12 Most Important Tips For Becoming A Successful Flea Market Vendor

12 Most Important Tips For Becoming A Successful Flea Market Vendor

As a flea market owner, my expertise is running the entire operation, rather than selling the merchandise. However, interacting with both sellers and customers for over 20 years has given me a unique perspective on what makes a successful flea market vendor. Below are 12 Tips for Becoming a Successful Flea Market Vendor.

1. Attractive display

It’s hard to sell items if customers don’t look at your merchandise. If they don’t see it, you don’t sell it! An attractive display does not necessarily mean that it should be an organized, professional or expensive display. In my opinion it depends on the merchandise and/or your strategy. I’ve seen both ways work very effectively. The important thing is to get customers to look at your merchandise. I’ve seen vendors who sell estate or “storage war” merchandise simply put random boxes on the ground with some intriguing or eye catching merchandise on the top. These vendors quickly attract dozens of customers trolling through their merchandise in hopes of snagging the ultimate flea market find in a haphazard collection. Conversely, I’ve seen pristine, neat displays that hid merchandise in a way that no one could easily see it or interact with it and thus not purchase it. Please note that if you sell certain high-end items or food, I would definitely make my display clean and organized.

2. Your “seller’s personality”

Don’t scare away customers. You need to balance your sellers’ persona between passive and aggressive. If you are too loud and pushy in your sales techniques, you could drive customers away. On the other hand, if someone seems interested in an item but starts to walk away, there is no harm in trying to save the sale. If you have room in the price, maybe you can get them back by offering them a better price. Or maybe you can add an interesting tidbit about the item or point out a similar product?

3. Be nice

You want your patrons to like you. This seems like a no brainer, but one that many vendors ignore. Be friendly; engage customers in conversations on subjects that have nothing to do with your merchandise. If someone is wearing a Cubs jersey, start talking about the Cubs. I have often been suckered into buying merchandise simply because I liked the vendor and felt awkward leaving without making a purchase. If you get a nasty customer, avoid arguments. As a flea market owner, I have occasionally asked vendors with repeated customer relation issues to leave.

4. Change your display

The same display is a boring display, so shake it up a little! We operate an outdoor market in the parking lot of an indoor arena. Years ago, once a season, we shared the lot with a carnival. On those days we needed to reconfigure the market and move the location of the assigned regular spaces. Many reserved vendors told me they sold merchandise that they were never able to move. My theory is that customers who were used to seeing the same merchandise in the same space were now viewing the items from a different perspective, as if they had never seen it before. This lesson can be extrapolated to your normal display; move things around, change things up. Customers will discover merchandise that you always have had out if you rotate the location, placing different items at floor level, eye level, etc. To me this is one of the common elements to all of the successful vendors I have seen over the years.

5. Change your merchandise

Consistently give your customer something different to purchase. It is amazing how many first-time vendors who come to our market have incredible days. Their second and third day is pretty good too. By the fourth day, their sales slow down. They then tell me how good the market use to be, but is now not so good. I ask them, have you purchased any new merchandise? I actually don’t have to ask the question, because I know the answer. Their stock of good merchandise is gone. The successful vendor is not only restocking base merchandise, but also constantly trying new offerings.

6. Know what your customers want

Many successful vendors know what their customers want. One of my vendors sells food products. He knows I love a certain cheese wafer. He knows that when he is purchasing his stock if he sees this product he has a large sale because I will buy his entire stock of this item. Many collectible dealers know what their regular customers collect. If they are out purchasing their merchandise, they keep this in mind and pick up items they can sell to these customers

7. Price reasonably

Don’t try and be greedy. It is much better to sell 500 items at a $1 profit than 100 items at a $2 profit. This rule would apply to merchandise you can easily replenish. In general more successful vendors have more attractive prices and are constantly replenishing their stock. If an item isn’t moving, lower the price even if you are going to take a loss. It doesn’t make sense to keep it around taking up valuable sales space.

8. Watch other successful vendors

It is easy to spot the successful vendor. They are the ones who always have a large crowd around their booth. Take the time to watch them. There is no better place to learn successful techniques.

9. Find a good product and become an expert

Know your stuff. You could be the best salesperson in the world, but if you are selling a product that is not desirable, you will not do well. You also have to have enough products to make it worth you while. I’ve come across vendors who have not had enough merchandise on their table to pay their rent. Know your product. Become an expert. If you can extol the benefits of your merchandise you will sell more.

10. A bad weather day can be your friend

Believe it or not–a thunderstorm can be help your sales. This advice is for vendors who sell at outdoor flea markets. Many sellers have told me they have their best sales days when the weather is not the best. Why? If it is raining in the morning, many vendors choose to stay at home. The professional vendors will still set up because they know that when the weather breaks, the customers will start to flow in. The vendors who are still there will enjoy much less competition for these customers’ dollars. The customers who do come out on these days are usually the die-hards who like spending their money.

