Lots of pictures are in this post from all the Vintage Market Days that I have participated in. If you want to read more about each one, click on the picture to be redirected to the corresponding post.
Before I get into all my tips, the part that I won’t get into detail on because it is sort of assumed, is you HAVE to take this seriously and invest. I don’t suggest going into debt either. You will be out a big chunk of change as you prepare for whatever event you do, and you won’t see a return on it until the event (vintage fair/flea market/etc) is over. I was re-doing and selling my furniture for over a year before I did my first event, and I was already selling on Etsy, so I had my profits saved and ONLY used those profits to buy what I needed for the event. And I’m not just talking about actual goods I will re-sell… I’m talking truck rental, banners, tags, business cards, signs, and basically anything to make your booth look pretty like lights and flowers. Additionally, you need a good support system. My husband always takes a week off of work right before the event. There is NO WAY I could do this and be successful if he didn’t support and help me not only the week before and during, but months before. I’ve also had family and friends take turns watching my kids when absolutely necessary. I couldn’t even focus if I didn’t have their support. So, assuming that you were nodding yes to the above ‘pre-qualifications’ if you will, read on.
1. Choose the right event
This is maybe the most important thing you do if you want to be successful at whatever event you choose. Research different events, their booth fees, the vibe they promote, the advertising and promoting they do, the venue location (start with local shows to keep travel expenses down), the parking availability, the attractions or ‘extras’ for the event… all of these play a big role. If the event organizer can’t get a lot of people there, including the RIGHT people (meaning, people who will spend money), it doesn’t matter how cute your stuff is, you will come out disappointed. I know. I’ve been there. Just to give you an idea, I saw a big difference in profits and traffic when the location was super accessible to the general public, when the location was in an area of reasonable affluence, there were special things like giveaways and live music during the event, and prior to the event it was advertised not just on billboards and word of mouth, but on TV, radio, and social media.
2. Know YOUR style and stick to it
Don’t be someone else. Be YOU. Can you get inspiration from someone else and put your spin on it? Absolutely! Can you even sell some of the same things as other people? Of course! But make sure it is consistent with YOUR brand. I say brand, because that is exactly what you are creating. Your style represents your business which is ultimately your brand. This can be hard when you see something you really like and see that some other vendor is selling them like hot-cakes. Just because you like it, doesn’t mean it fits in your brand. I like lots of things that I wouldn’t put in my home or that don’t really fit my style. If you don’t know your style? Start experimenting with different styles until you find it. If you paint furniture like me, try out modern, shabby, farmhouse, chippy, retro, hand-painted, layered, european, colorful, etc. Find what you love the most. Find what makes you excited. Expand from there.
You can even blend styles. No one says you have to fit perfectly in one type. Maybe you are an eclectic mix. But still you need to be consistent with things that are uniquely YOU. You HAVE to have your own style before you get to the point of running a successful booth. If you style is similar or hard to distinguish between everyone else a vintage fair, how are they going to remember you? How are you going to stand out? Part of being successful and selling out is keeping people coming back for more, whether that means they come back the next day to buy that piece they couldn’t stop thinking about, or if that means sending you an email 2 weeks later ordering something custom.
3. Offer variety of items
If your booth comes across as a one-trick pony, you will get people who just take one look and walk right by. Additionally, if you only offer large items, like furniture, you miss out on people who love your style, but don’t need furniture. Or vice versa… they love all your smaller decor items, but maybe they aren’t sure how to use it or style it with a larger piece. You don’t HAVE to have lots of furniture if you a smalls booth. But have something. Create interesting vignettes and ideas… ways to show off the best aspect of what you are selling. I see people all the time that love my furniture, love my style, but either can’t afford or don’t need more furniture (which I am most known for). So, I bring smaller decor items that specifically fit my style. I buy things that I would put in my home… and it gives those people a chance to take something home from Shades of Blue. There are a few categories for this one, so I’ll explain more.
