It happens every summer.
New vendors come out each season to try selling at the Shipshewana outdoor flea market. They have high hopes at the season's start about making a ton of money and growing their business. However, the next week, they've pulled out of the market. It breaks my heart to see these wonderful vendors leave because they bring such a variety and freshness to our market.
So, why does this happen?
Our flea market definitely brings in the crowds (nearly 10,000 - 15,000 shoppers come to the Shipshewana Flea Market per week). So why are some businesses so successful and why do the others fail?
There are so many outside factors that could contribute to a small business failure. However, there are a few common mistakes that I see flea market vendors making that can contribute to an unsuccessful flea market business.
1. Not Changing or Adapting / Getting Too Comfortable
I know the feeling. You have a product that at the beginning of your business was selling really well. Or maybe it's a product that you handmake yourself and you just really are in love with it. However, lately, it hasn't been doing so hot. If you expect all of your sales to stay consistent over time and you aren't paying attention to current trends, your flea market business will fail.
One of the best ways to adapt your products is simply by listening to your customers. Is there a particular product they keep asking you for that you don't have yet?
Remember when adult coloring books became a thing? One of our flea market vendors called "Pine Corner Merchandise" said that before most people even knew what those coloring books were, they received three different requests for them in just one market day. The vendor listened, did some research, and ordered a small supply of the books to fill just one rack. They sold out in a couple of hours. Adult coloring books later became one of their best selling items. This is a great example of listening to current trends and quickly acting upon them.
Vendors who get too comfortable or refuse to adapt their product line might be worried about losing loyal customers who are used to their old products. However, if you want business growth, make sure you have inventory that actually produces profit. Don't be afraid to try selling something new, even if you're unsure how it will sell. Who knows? It could generate most of your sales.
2. Giving Up Too Soon
I get it. First impressions are everything. However, judging an entire market based off of a single day of sales, is a bad choice.
Most markets, especially here in Shipshewana, have good and bad days depending on the weather, the time of month, holidays and various other factors. Vendors who succeed at selling at flea markets take the time to get to know the area's customers including their wants and needs. Then, they adapt their product or selling strategy accordingly.
Rick Hundt, owner of Hundt No More Antiques & Collectibles and Shipshewana Flea Market vendor since 2016, almost gave up when he first started selling in Shipshewana. However, the other vendors and the market management encouraged him to stay past Memorial Day. So he did. He also decided he needed to switch up the items he was selling in order to fit the customers who were shopping. He began offering more shabby-chic and repurposed furntiure. Well, come July, Rick was doing enough business in Shipshewana that he could stop doing additional weekend shows to supplement the Tuesday / Wednesday market. You can read more about Rick's story in our vendor case study.
It is tempting to give up after a bad day. But try to look at the bigger picture. Make some adjustments and don't be afraid to ask for help from other more seasoned vendors.
3. Not Being Prepared
There's hardly anything worse than going to set up at a market without having any idea of what it is like. Make sure you do your homework before starting to sell.
For example, consider asking these 5 questions before selling at a flea market. You can also scout the market by going and taking notes on what kinds of products are being sold, typical prices and average customer demographics. Also take note of traffic flow patterns to determine where you may want to set up. Once you've made the decision to try out selling at the market, go ahead and reserve a spot if possible and pay for it in advnace. This will maximize your chance of getting the spot you want.
After you've done your research about the venue, it's time to start making a packing list. Some things to consider bringing are:
- Pop-up shelter
- Tables, Folding Chairs
- Table Covers
- Extension Cords
- Cash Box with lots of change (especially quarters)
- Essentials (pens, tags, tape, paper towel, notebook, price stickers, saftey pins, bungee cords, wet wipes, hand sanitizer, scissors, calculator, business cards, sunscreen, bug spray, aspirin, water)
- Mirror (if you're selling apparel)
- Cooler for lunch
- Shopping bags for customers
- More product than you can sell
Other ways you can be prepared include taking the time to plan out your booth display, knowing your audience, and thinking about implementing a marketing strategy for your flea market business. You could also read this list of 101 tips for selling at flea markets.
4. Poor Selling Techniques
To succeed at selling at flea markets you have to be good at making connections with customers. After
all, with today’s online shopping availability, the one advantage you have is that your customers can
actually connect with the seller...that’s you! If you don’t make connections, all the customers are seeing
is your prices, and good luck competing based on price alone.
In order to make good connections, you may have to get out of your comfort zone, be personable, and
start conversations. It may seem awkward at first, especially if you’re an introvert, but with time and
practice, you’ll be able to make conversations with anyone.
Too often at flea markets and craft shows, a customer will walk into a booth only to see the vendor headdown
in their smart phone. What a turn off!
A simple smile and greeting can go a long way in making a good impression and closing sales at your
flea market booth. Research has shown that there is a strong correlation between positive business
results and smiling. Put the phone down and smile. This tells a shopper that you love what you do and
you are happy to be there.
5. Not Offering Anything "Different"
One of the most important aspects of being successful at a flea market (especially a large one), is standing
out from the crowd. As flea markets, craft fairs, and vintage shows get more popular, the competition
grows, and the ability to get remembered by customers gets more difficult.
Just think, at the last pop-up market you went to, how many vendors were there selling soaps? What
about jewelry or signs? Do you remember their business names or a unique differentiator about their
As an employee who works in the office at the Midwest’s Largest Flea Market, I get a lot of questions
from customers who are looking for “that one vendor.” My worst nightmare is when the shopper asks for
“that one vendor who sells the clothes.” If the description of the products is unrecognizable, the display
isn’t anything unusual, or they don’t have a memorable business name, it’s pretty difficult to help the
customer find what they are looking for.
On the other hand, if someone were to ask us where to find “The lady that sells the giant underwear” or
“the licorice guy” we’d know right where to send them!
Finding a niche in your products can help you make more sales, become ‘THE’ vendor who customers
come back to, and it will give you a competitive edge. So, go out, start brainstorming, and get creative!
Want more advice for selling at flea markets? Download our free e-book to learn how to get more shoppers to your booth.