A flea market — also sometimes called a swap meet — is like the shopping mall of garage sales. The organizers set up booth spaces.
People rent those spaces and sell stuff. As a customer at a flea market, you get the benefit of being able to browse through several “stores” at once.
And typically, the items sell at deeply discounted prices. Some of the more common items sold at flea markets include:
Cheap new items
Handmade crafts or furniture
You might find vintage clothing or furniture there. Some flea markets might allow fresh produce or baked goods for sale. The point is that there is a wide variety of goods that people can purchase at a flea market.
How to Make the Most Money at a Flea Market
This means that there are generally a lot of customers at a flea market — if the organizers marketed correctly. And that means more potential income for you. Here are some tips for making money at a flea market.
1. Choose What Flea Market to Sell At
Organizers run flea markets differently. Some flea markets are long-term markets. They run on a regular basis kind of like stores. Some are indoors, some are outdoors.
The long-term or permanent flea market owners will charge you a per-month fee to have a booth. In addition, long-term flea markets sometimes have employees.
This means you could decide whether or not you’d stay at your own booth. You could set up a booth, but have customers take their purchases to the market’s cashier to pay for them.
Vendors rent and man their own booths at these types of flea markets, and they pay a flat fee to have booths. This is nice because you as a vendor will know right away what you need to make to break even.
Other flea markets are short-term or traveling markets. They go from place to place for short periods of time — usually on weekends. Or, they just open in an area for a few days.
Some short-term flea markets may not even charge a fee for a booth. They’ll just spread the word and let vendors — and customers — come.
This is the type of flea market business my dad occasionally worked when I was younger. He’d hear about a venue usually somewhere within an hour’s drive of home.
He’d gather up the items he wanted to sell and spend a day or weekend at his booth. And he’d come home with cash. Sometimes it was a little, sometimes it was a lot.
It was one of the ways he chose to make multiple streams of income.
You have to decide which type of market is best for you. Do you think you want to do the short-term flea markets and travel a bit? Or just do the markets that are close to your home? Or would you rather have a long-term or year-round flea market business?
2. Find a Good Location
Whether permanent or temporary, you’ll want your flea market to be housed at a good location.
A good location gets lots of traffic. It’s near main roads and/or highways. Or, it’s near other shopping venues.
Some people come to a flea market on purpose. They seek them out and go with the intention of shopping and getting a great deal.
Others, however, are surprise shoppers. Maybe they didn’t know that a short-term flea market was being held that day, but they can’t pass up the chance to find a great buy.
Other flea markets run in the same location, same weekend, every year. If it’s a good market, people will know about it and wait for it.
Search out markets that are either well-known or in highly populated areas where lots of people will drive by.
3. Sell the Right Stuff at Your Booth
It’s important to know that some flea markets have guidelines and rules about what you can sell. Others do not. Be sure to ask up front what you can sell at a particular flea market before you rent a booth.
You might be wondering what you should sell at your flea market booth. We talked about this a little bit above, but I’ll expand on it now. You have a vague idea of what people sell at flea markets.
Here are some ideas for what you can sell at your flea market booth. Over time, you’ll get to know what sells for you and your particular location, and what doesn’t.
Vintage Toys and Games
People love buying toys and games that remind them of their youth. When I was a kid, one of my favorite games was Uncle Wiggily.
My uncle had given it to me as a gift, and my brothers and I played it all the time. Being an animal lover, I loved the different colored rabbit characters they had as player tokens.
They have new versions of the game at stores, but if I could find a vintage version I’d buy it in a heartbeat. This reminder of days gone by is what helps vintage toys and games sell at flea markets.
Know that if you’re going to sell vintage toys and games, they have to be in decent shape. No missing pieces on games or broken parts on toys. Some wear is okay as long as the item is usable.
Vintage or Discount Clothing
Vintage or highly discounted clothing can sell well at flea markets, too. Again, people love being reminded of their youth. Plus, clothing styles cycle around. Those 80s leg warmers will be back in style soon if they aren’t already.
Look for vintage items that aren’t too gaudy in color, but can be paired with basic traditional clothing. As for up-to-date clothing, people just want a great deal.
Jewelry and Accessories
Jewelry and accessory items such as scarves tend to go over well at flea markets. Again, pricing is key. The main thing flea market shoppers want is a great deal.
