Show Business | part 4 :

Marian ParsonsRunning a Business21 Comments

As I’ve been posting this series about being a vendor at antique shows, I’ve been asked a few questions.  Some of them involved pricing and negotiating, so I thought I would chat on those topics.

I was a shopper at these events long before I was a vendor and that helped me with the decisions made about the kind of vendor I wanted to be.  I wanted to be the kind of vendor I like to shop from…  great stuff, great prices, friendly and helpful.  And, given the wall of people who run to my booth each year at Lucketts, I think that approach has really paid off.

So, how do I approach my pricing?  I’m not going to give a specific number for things, because the nature of antiques and handmade/hand painted items makes uniform pricing difficult.  I’m going to talk about my approach generally.


First of all, I look at the big picture.  I don’t look at the profit on each individual item.  On some pieces, I make a lot…well above the usual markup and on others, it’s more about buying pieces I love to fill the space.  I still make money on those, but maybe just a few dollars.  I can’t have a entire booth full of pieces like that, but again, I look at the big picture profit, so a few low-profit pieces are fine.

When I started my business, $20 was my limit to invest in a piece of furniture I bought to sell.  I was on a really tight budget and spending even $20 was big to me.  So, it’s really important to me to keep my prices affordable and they haven’t changed a lot over the past few years.  I do carry some high ticket items, but I try to have a really nice mix.

If you want more specifics, I wrote an entire post called “What Price is Right” that you might want to read.  In that post, I covered topics like paying yourself, knowing your market and making your money when you buy.


And negotiating…  This is such a personal taste thing.  Some dealers dig in their heels and will not budge on price and I understand and respect that.  The life of an antique dealer isn’t always easy.  It can mean hours at an auction, digging through a junk store, milling through antique malls, scouring thrift stores, yard sales and driving all over the place to pick up Craig’s List finds.  That’s followed with hauling things to your car, unloading them, sprucing them up, pricing, loading them in the car again, unloading one more time and then arranging and styling the space.  When calculated, the hourly rate can be ridiculously low.

But, then I think about when the roles are reversed and I’m the shopper.  I expect a little wiggle room and negotiating.  That’s a part of the game and it’s kinda fun.  So, I will negotiate, especially if a customer is buying several things or if it’s late in the sale.

Here are a few do’s and don’ts when it comes to negotiating as a customer:


…make a realistic offer.  It’s insulting if you offer $10 for something that is priced at $50.  If you think something is overpriced by that much, just keep walking.

…be polite.  You’re not going to win any brownie points by telling a dealer their stuff is crappy or overpriced, so you should get a discount.  Some good approaches are, “Would you take this…” or “What’s the best you can do?”

…show respect if they won’t or can’t negotiate.  You don’t know what they paid for the item and they may be losing money if they take any less.


…ask for discounts right when the fair gates open.  Things will usually go at full price then, so dealers aren’t eager to drop their prices, yet.  If you’re buying a big ticket item or several pieces, you can probably get away with asking for a bit of a break.

…push too hard.  If a dealer gives you their best price, don’t continue to haggle.  This is their livelihood in most cases and they need to know you are respecting that.


And dealers, please don’t get bent out of shape when customers negotiate.  They expect there is some flexibility to the prices at antique markets, so they shouldn’t get attitude if they ask.  You can politely say “I’m sorry, no.” and leave it at that.  It’s even a good idea to price your items about 10% higher, so you have room to negotiate.  They get to play the game, you get the price you want.  It’s a win-win.

Remember if you look at the big picture, it all works out.  If you’re getting full price at the beginning, and pieces are priced a little higher, then you can afford to give better deals towards the end of the fair.

And before I sign off, please remember that this is just my opinion and if you handle things differently as a dealer, that’s okay.  The nice thing about this business is that you’re your own boss and can manage your prices, policies and customers however you want!

Show Business | part 4 :

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21 Comments on “Show Business | part 4 :”

  1. Once again thank you for the tips they are perfect timing. I’m about to start ticketing my items for my first show now I feel more reassured about my pricing strategy.


  2. As a veteran seller, I agree with Marion’s thoughts on this subject.

    I would like to add one more thing about negotiating. It is best to quietly ask “What’s your best price for this item?” or “If I buy these three items, can you do a bit better on the price?” You don’t have to whisper, but please, don’t loudly ask the vendor for a discount/deal across the entire expanse of their booth. Ask it one-to-one. In private. Under your breath if you have to. Quietly.

    If you ask for a discount for all to hear, or in front of five other people who are standing nearby with their money in their hands, ready to pay full price for their item, you are guaranteed to get a “No, I’m sorry,” and you will either have to pay full price or leave empty handed. Wait for the others to pay and leave, or pull the vendor away to ask a question about the piece and then you can negotiate.

