Show Business | Part 3

Marian Parsonsbuying & selling antiques, Running a Business31 Comments

I’ve really enjoyed writing this series, I just have to say!  Sometimes it helps me a lot to talk through my own process.  Sometimes when I’m feeling overwhelmed with all of the stuff on my plate, it’s fun to look through the pictures of the past and see how far this little business has come.  It’s been quite an amazing journey.

Anyway, this is part three of the series.  If you missed one and two, you can check them out here: Part 2: Tagging & Planning the Space and Part 1.

In this post, we’re going to cover keeping an inventory, running a checkout and promoting your booth.

So…inventory.  Yeah, I tried that one when I first started this business.  I made a simple spreadsheet and recorded everything I tagged and was selling.  I made note of what I paid for the item and what I listed it for, so I could know my profit.


Well, that lasted just a few weeks before the spreadsheet was a hot mess and I was confused at what had sold and what hadn’t.  I do keep an inventory of the things I can buy multiples of and sell in my online shop, like t-shirts, wreaths, books, etc., but I do not keep an inventory of my antique, one-of-a-kind type pieces.  Things moved too fast and it was just too much of a time suck.  I’m sure small things have gone missing over the years, but I’ve only had one large piece go unaccounted for.


I have asked other dealers about inventories and some keep them and some don’t.  I would suggest doing what you’re comfortable with. I’m fine with looking at the big picture investments vs. profits and not the nitty gritty details of each piece.  I work that out mostly in my head as I buy and price and I see that it all works out on my P&L statements.



How to set up a good check out at an outdoor fair has been a point of learning for me, that’s for sure!  For the first two shows, my mom and I had aprons on with cash and sales books and that worked fine.  We just floated around the space and helped anyone ready to buy something.  Then Lucketts 2011 happened.  My blog had really been growing and so had the legend of the Lucketts Spring Market and my mom and I in our little aprons were overwhelmed at the shopping frenzy that happened in my booth when the gates opened.  We ended up selling the same settee to two different people at the exact same time.  That was horrible and we had to make a judgement call as to who seemed to be first.  We knew right away that we had to do things differently the following year.

For Lucketts 2012, we had an official crew and a checkout table.  Mom (far left) and mini-Mustard Seed (far right) ran the checkout table.  Jeff helped carry furniture and bags (and made sure I was eating, drink water and wearing sunscreen.)  Dad was the master wrapper of breakables and held bags until they were claimed.  I was free to float around and answer questions, negotiate prices, fluff the space, etc.  It worked, but we were still pretty overwhelmed at the rush of shoppers that continued through the early afternoon on Saturday.



For Lucketts 2013, we enlisted even more help.  Sean helped Jeff with moving furniture and carrying items to cars and Emily floated around the space checking out buyers who were ready with cash for a quick sale.


My mom and Faith were huddled under a tarp (it was raining) and ran credit cards, accepted checks and handled larger sales.


We still could’ve used more help!  The line in our tent was probably over 30 people long at one point.  It was nuts.  So, this year I’m already lining up helpers, we have expanded to a third tent, so we have more space for a checkout, and I’m hoping we’ll get to make a check out counter before the event, that will be more substantial and practical than a folding table.

Here’s what I’ve learned when it comes to a checkout:

  • Roaming with aprons is fine as long as  your sales are steady through the day and there is a system (like pulling tags) to make sure something isn’t sold twice)
  • Bring tons of change.  I brought about $500 in change the past couple of years and $250 of that was in $1.00 bills.  The ones go so fast and then it can become a real problem.  You really can’t have too many.
  • Accept credit cards.  I use the PayPal Here system, but there is the Square and a few other options.  You will make more sales if you can accept credit cards.  A lot of people will bring cash, but sometimes it goes quickly or they don’t plan on buying a big piece until they see one they can’t pass up.
  • Accept checks.  I know this is a little risky, but in my 5+ years of business, I’ve never had one single check returned.  I always look at licenses and get phone numbers as a precaution.
  • If you’re expecting a “rush” period, make sure to have extra helpers during that time to keep the line from getting too long.  A long line is a good problem to have, but it can result in lost sales.
  • Bring lots of bags, bubble wrap, tissue, etc., so you can package breakables for safe transport home.  Some people do bring their own totes and bags, but it’s a nice service to offer.  This also gives you a chance to include marketing materials.


