Here at the Merchandiser, we’ve been around the flea market and swap meet business for close to 30 years and we’ve seen a thing or two in the marketplace. We’ve seen soaring prices on trendy antiques, and we’ve seen bargain basement prices on things people have trouble giving away. So where does this huge range in pricing leave a vendor who is trying to get started? How do you set your prices so that your products sell, while not giving away all your profits simultaneously? Consider these selling techniques the next time you set up your booth:
Everything Old is New Again
Upcycled. Recycled. Gently Used. Pre Owned. Salvaged. Vintage. Sound familiar? All of these words are used to describe used goods, or in plain language, stuff someone else owned and that is now being resold. This is a huge range of merchandise covering everything from Great-Grandma’s teacups and china hutch to a basket of slightly worn blue jeans that don’t fit anyone in your house any more. How do you set prices on items like this? Well, for the bigger ticket items like furniture and large home goods, before you set your price, take a look online at web sites like eBay® or Craigslist®. Getting an idea of what other people are asking for a similar piece will give you a range of prices you can use as a starting point. Also, if you know the market in which you’ll be setting up shop, walk through the market and check out what other vendors are asking for similar items. If you’ve got an old stereo that you’re trying to sell and you’re thinking of asking $100 but find out there are four or five other vendors selling similar electronics for only $50, you may need to adjust your price point in order to sell. Also, consider the neighborhood where the market is located. Selling a pair of vintage Oscar de la Renta jeans in a San Francisco swap meet is different than selling the same pair of jeans in a Des Moines flea market. One last thought on used merchandise: if you’re selling something that you owned yourself, do NOT get stuck on how much you paid for it when it was new. Just because you paid $400 for a lamp doesn’t mean someone else will be willing to shell out $350 for it. If you were in the market and buying a used piece from someone else without any emotional attachment, you wouldn’t pay that much either. If you’re selling things that were once your own property, try to keep the emotions out of the pricing as much as you can.
Expect to Be Challenged
As a market or swap vendor, you know that haggling and negotiating is part and parcel of the whole experience. Getting a good deal is as important to the buyer as staying in business is important to you. The good news is this can work out for everyone. When you’re pricing your items, a good rule of thumb is to mark them up by about 15-20%, knowing that shoppers will be coming by and offering you a lower price than what you’ve marked. If you start 15-20% high, the number you settle on will likely make them happy, and make you happy, too. Something else to consider in the haggling atmosphere: you should have a few choice phrases ready and waiting for someone who starts off with a really low-ball number. Instead of countering with another high number or starting to lose your cool, keep a few phrases in your repertoire like: “I just can’t do that – I paid more than that for it myself.” or “That’s just too low, but I might take $x.” or the old stand-by, “Come back at the end of the day. If it’s still here, we’ll talk.” On the other end of the haggling spectrum, if you have a shopper in front of you who seems genuinely daunted by the haggling process, take it easy with them and get them started by making an offer first. Saying something like, “I was thinking $x for that piece. Would that work for you?” might get them into the conversation and talking dollars.
Best Offer vs Firm
In the world if selling used or vintage merchandise, there are some times where you’ll be marking up a small sign that says “Make me an Offer” or “Best Offer” or “$X OBO” (OBO stands for Or Best Offer). Sometimes you have that one piece that just won’t sell and that you’ve been staring at it for so long you just need to get it gone. If that’s the case, advertise your willingness to talk low priced deals. You may sell it for less than you paid for it, but hey, it’s sold. Conversely, if you’ve got something that you absolutely won’t part with under a certain amount, write the word FIRM on your price tag and save yourself – and your shoppers – some time. If a shopper sees $75 FIRM on Aunt Milly’s embroidered footstool, that tells them not to offer you $10 and be surprised when you won’t drop your price. Most shoppers understand this lingo, but be prepared to explain it, and again, don’t lose your cool. A pleasant and positive attitude sells better than a frown and a growl.
New In The Box
If you’re selling brand new merchandise that you’ve purchased in a bulk wholesale buy, you will know the unit price you’ve paid and can best figure out what your profit margin should be. Again, walk through the market and take a look at the price points at which others are selling similar products and then compare what your price points should be. If your merchandise is higher quality, you can price it higher. If it’s the same or slightly lower, your pricing should reflect that. Here’s a selling tip that works well for those small items that maybe you’ve picked up for just a few cents each, or in a closeout or liquidation buy: price bins. Get yourself some clear plastic bins and group your products into them, priced at $1, $2, or $3 each. As an added incentive, consider having a sale – offer 2 for $3 in the $2 bin items, or 3 for $5 – whatever bundle and price works for you. Your shoppers will have fun picking through the bins and making their own combinations, and you’ll be making money on every item sold.
Cash or Credit?
In today’s mobile world, many people no longer carry cash – which may come as a bit of a shock for those who grew up in the flea market and swap meet business. We know – we’ve been there! While this industry has grown up with a Cash is King mantra, that is changing. As a vendor, if you want to keep pace with the tides of change and all those Millennial aged shoppers who come into the market with only their cell phones in hand, you’ll need to consider accepting multiple forms of payment including debit and credit cards or mobile payments. There are many reputable companies out there now, like Apple Pay®, PayPal®, Google Wallet® or Square®, that are easy to set up and easy to manage. If you haven’t yet set yourself up for one of these services, take a long hard look at it because if you don’t accept electronic payments, you may be missing out on a lot of business. As an additional note, if you’re selling high priced items, even veteran shoppers no longer walk around with hundreds of dollars in cash… if they’d rather whip out a credit card to buy that $85 salt lamp, if you don’t accept credit cards, they’ll buy it from someone else who does.
At the end of the selling day, as you look over your now-empty booth and your stuffed cash and receipts box, if you use these tried and true pricing strategies, you can be certain that you’ve done your best to offer good products to your shoppers while simultaneously building your own profitable business. Good selling to you!