Show Business | Part 1

Marian Parsonsbuying & selling antiques, Miscellaneus, Running a Business37 Comments

As I’ve mentioned how I’m getting ready for the Luckett’s Spring Market, I’ve received several e-mails asking various questions about my process, so I thought I would share the answers with “the group” in the way of a series.  I think we’re overdo for some information-heavy posts, anyway!  So, here we go…


If you’re happily selling in an antique mall, on Etsy, eBay or maybe just occasionally at tag sales or you have a stash you’ve told your husband will become a business…at some point…you might wonder why you should try being a vendor at a fair.

What is the advantage of being a vendor at an antique fair and is it worth hauling your stuff to an event? 

I’m going to give you a very muddy answer.  It depends on the type of vendor you are.  If you’re really a collector who needs an overflow, so you have an antique booth where things are overpriced and basically don’t sell, so your booth looks the same today as it did five years ago and you’re completely content with that…well, it might not be worth it.  If you have great stuff at reasonable prices, you’re most likely going to do very well (assuming there isn’t a torrential downpour or something of that nature.)


The advantage of going to a market is it brings your pieces to a new customer base.  Many fairs and markets also charge an admittance fee, so most people are coming ready to buy.  Someone might take a stroll through an antique mall to laugh at the price tags on things they remember from their childhood in order to kill some time, but most people aren’t going to spend money to get into a fair if they don’t at least have a little spending money in the budget.  You also get the super savvy shoppers who wait in line, strategize and execute their plan with a rolling tote filled with a measuring tape, fabric swatches and bubble wrap close behind.


How do you know if your stuff is right for the market?  How do you know the kind of prices that market will support?  

If you have the chance, attend the event as a customer to do a bit of recon.  Look at prices on items that are similar to what you sell and take notes.  Observe what booths are selling well, have a lot of traffic or a lot of sold tags or holes where piece used to be.  Stay until the very end of the show to see which pieces didn’t sell.  This data isn’t going to ensure you sell every single piece you bring, but it will help you better prepare or know that this show isn’t right for you.

If you’ve signed up for a fair you’ve never been to and you don’t know much about it, you may not know the answers to these questions going into it.  In that case, plan on your first year being a learning year.  Make sure you have someone to help you with your booth, so you can check out the other vendors when things are slow.  Make some notes on what sold quickly in your booth and what received no attention at all.  Don’t set high expectations for sales, but consider it a bonus if you do well.  That way, you can focus on learning, observing and planning for next year and not how your hourly rate for your time is dropping by the minute and what a bummer it’s going to be to move all of this stuff again.

MMS Booth

I learned soooo much the first two shows I attended as a vendor.  Things like…

  • Don’t clutter up my booth with things I picked up here and there because they were cheap.  Those things just diluted my style and made my booth look junky.
  • Trust my instincts more and take the plunge on buying statement pieces that will make a big impact in my space.
  • Come overly prepared for all kinds of weather.
  • Bring double the amount of one dollar bills I think I will need.
  • Have a system, so you and your mom don’t sell the same piece of furniture to two different people at the exact same time.  (Yeah, that was an awful moment.)
  • Think through how the space will function and have some sort of a layout planned.
  • Have a nice mix of large, expensive pieces and small, inexpensive items.  (I have things for as low as $.25 each year, so shoppers on any budget can buy.)

This is a business where you can do your research and planning, but ultimately, most of us learn as we go.


More to come on this series, but if you have specific questions about being a vendor at an antique fair, leave them in the comments and I’ll try to answer them in future posts.

If you’re ready for more right away, you can check out some other posts I wrote on the subject…

Buying to Sell and Getting Ready for a Fair

Thank you to Allison of The Golden Sycamore and Candace of Vintage News Junkie for the pictures of my booth at Lucketts last year!  I was so busy that I didn’t get to take many pictures.

Show Business | Part 1

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37 Comments on “Show Business | Part 1”

  1. Hi Marian!
    One fun thing I found with fairs is you get up close and personal with the people buying your goods. Almost like live market research. Also, my teen daughters help me out in my booth. They get to see the sales side of the business when they are use to the “honey can you please help me move this (dresser/chair/buffet/etc..) out of my car” after I buy something. So they get to see the whole process. It’s a nice experience for me to share with them as my oldest will be off to college before I know it!!! Plus they love browsing Lucketts Market too. 🙂 it’s all good for us :). Have a lovely weekend! — Pauline

  2. Great post Marian. Looking forward to more on the subject. I’ll go check out your other posts you listed as well. Did you mention how much is enough to haul? Should you do a mock set up at home first?

    leelee @ paperbagstyling

  3. Thanks so much for sharing your expertise with us on selling at fairs. I’ve tried it and it’s a lot of fun but a lot of work too.