The jewelry and accessories you sell can be current style or vintage. And don’t be afraid to put chunky or wildly-colored pieces out there. If nothing else, they can help draw attention to the other items you’re selling.
Home Decor Items and Tools
My dad always had lots of luck selling these items at flea markets. Again, pricing is key. If dad had two $100 power drills at home, he’d sell one at a flea market for $15 or $20.
Dad made money on an item he didn’t need, and the customer got a great deal. The same goes with home decor items. Some people love decorating their homes with fun and different flea market finds.
Or, decorating with pieces that match their style or interests. For instance, my dad bought a great picture at a flea market of a girl leading her horse through a small creek.
He got it for my oldest daughter for her birthday because she loves horses. She didn’t care that it came from a flea market. She loves it because grandpa gave her something that is totally “her.”
And, grandpa got the beautifully framed picture for a song. It’s this type of heart-warming bargain that makes flea markets so popular for shoppers.
If you can find a great deal on cool vintage or other furniture, consider getting it to sell at your flea market booth. The vintage thing is big at flea markets.
People want stuff that no one else has. But know that transporting furniture to flea markets can be cumbersome. I’d keep furniture pieces to a minimum unless you’re renting a long-term booth.
If you come across odd, “WOW, I’ve never seen anything like that before” stuff, that might be a consideration for your flea market booth.
Again, people like buying something that no one else has. Use discretion of course. If it’s ugly or too outlandish, your buying audience may dwindle.
Note: It can work to sell expensive items at flea markets if they’re one-of-a-kind. If you find a great deal on an expensive item, don’t be afraid to try and sell it for a higher price.
4. Shop the Right Places for Items You Sell
Luckily, there are lots of places you can get items to sell at your flea market booth. Here are some ideas.
Shopping at home for items to sell at your flea market booth has one major benefit: It’s free! Go through your closets, drawers and storage areas. Find all of that stuff you don’t need or want. Look for jewelry, clothing, furniture, toys and games, collectibles, etc.
Whatever you find that you don’t want, include it in your sale. I remember my dad would sell everything from unwanted tools to home decor.
Your Local Thrift Store
A lot of times you can find stuff at local thrift stores that you may be able to resell for more at a flea market. The key to succeeding at this, however, is to find thrift store items that are a super good deal.
People buying from flea markets want great deals. Therefore, you need to make sure you’re buying even better deals if you want to resell them at your flea market booth.
When you’re shopping for resale items at thrift stores, consider buying merchandise that meets these criteria:
Percent-off items, like when stores have 50% or 75% off days or sections
Highly undervalued stuff. Sometimes thrift stores will price things ridiculously low
Free bin items. Some thrift stores have “free” bins or areas. See if you can snag a great deal in them
But don’t plan on flipping your thrift store finds if you pay a “fair” price. You’ve got to go for heavily discounted items.
Local Garage Sales
You may be able to find things to flip at your flea market booth via local garage sales. Some people price garage sale items extremely low. They just want the stuff gone.
I once held a garage sale with a friend. She was selling a long leather dress coat in mint condition for $10. The coat was worth at least $100 on eBay. Those are the kinds of deals you’ll want to seek out at garage sales.
Scour garage sales, especially citywide sales with lots of people selling in one area. Look for those unbelievable deals and grab them quickly. Shop with cash and don’t be afraid to haggle.
In the area where I live, people often leave stuff at the curb for free. Some cities have large-trash pickup days, when the city will pick up furniture and other items you don’t want.
If you find a resellable item on a curb, grab it! Be sure it’s in decent condition and is something that someone else may want.
Another place you might be able to find items to sell at your flea market booth is on wholesale websites. These are sites that sell large quantities of items for super cheap.
Browse through sites such as AliExpress and see if you can find cheap items you can resell at a profit.
Buy carefully, however. Don’t buy too much stuff until you have a good idea of what sells well at your flea market booth.
Facebook Yard Sales
You may be able to find items for your flea market booth on Facebook’s yard sales page. Just search “yard sale” when you’re logged into Facebook.
It should populate a list of sale items near you. Note that some Facebook yard sale items are great deals, others are not.
You need to be able to find a deal on an item you can resell for more at your booth. So pay careful attention to price. And consider travel time and gas money to get the items as well.
