Tips and Tricks for Successful Flea Market Shopping

March 7th, 2009 in blog     
suewhitney Sue Whitney, editor
6 users recommend

On the road again!

On the road again!

Flea Market Shopping – The Rules of Engagement


1. Early Bird Special:

You already know how the saying goes, “The early bird gets the worm”!  Many flea markets across the country offer an early entrance option for all of you leave it to eager- beaver junkers.  This alternative is not for bargain boppers, but for those of you in search of the best selection.You will have to cough up some extra green, but the variety of junk is hm-hm-hm good.  In a nut shell; early entrance fee (varies), coffee and doughnuts (five bucks), early bird experience, priceless.


2. Search First, Rescue Later:


We refer to this strategy as the “straight jacket“ defense to over paying.  Take a loop-de- loo around the entire flea market before making any purchases.  Although, there are some downsides (you may miss a snag or two) to this plan of attack, but more times than not you’ll be happy you employed it.  Picture this:  You are in search of a fan and you buy the first one that suits your fancy for a mere fifty bucks.  Ten minutes later you come across another such fan, but oops, it’s only $25.  This will leave you thinking, my bad.  Patience is truly a virtue and you can take that bit of advice to the bank.


3. Where is the Real Junk?


After you’ve scoped out the market and retrieved your initial must haves get your boots a walkin’ to the back forty.  What does this mean?  Head out to the very back of the field and work your way back in.  Vendors who have staked claim in the field are most likely to have what we consider to be the coolest of cool.  You will find stuff in the rough with more potential than you can shake a stick at. What’s even cooler are the price tags or the lack there of, allowing you to inquire. What will you take for this thing with its ears cut short and its tail cut long?


4. Junkers on the Down Low:


While out in the back forty, leave know stone unturned.  Vendors will display their favorite junk confectionery, but the sweetest of sweet may be tucked away for later.  Listen to that sweet tooth and ask if their might be any hidden treats perhaps slipped under the table, or in the back of their truck or tailer.  If you dare to ask, you may be in for a pleasant surprise.  Scrounging in the underworld is what true junking is all about, so, go for it!   This is something that will not require a trip to the dentist, quite possibly a welder, but most definitely not a dentist... thank goodness for small favors!



5. Let’s Talk Turkey, The Art of Negotiation:


Negotiating is indubitably an art form.  At the end of the day you want everyone to be happy.  Vendors work very hard searching high and low in order to bring out the best in show for you.  Rule number one is not to offend the vendor. Rule number two is not to offend yourself, so pre-determine what you can afford to pay for something you like.  Rule number three, combine rules one and two and you are set to go.  If you can’t bear the expense, politely ask the vendor if he or she can do better.  If the answer is no, be prepared to walk away and say whatever you were after is out of your price range.  Don’t say I’ll be back because that will leave the vendor laughing. 


6. Cash and Carry:


Cash, don’t leave home without it.  Although some vendors are now accepting plastic, cash is still king at the flea markets.  Before heading out the door make sure you have what you need in a variety of denominations.  Twenties, tens, fives, and ones are best.  Vendors always appreciate not having to break your honey bees.  Oh, and by the way, make sure to keep it all in a safe and handy location.  We’ve found that stuffing your back pockets is not all it’s cracked up to be.


7.  Never Believe the Weatherman:


Be prepared for sunshine on your shoulders, the rainy day blues, and everything in between.  A full day at the flea market can produce a potpourri of weather conditions.  You’ll want to pack a sensible bag of necessities.  Items like bottled water, sunscreen, lip balm, shades, and a hat are a must.  You may also want to consider layering up your wardrobe.  Don’t worry about being stylish, this is not an audition for America’s next top model.  As the brisk morning air gives way to the smoldering afternoon sun you’ll be able to shed layers on the fly without missing a beat or a hot deal.  In case of the dreaded inclement weather situation, make sure to have that rain poncho and gollashes in the car ready and waiting.  Don’t let a little torrential down pour send you packing like everyone else.  Keep in mind if the storm sends folks running for cover you will be left with the goodies all to yourself.  We do not advocate, however, junking in a lightning storm.  Even we have to draw the line somewhere!


8. Don’t Find Yourself Lost in Translation.


Some flea markets are expansive, some are small, and some are just right.  In any case you’ll want to know where you are, where you’re going, and most importantly where you need to back to.  If you’re planning a major haul kind of shopping experience you will probably find it necessary to leave some purchases with vendors for pick-up later in the day.  If so, it is imperative to make a map of your junking journey.  Some fleas have maps available, but if not, make sure to have a small notebook in your arsenal to make your own.  You will want to jot down the vendor location (aisle, booth #, etc.), vendors name and contact information, and a list of the items left behind.  The last thing you want to do is get home and realize that you forgot a favorite find.


9.  Don’t Be a Hungry Junker.

 Do you ever go to the grocery store when you are hungry?  Mmm, mm, bad idea.  Most of us have learned this valuable lesson through personal experience. Why did I spend $50 on twelve bags of munchies?  If you don’t have a plan of attack you might just have a similar escapade at the flea market.  This time instead of buying silly food, you’ll be buying silly junk.  Prepare a list in this order, things you need, things you want, and maybe a few things you’ve been dreaming of for quite some time.  If you do this you’ll feel more in control, you will be less likely to over-spend, and you won’t end up with a lot of impulse buys that will assuredly take up residence at your next garage sale. 

