Thursday, April 14, 2016

How to Shop a Flea Market Like a PRO

I try to be honest with you, dear reader, as much as humanly possible. And so in the interest of transparency you should know that this is a post with a motive. I can see every statistic, every teensy seemingly meaningless detail, for every post and every picture on every one of my social media platforms. Facebook is very visual. They love a bold transformation, and there my 'Before and After' shots do the best. Instagram likes a perfectly executed, well lit, and well staged vignette. My staging photos do best there. Twitter makes no sense, and I go there to drunkenly flirt with, or more accurately flirt at celebrities, because that seems to be the entire point of said media.

      And the website itself, this blog, which is the home base and mothership for all the content, You like the 'How-To' posts the best. Oh, actually and there's pinterest. They like my antique dressers turned kitchen islands the best. They only like my antique dressers turned kitchen islands, everything else is rubbish to them, but each day those posts drive thousands of visits my way. Weird.

      So to give you more of what you want my blog friends, I will be trying my damnedest to do a 'How-To' post a week. Be prepared to learn all my salacious and sensational secrets.

Surely that's the longest prologue a blog post has ever gotten. Enough with the yammering, let's get down to brass tacks. Flea market season is upon us once more, and thank ye grand and benevolent gods that it has finally stopped angry sleeting in New England, so that we might once more emerge bleary eyed from our winter dens to reap a fresh spring harvest of antique and vintage flea market goodies.

Here's what you need to know to Flea Market like a pro.

This antique oil on canvas painting was one of my favorite flea market finds from last summer. I got it for $60!

1. To fail to prepare is to prepare to fail. And who wants to fail at flea marketing?! And yes, the word (phrase?)  'fleamarket' will be used as a verb and my autocorrect can go to hell. Here's a few things you need to know before you hit the market.

            - Make a mental shopping list. You're going to see lots and lots of stuff at the flea market. It's visually overwhelming. Having some general idea of what you're on the hunt for will help you to scan accurately and quickly, like a vintage treasure seeking cyborg. That being said, always be willing to ignore that shopping list if you see something amazing that you didn't even know you needed! Because really ladies and gentleman, we all need one more excellent antique mirror!

             - Dress for the weather and dress for walking. This ain't a fashion show, and it is by no means the place for heels. You're going to be walking a lot, and hopefully lugging around some awesome objects that you've just scored. The ground at most flea markets is treacherous mix of boggy rubble on the best days, and all but impassable after a rainy night. Boots are never a bad decision. Flip flops are a horrible idea. If it's cold wear layers. If it's really cold wear a hat. I spent last week's Elephant's Trunk whining the entire time because I wished I'd brought a hat and my poor little ears were frozen.

             - Bring the right vehicle and be realistic about what it will hold. Don't go furniture shopping with a sporty little convertible and hope to drive home with your purchases. Last year I saw a very angry couple very angrily trying to fit a c.1930 mahogany veneer dresser into the back of their red convertible. It was amazingly hopeless, but oh they tried, and they shouted, and they failed. Some of the larger flea markets will have onsite shipping booths with companies that will haul and deliver locally, but be prepared to barter your firstborn in trade- IT IS NOT CHEAP. Better yet, borrow your brother's pickup truck for the day.

A complete mid century modern dresser set that I couldn't pass up. Thank goodness I had the pickup!

              - Cash is king. And you don't roll up to the flea market with five benjamins. You roll up with five hundred singles, and make it rain! No but really, bring small bills; no one likes to break a twenty, and they'll laugh at you if you're trying to buy something small with a fifty or (god forbid!) a hundred. I like to bring about three hundred dollars in cash in a mix of twenties, tens, fives, and singles. Most flea markets have an onsite ATM and I'd advise against bringing much more in cash. I've never heard of someone getting pick pocketed at a market, but it stands to reason it might happen.

2. Haggling is A-OK
      Here it is, your big chance to finally finally try out all those sweet haggling techniques you've been learning from American Pickers. It didn't work at McDonalds, and you dentist gave you an icy stare, but here at the flea market, you can haggle to your heart's content! Most vendors build that wiggle room into their prices. It's all part of the beautiful buying dance.

I haggled this vintage copper banner weathervane down to almost half the original asking price. 