Marketing materials brings me nicely into the last topic – promoting your booth.  I sort of tripped over this on accident.  I started my blog as a way to promote my business, so as I was getting ready for a fair, I would show the pieces I was working on and tagging for the event.  The first year I made a real effort to share everything I had time to take pictures of, my sales were triple what they were the year before.  Triple!  People traveled from all over Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and some even further just to buy a specific piece they saw.

I realized I was onto something!  If people could see what I was bringing and they could plan, measure, dream, save, get permission, etc. prior to coming to the fair, they were more likely to buy.  In many cases, I brought pieces to the fair with sold tags already on them!

So, when the gates open, people come rushing to my booth.  They know what they want, because they saw it on the blog and they aren’t going to walk away to think about it.  They are going to grab it and hug it and not let it go until it’s in a bag with their name on it.

Also, writing about things on my blog makes those things personal to my readers and customer.  They know I love ironstone sugar jars, so getting to buy one from me and have me sign the bottom (yes, she asked me to), is something special.


Getting ready for the fair gives me blog content and it promotes the fair.  The sales at the fair increase because I wrote about it on my blog.  As I said, it was sort of accidental at first, but now I see that it makes good business sense.

So, if you’re going to be a vendor at a fair, don’t just hope the people putting on the fair promote, but work on promoting your space as well.  If you don’t have a blog,use Facebook to get the word out.  It really is worth the time.

More to come in this series…

Show Business | Part 3

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31 Comments on “Show Business | Part 3”

  1. Perfect! Just what I needed to know. I’m at the “hot mess” stage myself.. that point of things going just quickly enough to keep up with every $3 item 🙂 It’s good to hear the same from someone else. For years, I’ve created for friends and family and sold a few things, but never to the degree I’m doing now. I went in reverse. I started my blog to get my own house and projects in order and it turned into a real business. Thanks for sharing all that you do. I’m grateful for the resource.

  2. Hello! Someone in my Facebook group shared this website with us
    so I came to look it over. I’m definitely loving the information.
    I’m bookmarking and will be tweeting this to my followers!
    Fantastic blog and brilliant design.

  3. I used to keep inventory, but gave it up within a year. However, a fellow vendor taught me a trick for figuring profit. Combined with a trick my mom taught me it is a good system. This would only work for “Antique Mall Vendors”
    1- Date your tags with the date you purchased the item. This way you can calculate the overall profit from any given auction, yard sale, or estate sale. Many times you buy items in lots and can’t really figure out what you paid. Many more times you don’t end up selling certain items.
    2- Divide your total number of monthly sales into your total monthly rent. This gives you a per item $ amount you had to pay to sell each item.
    This system worked great for me till my lazy ways kicked in. Hope someone else can use it.
    I love these posts Marian. When I first started in the business I really couldn’t find any information. Luckily everyone at my mall dispensed free advice liberally. Which would be something I would also suggest to new vendors, stay humble and listen to your more experienced peers.

    1. Sorry, Jan! I’ve told the guy who manages my ads to please block pop-ups and he’s trying to figure out where it’s coming from. If you get it again and don’t mind the trouble, would you take a screen shot and e-mail it to me? That would help! Thanks!

      1. I saw your reply about the pop ups…it’s from xfinity… I screen shot it but don’t know how to post. I’d be glad to send it to you or your guy if you want to send me the info. Thanks for the blog…I plow right thru those annoying pop ups…the blog is totally worth it;)

  4. Thank you so much for this post. Doing my first show at Kane County Flea Market next month this series is helping me tremendously. I can’t believe how support the crafting community is- very refreshing after 20 years in retail.

