8 Unspoken Flea Market Rules to Abide By
An insider guide to shopping barn sales, flea markets, and trade day markets that will help you find the best items and the right prices.
1. Ask for Help
Shopping for vintage and flea market finds casually is great fun, but if you are on the hunt for something specific, it can feel like a never-ending task. If you find dealers who sells items you like, don't be afraid to ask them if they do private searches. The vintage and flea market dealers frequently work closely together and know each other well, so chances are if your favorite dealers don't have it, they will know where to get it. This is a great shortcut that will save you time and help you find the right piece!
2. Go to Salvage Yards First
Frequently those pretty windows, doors, screen, doorknobs, tubs, sinks, floor board, and molding that you have been eyeballing at your local market first landed at a salvage yard for half the price. When looking for architectural pieces, skip the trade days, vintage markets, and antiques fairs, and visit the salvage yard first. You might need to dig deep to find what you are looking for, but that is the price you pay for wholesale.
3. Know the Key Differences
For some, the fun is in finding the perfect piece. For others, it is in finding the perfect piece and the story that comes with it, which is why it is important to know if you are buying from a dealer or an auction buyer. Typically auction buyers buy estate items in bulk and sell them at vintage and antiques fairs; their items are just as impressive as a dealer but they are more varied. A dealer might only stock a few items while an auction buyer will stock several one-off pieces. When it comes to negotiating a price, you might find the auction buyer is more inclined to negotiate because the dealer has a specific market that he has priced.
4. Buy in Bulk
You don't need to be a wholesaler to get a wholesale price. When buying more than five of any one item, ask for a bulk discount. Chances are they are more than happy to accommodate a discount that goes up with the amount of items you are buying. This is an especially successful tactic if you are shopping on the final day of the sale or fair because dealers will be looking to unload as many items as they can.
5. Learn the Best Sale Time
When shopping for the best deals on the biggest items, don't overestimate the trouble it will take for the dealer to transport and store the item after the sale. The best time to negotiate price on bigger items like iron tubs, Welsh dressers, tables and sideboards is near the end of the market or trade days when dealers start to consider what their return loads will look like.
6. Ask About Transportation
If an item you have purchased is too large to fit in your car, ask the dealer if they, or their promoter, have a transport company linked to the event. Oftentimes, the promoter of the vintage fair, barn sale, or flea market will have a number of shipping and transport companies on site to accommodate large purchases. And if that fails, some dealers will deliver for an added charge if your drop-off point is en route or not far from where they are going.
Image via: Lincoln Road Antique & Collectible Market
7. Dig Deep
There is truly buried treasure at some stalls, especially the ones where the dealer has been trading and collecting for years. A quick glance at an overstuffed stall might suggest that there is nothing to see, but often the more cluttered and messier the stall is, the more vintage treasure there is to find. So don't be afraid to dig deep to find the perfect piece and start a conversation with dealers to learn more about what they stock and where the treasures are.
8. Beware of Knockoffs
The rise in popularity of vintage and distressed home decor items has brought with it the rise of faux pieces that are mass-produced to replicate the look and feel of authentic pieces. Most of these vendors are easy to spot; they often have the biggest tents and hundreds of the same products. The hard part is finding the smaller vendors who filter them into their usual stock of products. Don't be afraid to ask questions, find out where it came from, how they came to stock it, and when in doubt, trust your gut.