FleaMarketZone.com and Merchandiser Group magazine editor, Gloria Mellinger, recently spoke with Mario S., a vendor who has been selling at flea markets in the Philadelphia area for the past 10 years. Mario also sells online at Amazon and eBay, and he launched a blog, Philadelphia Flea Market News, about five months ago to share his views on what is going on at the local markets. Mario shared his up-close view of the state of the industry and trends he has been observing. So that Mario can continue to review markets anonymously for his blog, he asked that we withhold his full name.
Editor: Are you familiar with Merchandiser magazine?
Mario: “Yes, I used to sell at Cowtown in Jersey and they carry your magazines. I ordered things from a few suppliers and I still order from one in particular. Every Christmas, one of my customers orders 30 to 40 bottles of a particular perfume. He’ll call me next month and order a bunch, and I’m still dealing with the supplier I got from Merchandiser magazine.”
Editor: How did you get into the flea market business?
Mario: “About 10 years ago, my sister had this secret recipe for cheese steak and I’ve always been kind of an entrepreneur so I suggested we sell them at Cowtown. As we were selling there, somebody gave me a book and I didn’t really want it so he said, ‘take it and sell it’. I sold it online the next day for $60. So, along with the cheese steaks, I started selling books at flea markets and online. I liked it. As most people in this business say, “Once it gets in your blood…” So I guess it got in my blood and I’ve been selling for about 10 years.”
Editor: What made you decide to launch a blog?
Mario: “I would get to know vendors and they would call me up and ask me what was going on with different flea markets and whether they should sell there. I was like the flea market information guy. I wondered why, but I guess it’s because I’m observant and I retain and ponder things. It turned out that I knew more about flea markets than some guys who’d been vendors for a lot longer than me. I like to write and share information so I bought a book on how to set up a blog and six days later it was up and running. I get some nice feedback from people telling me my blog really helps them. I get between 60 and 200 visitors a day.”
Editor: When did you begin selling new merchandise?
Mario: “The first new merchandise I sold was the perfume. I gradually got into selling new and used things. I do want to start selling more new merchandise because if it sells well, I can order more. You can’t do that with used merchandise. A couple weeks ago I bought a book for $2 and sold it for $200 but I can’t call the guy up and say, ‘hey, send me 10 more of those books’. I’d like to reach a point where I’m selling 50 percent new and 50 percent used because used has a higher profit margin than new merchandise.”
Editor: What types of merchandise are you interested in selling?
Mario: “I’m looking into selling quality jewelry, sterling silver rings, which tend to sell well. I bought some body jewelry on liquidation.com and in the city it sells very well. I think every other person has some sort of piercing. I was thinking of getting more into that. I’ve done pretty well with the body jewelry in the suburban markets as well. I’ve also been looking into clothing. I always check eBay overstock. I’d also like to have a website to supply flea market vendors with equipment they would need, like tables and jewelry cases.”
Editor: What merchandise is trending these days?
Mario: “Designer boots and shoes are very popular. I know vendors who buy used UGG boots or Coach boots and shoes, and they sell like hotcakes. Designer and designer-like clothing—people just eat that up. A lot of the flea markets are vintage and antique, and in the last five years that has become big business.”
Editor: How many markets do you sell at throughout the year?
Mario: “I’d say about 20.”
Editor: “Of the markets you’ve sold at, what is your favorite and why?
Mario: “A special events type market run by Phila Flea Markets called Society Hill Flea Market. It’s at third and Pine and the immediate neighborhood is fairly older and somewhat affluent so books tend to go very well with that crowd. It’s adjacent to other neighborhoods like South Street where the younger crowd is and I tend to do well with jewelry and funky clothing there.”
Editor: What does management do to make this market a success?
Mario: “It’s run by one person, Tony Soprano, and he’s always there and is very hands-on. He carefully picks the areas for his markets to make sure there is a nice diverse crowd. He treats his vendors with respect. He’s been in business since 1987 and he has a database not only of vendors but of customers as well. He has a table out where people can add their email or house address and he adds it to his database. Every season, he sends market schedules to the shoppers and vendors. It’s absolutely what he does, where he puts the markets and how he advertises.
Editor: How are things in general at the markets?
Mario: I hear from other vendors that business is slower and it’s because of the economy but I don’t believe that. You’d think that if the economy is bad, that should help the markets. If I have decent quality merchandise and I keep my merchandise fresh, then I tend to make more money. It’s just keeping up with your merchandise.”
“If I notice anything, it’s that there are so many more flea markets now than there were 10 years ago—there is so much competition. That hurts a little. Another big problem, in Philadelphia, is with the weather. Almost every flea market organizer has their flea market in May, June, September and October. They stay away from July and August because it is so hot. And I think that hurts, too. There are weeks when there are many flea markets, but shoppers can only go to so many.”