  5. This series is so interesting! I can tell you for sure that it has made me want to get to Lucketts to experience it for myself. And, I also think I would enjoy selling less than I do buying! 🙂

  6. A smart phone is needed for processing credit cards with Square. A low cost option working great for our farm is the phone from Republic Wireless: when home it works on the WiFi so we have never gotten close to using our monthly limits. At $25 per month for phone, internet and text it is an easy way to get the needed equipment to process credit cards in a field.
    And I update the blog with photos we take daily on the farm, with the phone. As a farmer this serves our purposes…not enough for a lifestyle blog, but works well for a farmer!

  7. Thanks Marian! I have loved this little series and find it so helpful. Just getting ready for a little booth at a spring market (first one ever) so I am both excited and nervous. The timing of these posts are perfect. Your painted furniture is so inspiring. God Bless!

  8. Could you tell me what kind of bags you use? Do you just grab a bunch of Wal-mart sacks, gift bags, grocery bags, or what? Thank you!

  9. I can not thank you enough for this series. I will be entering my first show this summer,and this is so helpful!!

    I know this is question is a little off topic, but how do you deal with waxed pieces on hot summer days?

    Thank you for your constant inspiration!


  10. Hi Marian,

    Will you be selling those hooded MMS sweatshirts in your shop. It would match my MMS tees.
    Thanks for your encouragement and business teachings

  11. Marian, this is the first time I have ever left a comment anywhere on the internet….but I have been following your blog for a couple of months now, and just wanted to say how beautiful, informational, and inspirational it is! It is truly ‘eye candy’ to me….I look forward to the end of the day, when I spend 30 minutes or so paging through all of the incredible posts, features, photos, and tutorials. I dabble in selling vintage furniture, china, and textiles, and have a little Etsy shop. But for now it is just a hobby. I want you to know how much I appreciate your candor, and your willingness to share all of your experience, and practical advice. I have also loved seeing your beautiful home, and family. I’m looking forward to following your business for a very long time, plan to buy your book soon, and one day hope to make it to Luckett’s!

  12. Marian,
    Great tips for vendors as well as buyers. My mother-in-law gave me her old metal pull behind grocery carrier on wheels and it works perfect for shows. Its so much easier when you buy something to put it the cart rather than having to carry a bunch of bags around or run back to your vehicle.

  13. Marian, with that kind of sales volume, maybe you’d find barcode stickers and an inventory scanner iPhone app useful!

  14. yes, yes, YES!! I ran out of ones this year at a big sale here in the NW, and it was terrible. I also had a customer who wanted to buy a plate that another customer was holding up admiring, and it was awkward. ugh. The stories we have as vendors!!

    I appreciate so much all the info you are sharing on this series.
    I for one, would love to know your thoughts on negotiating prices at fairs. I kind of remember from previous posts how you feel about this, but I’m always in a conflict with myself on what to do.
    It seems like more people want to do this, which is fine, but on a first night, paid preview event? These are events where great effort it made to stage for several hours beforehand. I’m just wondering if people have lost a sense of what we go through to make and bring these items….some customers were wanting half off of large pieces! Negotiating only at the end of a fair? Only on items that had a tag attached without any labor involved? Never? (sometimes I wonder if I am bringing down the quality of my items by earning a reputation for dealing….)
    Thank you 🙂

    1. Having been in retail sales all my life and having an antique shop of my own for several years now I can’t help but reply to your quandary. Part of the fun in shopping for antiques, at least for me, is the ability (and willingness of the seller) to negotiate. As a buyer, I appreciate and enjoy negotiating a little discount on higher priced items, but respect if a vendor states that it is priced to sell and there is no room for negotiation.

      As a seller, I include in my price decision a 10% cushion so that I can negotiate. When asked or I see a customer “on the fence” about a purchase, I ALWAYS discount by 10% on items that are over $25 and up to 25% on higher priced items where there is room in the profit margin to do so. I don’t give out percentages but figure the new price and offer that. This pricing strategy keeps both me and my customer happy. If asked to make a deeper discount, I then take several things into account. For instance, how much did I pay, how much work do I have in the piece, is the customer buying more than one piece, how much is the item in question? If I feel I don’t have enough profit margin to discount more, I apologetically say no. But if they are interested in buying more than one piece I offer a bundled discount price up to 25% off. There is always something to be said about not loading the truck twice! 🙂

      I use an inventory # on each tag. My inventory #s include a code for date of purchase and cost of item. This also helps me in negotiating price. If I have had an item for a while, I am much more willing to offer a deeper discount. When I sell an item, I keep the tag. This way I can keep up with what has specifically sold and for how much. If items sell quickly, I know to look for like items when buying. If I had it for a while and discounted it to sell it, then I will take that off my “look for” list.

