Every year, The Merchandiser Group surveys our network of flea market vendors and owners to monitor trends, changes, and the overall health of the industry. This year, results show strong sales and general growth as a result of an improving economy. However, even with a stable market, there is always room for more progress.
Much of the stability of the current flea market and swap meet industry can be attributed to its dedicated veterans and the permanence of many markets. Of the markets surveyed, 70% of have been open for over 21 years. 38% of the managers surveyed have been operating that market for over 12 years. Of all vendors, 50% indicated they have been in the business for over 10 years.
Over 50% of market vendors sell at just a few locations, demonstrating a sense of loyalty to their market and its community. Ben Campen, owner of Smiley’s Flea Markets and National Flea Market Association President, says flea markets, “create a family. We have groups of people who have been vending with us ever since we started. There’s this one group of ten vendors, who have all been together since the mid ’80s. If it’s someone’s birthday, they’ll have a big party. They do their own potlucks on Sundays. It’s nice to see this family that has been created. This is a business, but it’s also a social thing too.”
The relationships and connections that are built at flea markets and swap meets are unique. Those who become involved in markets all have one thing in common: “People who are looking for the American Dream,” says Campen. “Flea markets provide that avenue for people to be successful and stand on their own two feet.” Whether someone is just starting in the flea business, or is an industry expert, it is always encouraging to hear of other flea marketers succeeding. “People enjoy hearing stories of how others got in the business and success stores; it’s encouraging,” continues Campen.
A strong mutual interest in free enterprise, being a self-determining business owner, and following the American Dream draws people together in the flea industry. This bond keeps communities together and allows for individual market and vendor longevity.
Despite the overall healthy state of flea market financials and advancements in technologies applicable to market owners and vendors, this year’s survey results indicate technology utilization has plateaued in some areas. The majority of vendors surveyed source their wholesale products online (66%), and even more prefer to place orders through websites versus email or phone (85%). However, few individual vendors utilize the internet and social media for their own marketing. Of vendors surveyed, 60% do not have any social media presence. Of the 40% that do use social media, all use Facebook exclusively. 82% of vendors do not have a website. Of that 82%, 87% do not plan on ever having one. In contrast, 86% of market owners and managers reported having an active Facebook page for their business.
Few sellers are utilizing online marketing, however an increased number of vendors are utilizing traditional physical marketing avenues. 30% of vendors have POP displays at their booths. 28% are marketing with posters – a 20% increase from 2015’s results. The conclusion is that vendors are marketing to shoppers already at the swap meet or market, but not marketing their products outside of their markets to draw shoppers in.
Keeping with Tradition
Almost all (93%) of vendors surveyed sell some type of new merchandise at their booth. Only 22% of all vendors sell antique, used, or vintage merchandise. However, out of the flea market owners and managers who also sell at their markets, over 68% sell antique and vintage merchandise. New merchandise is unquestionably in-demand with market shoppers, with gift and novelty items being the top-selling category this year, closely followed by knives, and then jewelry. For many market shoppers there persists an expectation of finding bargains and old fashioned items at swaps and flea markets. Lorna Ingersoll, great-granddaughter of the founder of Jamie’s Flea Market, expresses, “Flea markets are still traditional, and that’s what people love.”
New merchandise is heavily prevalent in today’s flea markets. Where is this merchandise coming from? 55% of surveyed vendors reported using wholesalecentral.com as their top source for products. When selecting suppliers, 70% of vendors stated that quality was a very important factor. Price was ranked slightly lower; with 66% claiming is an important factor. Low or no order minimum also ranked high as a determining factor, with 45% of vendors saying it was important to them.
The main factors vendors consider when selecting a market are customer traffic, convenient locations, and the market’s marketing and advertising efforts. 51% of vendors reported that they would like to see higher shopper volumes at their markets. 36% are concerned with too many vendors having similar merchandise within the same market. However, concerns over the economy, weather, and vendor competition affecting business have all decreased from last year. Overall, vendors are experiencing fewer concerns with their business. Out of all the areas polled (weather, rising costs of merchandise, finding quality suppliers, rising costs of space rental, the economy, theft, competition, market’s advertising, overstock, and lack of customers), each one had a decrease in the percentage of vendors indicating it as an area of concern compared to last year.
Positive Outlook and Year-over-Year Growth
The economy is improving. 43% of vendors expect to have annual sales similar to 2015, while 49% expect to make more this year than in 2015. 2016 has also seen an increase in shopper volume, with 74% of markets seeing over 500 buyers each day – up from 61% in 2015. This year, 59% of markets report having over 1,000 shoppers daily.
In addition to an improved economy, markets are also trying different techniques to engage more visitors. Most flea markets reported that they do not charge an entrance fee. 50% of businesses also indicated that they host special events and entertainment such as live music, local celebrities, fundraisers, and children’s events. Ben Campen reported that at the National Flea Market Association annual conference, there were workshops and discussions on different ways to drive more business to flea markets including having more food vendors and entertainment sources. Overall, “the industry has seen a big uptick,” says Campen. Here at the Merchandiser, our annual survey numbers underscore the improvements and we look to continued success in 2016 and beyond.