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Fleamarket/Antique Shopping Tips: Improve your bargaining skills with Special Guest Sandy Garrison

As you head out this weekend to the various flea markets and antique shows across the nation, take a minute to brush up on your bargaining skills with our special guest. 

Vintage Indie would like to welcome  Sandy Garrison of Rhubarb Reign. Sandy Garrison and Joe Kenz own rhubarb reign inc., a Midwest antique and design business specializing in cottage-style furniture and artsy smalls.

According to the dictionary, a “bargain” is “something offered or acquired at a price advantageous to the buyer.” If you love to shop the markets – but want to hone your bargaining skills – try incorporating these tips into your deal-making repertoire:


1. Be an educated consumer

Best time to “shop” is before you ever leave the house. Let’s assume you’re looking for something pretty basic, say a nightstand for your guest room. The first key to the best deal is to be an educated consumer. Familiarize yourself with the range of prices for your items by looking at eBay, Craig’s List, Etsy or a good, old-fashioned price guide. Remember that these are national averages, so the going price in your neighborhood can be higher or lower. But you won’t want to pay any more than this; buying on-line can be your back-up.


2. Be aware of timing

When you shop a show can affect your ability to bargain. Many shows feature an “Early Buy” time before general admission but this can be a Catch-22. You are paying a buyer’s premium to shop during set-up and many dealers aren’t ready to do business because they are still unpacking. Dealers also may be reluctant to part with merchandise at a discount before the show even starts. However, coming in for Early Buy does allow you a first look at things that may be gone by general admission. You may have to decide what you really want: first dibs or lowest price. Sometimes, they are mutually exclusive!

It also can be risky to wait until the very end of a show to get a deal. First, the piece you want may be gone. Secondly, don’t assume that dealers will automatically drop prices then. This strategy may work with someone who is just cleaning house but may not with a professional dealer who has another show next weekend. However, if you live somewhere with a definite indoor/outdoor season, the last show of the year can be a good time to negotiate. Seasonal dealers may be willing to bargain in the fall rather than store merchandise over the winter.


3. Know where to look

Sometimes getting the best deal involves simply knowing where to look. It is a myth that the best prices are always found outdoors. You have to check both inside and outside dealers. The key is to find a motivated seller. Unfortunately, dealers don’t have name tags that say that. However, be wary of two kinds of booths: ones where everything is unmarked and ones where no one is around. In the first instance, the dealer may size you up and give you a price accordingly. In the second case, the deal is possibly more interested in buying at that show than selling. Neither case is good for getting a deal! People who are in their booths – chatting and working – are there to sell.

You can look for bargains under tables, in boxes or by searching for an item that simply doesn’t belong. For example, a dealer who specializes in Christmas collectibles may have one fabulous vintage purse that they’d like to send home with you at a good price. Longevity also can be on a shopper’s side. If a dealer has hauled something from show to show, he or she may be anxious to get rid of it. Look for tags that seem faded or worn.



4. Know how to ask

Found an item you’re interested in and the price is right? Time to dive in! You can generally assume that the dealer will allow a 10 percent discount on an item that costs more than $10 unless the piece is marked “firm.” Be polite and don’t point out flaws. My favorite deal-maker is, “Are you firm on this?” Don’t suggest a price – leave that to the seller. I’m often surprised when a buyer suggests a price higher than what I would have offered. You always can counter offer.

Multiple items purchased from the same seller also may win you a better price so don’t forget to try, “If I take these three, would you be able to offer a discount?” or “What if I took all of these?” Avoid playing games – either feigning disinterest or starting to walk away just to see if the price will drop.


5. Get to know your dealers

Get to know your dealers. This may take some time but try to establish some relationships. Many dealers are willing to work with a “serious” client. And “serious” doesn’t have to mean big dollars. Being consistent is just as important. Ask your dealers if you can give them a wish list and if they will e-mail you once they find anything on it. Be sure to include your price range and then follow through when you get the call. Sometimes the best deals are made before the show ever opens.


©Vintage Indie,Rhubarb Reign



I just stumbled over here from Rabbit Oh Rabbit's shop - love this advice - love to know it's not offensive to ask for a break if I ask the right way. My mom was the pro (she traveled all through the world and knew that in some circles it's customary tohaggle a little bit). I will def. be back. Great little blog you've got here - thanks!

Joan Babb

Just came by to see what's up and found myself being asked a question by a customer. That's me sitting down at the flea market wearing the white favorite sweater! Sandy did a great job with her article! xo Joan

sheri jones

Great Article! And the advice about 10% or asking "are you firm" is great! When I have something marked $100 and I'm offered $50 (or less) I tend to not offer any discount. Don't insult the seller. We have time, energy, effort and $$ in our products and rent. I love when folks ask "What's the best you can do?"

Last suggestion is don't ask the question if you really aren't serious about the item. I've had someone ask "Will you take (fill in the blank here)" and when I agree, they don't end up buying it and not because something is wrong with the item. They just "changed their mind".


lovely write-up!!!


Good work Sandy...and Diane looks great in the pix too! I think your advice to buyers is straight on...insulting the merchandise is not going to get you a lower price. Good stuff is getting harder to find...and you LAWAYS have some!

See you next month at Kane!

Sandy Garrison

Hi Christi -- thanks for your comments on the article. Happy Shopping! Sandy/rhubarb reign

Sandy Garrison

Hi Sheri -- Thanks for your comments on the article. I agree! Sandy/rhubarb reign

Sandy Garrison

Hi Kasey! Thanks for your comment on the article. I enjoyed talking with you at Kane. See you soon! Sandy/rhubarb reign

Kathleen Hughes

Great article! Very nicely written! I'll be employing these techniques on my next shopping trip!

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