      I know you asked Marian for advise and not me, but I hope this helps anyway. 🙂

  15. Hi Marian,
    Thanks so much for sharing all of your expertise. Your blog is both informational and inspirational. I look forward to each new post. I was wondering if you could share your journey getting started with the blogging side of your business. I have a small resale business that I would like to start promoting through a blog, however, setting up a blog has proven to be a little more challenging than I expected. I have set up my own domain and have a site, but I feel like I need to be an expert to even choose a theme to use. It is so overwhelming to me. I know that you have a professionally designed site and it is gorgeous like everything on your site. However, my guess would be that you didn’t begin with the ability to get a site professionally designed. Could you share your experiences with blogging from the beginning and perhaps give us beginners some tips on how to have a nice looking blog on a budget. I had no idea it would be so hard. Thank you so much. I am in Raleigh and hope to meet you someday at the Raleigh Flea Market.

  16. Pop-up ads – ABP (Adblock Plus) is free and blocks annoying pop ups and more on all the sites you visit. I really like it.

    Yes, eye candy for sure plus lots of nutrients here as well. Thank you!

    Probably a silly questions, but I can’t seem to find the answer any where. How do you all track expenses of things bought second hand at yard sales/Craig’s List? No receipt. Does the IRS just take your word for it, do you make up your own paperwork or do you not count it? Any information would be gratefully received.


    1. Yep, I block pop-ups, too, so I don’t even see them! As far as tracking expenses, I take out cash and mark it as “Cost of Goods Sold” meaning it’s something I’m buying to sell. I can then make a general note that it was furniture, antiques, linens, etc.

  17. When I purchase on Craigslist I print the ad. I use this as my receipt. When yard saling, I keep a note book in my truck and write down what I purchase and how much I spent. I also print the yard sale ads to keep with the notebook page. Since I claim mileage even when I am yard saling this all is “proof” to the IRS. Each piece of the puzzle vouches for the other. If audited, I feel like I am well prepared!

  18. about negotiating discounts…for years..(sometimes it seemed like eons) I worked as a Manager for a retail store….when customers would ask for something off, for whatever reason, I would try to give them one,,,even if it was a percentage that took off just a few dollars…At least the customer felt like they had an option..

    as a shopper I do not expect discounts on a small item,,,but might ask what is the best price on a more expensive items…

    and after reading your post,,,I am sure I have made the correct choice in being a supporter of , instead of being , a seller. Whew…I know you love what you do or you would not have the energy to do it all!

  19. Marian,
    Too bad that you can’t come to our annual September Barn Sale in Wisconsin. Our daughter in law has always said that you would probably buy us out due to our reasonable prices. Anyway…we’ll be in Washington, Virginia in May and would like to know the exact date of the Lucketts Antique Market. We have heard so much about it so we don’t want to miss it this time around. We don’t plan on selling but if you want us to bring a few of our goodies should you run out, that we can do 🙂 I also collect ironstone and have for years but I’m always on the lookout for another piece for my collection. We basically collect similar items to yours with a strong emphasis on advertising , Christmas, children’s early toys and game boards plus the ironstone and the uniques. I hope you can respond through your blog as to the date in May since I can only find last year’s date! Thanks so much…

  20. My little business in a friendly small town in Kansas is hosting our first Outdoor Vintage Market on May 3, 2014!!! I’ve encouraged several friends/customers to clean out their sheds and barns and share the wealth of history and patina at our Market! Most have not done this before so I’ve posted and pinned this series for them! I hope you know that you have encouraged this creative gal several times along my own journey and I have also just finished your book that my daughter gave to me for Christmas! (Would have sooner but ya know…life is busy:) Thanks girl!! Hope to make it out your way someday!! Shabby Shed in Osborne, Kansas

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