If you’re a dealer, reseller or collector, you know that the early morning hours of any swap meet or flea market is when the sharks swarm. It’s when the dealers and collectors race through prior to others, hoping to make early purchases of valuables from vendors still trying to empty their truck and set up their booth. The search for items to purchase cheaply to resell for huge profit is a highly competitive endeavor. It’s like an Easter Egg hunt except the prize may be a Ming Dynasty Vase worth $32,000 that you paid $15 for.

With the understanding that this world is very competitive, and dealers are very serious as they hunt, here are a few of my general rules to help you succeed:

  1. Arrive very early and pay the extra fee to get into the event. You’ll be walking around with other dealers and vendors as they empty their trucks and vans and set up their booths. Sometimes you can gain entrance early without a fee because some swap meets leave the gates open and unattended for the vendors to load in. Keep in mind that during the early hours, you might have to walk around in a non-linear path because in these early hours, some dealers will not have arrived and unloaded yet. You may have to double back after they unload to check their inventory.
  2. Wear comfortable shoes and walk fast. At large swap meets (like Pasadena Rose Bowl Swap Meet or the San Fernando Swap Meet) you are competing against others who are doing the same thing.  On multiple occasions I have had sellers tell me “another guitar collector just went that way.” I always try to identify them and get ahead of them, if I can.
  3. Keep quiet and don’t announce what you’re looking for loudly. If you’ve paid to get in early, don’t waste your money by alerting other dealers that you’re hunting for the same quarry. If you are reselling the items you purchase, for profit, you are seeking a competitive advantage. Quietly speak with vendors, out of the earshot of others if possible. Along the same lines, don’t tell other shoppers what you’re looking for. I have had instances at estate sales and swap meets where other people waiting in line at 7 am ask me what I’m looking for. I usually say “nothing in particular.” I’ve seen people literally racing down hallways and up stairs to beat out others before they ever get the opportunity to discover valuables and make offers to the seller.
  4. Wait until the right time, listen and get to know the sellers constraints. As I’ve mentioned several times in my blog posts, it is crucial to talk to the seller, to get to know them quickly, to understand their minimum prices, to determine whether they’ll negotiate and to know when and if they MUST sell the items. This means that if the seller looks busy, disturbed by another shopper, angry for whatever reason, overwhelmed by shoppers…then step back and wait until they look “available” (both emotionally and physically). I always find that if you acknowledge that the seller is quite busy…they relax a bit.
  5. Last day technique. Many sellers at flea markets, antique shows, garage sales and swap meets want to rid themselves of everything, so they are motivated to sell toward the end of the last day (usually Sunday late afternoon or early evening). Ask the seller when they are closing on their last day. Sometimes you’ll find great deals. Keep in mind that experienced antique dealers get many items for free or very cheaply, so they might not want to lift, store, pack, load, transport and clean the item. You never know until you ask.
  6. Bring a dolly, tools, tape, rope, gloves, paper towels, a tarp or blanket and glass cleaner. These will make your life easier when loading things into your car or truck. The tarp or blanket will keep your car clean and provide padding for items that are fragile like lamps, ceramics and glassware. Tools are helpful if you want to disassemble large items like furniture, game tables, large appliances etc. to make them easier to transport, store and clean.
  7. Be a regular. Once you get to know a seller, they are more likely to provide you a better deal than they would to a stranger.
  8. Ask if the seller has items that aren’t on display or that won’t be brought out until later. Sellers know that dealers with lowball offers are lurking in the early hours. Sometimes they’ll wait until the general public is admitted before they break out the good stuff and put it on display. If you’re lucky enough to find a trove early, that’s being held back until the sale opens, make sure your offer is reasonable enough for the seller to forgo other offers, and sell it to you. Some sellers also have inventory in storage they don’t bring to flea markets or antique shows so “ask, and ye shall receive.”

Treasurebee welcomes collectors, buyers and sellers of all kinds. We hope your membership results in more finds, more fun, more expertise, more connections, more pieces for your collection, more revenue and more value than your typical source or marketplace.

By Jeff Rosen

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