How to Make Money at Swap Meets! Exactly How They Work

In my early 20’s, I started in retail sales at a flea market (some call them swap meets). It was cheap at $75 for the weekend and there was no long term lease obligation to be worried about if my business didn’t work. I spent about four months there and during this time I learned a lot about how this business works.

The main business I ran was sand art, basically for kids. We had three tables with a couple dozen plastic bins filled with different colors of sand. We sold clear long-kneck, glass twisted bottles and kids poured colored sand into them, to make designs. We sold the bottles for $9 each and the total profit was around $6 a bottle. We did well the first weekend selling around 125 bottles and earning $750. After a couple weeks we added small plastic cubes we got for 0.50 and sold for $3, and added a few other products at Christmas time, but the business sales went down week after week until I closed up four months later.

Here’s what I learned about flea markets.

1.) Don’t get a space by the door. People either run in or run right by you, or already spent their daily budget on the way out.

2.) People at flea markets go there for a reason. They’re looking for an incredible deal. Yard sale prices. They’re also looking for unique products. In my opinion, this devalues anything you sell and makes it harder to get a fair price for it, unless the product is so unique and original that they can’t find it anywhere else.

3.) Too many window shoppers. Most of the adults in a mall go there to buy something and they do. Most of the people in a flea market go there to walk around and just look at all the junk and most don’t buy anything.

4.) Here’s the main reason why my business failed. The decent foot traffic was repeat traffic. You don’t think about that when you first start up there. You just see a lot of people and think business will be good. After a month, I saw 70% of everyone who went there for the year because the same people came back every month, some every week! This means that after a month, sales drops way off because you’re seeing all the same people again.

5.) Too much competition. Whatever you sold, ten other people were selling it too and that waters down the price you can sell your merchandise for. Plus it meant people were hesitant to buy from you. They’d always say they’d be back then go to every other vendor selling the same thing to get the same item for the least price they could. Once someone left my table they never came back.

6.) Lack of confidence in sellers. Anything under $20 is fine, but people are hesitant to spend good money, like $100, on an item because the seller may not be there next week if the person wants to return it.

7.) No long term leases. This is good but it could be bad too. I knew a guy who started selling unfinished wood, lawn

furniture in his flea market space. It went so well that by the end of three month he had 10 spaces rented! Well, the owner of the flea market, not content with the 10 space rentals this guy was paying for, basically the owner of the flea market threw him out and started selling this exact same furniture at the back of the flea market himself. The ridiculous thing about this is, the 55 year old flea market owner was worth over $100 million dollars. Some people would say, “Business is business, do whatever you want.” Myself, if I had over $100 million in the bank (with $3 million more coming in every year), I wouldn’t cut a small time business owners throat over $5,000 a month. That’s peanuts, especially if he was doing business with me by renting 10 spaces from me. But you’ll see as you read the articles on this webiste, business isn’t for the faint of heart. A business partner, vendor or friend will cut your throat in a heartbeat if given a chance. Not all will do it, but it happens a lot.

Can you make any money at a flea market?

There are so many factors that it’s really hard to say. First off, how much is “any money” to you? I believe anyone could make $400 a weekend. For some that’s ok and others it’s peanuts for a whole weekend of work. The problem I found is that at older flea markets, anything that IS worth selling, that product is either sold by the flea market owner or a long time established business has prime space and is selling the product. The flea market won’t let you set-up anywhere close to these long time established vendor in their prime space, rather pushing you off in a corner somewhere. They protect the established businesses by keeping the competition far away from them. That’s the way the flea market business works and there’s no way around it. In other words, any items that make good money, you can’t sell them.

Getting started at a flea market and tips to make the most money you can.

1.) Some require a business license and some don’t. Some cities have a temporary license you can buy. Check with the flea market you plan on going into first before buying your product.

2.) This is important. See how many vendors are selling what you plan on selling (or something similar) and what they’re selling it for. Then check the price you can buy that same product for online or at a name brand retail store. The basic rule in retail sales is to price your product at 3x to 4x what you pay for them wholesale. This rule can be broken, but you’re not supposed too be much lower then that or you won’t show much profit. Now you have to determine if you’ll be able to sell your product at a price that’s competitive with other flea market vendors, name brand retail stores and the internet, and still show a decent profit. Keep in mind that your product will be slightly devalued over name brand retail and internet stores like If a flea market guy and the store Best Buy both have a new ipod for sale for $300, I’m buying it from Best Buy because the flea market guy might not be there next week. This is how everyone thinks. So your prices have to be lower than brand name retail stores and websites.

3.) Leave room for negotiating when pricing your items. Remember, people are looking for a bargain and sales. You can trick them into thinking they’re getting a bargain by raising the price higher than what you really want, then giving the customer a discount. It’s a “sale” to them but not to you. Many stores have a “sale” forever.

4.) Have more than one product in your space and change them out every month. If you rent a space and have only one product you have one chance to make money. If you have five different products you have a five times greater chance to make money and you’re not paying any more money for the space. What if the main product you were selling is a bomb, and something else happens to be a good seller. You wouldn’t even have known this if you only sold the one main product. Also, the same people come back to flea markets each month so it’s important to keep your products fresh and ever changing, at least each month.

5.) Try to have a unique original product. I would have to say 80% of all the money I’ve made has come from uniqueness and originality. A few times I was the first one in the country selling a certain product or one of the first offering a service on the Internet. People are always looking for the next big thing or next great idea.

6.) Have your return policy posted. 30 days, all returns accepted, would be the best policy you could post, it’s the policy name brand retailers use. This would help build buyer confidence.

7.) Once you have someone’s attention, don’t let the person leave without buying something. Give them a discount, 2 for 1, a coupon for a later time, a bonus gift; have some kind of special ready to entice the person to buy from you before they go walking around to another vendor and buy it from them because they gave a discount. At the very least, tell the person to come back to you before they buy it from anyone else and you’ll try and beat the best price they find.

If it looks like you might be in business for a few months, get a credit card machine. It’s a must for any business. They have handheld cell phone credit card machines available that are really convenient.

8.) Build a customer base. Be courteous, offer quality products and provide good service. Remember, you see most of the same people at flea markets every month.

9.) Some sellers have canopies built, glass showcases, a sign with the company name, and a nice backdrop. I don’t suggest you get all of this day one before seeing if your product will sell, but once if it does, it all builds buyer confidence. A folding table with items on it and a folding chair has “fly by night business” written all over it. People won’t trust you’ll be there next week for returns if needed and they may be right.

10.) Keep your business to yourself! If you’re doing well, don’t let anyone know it. If you do, the owner of the flea market may steal your idea and throw you out, or several vendors will be selling your same product the week after you tell them you’re doing well. It happens!

11.) I suggested not to set-up shop next to an entrance or exit. I’ve never tried this but I’ve heard the best spot is next to the food court, if they have one. Lots of traffic and people are ready to buy after they eat.

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