The Brimfield Adventure - Transparency & Tips for the Flea Market Experience
Transparency is a value I have instilled in my brand and it will always be a value. The vintage industry has historically prioritized for secrecy. I get it… there’s maybe secrets that I even may not want to share…. maybe the “secret sauce “to TCP? ;) BUT that doesn’t mean I don’t optimize for being as transparent as possible where I can be…. Sourcing at flea markets definitely being one area I want to share.
Are you a thrifter and lover of flea markets?
Things like flea markets are open to the public. Therefore this to me is naturally an area I want to share my perspective and tips as a secondhand shop owner and curator as I know many of you enjoy to thrift and flea yourself… my knowledge and experience is open to you! This blog post will be your guide.
For those of you that get anxiety over thrifting and anything remotely like a flea market?
Consider this transparency to build even more appreciation for the curators and shop owners that will dig for treasures so you can be fly as f**k. ;)
Know that when you have appreciation for the “craft” (ie. digging at fleas, curating, etc), this increases the worth and value of something. Worth and value is key to sustainability as you want to optimize for things you LOVE not things that are disposable aka little to no value.
Now onto the Brimfield Flea experience.
I put together a little video about my time at Brimfield Flea. I look back and I’m like dang it.. wish I captured more moments… but naturally I WAS IN THE ZONE. Either way check out the video recap and some photos courtesy of myself and Silvia. :)
Insight and Tips for Brimfield (or really any flea market!)
No matter what, if you’re a shop or individual… make a list!! Always have a running list of things you’re interested in getting. The beauty of secondhand is that patience is key. If you keep a running list of what you want, you’ll be more aware of what to look for with a higher chance of finding it.
Get cash! There is more leverage for negotiating. Nowadays some vendors take a debit/credit card but expect to pay more.
Find some friends/company to join you! Carpooling and traveling as a group can be a better/fun experience, but it also contributes to more sustainable travel. You can share responsibilities (like prepping food or bringing the sunscreen) and can even get a second opinion on your purchases. ;)
What to expect
For Brimfield there are technically 17 different markets that are individually run with their own set of vendors. It happens 3 times a year (May, July and September) with May and September having the most attendance from vendors and shoppers. July tends to be a bit slower with less vendors especially with the heat, but if this is the only time you can go, I’d still suggest going. I would say July could be a good first time so you can feel more prepared for May or September.
With any flea, expect to walk a lot, and sometimes in crazy heat. Comfortable shoes, sunscreen, hat and a reusable water bottle. Being mentally prepared is just as important as being physically prepared (see packing list section below).
Depending on the vendor or flea, expect to do some digging. The more you have to dig and “get your hands dirty” yourself (particularly with clothing), the better price you’ll be paying for some gems.
Expect things to be a bit dirty and not pre-washed. Know what can easily be cleaned and what is irrepairable.
Is this a source for a lot of vintage shops?
Yes it can be! Most shops have built long standing relationships or at least know which vendors they will target first in order to get the quantity and quality they’re looking for. Every shop is a little different and has a different “eye” to how they like to curate, whether from personal interest OR based on their customer base.
The only way to find the vendors that work for you is to actually go to these market 2-3 times. This will help you gauge consistency in a vendor and start building a relationship that could benefit you in the long run.
What do vintage shops look for? Or if shopping personally how should you filter what to look for?
Every shop owner/curator is a little different. That is the beauty of each secondhand/vintage shop. We are each unique in how we envision things to be styled or sold so that is why I’m a believer in collaboration vs. competition when it comes to relationships with other shops.
The things I personally look for are:
Style - Is the piece relevant and somewhat modern to what customers are looking for today? Could it be forward thinking and almost ahead of the trends? You will train your eye the more you shop and define your own personal style or brand.
Quality - I look at the material content of the piece and optimize for natural fibers, but also what types of “defects” are there? When you shop secondhand enough and take risks with certain pieces, you start to learn what you can and can’t clean or fix. This just comes from experience to be honest!
Sizing - This really depends on your customer base OR if you’re shopping for yourself, obviously you want to make sure it fits you! At a flea you need to train your eye on what fits you since dressing rooms aren’t normally a thing. See it is has stretch, look at the shoulder width, waist size, length, etc.
Price - Lastly I pay attention to price. Being a shop, there needs to be a reason or profit to be doing this. Or else I’m just shopping for others for free… which would be fun but very unrealistic. What is the best price I can get? How do I factor in my time and all the additional costs that accumulated to get me to this source (ie. flea, shop, etc.)? What type of costs will be accrued to sell the piece (ie. hours to clean, photograph and post or market fees to sell in person)? Shopping for yourself? Don’t be afraid to still negotiate! In the end, pay what you think is fair. Vendors works hard too to pick out cool items so they deserve some profit.
Tips of negotiation
When you’re at a flea market setting, negotiating is expected and fair game vs. a curated vintage marketplace? Not so much… So keep in mind your environment. At Brimfield? 100% negotiate each and every time!
Calibrate - If there is no price listed on ANY item, ask for a price on 1x item to get a gauge of the price range. The vendor may also slip in that they’re willing to negotiate. If so… say thank you and you’ll look around more.
Leverage the “more” - Gather all the items you’re interested in before asking about pricing. You’ll want to leverage a bulk deal. The more you buy normally the better deal. Normally flea vendors optimize for selling as much as possible.
Asses - Determine the max amount you’d pay for the item or items. This will help you not overpay in the heat of negotiating. If you multiple items, make sure there is a max value to each so you can still calculate a per item cost.
Game time - “What’s your best price?” Show them the item or multiple items you have. They’ll look through and give you their “best” price. Once you get their best price, think about your max amount you’d pay then try to negotiate closer or take the deal! Asking for their best price gives you control to negotiate. If you just go out and say, will you take X amount for this? You may be paying more than what they would’ve offered.
How to overcome feeling overwhelmed
Knowing what you’re looking for helps! You’ll still see other things that are interesting but having a list at least makes things feel more manageable.
Don’t feel like you have to stop at each booth. See what catches your eye and just warm yourself up before diving in. Sometimes you just need to be inspired and once that fire is lit, you won’t want to stop!
Note the areas that you liked best. If you’re at Brimfield, you’ll want to note the area and markets that you liked best (since there’s so many of them). You can always go back to your favorites.
The more you go to the same flea market (esp Brimfield!) the better. You’ll be able to optimize your time by going to just your favorites and still feel fulfilled with great finds without going to each and every booth.
Reusable water bottle (filled with cold water!)
Push cart/Laundry cart/Wagon Cart
Bring a small box in case you’re planning to get homeware or anything fragile.
You can put everything in a mini cooler bag and place in your push cart.
Don’t forget your Stashers and reusable containers.
Easy to carry bag/safe place for your cash.
I normally always carry a waist bag and wear across my chest.
Empty reusable container and cup along with a set of reusable utensils/straws.
In case you really want to minimize waste, you can use your own containers at the food carts in case you don’t want to pack your own lunch.
Empty large bags/boxes
This will be for all your purchases to pack in your car and transport back home.
Hope this was helpful!! Honestly can’t wait till my next flea.
In case you have any other tips or comments you’d like to share feel free to comment below. :)
Till next time,