3.a. Large and small furniture
Not everyone came to shop for a big dresser or buffet. But that stool would sure look adorable in the kitchen! Or that chair or end table would look perfect in the office! These are technically still “furniture” items, but are that perfect middle-ground purchase. Not the big money maker, but not the least expensive either. If you have too many of these small furniture items, it looks too busy, but not enough, and a booth can look empty. They also are great for filling in those awkward spots that none of your bigger pieces fit in.
Just because they are smaller though, doesn’t mean you don’t give them special attention. Make sure you spend quality time making it look loved and unique. Does it have a history or story? Tell it. This also applies to larger pieces. The story of a piece of furniture will always add value. It can be who made it, where it came from, what it was used for, what condition you found it in, how you found your inspiration for it, how long it took you to do… all of this adds up to this piece’s history and is worth something. I mean, don’t gab their ear off and annoy them, but offer the information if they seem interested.
3.b. Handmade and vintage
For smaller items at a vintage fair, I find it always more interesting when there are simply the vintage items by themselves for obvious decor purposes, and also hand-made items. Hand-made items can be things that are repurposed, upcycled, or reused in another way. I always bring antique music sheet wreaths and usually sell them all. I’ve also made over a lamp (pictured below), made pendant lights from mason jars, and painted antique-looking signs.
If you like a specific vintage item, like Ironstone or glass bottles, group it together when possible. It makes a bigger statement and shows variety.
3.c. Preserved and dried greens
This is optional and really has got to fit in with your style. But if it does, I encourage it. I order mine from a floral wholesaler and I never make a huge profit on them. But lavender is always popular, I regularly sell small preserved boxwood wreaths, and dried cotton stalks are popular too. I’ve also seen different dried or faux wreaths and bunches of faux flowers that are beautiful and accomplish the same purpose of offering customer’s natural/preserved decor that looks good year-round and doesn’t die.
4. Create relationships
4.a. With event organizer
Having a good relationship with the event organizer means you have a better chance of coming back for the next one (especially if it is a juried event). Becoming a sponsor isn’t always the best financial decision for everyone, but if you find you love the event, and you can afford to, it almost always pays off. The extra promotion, advertising, opportunities, and good booth location are just some of the perks.
This is Chanda (pronounced like the first part of chandelier), STL VMD owner, her husband Todd, myself, and Bruno after the first St Louis Vintage Market Days.
Also, I’ve found that finding ways to be cheerful and helpful, even when it isn’t popular, can go a long way in a relationship. Don’t do it for selfish reasons or a ‘what will I get out of it’ mentality… Put yourself in their shoes and make a friendship. The event organizers almost always have a lot of experience and can teach you a thing or two, if you are willing to listen.
4.b. With fellow vendors
It is 100% worth it to make friends with your fellow vendors. Maybe you have a ladder and they need to tie something up high… or maybe you need to go to the bathroom while it’s really slow and need someone to watch your booth… whatever the reason, making friendships will ensure you have more fun, and help you be successful, both in the long term and short term. Promote each other. Praise each other. Learn from each other.
4.c. With all attendees
When people attend and walk through your booth, be friendly, helpful, answer questions, and/or tell them a bit about yourself. If they like you, they will be more likely to purchase from you then or in the future. Or even if they don’t, you might make a new friend, become a mentor, become a student… who knows! As cliche as it sounds, don’t judge a book by their cover. You never know who will buy from you, who will promote you, who will become your best friend. I’ve had people chat it up with me, then find out toward the end of the conversation that they read my blog or follow me on Facebook! Can you imagine if I would have been rude or dismissive? I also often have clients who were friends with someone who met me. Let people take all the pictures they want, even if they think they can duplicate what you did. Bite you tongue and be polite.
You don’t have to approach every person, and in fact, I don’t think you should. Give people space to think and peruse, or talk to their friend. Sometimes their friend will do a better job of convincing them they need the item, than anything you could say.
