Flea Markets: Can they be fun?

By | September 12, 2007

It’s fun to try different things when you have your own business. I’d seen a ‘flea market’ in the TV show ‘The Apprentice’, in fact in the first series when the contestants were asked to sell items at a flea market. I’d always wondered what we’d learn about doing that.

Well, on the weekend last, our community had its own flea market, and so we decided to see if we could sell some English Books to passersby. Terry, Christine, and I set out our stall in the main area, with a lot of traffic walking by. Our target market was parents who wanted to buy books for their children, and children who liked books.

Our price points were about US$3.00 for paperback books and $7.00 for hardback children’s books. Generally, for new books, in Taiwan, these prices were already good value. But for English language, American books, the prices were extraordinary value.

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Terry checking the stand to see if the books would stand up or not against the wind. They didn’t.

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“Now where should we put those books?”

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We’re all taking a breather, and reading the books to see what we could sell.

At the start, we all were quite excited: business was brisk as we sold 6 in about 15 minutes. But the next few hours didn’t produce any more sales at all. At about lunch time, we started wrapping things up as we realized the heat of the day was coming and most people would be taking a siesta after lunch.

Overall, we learned a lot about taking part in a flea market, though. We talked it over and here are the benefits of our experience:

1. Pick your product: not all products can sell well in a flea market. People don’t go to them to buy NEW items, but rather items that are second hand usually.

2. Pick your price point: in a flea market, people will readily hand over good cash for junk, but are often reluctant to part with cash for things of value. Perversely, they seem willing to throw away $100 on a piece of junk that they may never use. Yet, to buy a book at the same price, esp. a new one, a great deal, seems weird.

3. Selling books: there are places to sell books, and places NOT to sell books. Most bookstores carve out a real atmosphere for themselves, even 2nd hand ones. A flea market like the one we attended has none. Nada. Zip.

4. Market well!: we originally had intended to do other marketing of our books to our students, but we didn’t. Big mistake. If some of our own students and their parents had dropped by, we might have sold MANY more books than we did.

5. Our profit margins: we didn’t have sufficient profit margins on the books to make the whole effort worthwhile. While we charged a 35% markup on the books, we figured that buying a cup of coffee basically killed any money that we made. We realized that to make any money on books, … well, it’s difficult.

Unfortunately, for #4 above, we failed to market our books to our students and we failed to market our courses and classes to our book customers. This had been the primary set of objectives (not making money as in #5). In this respect, we absolutely failed.

So if I was sitting in the boardroom with Donald Trump, I’m afraid that I’d be the one taking the rap for failing on so many counts! But then we aren’t. We were happy to try this approach, and see what we could make of it. Perhaps we’ll try it again, perhaps not. We’ll see. Did we learn anything? You bet, a whole lot! And it was kind of fun!

Have you ever sold anything in a flea market? How did you approach the whole thing?