Yard sales and flea markets

I tried renting a table at a local flea market this past weekend, and I learned a lot. I’m very glad I did that and now I plan on doing it regularly. If anyone wants to join me or wants some pointers, call or email me and I’ll be happy to help, or if you want to share your question with the group, put it in a comment below and I’ll answer it here.

Here’s what I found out:

  1. I was shocked to see the condition of stuff that was bought and sold at the flea markets. I mean, dirty, old, broken, stuff held together by duct tape, stuff missing parts, it was a real surprise. I don’t know what I was expecting, but I thought that stuff had to at least be clean and whole, but I was wrong. I went on Friday and Saturday, and I wandered around some and looked at some of the other tables and talked to several vendors. When it comes to stuff like appliances, home improvement items, shop tools and gardening stuff, and your basic housewares, condition did not seem to be important. I have thrown away better things than what some were selling … what a lesson to learn! I thought I was a frugal sort, but I had a thing or two humble me here. I learned that you need to give people and things a chance to meet – if you throw it away, you never know if someone could have used it. My advice here is if you have something that once was usable, or that someone could fix to make it usable, give it a chance and sell it cheap. Be honest about what’s wrong and how long you’ve had it and what you remember about it, people will buy it if they have the wherewithal to handle it.
  2. Sort items by type. I did much better on the second day than the first day, because on the second day I brought plastic tubs and used them as display trays – I put boys items in one tray, girls items in another, Christmas decorations in another, appliances off to the side, you get the idea. It was easier on the customers that way, and I sold more to fewer customers, because things were grouped together, if they found one thing they liked it was likely they would find more than one.
  3. Housewares, appliances, and tools sell like crazy. My son recently moved and did not need his little microwave any more – he sold it for $5 and was happy about that. The guy who bought it was thrilled to get a working microwave for $5, and I was surprised he didn’t even look inside or ask to plug it in or anything. I had cleaned it carefully and had all the inside pieces clean and neatly placed, and he didn’t even look. It was snapped up within 30 minutes of us getting there. Same thing happened the next day with an air purifier I had – it was a Sharper Image that I had originally paid $100 for, about 12 years ago, and I just hadn’t used it in a long time. It was still in great condition but they don’t make those units anymore. You can’t get any replacement filters or anything else for it. So I sold it for $5 and the lady who bought it was very happy to have it.
  4. Bring supplies – lots of plastic bags for people’s purchases, newspaper to pad breakable items, tape, pens, markers, blank paper to make your own “sale” signs, tablecloths for the tables (tables are usually unfinished wood and you’ll get splinters and/or damage your stuff), a fanny pack or similar to hold your money on your body, some basic change, and trays for separating stuff. Organizing your booth and making it attractive and professional will make it easier for impulse shoppers to find what they want and to want to do business with you.
  5. Price everything low. You’re clearing out stuff and getting some spending money, you won’t make as much as you would on Craigslist or ebay. However, don’t drop your price first thing in the morning – things start around 8 or 9, but give people a chance to pay the price you ask. I didn’t drop any prices until around 11:30, and by 12:30 most of the foot traffic was gone and everyone was packing up for the day. I started dropping prices around 11:30 so I’d have less to pack up. What I noticed was the exact same people came by at 11:30 as had come by at 9:00, and when I saw them I told them I was ready to deal. In some cases, the lowball price people were offering me early was all I was going to get anyway, but you never know, so don’t drop your price too early.
  6. Speaking of price, unless an item was somewhat unique (like a microwave), for all your basic yard sale stuff, color-code the tags instead of putting a price on them. That will make it so much easier to change prices without confusing the customers. I had four colors – blue, yellow, red, and green. If there was a specific item I wanted to keep the price on it (like the microwave) we just put a hand-lettered sign on it with the price written on it. But all my other basic stuff – Christmas ornaments, stuffed animals, craft items, note pad sets, etc. I put a color-coded tag with my own value in mind – a relative concept – cheapest to more expensive. That way, when I started off the day, blue was $0.50, yellow was $1.00, red was $2.00, and green was $5.00 . When I was tired and ready to pack up and go home, I changed it to blue = 3 for $1, yellow = $0.50, red = $1.00, and green = $3.50. That way, I only had to make one sign with the color coded dots on it, and not have to change 200 individual price tags!
  7. Also speaking of price, the other way I was able to sell more (and how the colors helped) was by offering someone a deal if they bought more than 3 items. If they picked a green and two reds, individually that would be $9, and I’d mention that and say “But I’ll sell you all 3 for $7.50”. Doing that sort of thing will encourage people to keep adding to the pile, which works for both of you. They’ll pay less per item and you’ll get rid of more stuff!

Strategically speaking, I had picked the worst possible weekend for a yard sale. It was Black Friday and the Saturday right after, which means everyone was at the malls and retail stores getting deals and very few people were at the flea market. Vendors all day long were telling me this was the worst weekend of the year. Saturday was even worse because there was strong winds, which means a lot of vendors could not set items out that would blow away. I heard several things crash to the ground and in many instances saw people chasing stuff across the parking lot that had been caught by the wind. Several vendors packed up and left in frustration. The guy who ran the flea market was really calm and understanding and gave me a chance to make some more money before he collected my rent for the table. But in reality this was a good learning experience and now I’m grateful I had a slow start – I got to learn the ins and outs of what goes on and I had to watch for some things to go wrong too, which was going to make me better at this in the long run.

For the most part, people had very well-behaved children. They were good at not pawing all over stuff that they weren’t going to pay for. I only had one incident of a woman who had four kids and the kids all grabbed stuff and were running around with them, while the woman asked me over and over again if I’d take $1 for a $2 item. Really??? I had a pretty good memory of what had been on the front of the table and what the kids were hauling off. I totalled the stuff they had in their hands and said I would sell her the $2 item for $1 if she bought it with the other stuff the kids had. In the end we worked it out, two of the kids gave their things back, two of them bought theirs, and she still got her $2 item for $1.

I did well considering it was my first try and I had made mistakes the first day out. I had brought six large Rubbermaid tubs of loose items on day 1 and returned with slightly less than 4 full tubs. I reloaded the empty tubs, returned on day 2 with the 6 tubs full of stuff, and came back home with 3-1/2 tubs still full. Not bad.

My stuff was different than a lot of people’s stuff … but I’m going to change that. On the first couple of days, I went there with ONLY things that were brand new in the store packaging with just a few exceptions of appliances and very few used things. I had all this new stuff because for years I had a habit of shopping the day after Christmas and loading up on sale items and putting them away for next Christmas. Then, inevitably, I might change my mind, might forget who I was going to give that gift to, might not like that decoration any more, might forget why I bought it, anything. So I had six 20-gallon tubs full of stuff I couldn’t, didn’t, or wouldn’t use. Lots of them sold, but I also noticed lots of people seemed to skip my table, maybe assuming it would all be too expensive even without asking the price. I found this out when several people would say something to the effect of “Well, it’s just not what I’m looking for, its just too nice.” Oh. I hadn’t expected that. I’m going to give a better look at things in our workshop, kitchen, spare bedroom, closets, etc. and see what regular, everyday stuff I might have that I don’t want anymore.

Feel free to email me if you want to talk more about it or come with me sometime! You’ll clear out a closet or two and make some extra money!

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