I grew up in the world of craft shows and flea markets and never realized how many trade secrets I knew until I started my own flea market booth in my 30’s. In this post, I’m excited to share some of my secrets with other sellers and vendors. Note that most (but not all) of this article applies more to flea market booths in year-round flea market facilities rather than pop-up events where the seller is present through the sale.
My tips center on how to:
- acquire inventory
- boost sales
- reduce theft
- reduce breakage
- increase profit margin
You’ve made the plunge! You’ve invested in a flea market booth, maybe you’ve even got a few months of experience under your belt by cleaning out odds and ends. What next?
This article is about some of my creative solutions to the following questions:
- Where to source new flea market booth inventory?
- How to arrange a booth for maximum profit and minimum loss?
- How to reduce theft and breakage?
- How to get the really niche stuff sold?
1. Move Inventory through your booth faster by advertising on Craigslist
Most items in my both are common, priced under $20, or widely appealing- but when I place a specialty item in my booth (for example bicycle parts and horseback riding equipment) or when I stock a batch of similar items (like an entire vintage mason jar collection or stained-glass making supplies) I always post a corresponding ad on Craigslist, advertising the item(s) and directing the buyer to my flea market booth to purchase the item.
Pairing Craigslist with my flea market booth relieves me from the inconvenience (and, as a single woman, the creep factor) of meeting people to sell items through Craigslist. Instead, I can direct them to a third-party location with staff on hand to take their money. I pay booth fees and a percentage to my flea market facility anyway (11% at my flea market) so I was deliberate about using their services whenever possible to make my life easier. Using a booth as Craigslist go-between meant no-hassle scheduling or meeting a buyer or figuring out how to process their non-cash payments.
TIP: when posting your items on Craigslist, give specific instructions to locate your booth, eg “halfway back on the east wall” or “three booths up from the fitting room.”
2. Find Free Inventory to Keep your Flea Market Booth Stocked (aka Befriend Your Recycling Center)
[Edit, since originally pinning this article, I created an entire post on places to get free or almost-free flea market booth inventory for resale.] Re-using beats recycling every time. Most cities have at least one recycling center where people can drop off larger quantities of recyclables or bulkier items than a regular pickup can accommodate. In many cities, these recycling centers are open for self-service. With permission, you should be able to remove anything you find for free.
Making my medium-sized town’s Recycling Center a routine errand each week generally netted enough sell-able products to cover each month’s booth rental fee. On some trips I left with hands empty, sometimes with just a glass jug or pickle jar (low hanging fruit, but sell-able for $2-$5 apiece) or a handful of vintage books, but on a few lucky occasions I scored big! Some of my recycling center finds have included a collection of glassware I priced and resold for hundreds of dollars, a box of vintage toys worth $80, and a cache of old stationary and atlases.
The book selection at the recycling center almost always includes donations of old private book collections. I could grab these vintage books for free and sell them $2-$10, depending on condition, topic, and author.
3. Tips for Flea Market Booth Setup
Arranging your booth is important, and speaks to particular types of customers:
Styled Booth vs Stacked Booth
Some booth owners spend lots of time carefully arranging items in their booth into a curated scene. This appeals to an impulse-buying customer who sees a beautiful arrangement and will purchase pieces to own the style of the booth as much as the particular item. But personally, I believe it’s more profitable to arrange the booth in a way that compresses a lot of cool stuff into a smaller space.
This invites customers who enjoy the thrill of the search, bargain hunting, and imagining what they can create with your items. Here’s a little more about my compressed method, which uses my booth for maximum product storage and display:
TIP: Stalk your local Habitat for Humanity Restore for used shelving. The shelves in my booth were scored for $5-$10 each at a Habitat Restore, compared to $30+ new. When I left my booth after my move to Seattle, I even sold the shelves out of my booth for a profit!
Here’s how I structured the content of my booth for maximum attention and profit. You want to be sure that the most visible parts of your booth are exciting to a person walking past briskly, and that when they turn to look into your booth, the items at eye-level are flashy (and, optimally, great values). If you can catch the customer’s eye and convince them that even these things they don’t want look nice and are well priced, they are likely to stop and scan the rest of your booth for treasures.
