I think it’s fair to say that most of us fell fast and hard, not only for Emily’s talent and humor, but her uncanny ability to find the SICKEST VINTAGE around. The question, “where were you when you first saw the blue sofa?” is probably something most old school fans could answer without blinking an eye. Now, while I am no stranger to a flea market, I am also not, shall we say, a seasoned pro (like I have dreams of being)? I mean how and when do I haggle?? Is it basically expected or ultimately disrespectful to the vendor? I am terrible at knowing when I need to come out of my shell and ask for a better price versus just paying the sticker price because it’s easier and I feel bad/it may just be the fair price. Sooooo why not then go straight to the source and ease my worrisome mind? Enter Vintage Ninja, Emily Henderson. We asked for her advice on how to go about getting the best price for your flea finds and she delivered with eight super user-friendly tips that even the newest of flea market goers can tackle with ease. See…dreams do come true and price haggling nerves can finally calm themselves. Without further ado (the anticipation is also killing me), let’s see what THE expert flea market maverick has to say…
From Emily: You all wanted to know how I haggle and here are my rules:
1. BE RESPECTFUL. Realize that (almost) everyone selling at the flea market works hard and has a livelihood (and/or family) to support. They are not swindlers or peddlers looking to screw you. Approach them how you would want to be spoken to—with respect and admiration for a craft. They work hard to find, transport and bring you pretty things. Essentially, don’t be A D*CK.
2. CONSIDER THE EFFORT AND HOW THAT WOULD EFFECT THE COST. A large piece of furniture is cumbersome and took them likely time/effort to bring from the original source (estate sales, thrift stores from far distances) where they then put into a larger vehicle they might have rented, then likely stored in their storage unit, then transported multiple times and ultimately unloaded at 5am at a flea market. If it’s a large piece, it should cost more than it would at a thrift store. A lot more effort went into bringing it to a flea market, so please consider that. At the same time, a small piece is easier to deal with and should be less expensive to unload (figuratively and financially).
3. LEVERAGE MULTIPLE PIECES FOR BETTER PRICING. If you buy multiple pieces (small or large), you have the leverage to ask for a discount and you should. If you buy one piece, ask for 10% off, 15% off for two pieces, 20% off for three or more. This behooves everyone if you do…you get a better deal, and the vendor sells more in one go.
4. CHOOSE YOUR WORDS. Use the phrases like, “Do you think you could you do $25 for this?” or “What could you do if I bought this and this and this…” Don’t just say you’ll give them $7 for something that is $10. Respect them enough to ask in a way that you would want to be asked. They care about these pieces, so don’t disrespect them by just saying “I’ll give you $7.” You’d be surprised how often someone is willing to bend if you just ask nicely (general life lesson, too).
5. SHOW APPRECIATION FOR THE PIECE. Vintage dealers love what they have taken the time and effort to bring to market, so they want someone who cares about the piece to get to own it. Yes, it’s a business and sure they care about profits but they might not sell it to someone who is a jerk because they secretly are worried that a prized possession might go unappreciated in an unloving home. However, don’t fawn. Don’t go overboard but show appreciation. Let them know you get it.
6. FORECAST THE WORK. If something is big (say, a sofa), needs a lot of work (upholstery and restoration) and the dealer is charging a lot (say $1,200), do the math in your head before you get too excited. Getting it home will cost $200 in delivery, reupholstering will be $900, new fabric will be $300, refinishing will be $300…before you’ve even sat on it, your $1,200 sofa just cost you $2,500. Then think about what you could buy for that amount new in the market. It’s a lot. If it’s something SUPER unique then it still could be worth it, if not then you can talk them through your future expenses and they might come down realizing that what they have is actually a future investment for someone, not an immediate gift. That gives you leverage for a discount, FOR SURE. I don’t pay more than $400 for a sofa unless it’s super unique, important and irreplaceable.
7. BE FAIR. If the price feels fair, don’t haggle. Could you haggle and get them down? Sure, but I actually hate this culture of haggling especially in this day and age when the economic disparity is so huge. If it’s a fair price, just give them the cash. You don’t have to haggle just because you are at the flea market. When I overhear a conversation where the buyer offers $9 for a $10 item, I cringe knowing that they are haggling for haggling sake. It’s like they watched it in the movies and they are performing “haggling.” It’s strangely demoralizing for the seller. They will likely say yes, but at what cost? It doesn’t make them feel proud of the sale and what does it do for you? It’s the difference between tipping 15% and 18%—often it’s minimal but it means the WORLD to the waiter/waitress. (P.S. this is only for American flea market culture…I realize that in other cultures, haggling is a sport).
8. SPOT A SALESPERSON AND BE READY TO PLAY. Most people who specialize in something will declare high prices because they might have an inflated sense of “vintage dealer.” This happens most with specialized rugs, mid-century or European antique dealers. If they want $1,200 for a chair, know that they are ready to play/negotiate. Picture the prices at a retail store and if they are on par, then know you should negotiate because retail stores have a MUCH higher overhead and therefore charge more. If they are charging what a store would charge, then negotiate because they might be hoping you will just write that check.
Listen. It’s nuanced. You have to feel them out but my biggest tips align perfectly with my general ethos: be nice, be brief, be gone. It’s business, with a huge dose of human element. Don’t be a d*ck.
Well, there you have it. It’s actually insanely simple. Be a good human, use your gut and love your vintage as much as baby Charlie loves this toy pony. I think we can all handle that, no? And guys, it’s FRIDAY which means we are only hours away from finding a flea market where you can put these tips to good use. Hope you all have a great weekend!
Let us know in the comments if there are any other flea market or general vintage shopping topics you want us to cover. We want all of your suggestions. 🙂
Love you, mean it.