Becoming a dealer for a day

If you’ve been collecting very long, you have too much stuff.  No, I’m not psychic, but I’m a collector so I know how all those bargains and “must have” purchases build up.  Most collectors have pieces stacked on shelves, stuffed into closets and packed away in boxes.  Most collectors would love to get rid of their excess collectibles, but aren’t sure how to go about it.  In this column, I’ll give you some tips for being a dealer for a day.

Chances are that there is be a flea market in your area.  As a collector, you’re probably already familiar with it.  Every flea market is different so if you haven’t checked it out do so to make sure setting up will be worth your time.  Some flea markets are great places to sell antiques and collectibles.  Others are a complete waste of time.  Check to see if there are dealers offering items similar to yours.  If there are quite a few such dealers, the flea market is probably worth a try.  If it’s the type of market that offers only tube socks, sunglasses, and cheap imported junk, pass on it and look elsewhere.

It costs to set up at a flea market, so find out how much a space will be.  Some flea markets charge $15 for a space, others $25, others $50, and others even more.  The more customers who attend a market, the higher the rental fees tend to be.  It’s often worth the extra cost to set up at a larger market, but not always.  As a beginner, it’s wise to start out small.

Preparation is key.  Most of the work is done well before market day.  Gather all your excess pieces, clean them up, price them, and carefully pack them in boxes for transport to the flea market.  If you have a lot of stuff, plan on these tasks to take hours.  It’s a lot of work, but it’s also a lot of fun.  Don’t try to do it all at once.  Take your time.  Doing so will make the tasks seem much more like fun than work.  Stack all the boxes in one area for easy access.  This will save time when the moment arrives to load up the truck or car.

If you want your items to sell well, price them reasonably.  Far too many sellers try to get top dollar for their antiques and collectibles.  I generally have good luck at flea markets because I underprice my antiques.  I don’t give them away, but I make sure that my prices are lower than average.  If I have a stoneware jar that will sell in most antique stores for $25, I price mine at $18.  If I have a spinning wheel that most dealers would price at $200, mine will be $175 or less.  Buyers like good deals.  Offering them will increase sales.  If you like a piece too much to offer a good deal on it, you probably shouldn’t sell it anyway so think long and hard before doing so.

  Do not hesitate to sell items far under value if you truly want to get rid of them.  At one flea market, I sold a large spinning wheel for $140.  Similar wheels sold for $250 or more at the time.  I didn’t have room for the spinning wheel; I had another I liked better and the spinning wheel was difficult to transport and took up a lot of space.  All these factors made me willing to sell the wheel for far less than it was worth.  I picked the wheel up at an auction for only $70, so I actually doubled my money.  I’ve sold a lot of pieces far undervalue over the years.  If I’m especially tired of something, just don’t like it, or it’s bulky, I offer it for a bargain price.  Quite often, I don’t care what something is worth.  I just want it gone!  Offering a great bargain is a wonderful way to make sure I won’t be hauling it back home.  It tends to make the buyer rather happy, too.

What, sells well besides good deals?  Ugly sells.  I’m not kidding.  Any time I have what I consider to be an ugly vase, statue, or whatever it will be one of the first pieces to sell.  I don’t know why, but it’s true.  If you’re hesitant to take a piece to the flea market because you think no one could possibly want it, think again.  One man’s trash really is another’s treasure.

  Cheap sells.  Pieces of little value that can be sold for a song sell very well.  While many buyers are loath to fork over $5 or $10, they’ll more easily part with $1.  All those little inexpensive items quickly add up.  You’ll be surprised.

Junk sells.  While you’re gathering up unwanted antiques and collectibles, gather all your non-antique items, too.  Grab up anything you want out of the house or garage.  The junkier, the better.  Junk can usually be priced cheap and often moves very well.

Be prepared to haggle.  Many potential buyers will ask for your best price.  Always mark your items so that you can come down on the price a little.  I sell between 50% and 75% of my merchandise for less than what is marked on the tag.  The amount of the discount I give depends on how badly I want to sell the piece, how many items the collector is buying, and how much I like the potential buyer.  Sometimes, I come down 10%, sometimes 20%, and sometimes even more.  As a seller, you don’t have to come down on your prices, but haggling is such an entrenched tradition that most buyers expect prices to be flexible.  Haggling actually dates back centuries and it’s not likely to go away anytime soon.  Think ahead and determine the least amount you’ll take for a piece, then stick with it.  Otherwise, there are some very talented hagglers out there who may talk you into selling for less than you desire.  Also be prepared for ridiculous offers.  Some potential buyers will offer $5 for something priced $50.  Never be afraid to say no.

Be warned that you will not sell everything.  In fact, you won’t sell most of what you take to the flea market.  You will likely sell quite a bit, however, and earn some money while clearing out the clutter.  You’ll find that setting up at a flea market can be a lot of fun, too.  Some collectors like it so much they set up at a few every year.  I don’t set up at many flea markets myself these days, but I always enjoy getting out, talking to other collectors, and passing on my unwanted pieces to those who will enjoy them.  I think collectors have a duty to pass on what they don’t want.  If something is sitting in your attic or garage it’s doing no one any good, including you, so why not become a dealer for a day?  The risks are small and you’ll likely enjoy yourself, which is the whole point of collecting in the first place.