4. Invest in a Bag Sealer
If you have one on hand, a Foodsaver can work great to permanently seal zip-top bags in a pinch, but if you expect to sell many small or loose items, a heat sealer will pay for itself in theft and damage prevention.
Delicate paper ephemera (like decks of cards or stationary), tiny collections (like fountain pen nibs or napkin rings), or low-value items that aren’t profitable to price individually can be grouped together and sealed in a permanently sealed bag. It won’t prevent theft, but it will help keep honest people honest and make small pieces just a little less tempting to steal.
TIP: Don’t waste time individually pricing items under $2 or so. Instead, group with like items, bag, and seal, pricing the bag at a group price.
A plastic sheath also makes paper or fragile items easy to price without damaging the finish and prevents wear and tear to original packaging by providing protection from the oils and dirt on hands that will pick up and examine the item.
TIP: For tiny, but higher value items, place the item in an 8×8″ bag or larger, place a piece of white cardboard cut to fit the bag behind the item, write your price on the bag, then seal with a heat sealer. Doing this makes your item visible, harder to steal without being noticed, and easier to display in your booth.
This heat sealer on amazon is my go-to for small projects and before I moved to Seattle I kept one in my shop and one in my garage for organization!
DON’T: take the time to price items that are tiny and/or low value
DO: use a heat sealer to group small items together
This reduces time spent pricing and reduces the risk of small items being shoplifted.
5. Locate Sources for Low Investment Inventory
Thrifting, Auctions, and Garage Sales are standard sources for procuring booth inventory, but one of the most lucrative sources I located was my city’s Habitat for Humanity ReStore and the neighboring city’s Habitat ReStore. (Under different management, the ReStore in the next city over consistently had lower prices and higher turnover, leading me to suspect not all ReStores are equal.)
There are certain items I have learned to look for when I visit the ReStore: chandeliers, small furniture, and vintage frames. Occasionally, I discover great deals on unexpected and easily resellable items, like this pallet of dress forms that were $15-$20 each and resold in my booth for $40-$50.
6. Reselling Chandeliers
Deserving of a heading all its own, chandeliers were so profitable for me that I consistently hunted for them at the ReStore and thrift shops. Sometimes I resold as-is, but often (i.e. if they were that horrible shade of 80’s polished brass) I added a coat of paint. I found that if I spent a few bucks and five minutes converting chandeliers to a plug-in-swag style lamp, I could get an extra $10 or so for my chandeliers in my flea market booth. (See the link for instructions on converting a chandelier to a lamp.)
DISPLAYING CHANDELIERS: to sell chandeliers in your booth you’ll need a safe way to display that’s secure but still allows a customer to remove & purchase. I recommend a bracket made for hanging plants. Screw this sturdy bracket into a stud behind the wall of your flea market booth and hang the chandelier from the hook at the end. I like these brackets because while flat shelf brackets can allow the chandelier to slip off if mishandled, this hooked type can hold it securely and far enough from the wall that it hangs naturally.
Be sure to hang lights at a height so an average height person can remove the chandelier for purchase and easily put it back if they choose to pass.
Clear pricing prevents touching (and breakage)
Use GIANT price tags and a sharpie to price hanging items such as chandeliers. Make sure the price is on both sides of the tag and clearly visible.
7. Don’t overinvest time in prep, pricing, and fussing over your flea market booth
I know many vendors who are regimented about regularly adding inventory, rearranging their booth, and cleaning, however, my life situation allowed me to experiment with a different method:
After a few years of fun in my flea market booth, In August 2015 I decided to move to Seattle for graduate school. The following year involved trips back to the area about every 3 months, during which I would spend time pricing and reloading my flea market booth. My goal became this: simply stuff the booth as full as it could possibly get before leaving, and then forget about it until my next visit month later when I would pick up my checks, clean the nearly-empty booth, lower the price on remaining items, and reload the booth to overflowing all over again.
