more festive. And, on hot days, both you and your shoppers will appreciate the shade.

Interacting with Shoppers

  • Don't get mad when shoppers haggle. They do it because it's always been part of the flea market experience and they know most sellers mark up the merchandise to allow for it. Even if you don't, you can't change the flea market culture. Just remind yourself that you have all the power. It's your merchandise, and they can't force you to sell it for less.
  • Don't stalk shoppers as they browse your booth. It's too pushy, and many will assume you think they're thieves. Instead, listen to what they actually say and pay attention to nonverbal body language to recognize when they want to chat.
  • Don't try to sell shoppers random things if they haven't expressed an interest. You'll distract them from goods they might actually want, and they'll probably just flee to get away from you.
  • Don't kick a shopper out of your booth for rude or aggressive haggling, unless he's damaging the merchandise or running other shoppers off. It's possible that he's just new or awkward at negotiating and doesn't know the haggling don'ts. Even if he is just rude, he has friends that might not be, and you can bet he'll tell them about his experience.

Running Your Flea Market Business

  • Do set up a way to take credit cards if possible. These days, you can do it via your smartphone even if the booth doesn't have electricity. The easier you make it for shoppers to buy, the more they're likely to spend, especially if you sell big-ticket items like furniture.
  • Don't assume the flea market's traffic is all you need. That helps, but try to build a customer base of your own by advertising your booth. Start a page for your booth on Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, and Instagram. Build your Twitter following and tweet pics of your latest finds. Have a signup sheet so shoppers can provide their email address for your newsletter and announcements.