  3. Hey there! I could have sworn I’ve been to this blog bfore but after reading through some
    of the post I realizaed it’s new to me. Anyways,I’m definitely glad I found it and I’ll bee bookmarking and checking baxk often!

  4. Here in my area, it’s pretty much known that most antique stores will give a 10% discount, at least on things over a certain amount. So, I always ask what is the best price. My husband and I are avid antique shoppers and have been so for many years. We’ve shopped in many states. I think that a buyer needs to do their homework and have an idea of what a certain item would go for. Then you know if it’s over priced, under priced, and what to ask, what to offer. It always amazes me the people that offer items for sale, and don’t know what they have! I recently bought a large, tall (uniquely shaped) demijohn for $13. YES $13!!! The seller had no idea what they were selling. So sellers need to do their homework too.

    I don’t like the idea of someone marking an item up – that almost seems dishonest. You’re not really giving a break then. Just my 2 cents worth as a buyer!


    1. Hi Tina,

      I can understand how marking things up to discount is unsettling. However, this is an age old pricing strategy used by all retailers, both large and small. Watch Walmart’s “falling prices”. The items they drop have been marked up several weeks prior to going down. These large retailers all change prices daily, up and down, and have one – four employees designated strictly for daily price changes. Even though on a much smaller scale antiques dealers that adopt this strategy are just watching their profit margin while trying to satisfy the customer just like the big retailers. Personally, I would much rather have a discount “built in” than getting a “sorry, no” all the time. For me, negotiating is part of the fun. 🙂

      I do respect your feelings, but wanted to bring to light that it just isn’t antiques dealers using this type of pricing strategy. I hope this makes you feel better about it. 🙂

    2. In my antique booth, the mall employees can offer anyone a 10% discount for any reason. Also, all known resellers get 10% off (WHAT?) and we must participate in 4 yearly sales so they can say every booth has discounts. It’s the best mall in town, so I play along. I mark things up so that they can be marked down. My leash was pulled tight and after the booth fees, percentage of sales, costs, discounts, etc…I did what I had to do. It always made me giggle though when people bought things like a piece of scrap wood for $40. I regularly marked them down to $9 but they always sold at $40 as well.

  5. I have been going to antique fairs and markets for many years. Usually, if I pick up a item in a booth and look at it with interest the vendor will say “I can do better on the price if you are interested”. I like this approach the best because then the dealer can tell me their best offer and it takes the pressure off of me. However, I am not shy about asking a vendor if they can do better if they don’t offer. They can either say “Yes or No”. The majority of the time, they will work with you but once in a while I will have a vendor hold firm on the price.

    I went to a big antique fair in upstate NY last August (Madison/Bouckville) and I found that most every vendor was willing to negotiate. This was not the case as much in Round Top, TX when I went a year ago. Some vendors worked a little with you but no real discounts because they had already marked the items up to account for their net profit. When you have celebrity clients “flying in” to big shows such as Round Top you really don’t go looking to find bargains.

    1. Yes, it really does depend on the show and the dealer. I love shows where people are ready to bargain!

  6. I feel EXACTLY the same way you do Marian! If I were writing this post I’d have included those exact points. I’ve been a buyer for years and now on the other side of things as a seller for a few years I appreciate the polite and kind people so very much!
    And giving yourself some wiggle room on most items is just wise – most people like to dicker!

  7. I have found that if I quietly ask ‘is the price firm on this item?’ (or ‘are you prices firm for these three items?’), the dealers are usually very polite in response- whether it’s yes or no.

    Also, I’m specific on what items I’m looking to purchase. You would think that people would take the approach, but I’ve seen people ask ‘do you negotiate?’ I’m not a dealer, but sometimes it seems like that puts the dealer in an awkward position because of course they might, but they may not be willing to negotiate on x item, or they may not be as open to negotiation early in the day, so the conversation can get a little uncomfortable for both parties.

    Anyway, even if I know the prices probably aren’t firm, it’s a nice, respectful way to open up the conversation with the seller without being too aggressive or abrasive, especially in a crowd. Being very specific also addresses the issue above wherein the dealer is forced to say no because he/she doesn’t want to insult other customers willing to pay full price- if it’s a market with permanent booths, the place really is bustling and it’s difficult to ask discreetly, I’ll ask, ‘Is the price firm on this item? I thought I remember seeing it here a bit ago and I’m very much interested, but I could be mistaken. I thought I’d ask.’ (I only say that if I really am interested in closing the deal if the price is right, though!) It doesn’t always work, but if the dealer wants to discreetly cut a deal without addressing the expectations of other customers, you’ve singled out the item as the question and shown serious interest, instead of forcing the dealer to address his/her standard blanket pricing/negotiation procedure for all customers/all items. If they do mind, they can just say ‘you are mistaken, the price is firm.’ Or ‘the price is firm, thanks for checking.’ Easy out. 🙂