The result? SUCCESS. I might have sold a bit more by regularly reorganizing and refreshing, but when time is money, it’s nice to know that a flea market booth can be profitable even if you can only give attention to it a few days in a year.
My life transition from a 3,000 square foot house to 280 square foot apartment provided plenty of inventory and, frankly, a very low-stress way to part with my possessions slowly. Eventually, my remaining belongings sold estate-sale style when my Missouri home sold, but by the time of the sale I’d already reduced the contents of the house by about 40%, getting much better prices on my stuff than the final estate sale netted.
Coming back to a sad & empty flea market booth was normal:but with reorganization and refilling, it was full and ready to leave in 24 hours:
8. Create Pricing Interest
The general rule of retail is to make pricing abundantly clear, but I’m convinced that a person who shops at flea markets does so because they love the particular sort of hunting involved in flea marketing.
To that end, instead of a booth-wide discount, which would discount things I wasn’t ready to cut the price on, I color-coded. When I was ready to discount something, I’d staple a new bright gold tag to the old tag. The gold tags became like easter eggs as customers scanned my flea market booth looking for the gold tags (in the process giving a closer look to my entire booth and all the items that were not discounted).
9. Experiment with Low-Investment Rehabs
Refinishing furniture is great if you’ve got lots of time and a high tolerance for the tedious work of stripping, painting, and distressing. In reality, lots of people comb flea markets for pieces that DON’T look refinished. A rich patina and signs of age can be highly sought after. One of my secret weapons is Kramer’s Antique Improver. Expensive, but stretching a long way, it’s an oil-based solution that you rub onto the surface of wood or metal. Without any elbow grease, it dramatically transforms a finish. Using this, I had good luck rehabbing a piece to ready-to-sell condition in a few minutes instead of a few hours.
I love picking old wood junk out of trash heaps and barn-clean outs, running them through the dishwasher (yes, even small to medium size wood items!) then applying this “Antique Improver” and watching the piece come back to life. For 5-10 minutes of my time, I could boost the resale price of a basic old wooden box from $5 to $30, and the result was even better on furniture. “Feed-N-Wax” which I demonstrate this method on in another post, is a similar product for a lower price but after using both I think it takes more elbow grease and more product to get the same result.
These 9 tips made my flea market booth a big success, making each and every month profitable. My booth profits helped keep my own home decor shopping fun and no-guilt since I knew that I could justify buying something new for my own home with the knowledge that whatever in my house it replaced I could take to my booth and resell.
How to Pack the Perfect Flea Market Caddy for Handling Restocking/Repricing Trips to your Booth
After many trips hauling items home from garage sales to my own garage, then watching them clutter my garage while I waited to price, so I could “eventually” take the item to my fleamarket booth, I developed a new system for pricing items for my flea market booth.
Instead of bringing things home, I started taking things directly to my fleamarket booth to price there. Sometimes bringing things home is unavoidable, like for cleaning or a quick spray-paint, but just cutting down on the number of things traipsing through my garage helped streamline my fleamarket business and boost profits.
Over time and many trips, I began to cultivate a kit that had everything I’d need when I arrived at my flea market booth to reorganize, restock, and reprice. Below I’ve itemized the contents of my kit and why these items made my life as a flea market seller much easier and far more profitable:
TIP: keep this kit in your vehicle so you can move items straight from a garage sale trip or recycling center run into your flea market booth without the extra step of taking them home to price.
NOTE: This article is written particularly for flea market booths in flea market facilities that are staffed and open during regular business hours, however, if you run a weekend flea market where you are present with your items this method still works. You probably have a dedicated place, such as a cargo trailer, where you store items between weekend sales. Just keep this kit in your trailer and move things directly from your post-shopping-trip haul into the trailer of inventory.
This kit includes all the items you might need to price a variety of items for your flea market booth. I recommend keeping this kit in a case or easy-to-carry tool caddy. After awhile of keeping it in a caddy, I now use the vintage train case shown because it latches shut securely and is easy to carry in the back of my SUV where I usually price things and into my flea market booth where it is often necessary to replace missing price tags or add markdowns on items that have not sold. A basic, lightweight toolbox is a more durable option for packing your kit.