10. Don’t Let Your Eyes be Bigger Than Your Volkswagon Bug      

Remember the junk you buy throughout the course of the day needs a ride home. Easier said than done!


posted in: blog

Comments (12)

SantaClaus writes: Sue, I miss your "Simple Monday's" projects! Will they return? Posted: 5:50 am on March 28th
momodicke writes: Thanks for the tips! I'll be at Round Top, TX @ Marburger Farms in a couple of weeks & these will come in handy. I've actually already started on #9/preparing my list. I've gone too many times and forgotten the things that I really wanted to look at. Hope to see you at Round Top. Oh yeah, I just put my rain jacket in my car!

Becky Posted: 1:40 am on March 18th
fleaspeech writes: Hilarious AND informative-- and so, so true. Keep em coming Sue! Posted: 10:32 am on March 13th
suewhitney writes: Oh man, you all make me laugh so hard. That's why this site is such a good place to be! Jim, unfortunately as you stated I am unable to sport a two day stubble, but I can pull off the bed head look with the best of them. I think everyone should add tips and tricks of their own here so we can all learn from each other. I, like Georgia had to learn the hard way...#10 was the funniest. Back in the day when JM was hosting big sales I purchased 20K worth of the good stuff, but only had a small pick up and a 10 foot trailer to get it home. Do the math! My eyes were far bigger than my ride that day.

Happy Junking,
Sue Posted: 6:11 pm on March 9th
Junk_Sophisticate writes: Okay, I find these tips even useful for the newbie flea market SELLER, like myself. Now I know what all you savvy shoppers are up to!! Haha.

Jim - Realize now, every time I have a customer walk up to me with bedhead - pulling a $5 bill out of his will always come to mind. Too funny!

Thanks for the tips!
Candy Posted: 8:26 am on March 9th
JunkArchitect writes: Sue, I added a few of my own.

I always have two pockets where I keep my cash. One has only $5.00 in it…that’s my cry poor pocket. “Come on, all I’ve got is $5.00”!! The other pocket is where I keep the wad to replenish the poor pocket. The replenishing pocket can also be used for that unbelievable find that requires the full wad.

As Sue suggested dress in layers…but look grungy. My last day for shaving is Friday. That gives me two full days of stubble before the flea market. The stubble thing doesn’t work so well for women but as an alternative positively don’t comb your hair. From my experience Bed Head is something most tag sale folks share. Remember, disheveled looking is a positive thing when attempting to compete on the grueling Tag Sale Circuit.

JA Posted: 9:20 pm on March 8th
grannijo writes: Sue: good advice to all of us "junker" can't wait for Spring.. for the garage sales and flea markets!...I joined this site in Feburary so with all the new "Ideas" I will be looking at things differently now! been a junker for over 50 ..great advice!...sharon Posted: 1:58 pm on March 8th
LuAnn writes: Sue:

Amen sister--you've said a mouth full. Thanks for a refresher course in fleamarketing--even for us old timers (as Kathy put it). The fleamarket season here doesn't start for about another 6 weeks so this is a great way to get your tactics refurbished and I tell you I'm chomping at the bit to get started. This has been one very very long winter.

Thanks again.

LuAnn Posted: 8:40 am on March 8th
shabbychick writes: Sue - Great advice - for beginners (and a refresher for us "old-timers"!) ha ha :) (not that we're old...just been junking a heck of a long time!!)

#5 - you're exactly right - we sell at some fleamarkets/antique shows, and 99.5% of the time when someone says "I'll be back, or I'll think about it..." they won't, and they usually aren't!! It's funny, because as a vendor, you hear it hundreds of times.

#7 - weathermen are usually wrong...and being prepared for anything is a great idea! My friend, Terri and I got stuck in a hard downpour (and there may have been some rumblings of thunder in the distance...) at Springfield (Ohio), and were just about the only ones walking to be found if you don't get stuck in the mud!! (A rain poncho was a great invention!! Old shoes are a good idea too - and my friends laugh, but I usually bring back up shoes & socks!)

Thanks for sharing the info and happy fleamarketing - I know this is going to be a great year for buyers and sellers!


P.S. Looking forward to our first show in April - Burlington, KY -and praying for good weather! Posted: 9:51 pm on March 7th
MimiToria writes: Sue- Although I've been to my share of flea markets in my years, had I read or been aware of your 10 Flea Market Tips, I would be so much better off.
Your post is fabulous! Thanks for taking the time to do it. I learned a lot, and #9, unfortunately can be my biggest problem, and my husband would agree. :- (
Gretchen Posted: 9:21 pm on March 7th
alicemom writes: I was at the flea mkt today. Really good finds but way proud. I got 2 great pocket watches for $7.00. I'll post after I do something with them. Thanks for the great just to follow it!
alice Posted: 5:16 pm on March 7th
georgiamoon writes: Sue these are great tips and words of wisdom from a veteran flea market shopper!
This is how I have done it in the past:
I show up late and start buying the first thing I see, with only $16.00 and an ATM card in my pocket, sweating bullets while I try to find the stuff that I impulsively bought, that I didn't need in the first place. Then when I can't find all the items that I've grossly overpaid for, it will now fit into the back of the TRUCK when it starts to pour down rain.
I've learned all these lessons the HARD way and try not to make the same mistakes twice...ok three times. Thanks for all the "Rules of Engagement" Sue I think I'll print this out for future reference, Georgia Posted: 2:37 pm on March 7th
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