Whether you’re a crafting enthusiast, have a keen eye for antiques, or just want to find a new way to make a couple of extra bucks on the weekend, learning how to sell at a flea market can be a lucrative way to be your own small business owner. Best of all, selling at a flea market doesn’t require you to shell out tons of money just to get started, making it a great way to dip your toes into the entrepreneurial waters.
You might be wondering what the first steps are for selling at a flea market. Figuring out what you want to sell is only the beginning. There are rules and registration details that vary by location and state, as well as a few decisions to make about whether you want to form a business entity and how you plan to market your business. And, lest we forget, you’ll have to navigate the world of sales tax and payment options.
The barrier to entry for selling at a flea market may be lower than other kinds of small businesses, but there are still plenty of decisions and requirements that you’ll have to handle. Here’s what you need to know about how to sell at a flea market, as well as a few pointers on how to get started.
Selling at a flea market doesn’t always require much in terms of business planning, but it’s never a bad idea to have a plan in mind before you begin any kind of commercial endeavor. The amount of planning is less involved than other types of businesses, but it’s important to tackle nonetheless.
When thinking about how to sell at a flea market, start with an idea of what you would like to offer prospective buyers. Are you going to sell handmade goods like jewelry or crafts? Or are you planning on selling antique tools and furniture? There’s a pretty wide gap between these and other flea market staples, and the business considerations for them all need to be tailored to the products being sold.
Check out your local flea markets to get an impression of what vendors are selling. If you already know what kind of goods you plan to sell, check in on your would-be competitors (or, better yet, check to see if there are any competitors in the first place). If you’re not sure what wares you’d like to hock, browse around and see which stalls attract the most foot traffic. You’ll get a good sense of what does well at your local market and can use that as a reference.
Most small businesses benefit from creating a business plan that lays out the mission of the company, the financials involved in getting off the ground, competitors in the space, and other specifics, such as how you’ll price your items. This might be overkill for a flea market business depending on how much work you expect to do, but a trimmed-down version of a business plan isn’t a terrible thing to put together. A rudimentary business plan template should be more than enough to get you started.
If you already own a small business and want to branch out into selling goods at a flea market, then you should have already drafted a business plan. Amend this plan to incorporate your new sales channel so you can track its specific costs and revenue forecasts. If you haven’t put together a business plan already, working through how to sell at a flea market gives you a great reason to do so.
Many flea markets don’t require much more than a table, products, and a daily or monthly fee to set up shop. That is one of the beauties of selling at a flea market—you have unrivaled flexibility in terms of how much work you want to invest in starting and running your business.
You could always start your business by keeping things simple and straightforward, unless your municipality and state request more. Some states, like Connecticut for example, require flea market vendors to obtain permits to sell and collect sales tax. Make sure to check your local rules and regulations about how to sell at a flea market while staying in accordance with the law.
If you do need to collect sales tax and obtain permits to sell at a flea market, you may also want to think about the benefits of registering and forming a business entity. A sole proprietorship may be enough for most sellers since it is a one-person, unincorporated business that treats any income from the business as personal income when tax time rolls around. If your flea market business has two or more partners, however, a sole proprietorship may not be the right fit for you.
Sole proprietorships don’t come with personal liability protections, unlike limited liability companies (LLCs). LLCs provide the same tax- and income-related flexibility of a sole proprietorship, but with protections against having personal assets seized in the event of any legal or financial trouble. Registering an LLC is fairly straightforward, especially if your business doesn’t need a complex financial structure in place.
If you plan on growing your flea market business into a powerhouse enterprise, you may consider other business entities as well, in which case, you may want to consult a business attorney. However, most people who sell at flea markets consider it more of a side gig, in which case a sole proprietorship will likely fit the bill.
Having great products is a must, but so is marketing them. If you can’t get people to learn about your business, you may find it hard to get sales growing as quickly as you would by marketing and branding your flea market business effectively.
The flea markets of yore may have been low-tech affairs. These days, merchants do everything they can to stand out in the crowd—be it through a website, social media presence, reviews, or even online advertising. Customers are interested in checking out what flea markets have to offer before they show up, particularly as rotating food vendors bring people through the gates and onto the floor.
Branding your flea market business doesn’t have to be a grand affair. A simple set of social media accounts is a great place to start. Post a few photos of your goods, let followers know where you’ll be and when, and interact as often as possible. If you can get satisfied customers to leave reviews of your business, all the better.
Most flea market sellers keep payments simple: cash never goes out of style and you don’t have to mess with credit cards. On the flip side, fewer people are paying with cash than ever. You won’t want to turn away customers who are ready to make a purchase but only have plastic in their wallets.
Clunky, expensive credit card machines have been replaced by easy-to-use readers designed to make mobile transactions smoother for small businesses of any size. If you’ve ever done business with a local vendor yourself, you’ve likely swiped your card with a Square card reader that can be as simple as an attachment on a smartphone or tablet. Keep in mind, whichever hardware you choose, you’ll have to pay a processing fee per transaction, typically a flat fee or a flat fee plus a fixed percentage of the transaction.
The merchant services providers behind mobile credit card readers typically offer an online sales option in addition to physical transaction capabilities. In most cases, it’s easy to get started selling online as well. Since you’re already halfway there when you sign up for a card reader, you may want to take the plunge and begin selling online in addition to selling at a flea market if you want to expand your sales opportunities.
For the digitally savvy, a business website for a flea market business can provide a surefire way to boost sales beyond a table of wares every weekend. Most modern website builders offer integrations with merchant services provider software, which means you can accept payments online and have all of your card-based transactions show up in one centralized database. With a good website, you can sell across the country (if not the world), making your business go way beyond selling at your local flea market.
Web-wary sellers still have plenty of lower-intensity ways to make money online as well. The simplest options are online bidding sites, where all you need is a login and a few product listings. You can also opt for a digital storefront with sites like Etsy and Shopify, which allow for more customization and enhanced visuals to let you change the look and feel of your digital outpost.
Keeping business and personal finances separate is a must for any savvy small business owner. There’s no better way to create distance between the two than through a business bank account. This way, you can account for sales, expenses, and profit at a glance with less of a chance for error than you’d have by keeping all of your money in one personal account.
There is a wealth of business checking accounts out there for smaller endeavors like flea market sellers. Many of these accounts are fee-free as well, so long as you can keep a minimum daily or monthly balance above a certain threshold. You may not get a ton of free perks, such as wire transfers or high deposit limits, but you’ll be able to keep your finances in order easily.
Flea market selling can be a fun, lucrative, and exciting way to make some money. Whether your goal is a bit of pocket change or a brand-new business, there are several factors you’ll want to think about before you get going. A good business plan, competitive analysis, branding aesthetic and marketing tactics, and the right financial setup are all essential. The more you prepare—even with the most modest of goals for your flea market business—the less you’ll have to learn from experience. Organization is key here and can set you up for growth beyond a collapsible table at your local flea market.
Sally Lauckner is the editor-in-chief of the Fundera Ledger and the editorial director at Fundera.
Sally has over a decade of experience in print and online journalism. Previously she was the senior editor at SmartAsset—a Y Combinator-backed fintech startup that provides personal finance advice. There she edited articles and data reports on topics including taxes, mortgages, banking, credit cards, investing, insurance, and retirement planning. She has also held various editorial roles at AOL.com, Huffington Post, and Glamour magazine. Her work has also appeared in Marie Claire, Teen Vogue, and Cosmopolitan magazines.