11. Social media

Join the social media band wagon. If the flea market that you are attending is involved in social media, make full use of their facebook, twitter and other relevant sites to offer your own discounts, coupons and also to promote your merchandise. What’s best about this is that your posts and interactions are free advertising for you and the market! Many markets have hundreds if not thousands of regular customers who follower their media sites. If the market you attend does not use social media, encourage them to enter the 21st century.

12. Free advertising

Nothing beats free publicity. One of the top online sites to get free advertising is Craigslist. If you have a particular item for sale, you may find that no one attending the market seems to be interested in it. Why not expand your reach to the multitude of people visiting Craigslist? These people search Craigslist specifically for your type of item. Simply take a picture, add a description and price and list the address and hours of the flea market you are attending. If you mention your ad to market managers, they may even allow you to add a free admission coupon to your listing.

Most of these helpful business tips can be transferred to other ventures. Many successful vendors have eventually gone on to open thriving retail operations.

Image from the author.

Dave Wolff


David Wolff, along with his brother Donald own and operate Wolff’s Flea Market in suburban Chicago. Their outdoor location at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, IL is one of the largest markets in the Midwest and has been in operation for over 20 years. The brothers also currently operate an indoor market in Palatine, IL and have had much experience with a variety of vendors and their merchandise. For the past 12 years, David has been a board member of the National Flea Market Association and is currently the organization's Treasurer. David graduated from Northern Illinois University with a degree in finance and is also a CPA. He brings his business knowledge and first-hand experience to his contributions.

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Hey dwolff517  I have some items that are worth a lot like in the 700 dollar range would you recommend me selling them at a flea market or to someone else?


Insurance costs are very specific to state and location.  It would be difficult for me to give you an answer to this question.  You want to avoid using excess and surplus carriers if at all possible as they are much more expensive than standard carriers.  Agents who specialize in flea markets will have a better chance of placing you with a standard carrier.   If you email me (dwolff517@aol.com), I can give you a couple of insurance agencies who deal with flea markets.


I have never dealt with SBA, so I'm not familiar with their rules.  I do know there are lendors who specialize in SBA loans and will help guide you through the process. You can also inquire locally about community banks that are aggressively lending funds.  Of course any lendor will require a good story and business plan (and collateral) before loaning you funds.

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My husband and I are looking to open up a farmers/flea market in Louisiana. If possible we would like to know about how much would insurance cost for a 30,000 sq ft building? What are the pros and cons of owning a large market as oppose to a smaller market.....120 vendors. We are operating on 2 acres and we plan on holding festivals. We would also like to know why is it so hard to get a loan on a business that seems to be so profitable. SBA told us we are classified as rental and the government doesn't make loans for rental properties, unless we occupy at least 51%. We would own the property, but the vendors would lease most of the space, so they said no go. However I thought about giving free space and just charge for marketing, so that means I would lease the space from myself and then provide a service to others.


Thanks AlastairEvans. It is definitely easy to tell who the professional vendors are. Some vendors will sit on a product forever just because they don't want to take a loss. They don't get the economics of opportunity cost.

Excellent points jpjeremy. As an owner I have been involved in vendor disputes about space encroachment on almost a weekly basis. Recently there has been an influx of processors offering portable credit card devices for smart phones. The most economical service for vendors seems to be square (squareup.com). In general flea market vendors are a bit behind the technology learning curve but are beginning to catch up.

Mindrise, at our flea markets we saw a huge vendor and customer increase in 2009 which was near the start of the current recession. It has since leveled off, but we have still been maintaining this increased customer base. As a board member of the National Flea Market Association (NFMA) I do have contact with many flea markets in the USA. Not all markets have followed this trend as there are many other factors to take into consideration in different regions.


As a kid, I worked flea markets and "farm sales" with my grandfather. I would add one point to your list.....be flexible.

If an established vendor has the same items for the same prices, he might make you an offer on all of your remaining inventory, just to be rid of the competition for the weekend. Consider it.

Is the guy next to you creeping out of his space? If it is not hurting your sales, leave him be. If nothing else, he could be pushing customers closer to your side of the aisle.

As a final example, take all forms of payment. These days you can take credit card payments with one of those little mobile phone attachment / doo-hickeys. There is absolutely no reason to be turning away good business just because most Americans don't carry any real amount of cash.

Great post! It brought back a few childhood memories of unloading "the truck" during summer breaks.


This is a very concise yet thorough approach to selling or vending at a flea market. One thing I've noticed that is covered by numbers 4,5,6,7 is that many flea market vendors will have the same product sitting on their table in the same spot for a long time. If it has not moved off the table, what are you going to do to move it? This article covers much of that. I have seen many professional vendors selling only one product and I have seen many professional vendors who change it up weekly. These are business people who know how to make money and who know what the shoppers are looking for. Cool!