Top 10 Merchandise Sources for Flea Markets and Antique Dealers

Flea market merchandise at pop-up Paris flea market.

David McSpadden / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

If you are considering starting a flea market business or renting an antique mall booth, the first thing you need to do is find merchandise to sell. Even if your starting stock comes from your own collection and overflow, you will have to replenish the merchandise regularly. And, you will need to find it cheap enough to allow for resale markup. 

Take a look at the top 10 best sources for your flea market or antique business along with some tips on how to maximize the bang for your buck.

Live Auctions: Do Your Homework

Live auctions have always been an important source of resalable antique, vintage, and primitive merchandise. The key is attending the right auction. Look for those called estate, household, barn, farm, or country auctions. Sometimes you can even pick up under-priced pieces at events billed as antique auctions if the auction company and merchandise are not too high-end. 

Make sure you attend the auction preview to inspect the merchandise up close and look through the box lots. Make note of the things you plan to bid on and decide on your maximum price. Then, stick to it when the bidding begins. You do not want to get caught up in a competitive bidding war with a private collector with deep pockets.

Estate Sales: Timing Is Important

Though some estate sales take place because the owners move, downsize, or enter assisted living, they are traditionally held when someone dies. After the heirs set aside any pieces they plan to keep, they or the deceased person's executor schedule a sale to liquidate the remaining contents of the house, outbuildings, and grounds. 

You will not get next-to-nothing yard sale prices at most estate sales, but you will usually find finer goods. After all, people hold yard sales to get rid of their "junk." At estate sales, you see the things the owners valued enough to keep.

Wait until the last day of the sale to attend these; that is usually when the prices will be lowest. If you are not sure which sales are which type, check the ads. If there is no company name listed, the sale probably is not being run by professionals. 

Yard Sales: Bargains Galore

You will not find as much resalable merchandise at yard sales as you do at estate sales and auctions, but the pieces you do find will come cheap.

Avoid yard sales in newer suburbs with young families. While some may have the stuff you are looking for, you will see a lot more baby clothes, children's toys, and newish home furnishings from catalog stores. For older and potentially more valuable stuff, attend yard sales in older neighborhoods with elderly residents who have lived there for many years. 

You will want to prioritize some sale types as well, even if they are not in the neighborhoods where you usually shop. Church rummage sales, neighborhood sales, and block sales are all ideal. 

Wanted to Buy Ads

Some dealers place "wanted to buy" or "ISO" ads on Craigslist, in newspaper classified sections or both. ISO stands for "in search of." If you go that route, include only your first name, email address or phone number, and a brief description of what you want to buy. The latter can be a general "I buy old stuff/antiques" or you can name the specific item.

Do not include any details about where you sell. If the sellers happen upon your booth by accident, so be it. But there is no reason to invite the sellers to see the difference between what you paid for the item from them and what price you put on an item. 

Thrift Stores

For resale purposes, thrift stores cost a little more than yard sales, but they usually have more stuff. Make sure you are polite to the staff. They can tell you how the sales work and when the new merchandise arrives. If they like you and know you come in every week, they may even hold things they think you will like until you arrive.

For Sale Classifieds

Check your newspaper classifieds as soon as the paper comes out to see what people are trying to sell. The listings on Craigslist go live as people post, so check those numerous times throughout the day. Since individual sellers do not always know what they have, read the listings in all categories, not just those in the categories you prefer.

Antique Pickers 

Pickers—short for antique pickers—gather merchandise via regular rounds to some of the same sources on this list. Pickers usually visit brick-and-mortar antique stores to sell their goods. If your booth is in a high-profile market or a high-end mall, you might want to try buying from pickers. Even though you are scouring the same sources, you cannot be everywhere at all times.

Store Closings and Liquidations

When retail stores close and hold liquidation sales, that is your chance to buy both display fixtures like cabinets, cases, countertop display props, jewelry busts, hat stands, and new old stock. This is stock produced many years ago that was never sold on the open market. It could have been stored in a retail shop or country store long out of business, warehoused in a factory boarded up decades ago, or housed in the garage of a distributor. Ideally, attend liquidations for stores that have been in business for a long time, since the depth and breadth of merchandise will be greater.

Private Sellers Who Approach You

Brick-and-mortar antique shop owners are often contacted by people who have old things to sell and sometimes those items turn out to be great buys. You will not experience this as much with a flea market or antique mall booth, but you can encourage it with a sign at your storefront or booth stating you will appraise external merchandise for resale to you.

Tell your friends and family to spread the word that you are always looking for old things to buy. Place a stack of business cards in your booth so people can help themselves. You might even include a line on the card mentioning that you buy as well as sell.

Other Flea Markets and Antique Malls

It may seem strange to consider buying stock from the same type of place as you sell, but remember that not all flea markets and antique malls are the same. If you sell in a high-profile antique mall in a pricey city, for example, the small-town mall a few hours down the road may have the same type of merchandise for a third of the price.