Welcome to the first installment in what will hopefully become a series of blog posts all about my favorite seasonally-appropriate outdoor shopping occasion. In Flea Market 101 I'll cover everything from asking for better prices, to authenticating vintage furniture. And in this particular blog post I'll be discussing the bare bones basics to successfully navigating a flea market.
How To Prepare For A Flea Market
The very first step for preparing to attend a flea market as a would-be vintage shopper is to check the weather report. While some flea markets operate rain or shine with the use of tents and overhead coverings, this doesn't mean that every vendor will be in attendance. If it looks like enough rain where it would literally put a damper on your day, chances are many sellers may be feeling the same way.
Also be sure that the particular flea market you're visiting is open. Some mainstay flea markets are set for certain days, barring any conflicting schedule for holidays or special events. No sense venturing out only to be disappointed to find a big old 'Closed' sign.
Assuming the weather is in your favor, you'll want to dress accordingly. A few sensible layers go a long way, to accommodate cooler temperatures in the morning, and a hot blazing sun in the afternoon. Don't forget to apply sunscreen, to grab a hat, and to bring the shades!
But What Should I Bring With Me To A Flea Market?
While some people prefer to pack lightly, with just a coin purse and a phone... I'm a girl scout when it comes to the flea market. I'm prepared. I'm packed. I'm ready to buy. Here's a list of must-have flea market necessities I bring with me on every visit:
- A light canvas backpack. This makes for good storage for purchases and easier hands-free shopping.
- A bottle of water and non-perishable snacks. While many large scale flea markets have food trucks or other quick dining options, having to eat gluten-free really can limit my options. Having something small on hand assures me that I won't feel woozy come midday. I also opt for an insulated refillable water bottle.
- Easily accessible small bills. Since I'm not currently in the market for any high dollar items, such as furniture, I keep most of my spending money tucked into my pocket in the form of ones and fives. Nothing worse than fidgeting with my bulky wallet, and possibly losing my debit card in the process. And while some vendors are equipped for credit transactions, Cash is King.
- A tape measure. Much like a thrift store, you never know what you'll find at the flea market. And while I'm not necessarily looking for anything large, it's nice to know that it will in fact fit in my condo.
- A tote bag. I keep this folded up in my backpack, for carrying items if need be. It also doesn't hurt to bring a few sheets of newspaper or bubble wrap, especially if you're in the market for fragile items.
- Small personal items. A sunscreen stick, a tiny bottle of antibacterial gel, aspirin to-go packs. It never hurts to be prepared, especially if your flea market trip has you a fair distance from home.
- A phone charger. Since phones have become our cameras, our research tools, our GPS...they tend to crap out on us when we need them the most. I have a charger in my car and highly recommend you do the same.
- Measurements/color swatches/idea journal. If you're looking for very specific pieces, it's important to remember that this isn't retail. There's no return policy. So make sure what you're buying is exactly what you need. In addition to checking the quality of the item for flaws, you'll want to be sure it's going to be a perfect match for what you're planning to do with it.
What You Can Expect To Find At The Flea Market
A little of this, a little of that. Honestly, what won't you find? I've seen used jockstraps at flea markets (no, thank you). When it comes to the wares, the possibilities are endless. But as for the sellers, I've come across three distinct variants.
- The Overpriced Vintage Vendor. This seller may have some nice wares, but it'll cost you. The prices are more akin to an antique's booth than a flea market, and haggling seems impossible. This type of seller isn't doing a casual closet and crawlspace clean out. This is likely their main source of income and subsequently, they aren't very flexible on the price. Proceed with caution.
- The Anything-Goes Seller. Cool as a cucumber, and usually quite chatty. You can catch a good bargain from this type of vendor, who might just be selling to downsize.
- The Junker. These sellers can run 50/50, depending on the day and perhaps the item you're looking to buy. These vendors also tend to make their living at the flea market, but since they typically dealing with less-than-pristine items, there's more wiggle room in the pricing. And truth be told, they have all the rustic stuff that I love.
What To Look For...
That's all dependent upon your personal preference and style. But what's hot?
Wire baskets, vintage globes, chalk boards, apple crates, burlap suitcases, bar carts, pallets, quirky planters, mason jars, and anything rustic/worn/shabby chic that speaks to you.
Budget, Price, And Everything Nice
Maybe you're a stickler when it comes to a spending limit, or maybe you're a little more flexible depending on the flea market finds you happen upon. But one thing is for certain, every flea market shopper wants to find the best bargains out there. And since the transaction is one-to-one, up close and personal, it's time to talk about etiquette.
How To Get The Best Price At The Flea Market
When it comes down to it, being polite pays off. If I'm browsing through a seller's wares, I always say hello. I mean, the way I figure, If I'm going to be pawing through someone's personal items... the least I can do is greet them. It all starts with a simple hello. But also:
- Handle all items with caution. Of course you don't want to break anything (if you break it, you buy it). But it's also worth extra care as a sign of respect for the seller.
- If a specific item interests you, ask questions. While not every trinket is going to have a backstory, it never hurts to ask. This is especially true for vintage items.
- If the seller volunteers a price, consider it....even if you're not "considering it." Give it a few seconds of thought, if nothing else to make sure that YOU want the item, but also to not immediately jump down the seller's throat with a counter-offer.
- Don't just throw a number out there. Starting with a gruff $5.00 offer or stating "Ill give you... (insert dollar amount) for it" is standoffish. Instead try: "Would you consider...(insert dollar amount)?" Much more conversational, much more polite. And I've never had a seller be stern with their initial amount with this technique.
So there you have it...everything an introductory flea market course should have. Now get to it! And let me know how you make out.
What tricks and tips do you have when it comes to the flea market?
What tricks and tips do you have when it comes to the flea market?