    This being tax season there is one issue that I’d love to hear more on. How do you keep your accounts straight? I’ve been using expandable file folders for receipts that I organize by month, and envelopes for sales reports. This system is falling short and I need some kind of computer software beyond just a spreadsheet to help me. Do you have any suggestions? Perhaps some of your other readers would be willing to share their expertise in this area too. There are a lot of us selling vintage/ repurposed items, how do other small business owners keep track of their expenses and sales for tax purposes?

    Thanks in advance for any insight into this that you can offer. I’m looking for the tried and true type of advise.


  4. Awesome post.I think often about shutting down my antique mall stand and doing 2 shows a year, with a little Ebay mixed in. Just waiting for a house with a garage (dream big).
    I agree selling items you do not believe in do dilute your style. It is just so hard to give up on making money off everything in a box lot. I usually hide these items on my bottom shelves, so they rarely sell anyway. Might be time to make a drop of to the goodwill.
    Can’t wait for the next post!!

  5. Interesting post! Could you include (maybe not in this series, but a related one on how to know what to charge for shipping? This may be obvious or some standard chart, but when I looked on Etsy, I saw nothing about shipping. In other words, how do you not lose $$ on shipping?

    1. Hi Tardevil,
      This may help on your shipping question…. I started selling some miscellaneous items on Ebay last year to get started and shipping was a roadblock for me at first too. If you remember these basics it will help get you started.
      1. Before I list an item, I always figure out the packaging and then weigh it. Include a few extra sheets of paper to account for the packing slip, label, and packing tape. You can purchase a small postage scale on Ebay for $10 or less. For larger boxes just estimate on your bathroom scale.
      2. Once you know the weight, Ebay lets you calculate the shipping so you know which method is least expensive. I’ve found that smaller items under a few pounds are easiest to ship USPS. Larger boxes I usually ship UPS Ground. I don’t ship furniture, so I’m not sure on that but would love to hear other’s feedback.
      3. If an envelope weighs 13 oz or less it can ship USPS first class.
      4. If an envelope or box goes over 13 oz, then you have move up to USPS Priority.
      5. Books and other media ship cheapest using USPS Media Mail.
      6. If you sell on Ebay and purchase postage there, you get a discount and it includes a tracking number.

      I hope that helps.

    2. Shipping can be easy to figure….best way to do it is to weigh your item on a postal scale, along with the box and packing material needed. The PO has information on its website that calculates the shipping based on weight, type of shipping desired (1st Class, Priority). Except for 1st Class Mail, shipping amount is based on weight and distance to delivery point.

      I frequently do not buy something on ebay or etsy if the seller is gouging on shipping, I’ve found it best to charge the exact amount.

      I recently decided not to purchase an item as the seller wanted $12 for shipping that I knew could go 1st Class for about $3.00!

    1. Hi There!
      Lucketts is $100 for their Spring Market, but their waiting list to get in is a mile long. They added a winter/holiday market in early November and that one was $75 (if I remember correctly!) for 3 days during their big Design House Holiday Open House. Both fairs are all outdoors without access to electricity. Also keep in mind Lucketts is maybe an hour from Washington DC (think $$$) so fair prices here could be higher than in other parts of the country. Hope this helps! 🙂 — Pauline

  6. Thank you for the great information. My sister and I will be in a brand new show this year in Moses Lake WA. and will have 3 spaces. We’ve decided to make each one unique since we’re not sure what will sell. One will be “garden” with lots of wicker and flowers, one will be “rusty and man cave” with tools, antlers, etc. and one will be “bright and springy” with white, turquoise, and spring green. I hope we’re not spreading ourselves to thin.

      1. It will be Saturday May 10 (Mother’s Day weekend) at the fairgrounds. I think the hours are 9:00 to 5:00. Stop by and see us at the Paris Flea Market spaces.

  7. Marian, thank you so much for sharing your knowledge with us! I’ve been busily painting in the basement b/c I’m getting ready for my first antique show next weekend. These tips couldn’t have come at a better time!

  8. Marian, great tips and information. One pet peeve of mine is when I walk into a antique mall or consignment shop and its cluttered with junk. So I like the idea of being selective instead of trying to just fill space.

  9. Love this post! I am prepping for a flea market next weekend. Yes, I should be waxing right now, but took a few moments to promote on my blog and Facebook … and a swing by your blog for some inspiration. Thanks! I’ll be back to visit for more tools of the trade of booth running!

  10. Such a helpful post! I’m an Etsy seller (not an antique vendor, though), and I was invited to do a craft fair here in my home town a couple of years ago. I agreed without ever having been, and was very disappointed to find that virtually every other booth was selling garishly colored crocheted pot holders or sports-themed spray painted knick knacks. My booth was TOTALLY out of place. My products and price points were completely out of sync with what was being sold (and bought) around me. I made more money each day I was there on Etsy than I did in person. Definitely do your research first!

