Flea Market and Barn Sale Secrets
March, 2016 · By Coryanne Ettiene
With market season upon us, everyone can use all the help they can get to score the hottest items at the best deals, and my 10 Flea Market and Barn Sale secrets is a list of pro secrets I’ve learned from years of shopping at various markets across the globe, and recently refreshed while touring a few markets in Texas this past year. As I write this, I look around our house that is furnished almost entirely in curious objects found on dusty farm roads, out of backyard sheds or in nondescript thrift stores. A peek inside my office and you will find a 1940 farm house square kitchen table that I use as my desk — it is peeling so badly that I had to buy a glass sheet to cover it–, from my desk I look at an old pie cooling pantry that I found at a barn sale, and inside it holds all my office supplies tucked away in long forgotten swimming lockers that I found by the side of a road….and then there is my most treasured item, a vintage milk jug with the words “Jones Dairy” etched into the top by my great Grandfather Jones when he was a dairyman; this family treasure sits on a once loved chest of drawers that was last painted 50 years ago. I could go on and on about everything, but and the sentiment would be the same: Each piece has a story to tell, none of them match, they are like the coat of many colors that Dolly sings about, and I love them all the same.
10 Flea Market and Barn Sale Secrets
1. Go early for the best finds and go late for the best deals. Many sales start at dawn, and it is true, the early bird gets the worm. So if you are looking for the best stuff, go early and be prepared to pay for what you want. On the flip side, if a deal is what you want, go at the end of the sale, bring cash and bargain for the deal you came for. Out of all the my Flea Market and Barn Sale Secrets, this is the golden rule.
2. Big items are often easier to haggle for. Especially at the end of a big weekend or week long event because no one wants to lug a heavy item back to storage. If you see a piece that you like but don’t like the current price, ask the vendor if you can call them after the sale to see if it is still for sale. The little items are easy to store and pack up for the next event, it is the bigger items that may have a bigger price tag, but often cause vendors the most headache, especially ones that are fragile. And this, well this is one of my Flea Market and Barn Sale Secrets that I learned last year from a Texas vendor who was practically begging me to make him an offer on an item.
3. Cash is king, but they take it all. Most vendors will work with you on price if you are paying cash, once you bring out the plastic, your bargaining power goes out the window.
4. Like them on Facebook, follow them on Instagram. Most vendors work the regional circuit and rarely travel far from home unless they are out ‘junking’ themselves. So if you find a vendor that you like, ask for their card and connect with them on social media. This allows you to see exactly what they have and get the best stuff out of season. And if they are not on social, ask them where they trade, this is often the best way to find out where the good shows are, anther vendor secret I learned in Texas and one I knew I needed to add to my Flea Market and Barn Sale Secrets.
5. Measure it all. Pack a tape measure and know the dimensions of your vehicle. I once bought an 12 foot orchard ladder that I loved so much that I was certain it would fit on the roof of our Suburban (love is blind). Long story short, I drove down the side roads for 4 hours crossing my fingers that I would not get pulled over for going 30mph in a 45 zone, cause a wreck or ding the car. I had to have that ladder. Clearly.
6. Pack a blanket and ties. Also part of the same story. I did not have enough ties to secure the ladder and nothing to protect my then 1 week old car from scratches. I laugh about it now but I would never have gotten that ladder home where it not for the kind rope donations that various passers by gave me. And my once well loved winter coat was sacrificed for the love of that ladder and the sake of my roof. A blanket also comes in handy when you are buying rusty items because no one wants rust on their interior carpet.
7. Go pro with a market cart. Don’t mess around with those fabric ones with silly wheels; think strong, durable, able to hold a 200lb farm sink kind of durability. I spent $60 on mine from a local sports store. Best $60 I’ve ever spent.
8. Bring your dog, and your children. Make it an event, just make sure that everyone knows the rules. Well behaved children and animals make vendors very happy and win you bonus points while shopping. Generally, indoor events frown upon dogs unless you can hold them in your arms, and most vendors like children so long as they don’t touch. In all seriousness, we look like a band of wild travelers when we go, and have the best time together. Mind you, this love of family junking did not happen overnight, and it came with many “look with your eyes” comments, but in the end it happened and I love it. (maybe it is the fun “doll heads hanging from the barn” chance sightings that make it fun?)
9. Call the venue or the marketer. Often times there is a pre-event that is hard to find and not often listed for the public, epscialy when it comes to week long market shows. These pre-events are not decorative, but more in the field, wild and rummaging events that are for trade buyers. It is a great time to get great pickings at great prices if you are willing to share the space with fire ants, and get your hands dirty. I owe a huge thank you to a new junking friend of mine who owns her own vintage junk yard and said that I must add this to my Flea Market and Barn Sale Secrets list.
10. Drop a pin in it. Field markets are especially vast, often spreading miles between various farms and side roads. Do yourself a favor and bring a notebook, and do a loop around before you start buying. Taking note of what you liked, how much it was, and drop a pin in the vendor location you like using your iPhone –this is the best way to return to the right spots with a key buying strategy in hand. I once bought a dozen sugar molds form a vendor thinking it was a great price only to go to the next farm and find that I had spent double. I should of dropped a pin in it.
Of course there are a million Flea Market and Barn Sale Secrets out there, all with advice on how to pack, where to go and how to haggle. We all have our ways of hitting the vintage market season, I hope my list helps get you that something special you have your eye on when market season rolls around.