A Day on the Other Side of the Table

This past weekend I had the opportunity to be a vendor at the annual Valley Junction Antique Jamboree, sharing a space with Snag’s good friends at Funky Finds Vintage and Retro. Being on the other side of the table at an antique show—as a dealer rather than a buyer—was definitely an interesting experience.

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I’ve been going to the Valley Junction show, as well as many other antique shows, since I was a little kid. I’ve always found them to be an interesting experience, somewhere between an antique store and a garage sale. You see a lot of really unusual and expensive stuff like an antique store, but the dealers are there to deal on price like a garage sale. You never know what you’ll find. That has always been the allure: to see what the people who find stuff have found.

I saw this amazing 1880s medical diagram in another dealer's booth

I saw this amazing 1880s medical diagram in another dealer’s booth

When I was asked to participate, I thought it sounded fun. I’m not exactly new to selling things. I’ve sold individual items privately for years and for the past two years Angela and I have sold though Funky Finds. But Craigslist sales and retail sales are a lot different than a street show; this would be a new experience. So, what to bring? Since the show has historically been true antiques (rooted in a time when Victoriana and primitives were all the rage) I decided to gather together things that were more antique adjacent and industrial as opposed to the more mid-century modern fare I usually have.

IMG_1660-1The amount of work it takes to do something like this would probably surprise most of the buyers who attend it. I know I certainly have a renewed a appreciation for the vendors who regularly pack up their wares and do circuit shows. There’s one whole day of cleaning, sorting, pricing and packing furniture into a van followed by an early morning of frantically unpacking it all and trying to set it up attractively in just an hour or so. But somehow it all comes together and you’re ready for the buyers to swarm. Actually, it’s worth noting that a few sales get made before the public even starts to show up. It’s typical for dealers to peruse each other’s items as they’re unpacking and quite a few things get picked off the top before anyone else even arrives. Eventually, the advertised start time comes and you brace yourself for…

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The unbearably slow trickle. Very different from the must-be-first-in-line mentality of garage sales and estate sales, the morning crowd was spotty and not terribly motivated. I was surprised. I’ve gone to shows like this for years and have always practiced a go-early-get-out-quick strategy, believing that all the good stuff would be gone right off the bat. I was getting nervous. All this work, what if nothing sells? Are things priced wrong? Did I bring the wrong stuff for this crowd? Fortunately the crowd began to pick up by the afternoon and the jamboree-goers actually started snapping things up pretty rapidly.

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What I liked about this type of selling was the amount of engagement with people. Some people liked to look around and not be bothered, but a lot of people liked to talk and interact. Sometimes people just need to talk out a buying decision with someone and it’s easy to do with people who are interested in the same stuff. I also liked the on-the-fly strategizing of merchandising the space and finding ways to pull people in off the sidewalk. This wasn’t intentional, but two items I brought turned out to be huge draws. One was a taxidermy mink and the other was a space-age toy pedal car. They were unusual and nearly everyone who went by had to come in and check them out up close and comment. That’s a lesson I’ll remember: it just takes one spectacular thing to bring in buyers.

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Almost everyone who went by had to stop and check out the Probe Jr.

So, with this experience under my belt, I can offer some advice to those who might be interested in selling and those who might be interested in buying.

Selling: It’s harder than it looks, but it’s a lot of fun. The biggest challenges are logistics—transportation, timing, storage, finding help. After that, it’s making sure that your merchandise is right for the venue. If you can, visit the event before you participate to get an idea of what’s usually there. Spend some time, look around and see what buyers are actually buying and how much they’re spending on individual things to get an idea of price point. Bring a mix of items so there’s something for everyone. You want some showstoppers to draw a crowd, but most people are just looking for something more accessible. I found moderately priced items ($15-50) outsold both cheaper and more expensive items by a large margin—but things of all prices did sell. Of course, this will be different at different types of shows. Be present and engaged with buyers. If people don’t feel like they can approach you, they won’t make a purchase. Conversely, don’t be too engaged. Nobody wants to enter a booth if it looks like they can’t avoid a whole spiel.

Buying: In terms of strategy, I’d suggest arriving when the show first opens, if not a little before, and then returning about an hour or so before the end of show. Why? Because in the morning you’ll catch all the best things before they get bought up, but at the end of the day sellers are ready to SELL. I can tell you from experience that knowing you have to load everything back in that van is a great motivation to make some crazy deals. But when you’re making those deals, be nice about it. It’s so much work to find things and bring them to shows—dealers expect a little haggling but not a black eye. Be friendly and reasonable and you’ll get better deals.

All in all it was a fun day and all of the work was worth it. I might just do it again and I’d recommend it to anyone who wanted to give it a shot.

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