Secrets to flea marketing

Rebecca Dunn has built a successful business called Rust & Found on repurposing, refurbishing and reupholstering flea market finds. I’ve assembled a list of 10 flea-market tips here, with Dunn’s personal pointers inserted.

Restyled flea market finds
Restyled flea market finds
Rebecca Dunn has built a successful business called Rust & Found on repurposing, refurbishing and reupholstering flea market finds. Her retail shop in Canal Fulton, open just one three-day weekend a month, attracts throngs of shoppers.

Asked about area flea markets, Dunn said, “If I’m looking for more unusual things, I like to go to Rogers, which is about an hour east. It’s open on Fridays only,” she said. “If I’m wanting to make a local trip, and not go too far, I love Hartville. Another I’ve been to that’s kind of hit and miss is Jamie’s (Flea Market in South Amherst). You see different dealers there.”

I’ve assembled a list of 10 flea-market tips here, with Dunn’s personal pointers inserted.

1. GO EARLY. Just as the early bird catches the worm, the early shopper has first crack at the best stuff. Hit the outdoor booths first; they tend to have the best stuff.

“On the flip side, going at the end of the day gets you the best deals,” Dunn said. “If they don’t want to pack it up and take it home, they tend to negotiate more.”

2. KEEP AN OPEN MIND. Rewiring a vintage lamp is not expensive. Reupholstering a handsome piece of furniture can be worth it. Look for great lines and good bones.

3. DEALING IS FINE. You can offer a lower price for something, but don’t be insulting. If it is marked $200, offer no less than $125 and plan on negotiation. Cold, crisp cash is always a deal sweetener. Buying multiple things from the same dealer is a good bargaining chip. Don’t negotiate a price unless you intend to buy.

“During negotiating, I always let them make the first offer,” Dunn said. “Rather than offering a price, I’ll say, ‘Can you do better?’ or ‘What’s your best price on this?’ Often it’s much less than I was going to offer.” Also, “take small bills and change,” she said. “A lot of times, they won’t negotiate if they have to break a large bill.”

4. DON’T DAWDLE. If you see something you absolutely must own at a busy flea market, don’t walk away from it. Someone who shares your eye may be just steps away.

“I’ve definitely had regrets,” Dunn said.

A lighted arrow found at a flea market
A lighted arrow found at a flea market

5. BE FRIENDLY AND RESPECTFUL. Don’t make fun of a for-sale item, even if it is ridiculous or ridiculously priced. Listen to the dealer’s personal story about something you are purchasing. On the other hand, if a dealer is grouchy or mean-spirited, walk away.

“A grumpy dealer can definitely take the fun out of things,” Dunn said.

6. DRESS COMFORTABLY. Layers are good. Comfortable shoes are essential. A backpack is good for carrying new purchases. Sunblock, snacks and bottled water are always a good idea.

“A must-have with me is a pack of baby wipes to clean up your hands,” Dunn said. “A lot of things you run into will be very dirty.”

7. EXAMINE ITEMS CAREFULLY. Sales are final at flea markets. If that vintage cashmere cardigan you just bought has a moth hole, or that ceramic piece you just acquired has a missing chip, that’s your problem now.

8. IF UNCERTAIN ABOUT SOMETHING, DO NOT OVERPAY. You might come home and locate multiple examples of the same thing on eBay for much less.

“If there’s something you’re looking for specifically, do your research and know your price range before you make your trip,” she said, “although it never hurts to splurge on something fun!”

9. BRING A TAPE MEASURE. Don’t buy something that won’t fit in your car or through your door. Most dealers will let you keep larger purchases in their booths until you are ready to depart.

10. DIG DEEP. Scavenging in cardboard boxes is not glamorous, but might yield treasures. And chances are, if something wasn’t valued enough to unpack and display, the price could be very low.

“My girlfriend Jessica will stop and dig for little things, while I’m a fast walker, looking for bigger pieces,” Dunn said. “I’ve missed out on many things because of that. Everyone has their own shopping style.”

To check out Rebecca Dunn’s flea market creations, visit www.rustandfound.com.