By Barbara Scofidio
The 2014 Flea Market Industry Report reflects an increasingly discerning and tech-savvy vendor and market manager—as well as customer—and a slowly improving purchasing environment.
Almost three-quarters of the vendors surveyed (67.9 percent) said they prefer to order online over phone or through email, and 44.3 percent consider product ads or searches on wholesale websites to be the best source for finding new merchandise.
The number of vendors with smartphones or tablets has grown dramatically—73.6 percent this year versus 58 percent in 2013. Of those, 88.9 percent are using various apps, including POS, and 75.4 percent said they would like to see a wholesale shopping app hit the marketplace.
Surprisingly, as much as they are using technology for purchasing, communications, and processing orders, there is a lag in the percentage of vendors using it for their own marketing. The number of responding vendors with their own web sites remained exactly the same as in the 2013 survey, at 27.9 percent. And when asked if they plan to have a web site in the future, the responses were nearly split, with 48.4 percent saying yes and 51.6 percent saying no.
The use of social media among vendors has not taken off as quickly either, with just 42.2 percent using it to promote their businesses. Of those who do, Facebook is overwhelmingly the favorite platform, used by 91.7 percent, while Twitter is used by only 27.8 percent.
Some flea market managers are taking this lack of comfort with social media into their own hands. “We’re actually doing training sessions for our vendors,” says Dave Wolff, co-owner of Wolff’s Flea Markets in Rosemont and Palatine, IL. “And we’re showing them how to promote their products on our Facebook page.” He has plans to hire someone over the summer who will be assigned specifically to social media. “We’re pretty busy and sometimes it is hard to get to. We need someone who is tech-savvy and social media-savvy to post on Facebook and create more of a Twitter presence.” It is also a key strategy for attracting a younger audience, he says. Many of Wolff’s peers are just as focused on social media, with 78.3 percent saying they use the combination of web sites and social media for marketing.
“It is so easy to get information out there through the web site,” says John R. Chism, CSM, CFMA, general manager of the Quakertown Farmers & Flea Market in Quakerstown, PA, who includes everything from weather to a map of the market to video links from his vendors on his site. “We do a weekly ad sheet, which used to go just into the newspaper, and now people can print it off our web site before they come to the market.”
However, as web-centric as managers are becoming, print is still popular for advertising—but 64.7 percent of market managers still used newspaper ads and 41.2 percent used magazine ads to promote their markets.
Annual sales for most vendors (61.6 percent) came in at less than $20,000 in 2013; 20.9 percent have sales between $20,001 and $50,000; and 17.4 percent have sales over $50,000. The good news is that 40.7 percent expect higher sales this year, which is exactly the same percentage response as last year—reflecting a sustained sense of optimism among vendors.
The vast majority of vendors (65.1 percent) spent up to $10,000 per year on wholesale merchandise in 2013; 18.1 percent spend between $10,001 and $25,000; 12.1 percent spend between $25,001 and $50,000 and 4.8 percent spend over $50,00. A little over one-third plan to increase their spending in 2013, and almost half will spend the same, leaving a small number (15.7 percent), who will decrease what they buy for resale.
When it comes to purchasing, price is still the top criteria for almost three-quarters of responding vendors, followed by no or low minimum orders. In fact, both of those superceded product quality. This points to a cautious approach to buying that still exists among most vendors.
This group identified their biggest ongoing challenges as attracting new shoppers (65.2 percent) and the economy (60.9 percent), even before the weather (39.1 percent).
The biggest challenge facing them in 2014? 39.1 percent said it was the economy. The economy continues to create challenges for flea market operators as well as their vendors, with 43.5 percent reporting a decrease in traffic at their markets.
“We’re starting to come around a little but, but we haven’t turned the corner yet,” says John R. Chism, CSM, CFMA , general manager of the Quakertown Farmers & Flea Market in Quakerstown, PA. “I think the economy is flat right now, but that’s okay because our businesses are still in business, compared to the big boxes that are closing hundreds of stores.” Chism thinks a big part of this is the investment of the vendors in making it work. “People who rent space from us are owners of their own businesses and that makes them try harder, versus employees who are not as invested. This is their livelihood.”
Rob Sieban, director of the Mile High Flea Market in Henderson, CO, and president of the National Flea Market Association, agrees that the flea market industry is not immune to the downturn. He believes that today’s consumer is looking for more than shopping, and flea markets offer greater entertainment value than traditional stores. “There’s entertainment, music, kids’ rides, food— it’s not only about the merchandise. A lot of our core customers work six days a week and the only day they have off is Sunday. These elements make it more of an all-day fun event, not just a transactional experience.”
Top five categories of merchandise sold by vendors
Top strategy for increasing sales: Good prices
Old is Out
Percentage of new merchandise at markets: 93.6 percent
Feet on the Pavement
Top three criteria for vendors choosing a market
2) Convenient locations
3) Low-cost space rental
It’s All About Traffic
Number of flea market visitors/day