Question: I have been fortunate enough to make a decent living selling at flea markets here in San Jose, California. My business is run by my family, and every Saturday and Sunday we sell at two different markets. Our inventory consists ofused clothing that’s purchased by my sister who spends her weekends going to at least 10-15 garage sales. She is able to purchase clothing sometimes as low as 10 cents per item, and then it’s off to our market booth where we get upwards of $1-$2 per item.
Other sellers at the market sell clothing items that are new with retail tags attached. I have dug through some of their inventory and noticed most of the clothing is from large department stores. How much does this clothing cost, and where can we purchase flea market wholesale merchandise like this?
Answer: When I was growing up, back thirty years ago, I loved going to the flea market with my Mom and Dad every weekend. Sellers, at that time, sold used merchandise exclusively. Today, flea markets are very different as used items are not the norm. You can purchase just about anything at the flea market today, and it’s new merchandise.
Clothing is a staple item for everyone; it doesn’t surprise me to hear you have made a good living selling used apparel. The other sellers you asked about are purchasing what’s called shelf pull, and/or customer returned clothing. This is clothing that is liquidated by large department stores in large quantities. It’s not uncommon to find pallets and truckloads of this clothing at a fraction of retail pricing.
You have two options to consider when buying this type of flea market wholesale merchandise:
Buy in pallet quantity from a wholesale liquidator – Smaller quantities means you will pay a higher cost per piece, but your initial outlay for inventory will be much lower. Wholesale liquidators buy in huge quantities, and then break down loads to sell to eBay and flea market sellers. Your cost per piece will depend on where the clothing originated from, for example: clothing from Walmart, Kmart, and Shopko will cost less than clothing pulled from JCPenneys and Macy’s. Expect to pay between $1-$1.50 per unit from the lower quality discount stores versus $3-$5 for shelf pull clothing from JC Penney’s and Macy’s
Buy in multiple pallet or truckload quantities direct from the source – Here you can cut out the middleman and buy at the lowest price possible, right from the original source. As you guessed, this will cost more initially because you will have to buy in much larger quantities. You can expect to pay between .75 to $3.00 per unit buying direct.
Can you still make a profit selling higher priced clothing at the market? Yes, but it will take time because you will have to rebuild your clientele. I’m certain that you have repeat business presently, and those customers are expecting to buy clothing from you within the $1-$2 price rage. This new addition to your inventory will drive your price points up considerably. I strongly recommend that you continue selling used clothing with your new mix of shelf pulled apparel. Keep your existing customer base while you build a new group of people who will begin to buy from you ongoing!