5. Promote yourself
Promoting yourself is all about creating a buzz before the event. This is the magic of social media! Last year I sold 3 pieces of furniture weeks beforehand, just because I advertised I would be selling it at VMD. Sometimes I specifically say, ‘it will only be available for purchase at the market’, which makes people want to come to your booth first before things sell out. Don’t dismiss utilizing social media because you are ‘too busy’. If you have a blog, it would be a good idea to write posts about certain buzz-worthy pieces. Take snapshots of different things you will be selling and get people talking (and sharing). And keep it up during the event! I don’t always have time to document on my blog all the different items I have for sale ahead of time, but I have had people come to buy something, just because they saw it on Facebook or Instagram.
6. Create a buyer-friendly layout
This is something I was clueless to ahead of time, but Chanda gave me a few pointers at the first event I did and I picked it up quickly. I’ve never used a tent and I prefer the open-ness it gives my booth. I have seen tents and temporary walls used with impeccable taste, but the idea is to give your booth some room to move around without being too roomy. You don’t want them to be able to stand in one place and see everything, but you don’t want to hide pieces either. Draw them in and keep them lingering a little longer. I always have found it best to have a center ‘island’ or two (depending on the size of the booth). For the island, you don’t want to stack big pieces because it will block the entire view of the items behind it. Try to keep your stacked items along the perimeter mostly.
When I’m setting up my space, I want to have at least one “eye catcher” or focal point (sometimes I have more than one depending on what direction you are looking), and then place pieces next to it that coordinate or contrast nicely. The eye-catcher should be one of the first things (if not the first thing) you see when you walk towards your booth, in the direction that most of the traffic will be coming from. Walk through the space, pretending you are a customer, and see if there are any sharp corners sticking out, or awkward spots that you can remedy. Make sure it flows. When in doubt, ask your neighbor vendor to walk through and see if they have any pointers. Sometimes an extra set of eyes is all you need.
Notice in my layout below from last fall VMD, I placed the largest and stacked items along the back in the middle and then as I go toward the edges, the pieces get smaller and take up less visual space. I created a little nook on the right side with two dressers and a chair coming in, but facing out, and yet you can still get a peek of that green dresser behind. Because the chairs on top are eye catching, it draws you in to look closer. The trick now is to stand in a place that isn’t in the way of customers! 😉
7. Stage and style
Part of why I mostly buy vintage items that I personally love, is because they are items I am most used to staging with. I promise you the prettiest piece of furniture will be mostly ignored unless it is staged in a pretty way. I always always always buy fresh flowers or greens for the SOLE purpose of staging. I’ve had lots of people offer to buy the fresh greens too, which always makes me laugh! I gave Trader Joe’s lots of business this past VMD, because there is where I picked up fresh eucalyptus, tulips, and hydrangeas.
When a piece sells, move things around quickly. You don’t want someone to walk by your booth because things look empty or missing or cluttered. This re-styling over and over hones your skills and you will often learn new combinations that work well together. Think about color coordination, contrast, texture, and height variance.
8. Know your market and price competitively
Knowing your market is key in selling out (or close to selling out). You need to know how your prices compare to others in the same or similar events. You don’t have to match everyone else exactly, but if you are at a flea market and are trying to sell painted dressers for $400+, you won’t be very successful. Additionally, if you are selling at an upscale vintage market (like St Louis Vintage Market Days) and you price your stuff too low, your profit won’t be as great and you will sell out fast… too fast! These type of markets usually last at least a couple days and an empty booth doesn’t look good from a customer point of view and from the point of view of the event organizer. They don’t expect you to be stocked full until event-end, but they don’t want things to look completely empty… it just isn’t as pretty. This last VMD a few weeks ago, I asked my neighbor booth to spill into my space when I only had a few pieces left on Sunday.