Contents of My Flea Market Booth Tool Kit
1. String or jute.
In this case, I’m using a decorative bakers twine which can be used to bind together items or attach price tags.
If you plan to sell art, postcards, magazines, children’s books, vintage ephemera, or any other flat and somewhat fragile items, bulldog clips are well worth the investment. These clips look stylish and the prepunched holes hook neatly on small nails or larger screws. Hanging art with clips means your pieces are visible and won’t be damaged by shopped flipping through a bin or box of paper items. If your booth is unattended, you may find the clips disappear with the items as they sell, but at 30¢ – 50¢ each, if they prevent loss/damage of even one or two pieces every few months, they’ll pay for themselves. To prevent lots, just use drywall screws to secure them directly into a large board that is mounted on the wall of your booth, ensuring that the clips don’t get sold with your inventory.
Card stock makes excellent price tags. These card stock strips to price books in a highly visual way to reduce the amount of handling the books receive. Similarly, whenever I have particularly expensive or fragile items in my booth I use an index card as an extra large price tag. If prices are visually really clear, customers are less likely to handle the item unless they are not serious about purchasing. Colored card stock can be used to color-code sale tags.
This has proved invaluable in my kit. This is mostly for trips to my booth where I might need to move a shelf or add or remove heavy duty hanging planter hooks (LINK) which I use to display chandeliers or other heavy hanging items.
5. Price tags.
Your kit should stay stocked with multiple kinds of price tags. When I took this photo I was out of hanging tags, but my kit typically includes both blank sticker tags and string tags of varying sizes.
pricetag – hang-tag style price tags
– I buy the medium/small 1.092 x .75 inch tags to save a little money, but they require an extra-fine-tip pen to get booth number, a good description, and price fit legibly on the tag. (The Pilot G2 in ultra-fine .38 mm tip is my go-to pen for tags, journaling, and basically all writing- and works fabulously for tags)
pricetags – blank round stickers – I like big round stickers for pricing as the round stickers draw the eye better, especially on broad flat surfaces. My advice for price stickers is to go BIG. Stickers with well-marked prices, visible from shelf or surface, mean less people handling them items, jostling nearby items, rearranging the display, etc.
6-1. Pens and A Box Knife.
Keep hands of various sizes on hand. Fine tip pens work well for when lots of information needs to be put on the price tag and Sharpies (double tip) – are helpful for making the oversized tags for high-value items. Keeping a snap off box knife in your kit is also super handy for various reasons, including cutting string.
6-2 Clean rags.
I got distracted while making the image, so there are two 6’s 🙂 Always keep rags handy in your kit, often things the dusted before pricing and you may need it to tidy up your booth when repricing.
If you are allowed to screw into your backdrop this is essential for hanging and rehanging various items. Drywall screws are my go-to screw, these will screw in without pre-drilled holes into most surfaces and hold tight in drywall, plywood, lumber, or peg board. (Just be smart about weights, and always use studs for heavy loads!) I keep 10-12 in the bottom of my flea market tote, the ability to add an extra hook is priceless when refreshing my booth.
See above. Basically, I recommend keeping a couple kinds of string and jute in your case. Jute is more helpful for us together while while string is great for hanging price tags.
Keep a small roll of packing tape handy. Don’t go for the cheap stuff here, especially in a booth you don’t maintain often- the name-brand heavy duty tape works well for several purposes: 1. reattaching price stickers that aren’t staying attached (weak adhesive on some stickers doesn’t work well with some vintage surfaces like wood, fabric, or rusted metal.) 2. Sealing and resealing clear bags semi-permanently. 3. Hanging signs.
10. Rubber Bands.
Always essential, and you’ll never know when you need them, you probably don’t need a box, but keep a bundle in your kit.
11. Golf towel hooks or Shower Curtain Hooks.
These are actually just lightweight versions of shower curtain hooks, but for some reason, I’ve been able to find them priced a bit cheaper when they are labeled as golf towel hooks. I love having these hooks in my booth because they are a fraction of the price of peg hooks and work for a number of purposes. They can collect items together and a lot such as hardware any group of things that have holes, but they also work well for hanging linens or for piercing through a plastic bag to hang, and hanging framed art. Then hang well from screws, peg hooks, or, bent quickly from a C shape to an S shape, directly on pegboard.