    1. My first show was like that and it was so disappointing! I was between a guy selling mass produced “crafts” and a lady who made little people out of clothes pins. I barely broke even, not to mention all of the time I put into the piece I made. Well, it was a learning experience and the next fair I did was Lucketts! 🙂

  11. HI Marian,
    I am going to be vending at the Vintage Bazaar this year, and was wondering about your tags! I love them, and would love to pull a cohesive look together by tagging my merch. Would you be willing to share some insight on where to find and or create such tags? Great post!
    Thanks so much!
    Cory Moon
    SilverMoon Vintage

    1. Hi Cory Moon,

      I will answer for Marian as she probably won’t have time to answer soon. She used Bliss & Tell to do her branding. You can find them at the bottom of this page. When I was contemplating setting up shop I contacted them. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful but a bit rich for me just starting out. I ended up scouting on Etsy for labels and was able to find someone that was more in line with what I wanted to spend. If I ever get going like Marian has, there is absolutely no doubt I will use Bliss & Tell. They ROCK!

  12. Thank you SO much Marian! What great info and inspiration! Lucketts sounds amazing – too bad I’m in San Diego! (just kidding – wouldn’t trade it!) We still have the weather issue though, okay rarely, but we do! I look forward to all your posts – the next tips, etc. even more so!
    Thanks for sharing your wisdom

  13. Great information, thank you! And you’re right – it was a nice return to get such an information heavy post, I always enjoy those the most!

  14. I really enjoyed this post and all the helpful comments from other readers. This will be my first year selling (I’m a repurposer, not an antiques dealer) at fairs, the first of which is coming up on April 19th. I’m soaking up the wisdom of more experienced sellers, and can’t wait for the rest of this series!

  15. I would so enjoy going to Luckett’s market but work full time and live in Tennessee. I need something closer to home and wonder if you could suggest a similar market in my area.

  16. If I am not mistaken, the twine that you are using for your tags is baker’s twine not butcher’s twine. Butcher’s twine is natural in color. 🙂

  17. and…….you get to meet your ~Angelina Jolie~ and talk to her and her Mom that is Uber cool too, and buy something from her that you can cherish forever!

  18. Hi Marian,
    I’ve been to my share of craft fairs but this year I’m going to have my own little ‘booth’… it’s an outdoor sale at the end of April. Yikes! My luck, it’ll snow. Anyway, I seldom have cash in my purse, so I have to assume that others shop the same way. A friend encouraged me to invest in a “square”.. I have no idea how much cash to take in order to make change for people. How do you handle the financial side of conducting a sale? I could use any suggestions you may have. This will be my first rodeo. Many thanks to you for your information and inspiration.

  19. Hmm….maybe I didn’t read this quite right, or perhaps I just took it wrong – and really, I don’t really complain nor get offended by things, but I get the impression that you feel antique malls are overpriced and no one really shops in them – that people don’t really go there with money to spend and only go to “markets” to buy due to an admission fee. Certainly, I hope readers of your blog don’t think that all malls are overpriced, or all dealers put huge prices on their merchandise which would certainly take away business from us booth dealers that enjoy this ease of selling, especially considering some of us also have full time jobs. We do this because we love this. Again, maybe I took this wrong, but hopefully people do not get the impression that antique malls are bad places to shop and all over-priced. We are local small businesses and can use all the support anyone can offer! Stepping down off of soapbox now…..

    1. Oh no…I think you did read that wrong or I didn’t express myself very well. I love antique malls, but I do think antique mall vendors can get a boost from taking their stuff to a fair. I also think shoppers at fairs get fresh things to pick from, since most vendors stock up specifically for an event as opposed to an antique mall where some booths can remain basically the same over many visits.

      I’m a fan of local small business and I shop at them often. 🙂

      1. Thanks, Marian. I just didn’t want your readers to think that all antique malls are overprice places to shop! Many dealers try hard to keep things fresh and interesting in their booths ~

  20. Oh my gosh, I wish I lived closer, the market looks amazing and I can see two chairs that would be perfect for my home office in the first image alone. I am looking for a cane back French style chair and so far come up with nothing in Auckland that is suitable apart from reproduction ones :(.

    I hope you did really well.


  21. Great great great info for folks who are just starting out! Where were you 14 years ago? Haha! This is definitely a business where you learn as you go…some busts, some sell outs. Having your guidelines will definitely help folks understand the process!

  22. Marian, first, thank you for sharing so many amazing tips that have or have not worked for you. Really appreciate that. I participated in a local antique show last year and our stuff just didn’t sell. Now, I’m considering doing a show out of town since it seems to have a ton of more traffic and better reception.I recently purged a lot of inventory so am not sure what’s the best booth size to get. Do you think it ‘s better to have a small booth that you can refill if stuff sells? Or do I get a bigger booth in hopes that I’ll find all the inventory I need and space everything out nice and neatly displayed? I don’t want an “empty-looking” booth. Any recommendations would be helpful!! Thanks Marian!

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