      Not watching American Picker's compulsively? That's ok, here's a low and dirty on my no fail haggle strategy. First, I decide if I think the price is fair. If it is a super good deal, I don't haggle. That's it. Why? I don't know. I guess out of respect for the seller? But if the price makes you go, "hmmmmm should I buy it?", offer about 25% less that the asking price on low priced objects (under $50), or just over 50% less than the higher ticketed prices. Or just offer whatever you would be willing to pay and see what the vendor says. But here's the thing- don't be an ass. If they don't like your offer or won't come down, just move on. There's lots of stuff in the world, and your secret revenge for them not selling what you want at the price you want is to not buy it. There's no need to argue or get angry. Also, flirting can help. I'm sorry, that may be awful, and you can judge me, but yea, I'll bat my eyelashes to get twenty five bucks knocked off a super sweet post impressionist oil on canvas landscaping painting.

I saw this vintage painting almost as soon as I got to Brimfield last year. I loved it but wasn't quite sure about the price. But all day I couldn't stop thinking about it, it was the piece that every other object had to live up to. It was still in the booth at the end of the day, and the dealer sold it to me for $45 bucks!

       But if you need to walk away from a piece to mull it over, and that's totally fine, understand that it may very well sell before you come back. There are no holds or deposits on pieces. You make a decision and buy a piece, or you walk away and risk someone else will take it.

3. Shopping Logistics
     I should just put in, you don't need to follow any of these rules, they're just advice. Really super good hard earned advice, but not rules.

        - Get there when the market opens. A flea market is an early morning event, usually Sunday mornings, though some are on Saturdays, and Brimfield lasts an entire week. You want to show up for the opening gate if you want to score fresh stuff at the best value. The merch gets quickly picked over and the dealers get burnt out and surly later in the morning. If you want an even earlier grab at the goods, most flea markets will sell you a vendor ticket (usually about $25-50 instead of the standard door price of $2-10) and you can be in there as the dealers unload their merchandise.

I probably wouldn't have scored this 18th century blanket chest in the original Spanish brown paint for the deal I got had I slept in that morning! 

        - Flea markets are set up in big wide rows. I like to shop up one row, turn around, and shop back down the other side. There's far more than enough for me to take in just on one side, and trying to shop both at once causes sensory overload. Also, most people seem to naturally flow that way so it helps allow foot traffic to stream unimpeded.
       - You can leave your newly purchased goods with the dealer while you continue to shop. This is standard practice and honored. Some dealers will want to exchange numbers with you, or business cards, just incase some complication occurs, others just trust you won't leave without your stuff. If you're buying a lot of stuff and leaving it at a lot of different booths, it doesn't hurt to keep a scrap of paper with notes to remind yourself where you've left everything, because it's easy to forget by the end of the morning, and then you end up hopelessly wandering around and around the field.

      - Inspect anything you buy as much as possible before purchasing it. Some vendors will be obnoxious and be right up in your jam trying to hard sell the piece to you, others will respect your space. But really take your time as all sales are final and there are no guarantees on flea market merchandise. And from both sides, if someone is inspecting an object that you're interested in, you wait your turn. That's proper flea market (and everywhere) etiquette. You don't offer on an object someone else is holding or inspecting. But you can absolutely lurk like a weirdo and watch them until they put it down and then snatch it up the moment they walk away to claim it as your own to purchase.
I thought this dresser was charmingly distressed, but in actuality it was a train wreck. I regretted buying it, and was way to hasty. But it burned nicely. 

        - Finally, loading and transporting large objects differs from flea market to flea market. Best to know before you buy if you're going to be putting your new purchase on a hellspawn wobbly cart with three wheels to wrestle it across three acres of rutted badlands (*ahem* Elephant's Trunk) or if you can drive right up to the booth to load.

4. Final Thoughts
        - Most flea markets are hard to navigate with a baby carriage, and most are not particularly child friendly for kids under the age of 10. That doesn't mean loads of people don't bring their kids, but if it's your first time hitting up a new flea market, it might be best to leave the kids at home at least the first time, just to be certain it's doable with the tykes.

         - Some flea markets are pet friendly, and some are not. Best to check ahead of time.

         - Most flea markets won't open in poor weather. Don't waste your time if it's raining or snowing or tornado-ing. Even if the market says it's open, 95% of the vendors won't be there and it will be a waste of your time.

         - If you think you might buy breakables or large pieces of furniture throw some extra soft blankets and ratchet straps or bungee cords in your vehicle. Most vendors will wrap your fragile purchases for you, but it never hurts to bring extra.

The lady who sold these to me at Brimfield very carefully wrapped each one individually. They're nothing special but I love the deep olive green color! 

Ok I've been writing for two hours and finished two glasses of wine. I can't think of anything else to tell you at the moment, so I'm bringing this post to an abrupt close. And don't complain about that, I gave you a wicked good prologue.

1 comment:

  1. Loved this post! I'm going to try to remember the haggling price points next time I'm at the flea market.