NOT PICTURED (but important)
A good pair of scissors is a must have for repricing, cutting new tags, removing string tags, etc.
At around $10 for a tagging gun and 1200 fasteners, a tagging gun is the best investment I ever made in my flea market booth (worth noting if you are also a crafter- tagging guns make the basting part of a sewing project 80% faster).
Using squares of cardstock, a tagging gun can simultaneously punch a hole in the cardstock and attach it securely to items that are fabric/textile, have cardboard packaging, or that have eyelets or small holes.
Keep a compact stapler in your caddy for repricing. I recommend stapling a new pricetag over an old pricetag when lowering prices on items that haven’t sold. This method is faster and allows the customer to still see the old price tag- letting them feel like they are getting a great deal.
15. Peg Hooks
– Most flea markets sell these on site, for vendors, but don’t get stuck with their high prices. Order in advance (more than you think you’ll need) and always keep 6-8 extras in your caddy.
For a flea market booth where most items are different (as opposed to a regular store that stocks many identical items), I think shorter 2″ peg hooks work best.
With this basic kit you can reduce your time spent pricing items for your flea market booth and increase profit. I’d love to hear how this simple list works for you, or what items you find are essential in your own fleamarket pricing toolkit.
What about you? Have you taken a dip in the waters of owning a flea market booth? What are your tips for finding new inventory and boosting profits? Pin it now to find it later:
Getting Started with a Flea Market Booth
Getting started with a booth at a flea market is way easier than you might think. Whether it’s an antique mall or a day market, getting started is as simple as filling out a few vendor forms. Some antique malls have waiting lists, so you might have to wait a month or more before being able to move in– plan ahead and use this time to build inventory, price items, and acquire shelves, tabletops, or display cases to use in your booth.
If you’ll be exhibiting at a day market (the kind of flea market that pops up one day and is gone the next) folding tables or even just sawhorses (check out my DIY article on how to make cheap sawhorses that look great) with flat boards on top. For booths in antique malls, you’ll want stable wobble-proof shelving. Mounting your shelving on the wall in your booth can leave room for larger items to sit on the floor.
Paying taxes as a flea market vendor
I’m no tax professional, and won’t claim that you should use what you read here as advice for filing or paying taxes, however, in my experience it’s not as intimidating as you might think. In fact, many antique malls take care of this aspect for you– allowing you to operate under their business license and assessing and paying any applicable sales tax as part of your booth fee. For pop up day markets, you probably will be responsible for sales tax, but many markets have an exemption to requiring a business license that allows casual sellers to show up and be vendors every now and then without having to worry about filing for a business license.
You may be surprised to learn that you may not have to pay income taxes on your income from your flea market booth. According to the IRS, income from reselling used household possessions that were not purchased with the intent to resell (within a certain margin) is not subject to income tax. In other words, if you’re just looking for a way to downsize some extra stuff, you likely will not have to pay income taxes. But if you begin to sell for profit or begin to purchase goods with the intent to resell (and deducting those purchases as a business expense) you will need to begin treating your flea market venture as a real, small business.
Don’t let that discourage you from starting out on the journey to being a part-time or even full-time flea market seller. In many communities, you can find small business incubators that will provide free advice, help with taxes, and other support for individuals starting businesses.
Cost of running a booth at a flea market
Costs can vary DRAMATICALLY from market to market. For example, at one of America’s largest pop-up flea markets – Canton Trade Days in Texas, a booth for one day can cost anywhere from $50 to $450! At small regional flea markets, the booth fee for a pop-up flea market is generally between $20 and $50 for a day or a weekend. In established, indoor antique malls, where security, climate control, and building maintenance are provided for you (but where sales tend to be a little slower) the monthly price tends to hover around $100 a month, plus, usually, a percentage of each sale is taken as well.
