Decorating & Design - Design Lesson

Design lesson: Fabulous flea markets

Learn how to master the tricks of the flea market trade.

There's an art to successful flea marketing. Some tactics (like keeping money tucked away) are useful at any flea market, while others are specific to a particular place. For instance, in France, if you don't begin an exchange with "Bonjour, Madame/ Monsieur," you're finished. Canada's dealers stand less on protocol; however, I've known several who refused to sell to buyers who were "unappreciative." Whether you're on the search for that one final addition to a treasured collection, a perfect memento, brocante (a collectible with charm but little monetary value), or a specific item of furniture, you'll find it at a flea market. Here's how to make the most of the shopping experience.

1 arrive early. My motto is, "If you don't need a flashlight when you get there, you're too late!" The good stuff goes fast.

2 do your research. Confident negotiators are familiar with the qualities and price ranges of particular items.

3 determine quality. Look underneath furniture and inside drawers for clues to quality and state of repair. Are the joints dovetailed? Can you see finishing nails or glue? Has a dark stain been applied over the drawer interior or underneath the item, likely indicating a repair? (Note: A repair isn't necessarily a bad thing; it may make the item more affordable.)

4 ask the dealer, "What's been done to this piece?" This simple question implies that you have some knowledge and encourages the dealer to be forthcoming with information.

5 grab it! Successful flea marketers rely on instinct. If you're considering a particular item for purchase, keep your hand on the goods. This signals to the dealer and other potential buyers that you spotted it first.

6 try creative negotiating. I once challenged a dealer to a card game when he and I couldn't agree on a price. A sense of humour and an appreciation of the goods make any dealer more inclined to work with your budget.

7 keep your money tucked away (a waist belt is ideal since it frees up hands for shopping). Also, carry small change for coffee, lunch and little impulse buys.

8 measure before you purchase. Forgot your tape measure? Remember this: a Canadian dollar bill is 6" wide.

9 show your enthusiasm for a dealer's goods before venturing to make a deal. Negative comments like "You can't be serious—there's no way it's worth that much!" are unlikely to encourage positive negotiating. Keep in mind that the dealer has probably spent weeks acquiring the item in question, and he or she believes it to be of real value.

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