Thinking of starting a flea market business? Renting a permanent, indoor flea market booth might be right for you. But, before you sign, read the pros and cons.
What Is a Permanent Flea Market Booth?
Before we get to the pros and cons, let's define permanent flea market booth.
At traditional flea markets, vendors set up their merchandise on the morning of the event and take the unsold items away when the market ends.
At permanent flea markets, sellers keep their booths set up all the time, even on days when the flea market is closed.
Though permanent flea markets are indoors by necessity, not all indoor flea markets have permanent booths. Except for being located inside, some function just like open-air traditional fleas.
You may hear a permanent flea market called a flea market mall. And, some refer to permanent booths as long-term or full-time booths.
The following pros and cons also apply to vintage and antique malls. In many cases, in fact, those differ from permanent indoor flea markets only in name.
Pro: You Don't Have to Give Up Your Weekends
Keeping your weekends free is one of the biggest pros of renting a permanent flea market booth.
At a traditional flea market, you have to be there to run your booth. At a permanent flea market, shoppers go to the front counter to ask questions and pay. In a way, you're hiring a staff to work for you for the price of renting the booth.
Not being tied to your booth on weekends gives you more than just free time. If you're selling antique, vintage, or just plain used goods, weekends are the best times to source more merchandise to sell.
Pro: Your Goods Are in Front of Shoppers More Often
Though some traditional flea markets open five to seven days a week, most don't.
Permanent indoor flea markets frequently do. Many keep the same days and hours as retail stores in their areas. That means shoppers have more chances to see and buy your stuff.
Con: Shoppers Feel Less Urgency
The downside of permanent flea markets being open so much is that shoppers feel less urgency about buying your stuff.
At a traditional flea market that's open only during certain times, shoppers who see something they want have a limited time to buy it. They can't be certain that the same dealers will be there at the next event.
At a permanent flea market, a shopper who isn't positive about a purchase knows he can always come back another day (assuming the item doesn't sell). Perhaps he even will. But, he's equally likely to decide against it or spend his money on something else.
That sense of urgency encourages people to buy right then, which is preferable. Once a customer walks out the door, there's always a chance he won't come back.
Pro: You Have Time to Create More Attractive Displays
When you don't have to set up and break down your booth every time the flea market opens, you have more time to focus on creating attractive displays. You have the chance to hang pictures, arrange furniture and accessories, and set up pleasing vignettes.
This is a huge pro now that curated flea markets and vintage shows have taught shoppers to expect booths to look pretty. It's no longer enough to toss the merchandise out on a table and expect shoppers to recognize its worth.
All that said, you'll still have to straighten and rearrange on a regular basis. Things get moved around and sold -- and presumably, you plan to keep bringing in new stuff.
Con: Shoppers Will Mess Up Your Merchandise and Booth
While we're talking about straightening, let me assure you that you'll need to do a lot of it -- more than at a traditional flea market where you're in the booth to keep watch.
By renting a permanent flea market booth, you'll learn what everyone in retail knows: as a group, shoppers will not respect your stuff.
They'll use your booth as a babysitter and let their unattended children make a huge mess.
They'll flop down on delicate antique chairs, crack the legs, and then leave. They'll carry merchandise around from other booths, and then dump it in your booth when they change their minds.
Even well-mannered customers leave things in disarray. The process of looking involves touching. Touching means picking it up. Picking it up means possibly putting it back down -- probably in the wrong spot.
Pro: You're Less Likely to Damage Your Merchandise
Though shoppers are more likely to damage your merchandise in a permanent booth, it's less likely that you will.
At traditional flea markets, you have to load the merchandise, haul it to the flea market, unload and set it up, load up what doesn't sell, and then haul it back home. You have to do this for every single event. No matter how careful you are, something will probably get damaged during that process.
At a permanent flea market, you only have to do all of that once per item -- unless you decide to close your booth. Less moving usually means a lower chance of accidental damage.
Pro: Many Permanent Flea Markets Take Debit and Credit Cards
Traditional flea markets are traditionally cash businesses, and old-school dealers are sticking to that.
Many permanent indoor flea markets take debit and credit cards, which gives shoppers who want your stuff more ways to pay. The market owner will probably pass along the fee to you, but it's still a plus.
That said, if a traditional flea market suits you best in all other ways, don't go with a permanent booth just for the credit cards. Instead, rent the booth you really want and take debit and credit cards on your smartphone using Square. It's super easy to set up and use.
Pro: Permanent Flea Markets May Collect the Sales Tax
If used items are taxed in your area, your permanent indoor flea market is probably required to collect sales tax when shoppers pay. That means you don't have to worry about sending it to yourself, which is a big pro.
Pro: You Can Use Your Booth as Money-Making Storage Space
In many areas, renting a permanent flea market booth doesn't cost much more than a climate-controlled storage unit. Depending on the flea market, it may even cost less.
You shouldn't strip your permanent booth every weekend, probably not even once a month. But, if you only do a few in-person markets per year, why not keep your goods in front of customers in between events?
Even if you don't make a profit every month, it beats the guaranteed loss you face with conventional storage space.
Con: Your Merchandise Will Get Stolen
Since you're not in the booth with shoppers at a permanent flea market, theft is a real problem.
If it's small enough to pocket, they will. If it's too big to swipe outright, they'll switch the tags.
This is why you see so many booths plastered with "Smile, You're on Camera" signs. Unfortunately, thieves know most of those warnings are bluffs. Most flea markets just don't have the budgets to install and monitor security cameras.
You can reduce theft by displaying small, pricey items in locked cases, but those discourage honest shoppers as well. If you go that route, make sure the tags are visible through the glass. Unless I have to have something, I hate going to the front counter to ask for a price.
Pro: Many Customers Will Just Pay the Price on the Tag
Some shoppers at permanent flea markets will definitely ask about discounts at the front counter. The flea market may call you or just give them a set percentage off, depending on its policies and what you've arranged.
But, if your price is reasonable, lots of shoppers will just pay the price on the tag -- especially those who only haggle at traditional fleas because it's traditional.
Pro and Con: You Don't Interact with Customers
This is one of the defining elements of a permanent flea market booth -- and it's also the one that can be both a pro and con.
A permanent flea market booth is ideal if you hate small talk and aren't comfortable with people you don't know. It's also the right choice if you tend to be pushy or easily offended. Either way, own it and be glad the permanent booth option exists. Not everyone is cut out for in-person sales.
If you truly enjoy meeting new people and ooze genuine charm, a permanent flea market booth can still work for you. But, you may miss sales you'd have made in person just because the customers liked you so much.