Additionally, when pricing your smaller vintage items, if your main thing isn’t “smalls”, it is OKAY to not make a fantastic profit on it. Remember, you are selling the look. If I don’t spend a lot of time making it, fixing it, or finding it, I am okay to only make a couple bucks on the profit of an item (depending on what it is). Other times I find a steal of a deal at a garage sale or auction and I make more than double or triple. Make sure you do your research to know the competitive price for that specific item and keep it within that range. That doesn’t mean, just because you saw a globe on Etsy for $70, you can sell it for the same price. Figure out how similar things are priced at the event, how they are priced locally and at antique malls.
Lastly, don’t undervalue your quality. Just because other vendors selling items in the same category as you, if you really feel like your items are worth more, price it a bit higher! Be proud of your work and what makes it ‘one of a kind’ and talk about it with people showing an interest. Tell them what makes it worth more (without saying those exact words). Talk about the amount of time you take and the quality materials you use… again, tell a story to add value.
9. Be negotiable
I love a good deal and I’m pretty sure you love a good deal. Think about this event as if you were attending as a customer. Many people don’t negotiate with me for my pieces, especially on the first day. I sort of advertise that, if you really want something, come on the first day before someone else buys it. But if you want a deal, come on the afternoon of the second day or the third day. I expect these events to have some amount of negotiation because that is a nature of it. Before you price your items, keep this in mind and have a figure in your mind that is the ‘bottom dollar’. Also, you are a motivated seller, so if someone is on the verge of purchase but is struggling with transporting the piece, offer delivery for a fee or for free if they live close.
10. Accept all forms of payment
I cannot tell you how many times I have walked away from something I loved because they didn’t accept credit card. I rarely carry cash, so I assume the same of others. Square is a credit card processing company I use and the card reader is free when you sign up online. I know PayPal offers card readers and both of these processing companies have very low fees. It is WORTH IT! People spend more if it can be purchased with a credit card. Cash is a no-brainer and checks are personal preference. I’ve also never had a problem with accepting checks, as long as I check their driver’s license. Nowadays, checks can be deposited easily with your phone, so that makes things a lot easier and quicker too.
11. Move things around
Moving things around is all about keeping your booth from looking empty. This is necessary and often makes people notice something that they didn’t see when they walk by the first time. Sometimes, when I haven’t sold anything in awhile, Bruno (my husband) and I will rearrange some pieces, just to give attention to or highlight another piece. You won’t believe how much this makes a difference! Moving things around and re-styling go hand in hand and I can attribute several sales of big pieces just to moving them to a new location where they were showcased differently/better.
12.Restock the booth
Check with event rules and see what their rules are about restocking. Most allow it, unless it is a one day event. This allows you to keep some pieces in a trailer or at home (if you live close) that you can bring into your booth after pieces sell. Several times, we were able to easily bring in one piece at a time, soon after one sold, because our trailer was parked close and we had a cart. I would stay with the booth and Bruno would either load one up himself or find a helper to load it on the cart, and he brought it to the booth. Other times, logistics wouldn’t allow us to restock until gates closed for the day or before gates opened the next morning. We have sold pieces that were just waiting in the trailer and the customer only saw a pic, and we’ve sold some before the piece even made it to our booth, while it was en route! Restocking also keeps people coming back every day of the event. They want to see what new pieces you have brought, in case they are looking for something specific.
13. Be professional, in manner & dress
Being professional in manner and dress isn’t about wearing fancy or expensive clothes. It is more about looking clean, well-groomed, unoffessive, and showing that you take this job seriously. This is your business, your brand, you must represent it well. Even if you don’t feel like being the type that greets others first, or smiles and engages in conversation easily, FAKE IT UNTIL YOU MAKE IT! Don’t cuss or talk about others negatively, especially other vendors or the event itself. How you look and act definitely matters in your success.
Lastly, have fun! Hand out business cards like crazy, take future orders if possible, and make connections so that a successful booth isn’t just about the sales made during the event, but also about sales made in the following months that resulted from something that happened at that event.
Did you like this post? Was it helpful in any way? Comment below or share!