Selling at antiques and vintage markets is great fun, sharing your passion and enthusiasm with other people and making money, too. There is an art to successful selling and it takes time to find your feet and gain confidence. A hard sell approach rarely works as most people avoid overtly "salesy" traders and a hard sell does not sit well in the environment of a vintage market. There are some really simple things that I find make it easier to communicate with customers which is the key to good selling.
Firstly, I find that standing up behind or beside your stall rather than sitting down and tucked away, gives you a much better contact with the public. It's much easier to start a conversation and to see what people are looking at or picking up if you are at the same level and thus more engaged with them. If you do prefer to sit down, do stop reading or chatting on your phone when you have people at your stall. Be attentive without being over-pushy, but don't hover over people as this can be very off-putting. If you are selling with a friend, moderate the chit-chatty conversation you might be having - sometimes people feel awkward about interrupting to ask a question or price. It's easy to start the ball rolling with a cheerful hello or good morning to people stopping by your stall. If they move on, nothing is lost and if they do stay to browse, the conversational ice is broken. A friend who sells very successfully at a big trade fair told me that her tip is to make someone smile or laugh, which breaks the ice. She also advised not to talk too much; offer help and a bit of information, but don't overwhelm with conversation.
Everyone is different and you will learn by experience how much interaction somebody wants to have with you. Some people are uncomfortable with any conversation other than a quick hello. Body language is the key to understanding how to handle a customer. If they avoid eye contact, glance at items without picking them up or are deep in conversation with a companion whilst walking by, they are unlikely to be serious buyers. You will find that the dealers who are out to buy new stock are business-like and generally quick to assess what they wantat your stall, before moving to the next. That's not to say that they won't give something a careful examination if interested, but they won't dally and dither for fear of missing other great buys.
If people linger and seem to be undecided about something, it might be timely to give a bit more information about the item of interest. Its age, history, rarity and purpose are all good talking points, which is where your background research comes in useful. Sometimes, buyers just need reassurance that the item is the right buy for them. It could be a gift for someone else, something for their collection or just a whimsical purchase. By listening to their requirements, you might be able to suggest other suitable pieces, even things that you could bring along next time. This helps to build a rapport with customers, particularly if they attend the fair regularly.
Browsers, picker-uppers and reminiscencers are drawn to vintage fairs like iron filings to magnets. A lot of people who enjoy going to fairs have no intention of buying anything. I hear all the time "Oh, I'm downsizing, I don't need any more stuff!". Then, there are the people who will pick up all your fragile pieces, peer into every book, open and close drawers and doors on furniture, fiddle with jewellery and not buy a thing. Well-worn phrases include "we had one of those" "I gave it to the jumble" "my granny had that jug/vase/picture". It's all pretty harmless although it can be a bit irritating if you are having a slow day and just want to make a sale! Being more positive, you will also hear wonderful stories and learn all sorts of useful information. You can get caught up in long conversations with time-wasters when you have other potential buyers at your stall; find a graceful way to extricate yourself so you can serve someone else. Treat everyone with courtesy and with a smile. Don't judge people by appearance - someone shabbily dressed could be your best customer of the day. Not everyone chooses to wear their wealth outwardly.
You will also get the "know-all" who will give a lecture about something on your stall but not always with the right information. A dealer friend of mine had an old boot scraper for sale - a relatively common item. A "know-all" came to their stall and insisted that the boot scraper was in fact an Aztec dagger of great rarity. This was most amusing and we often chuckle about the Aztec dagger. Of course, you may also learn something new and interesting about what you are selling from a bona fide expert. It can be quite fun to have a "mystery" object on your stall just to hear people's suggestions about what it is.
A lot of people say, "I'll think about it and come back" - and you may be really excited thinking you are going to make a sale later in the day. What that usually means is they are too polite or embarrassed to say they are not interested in buying, even though they may quite like the piece. On the rare occasion the come back, they usually want to buy it at a knockdown price. The theory being that as you still have the item it can't be worth the selling price. It's up to you if you want to drop your price and make the sale or if you think they are just trying it on having watched too many TV shows!
In my experience if someone really loves a piece, they won't risk it being sold whilst they browse around the other stalls. If people are wavering after a few minutes of indecision, I usually offer a slight reduction on price if I want the sale. Just offering a few pounds off the price can often be the tipping point. A lot of people feel guilty about buying something they don't need, so if they think they have got a bargain, it makes all the difference.
Sometimes, people will ask you to reserve an item if they need to ask someone else about buying it - particularly big items like furniture. Or they might even need to go and get some cash. You can get caught out if you end up holding back an item for the phantom buyer who then vanishes into thin air. And a missed opportunity to sell to other buyers. To avoid this, agree a time with them by which they need to return - perhaps within 30 minutes. If they need to get cash to buy it, I try to get a deposit as security whilst they find a cash machine. If someone leaves a deposit, do make a note of the amount and the price agreed - if you are busy it's easy to forget and you could make a costly mistake. And give them a receipt for their deposit. Some buyers like to have a receipt, particularly props buyers and international buyers - it is sensible to keep a receipt book for this purpose. You can buy these from stationery shops - the customer gets a receipt and you keep a copy. It is also a good way of keeping tabs on what you have sold.