Another place to find items to sell at your flea market is on Craigslist. I’d start with the “free” section. From there you can browse other sections that sell what you want to sell at your booth.
Again, it’s important to consider time and gas spent to get the items. Factor that into the profit you will (or won’t) be able to make when you resell the items.
Now that you know where to get your items, you have to know how to price them for the best sale results.
5. Price Your Items Wisely
Pricing your items wisely is another key to making money at flea markets. Start by shopping your competitors’ booths. See what they’re selling and how much they’re pricing it for.
Pay special attention to the really busy booths. Try to determine what is drawing the customers to that particular booth. Then mimic their techniques.
Pricing is important at a flea market booth because people go there to get good deals. This means you have to know how to price your stuff for two end goals:
Price to make a profit
Price to attract customers
If you can find a balance between these two goals, you’re on the right track to make some cash.
6. Organize Your Booth for Easy Shopping
Organizing your flea market booth is vitally important. People want to be able to approach your booth and know what you have for sale.
If everything is thrown together in a heap, customers will just walk away. Here are some tips for flea market booth organization.
Position like items together. Put all of the jewelry together, all of the accessories together, etc.
Use pegboards, shelves, racks and stands for neatly displaying your items. For instance, have clothing on hangers and have the hangers on racks.
Label and price every item. Make it easy for customers to see what you have and what you’re asking for it.
Have electricity available if you’re selling items that need it. Bring an extension cord and a surge protector.
Similarly, have fresh batteries or charged-up batteries in items that need it. You’ll want to be able to show that they work properly.
By organizing and clearly labeling what you have, customers will be more likely to shop — and to buy.
7. Know How to Negotiate
Negotiating can be a big part of making money at flea markets. This is because it’s a marketplace that’s well-known for haggling. Here are some tips for negotiating profitably:
Know how low you can go on a price before you’re no longer making a profit.
When making a deal, feel free to offer a 2-for-1 or 3-for-1 special.
Be okay with saying “I can’t go that low” if you really feel you can’t.
Sell dirt cheap if you need to on items that have been sitting for a while. It’s better to get rid of that inventory and make room for something more profitable.
Make negotiating with customers fun and light-hearted. After all, it’s only money.
Now that you know how to negotiate on items, here are some pro tips for flea market success.
8. Follow Tried and True Tips
As with any other business, there are things you can do to make your flea market more successful. We already talked about buying the right items and organizing your booth.
Here are some other things you can do to help make your booth more successful.
Change Up Your Inventory
If you’re renting a permanent or long-term booth, be sure to change up your inventory. Don’t let items sit for too long before adding new items.
Many people shop the long-term markets on a regular basis. They like to see new stuff available for sale.
Connect with Customers
Connecting with customers is vitally important. Smile. Say “hi.” Ask them if they’ve found any good deals. Don’t do this in an insincere way, but in a way that says “I really care.”
Put down the smartphone and make your time at your booth personal and interactive. If you’re friendly and fun, customers will keep coming back.
Being prepared is important for good flea market sales results, too. As I mentioned before, be sure to have electricity and batteries if you need it for the things you sell.
Be prepared for weather issues. Dress comfortably. Bring a chair to sit on. Have shopping bags for customers (reuse the bags you get at Walmart and Target).
Have a mirror available if you’re selling clothing or accessories. Bring a change box with plenty of $1 and $5 bills and quarters.
Keep extra price tags on hand for repricing things. Pack a lunch, snacks and water to drink. All of this preparation will help make you more comfortable and customers more appreciative.
Hang in There
As with any business, a flea market business can take time to build. You might have success your first time out, and you might not.
Keep trying. Experiment with different items to sell. What works for one person might not work for you. Or, you might find a niche item that sells really well for you.
Hang in there and don’t give up until you’ve spent some serious time trying.
Know When to Quit
That being said, you might try one weekend at a market and decide it’s not for you. It’s important to know when to quit if something’s not working for you.
If you’ve given your all and are not selling, or if you just don’t like it, quit and move on to another idea. Don’t keep working your booth if you absolutely cannot stand flea markets in general.
Flea markets can be a great way to make some serious cash. However, you’ve got to make an effort to get to know what you’re doing.
If selling at a flea market sounds interesting to you, follow the tips above and see what you can do. You might just make a legit side hustle out of your efforts!