  8. I was recently at a new “flea market” near my home…When I walked in the two male sellers/ workers,,were talking loudly and having what I call a Diva moment…ok it was a bit off putting but stuff happens…we all have bad moments….but then I saw several signs posted “all prices are firm”…one even said if you feel like you must negotiate let us know and we will increase the price if it makes you feel better! I KNOW…can you believe it? I have never gone back..If you have a space in a shop with that attitude , I would suggest you might want to revisit that decision…I don’t expect to be catered too, but I am not spending money with anyone who can’t be bothered…

  9. You are an inspiration to me and a mentor! I am a 17 year teacher looking to get my hands a little dirty. I will be doing my first market on May 10th so your timing is perfect and allows me to prepare in a much more informed way. I would LOVE any feedback you could offer. Right now I am blogging and sharing about my experiences while starting this new chapter in my life. If you can’t sleep one night or need a little distraction check out my blog: and tell me what you think.

  10. I have an antique shop which is a little different than selling at a fair or show. There is a lot of overhead and I can’t add anything for my time or items would be too expensive. I use a simple rule and that is whatever I pay for something, I double my money. I only come down on prices after I’ve had something for six months and it hasn’t sold. That means I made a mistake on the buying price. At auctions, I know how high I can bid before the auction even begins. If the bidding goes over that, I’m out. People often come in the shop and want to sell things. If it is something I’d like to buy, I tell them what I will price it at and I offer them half. If I know the item is valuable, I tell them what it is worth and tell them that I can’t afford it. I can rarely afford to buy something that is worth 2,000 or 3,000 dollars. I have to find those things at auctions. Sometimes, I offer to sell it for them on eBay and I get a commission. This whole thing of raising the price of everything 10% is something I find distasteful. Like Marian said, we can do whatever we want in our own world. I once had a young woman come in who saw a dining room set that I was selling for 150.00. It was a great price. She asked what my best price was and I explained that I don’t mark things up so I can come down. Her friend said, “Let’s go then.” and they left. A couple of hours later, the woman came back and said, “This is exactly what I’m looking for and it is a great price.” I said that I thought it was a good price, too, and helped her carry it to her truck. I don’t get why people are begging dealers to mark up so they can come down. I think it is a ridiculous game and makes no sense. Is that fair to the people who don’t ask for a discount? I see a lot of aggressive people during a week and it is the one disappointment of this business. We all run into this type of marketing everyday. Michael’s 50% off coupon? They have raised the price 50% and when we buy it, we are buying it at the regular retail and are just tickled pink thinking we got a deal. If you want something in a shop (I’m not talking about at a show or fair), the best thing to say to a dealer is, “I love this, but I can’t afford that price.” If the dealer can do it, they will do it then. People who think that insulting the piece is going to get the dealer to bend over backwards for them are mistaken. I’ve heard it all. Dealers want to sell you their items, but no one likes to be disrespected.

    1. Yes, I get where you’re coming from. I don’t think it’s distasteful to price pieces higher and then reduce them, though, especially when my prices are really reasonable. That’s just retail! 🙂 I respect your opinion, though.

      One thing I hate is the $19.99 trick. We all know it’s really $20 and I refused to do the .99 price thing when we were setting the SRPs for my milk paint line. It’s just a retail pet peeve of mine. Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts and I do think $150 was a great price for a dining set. You were smart not the budge on that one and the customer was smart to come back for it!

      1. I’m with you. I would never do the .99 thing. I hope you didn’t think I meant what you do is distasteful. Things are different in a shop. I may be a little burnt out this week. I had people ask me if I want to “shake for it” (like Mike and Frank on American Pickers) last week in the shop and it might have thrown me over the edge! Ha!

        1. LOL! Yeah, I do agree that things are different in a shop. I think the “shake for it” would put me over the edge, too. 🙂

  11. My comment has nothing to do with pricing or selling antiques. I just wanted to say I so enjoy reading your blog every day. I’m disappointed I won’t be able to attend the Lucketts Fair; I know I would love it. Maybe some day, not this year. Thanks for all your insight and ideas. Your home is lovely. All the best to you. Miss Mustardseed. 🙂

  12. The seemingly innocent question “What’s your best price?” always bugs me. Why should I discuss my setting of prices with you? Would you be bugged if I asked “What’s the most you’ll pay for this?” because it’s the same question.

    When I get asked for my best price, I always answer, “My price is on the tag (or in the ad). I will, however, cheerfully consider offers.” In other words, I only want to talk about my price with buyers, not ‘inquirers.’ So if you make an offer, I know you’re a buyer. I can accept your offer and the item is sold. Or I can make a counter offer. Now we have a negotiation going on.

    Just my .02 on the issue having been in this situation a LOT.

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