Buyers often ask to leave fragile, heavy or bulky paid-for items with you as they continue to shop. This also gives you time to package the item properly for them to transport. Do make sure to tell them when you plan to leave by and take their mobile number as a back-up if they don't come back. You may have to call them to remind them to pick up items. On more than one occasion, I have had buyers who have forgotten to collect things or have not been able to find my stall again. It's a pain if you have sold something, have to take it home and then cart it back the next time in the hope the buyer will turn up. Keep these items securely under your table, in your car/van or where you can see them - it has been known for items to be stolen at fairs.
Haggling over price is part and parcel of the antiques and vintage business. Other traders who buy from you will always want a better price to cut their costs and increase their margins. "What's your best on this" "What's the death on this" or "Will £x amount buy it" all being ways to ask for a discount. Members of the public are quite likely to haggle, having seen popular TV shows where prices seem to drop by 75% on occasion. In reality, most traders can't afford to discount that much - 10% on an item is the norm. I price to allow for a 10-20% reduction, with a trade and public price in mind. You can even code your labels with the retail price and your trade price - you can use a code letter to make it less obvious.
You can handle negotiations in a variety of ways. If someone is dithering about a purchase, a small reduction may close the sale. It can be a straightforward to and fro process swiftly concluded, but do keep the bottom line price in mind and don't start your opening offer too low. Make sure you leave room in your pricing to get a profit. Some buyers can be very persistent, even rude. You are under no obligation to sell - if it gets difficult, just say politely that you are selling it for someone else and that you cannot agree a lower price. Even if this isn't true, it provides you with a get out clause. I rarely discount on small value items of under £10 unless someone is buying several items or I want to move items on.
I find that selling to couples can be quite a
challenge. Quite frequently a woman may have fallen in love with
something on your stall and you think the sale is in the bag But then
the man arrives and pours cold water on the situation. "What do you want
it for", "Where will you put it" or "Do we really need it?" - are lines I have heard from the menfolk! By contrast, women shopping together will often egg each
other on to buy things "oh, that's so lovely, you should treat
yourself". Men who come to fairs tend to be avid collectors and will
usually spare no expense in securing something they want. You can't always generalise, but the male/female attitude to buying does seem to differ.
Helping people to visualise how they use an item is another great way to sell - this is where your creative "out of the box"
thinking comes into play. For example, a lovely old trunk or suitcase
makes great storage in a bedroom for winter clothes or bedding; a fun
place to store toys and games; a coffee table; somewhere to put DVDs.
It could be painted, decoupaged or just left as it is. By offering these
options, you create a picture in the buyer's mind of a use and place for an object
that they like. Multi-purpose and functional objects are popular at the
moment. Old crates that can be used for shelving and storage; pieces of
furniture that are adaptable - an old tea trolley that can be painted
and used as a TV stand; a pretty washstand that could be used as a desk or dressing table; vintage suitcases stacked up for storing clothes. Interior magazines are styled with lots of great ideas for using vintage and antique items. You can even use these articles as part of your display - people like to recreate looks they have seen. Versatility and practicality particularly for those on limited
budgets are great selling points. Recessions force people to think more carefully about spending money so items that are useful and beautiful, score highly.
Payment at fairs is usually in cash and cash is still King in the antiques and vintage business, unlike many others. You will be amazed at the rolls of £50 notes that appear from pockets and wallets! Sometimes people will offer you a cheque, but these are no longer guaranteed with a cheque card. So, it is purely down to your judgement and trust in a buyer, if you decide to accept this form of payment. Most people do not carry large wads of cash around to pay for big items. When I take a cheque, I ask for their address and telephone number on the back of the cheque in case there is a problem. You should look at the cheque carefully, particularly check the signature against another form of ID.
There are now free apps available for I-pads and I-phones and possibly other smartphones, that facilitate credit/debit card payments. If you sell expensive items, or don't like handling large amounts of cash, it might be worth investigating this as an alternative. Bear in mind you will probably pay a commission of a few % on each transaction. But it does look professional at the bigger fairs and festivals to be able to take a card payment. You can hire chip and pin terminals, usually on a contract basis but it might be costly to do so. It would be unusual at a local fair for anyone to expect to pay by card. Make sure you have plenty of change available - it looks very amateurish if you cannot change notes or offer change.
One final thing, occasionally someone will come back and want to return an item. If the item is not as described, then you are obliged to refund their money. This is why it is important to point out any damage on labels (A/F is the trade term for items that are As Found ie have a fault). Trade markets tend to work a bit differently - very much the buyer beware! If someone is just not happy with an item or has had a change of heart, it is tricky. For the sake of goodwill, I would refund them and take the item back, however annoying that might be, unless the item has been damaged or spoilt by them.
I hope that these tips and techniques will help you to build up a confident sales style and approach. In my next chapter, I will talk about how you might expand and upscale your business.