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Vintage markets: 8 things I learned as a newbie vendor
Photo: Rachel Claire/Pexels
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Vintage markets: 8 things I learned as a newbie vendor

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The owner of decor shop Mama Vintage Home shares her top eight tips for vintage sellers new to vending at markets

Ed. note: This article was originally published as a series of Instagram posts on Mama Vintage Home. It is shared here with permission.

When I launched my much-loved side gig, Mama Vintage Home, in 2020, being an online vintage seller wasn’t what I’d envisioned.

While I’ve become very proficient with shipping (and my tape gun and bubble wrap), having a virtual shop wasn’t the plan. It was a work-around dictated by COVID.

In 2022, as in-person events became a thing again, I was excited to try selling at vintage markets. Fast forward to November and I have a couple of shows under my belt. I’m still a newbie, but I’ve already learned so much!

Back when I was prepping for my first show, I found online advice from other vendors incredibly helpful, so I thought I’d pass on the favour. If you’re thinking about taking the plunge as a market seller, here are a few tips from me:

1. It’s a lot of work.

Wow, shows are a lot of work! Before my first market, I mostly envisioned the part where I was at my booth, surrounded by enthusiastic shoppers…it was all sunshine, good vibes and cha-ching! While I absolutely experienced some of this good stuff, I’d glossed over all the work involved.

And there is so much work in the lead up. Decision after decision. Which market to apply to? Dates? How to price things? What inventory to bring? Should I invest in signage…what kind? How to display stock—tables? shelving? How to accept payments?

Then there’s the job of organizing treasures, pricing and packing (oh, is our vehicle big enough?), unpacking and re-packing after the show. On and on it goes. I arrived at my first market running on too little sleep and far too much coffee. When it was all over, I lay down on the couch and never wanted to get up. Ever. Again.

2. You might make money…or not.

This is a tough one, but true. Potentially, in one market day you might move more stock than in weeks online. But there are no guarantees.

As I’ve learned from experience and in talking to other sellers, it’s good to prepare emotionally and understand that sometimes things fall flat. Everything from weather, to the time of year, to crowd makeup to competing events and/or advertising (or lack of it) can affect how your shop will do on a given market day.

Author Connie Jeske Crane, owner of Mama Vintage Home, at one of her first markets. Photo: Mama Vintage Home

3. You get direct feedback.

By now I’ve had a chance to think more deeply about my two market experiences and have identified lots of benefits, too.

Beyond dollars, I found the interpersonal interactions at markets to be invaluable. Getting to engage in real life with vintage-loving market-goers is SO invigorating compared to the digital experience.

And almost right away, I began to appreciate something else—so much feedback! If you watch people, there is an astonishing amount of behaviours to take note of. Which parts of your display people gravitate to (trust me, there are patterns), which pieces people seem to pick, not to mention which questions you get over and over.

I also found it really valuable to connect with fellow vintage vendors. Besides the sheer pleasure of meeting people who nerd out on vintage stuff as much you do, I found fellow sellers to be generous with advice—both about my setup and the local market scene in general.

I would absolutely recommend doing a walk around to get to know fellow vendors, and as a bonus you can get some tips from looking at their displays too.

4. Display tweaks can really pay off.

Speaking of displays, while you might think great vintage speaks for itself, I found careful planning here can really pay off.

For me, between outings #1 and #2, I basically quadrupled my profits. While crowd size was somewhat of a factor, there were also display tweaks that I felt boosted my sales the second time around.

So what worked? First, I switched from a U-shaped booth (where customers had to walk in to peruse) to an L-shaped one with two long tables and one shelving unit. I think the L format was less intimidating, allowing visitors to view lots of stock even if they barely slowed down at my booth.

On top of that, the second time, I also visually organized pieces more by colour (one section fall-themed earth tones; the other blue-green). I invested in a large board-type sign and easel and the second time around I also made sure that was more prominent.

Altogether, analyzing and tweaking my setup helped people zero in on pieces they liked and translated into better sales.

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5. Consider your pricing and payment methods.

On a more practical note, here’s what I learned on the money side of things:

Price tags: Avoid stickers! For my first show I ordered pricey kraft paper stickers online. I liked the way they looked but, ugh, they’ve been proving a major pain to remove from my stock ever since. I’m now using simple kraft paper string tags (I tie or tape them on) and find these easier to work with.

Price tag size: I like to include price, era, manufacturer and country of origin on my tags, so I’m finding medium-sized tags work a lot better than small ones.

Pricing: This can take some thought. I ended up pricing market pieces a little lower than I would on my Etsy platform (after all, you do avoid all the shipping work).

I’d suggest working in some wiggle room for hagglers, and once you’re at the show, have a look at how other vendors are pricing to get even more insights on pricing.

Electronic payments: It’s good to accept electronic payments these days, and it may just seal the deal in certain cases.

A system like Square is great, and many customers are comfortable with e-transfers too. (With that route, I’d suggest keeping an eye on your email while you’re packing up the purchase to make sure the payment comes through.)

Mama Vintage Home sign with risers and decor at Ontario Vintage Market
Part of the author’s display at a recent edition of the Ontario Vintage Market in Toronto, Ont. Photo: Mama Vintage Home

6. Draw customers into your booth.

At first, I was a little unsure about how to relate to market-goers. Should I go all in…or let them peruse? I don’t think there’s one right answer, however I don’t think you can go wrong if you:

  • Greet every visitor briefly, with eye contact.
  • Have fun and keep up your own energy and mood—it will affect the experience people have at your booth.
  • Stock items that you love and are enthusiastic about.
  • Take cues from shoppers. You will soon get a sense of who wants to be left to browse, who’s chatty, who really wants to buy but needs encouragement, etc.
  • Be true to yourself! The vintage scene is quite a diverse place. There’s room for your brand and I believe that building your presence authentically (rather than trying to be like that super-successful seller down the aisle) is the best way to connect with market-goers long-term.

Table display with glassware at a vintage market
Grouping like colours or objects together can help with merchandising, says Mama Vintage Home owner Connie Jeske Crane. Photo: Mama Vintage Home

7. Have an end-of-show strategy.

As I’m learning, at the end of every market while you’re packing up and mentally checked out, passersby can become incredibly tantalized by treasures that are about to disappear.

At my last market I’d packed up my electronic payment system (and sent it off to the parking lot with husband) only to lose close to $100 in potential sales because I couldn’t process e-payments for shoppers.

My advice here is to have a strategy. If you are open to accommodating last-minute purchases, make sure you’re set up to process sales and package items until every last vintage piece is packed away.

8. It gets easier.

This was a big a-ha moment for me. Even with so few shows behind me, I found my second show infinitely easier than my first. The nerves were gone; I was much more organized.

All my systems were more streamlined and I was more able to focus on enjoying the day. While that couch still felt really good at the end of the day, my husband and I both had a blast. And we are planning to do a few more market days next year.

Hope my experiences were helpful and if you’re about to do a show or pop-up event, best of luck to you. I can’t wait to hear all about it!

Connie Jeske Crane is a writer, vintage seller, owner of Mama Vintage Home, and member of the Vintage Sellers Community.

For more information on selling and shopping at markets, check out our article Going to a vintage market? Tips for sellers and shoppers.

Have another tip to share? Let us know in the comments below!

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