Flea market booth hack: how to draw in buyers
My very best tips for attracting buyers to your flea market booth is this: Never have new/modern inventory, and never make exceptions to this rule. Every market is a little bit different, and a street market has a lot more wiggle room for inventory diversity, but if you’ve located your flea market booth in an antique mall, my advice is to never ever have anything new in your booth – as soon as you add a bag of old Bratz dolls or that foot spa you got as white elephant gift, you cheapen the value of your booth to potential buyers.
Sure, you can sell those items in a flea market booth, but I operate my booth successfully with the theory that the presence of ‘unwanted junk’ cheapens your entire booth, discouraging curiosity about your inventory among individuals looking for– and willing to pay for- quality vintage treasures.
Income Estimates – What To Expect as a Profit
Flea market reseller incomes can vary dramatically depending on your type of inventory, the location of your booth, and the foot traffic passing by. It’s also directly related to the amount of time that you are willing to spend learning about the business, sourcing good booth inventory, pricing and repricing, and managing your business. If you make it a full-time job, you can probably make a full-time income, but it takes savvy and start up money.
Realistically, most fleamarket sellers are just making a little extra money on the side to cover bills, or to justify fun purchases. Many retirees enjoy managing a flea market business as a way to downsize their own belongings and keep busy with a hobby-business.
Some Hints on Flea Market Selling:
And some relevant posts for creating or rehabbing potential merchandise:
How to Clean and Deodorize Vintage Luggage
How to Restore, Preserve, and Frame a Keepsake Horse Shoe
DIY: How to Make Your Own Sea Glass at Home
How to Make a Christmas Wreath from an Antique Horse Harness Collar
Restoring a Beautiful Finish on Worn Leather Goods
Instructions for Building a Stylish DIY Sawhorse Table for $25
Removing Rust from Found Objects without Scrubbing
DIY: How to Turn a Hardwired Light Fixture (i.e. a Chandelier) Into a Lamp with Plug
How to use a Flea Market Booth to Make a Profit while Organizing your Home
A fleamarket booth is an excellent way to reduce clutter in your home while making double or even triple the profit of a garage sale! Downsizing and getting rid of all the excess stuff that we accumulate has been shown to correlate to greater levels of happiness and satisfaction. But what if you could take all the stuff you don’t need, and instead of giving it away like many minimalist or tiny living gurus encourage, you could actually sell it to finance an extra car payment, better self-care, or even a vacation?
When I downsized from a 3 bedroom, 3 bathroom farmhouse with three outbuildings all the way down to a 12′ x 17′ studio apartment in downtown Seattle, I had a LOT of stuff to get rid of. Instead of simply trucking things to goodwill (which I did, but always with a good inventory list of what was donated so I could acquire a receipt and itemize the donation on my taxes) I sold many items in a flea market booth.
Throughout the Midwest, and even extending to both coasts (though less common in the Pacific Northwest) flea markets are an excellent way to get rid of your stuff while often recouping the return on your initial investment– or sometimes even a profit!
You might think of flea markets as seedy weekend swap meets or as bourgeois shopping curated by pickers and antique dealers, but the reality is that many flea markets are open with regular business hours throughout the week and serve as a great location for anyone– folks like you and me– to get rid of their stuff without the hassle, time, and the privacy-invading issues of hosting a garage sale.
When I downsized, I was able to make a significant profit off of many of my belongings – which I mostly picked up at garage sales and flea markets in the first place! Flea markets are a great alternative to garage sales because prices are generally set far, far higher than at garage sales. A vintage glass bowl that might sell for $1-2 at a garage sale can easily sell for $5 or even $10 in a flea market. Flea market administrators often take a booth fee and the percentage of sales – but this generally does not exceed 20% of the total sales, and is a bargain if you consider that you’ll be able to sell most items for 2 to 5 times as much as you would at a garage sale (where the investment of your time is also a significant overhead expense to consider.)
Lindsayanne is a professional artist, writer, and serial-DIY-er with a knack for solving problems creatively at home, in the studio, out in the garden, and even online. Learn more about Lindsay, her training, and her background here.