The Art of the Flea Market

by Beth Hurtubise

In the middle “R” in Reduce, Reuse, Recycle doesn’t just mean using a towel twice before you throw it in the wash. It also applies to using previously owned goods as an alternative to sending them to a landfill and creating unnecessary waste. A great place to find gobs of secondhand materials—anything from playing cards to novelty posters, cabinetry to couches—is at your local flea market. A flea market is a type of bazaar where a group of vendors gets together to sell or trade their goods. Think of it as many garage sales all taking place in one venue—sometimes outside in a parking lot, in a gymnasium or at a community center. As these markets modernize, secondhand goods are accompanied by new items specially made by local artisans. (Here is a list of some of the best flea markets across America.)

In a flea market sales scenario, haggling over price is usually acceptable and can be a lot of fun for both the buyer and seller. But there are certain strategies you should abide by in order to get the best deal. Here are some tips:

Work on your “poker face” – Don’t appear overly excited about one particular item. If the seller thinks you’ll buy an item at any price, he or she is going to aim high.

Carefully plan how much cash to bring – First of all, just about every flea market is cash only, so make sure to bring some. That being said, if you have a maximum amount that you want to spend in a day, don’t bring more than that. A deal can sometimes be made if you tell the vendor that you can only offer $20 for something because that is all the cash you have left.

Know your price – For each item you’re interested in, come up with three numbers. First, the maximum you would spend on the item. Second, a price you think is fair for both the buyer and the seller. Third, a lower amount, up to half of your maximum price (depending on the item) that would be a good deal for you. Establishing these numbers before beginning to haggle will help you stick to a strategy and keep you from overpaying. Start by offering the lowest number and work your way up from there.

Avoid the lowball – When starting to haggle don’t insult the seller by offering too low of a price. Selling products is how vendors make a living and if they consider your offer to be rude, they will move on to the next customer.

Name your own price – Don’t ask a vendor “What’s the best price you can give me for this?” or “How low can you go for this?” I guarantee it will not be the actual lowest price. Instead, take the haggling into your own hands by naming a low price right off the bat.

Examine items carefully – Be sure to examine each item carefully, holding it and viewing it from all angles. Many secondhand pieces will have flaws that you should know about before haggling and can bring up to the seller if you think the asking price is too high.

Walk away slowly – If a vendor isn’t budging and the price is out of your range, don’t try to stare him down until he changes his mind. This won’t work. Hesitate for a moment then walk away slowly. If he stops you, start up the haggling again and if not, it wasn’t meant to be.

Take your time – Don’t go after the first item you see. I like to take a lap around a flea market first before speaking with anyone and then return to the booths that piqued my interest. Another benefit of this is that approaching vendors later in the day can lead to lower prices on items they would rather not transport back to their storage space.

Be nice – These vendors are trying to make a living like the rest of us. Help them have a little fun while working by engaging in conversation, asking about where the items came from and greeting them with a smile. Establishing a friendly relationship can go a long way toward the vendor working with you on price.

Above all, enjoy the atmosphere of a flea market and the game of haggling. It’s an experience that you won’t get at chain stores or malls and can be a lot of fun.

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