Sunday, April 18, 2010

Today was Opening Day!

Technically, "flea marketing" never really begins or ends around here; even when the weather makes outdoor shopping less than feasible, we still have lots of antique malls, resale shops, estate sales and indoor markets to keep us occupied. But for most of us, the "official" opening of the season is when the outdoor markets officially open for spring.

Actually, the flea market opened last week, but I was working and it was raining. It’s an outdoor market, and I’m not so diehard that I’m willing to tromp around in the mid-April rain looking for a bargain. I’ll put up with the cold, or the heat, or the sun, but I draw the line at stuff falling from the sky.

It was cold, but borderline tolerable (until the old men started complaining about the weather - if there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s small talk about the weather!) There was stuff worth buying - a few interesting books, some body quality Breyers from the early 1980s, a few vintage Hartlands - but nothing rising to the level of me wanting to take it home. I’ve dealt with the person who had the bodies before, and she’s willing to dicker on price, so if she’s there next week things might change.

Everyone has their own shopping secrets strategies when it comes to the secondary market. Most hobbyists keep pretty mum about them, often to their detriment, I believe. I’m all about sharing information, though, with both hobbyists and dealers alike, and I think my success at the flea market is a reflection of that philosophy.

I happen to live at a happy nexus of model horseness, too: in a relatively affluent suburb just on the edge of horse country, where Breyers have been a continuous presence in the local retail market, and where the model horse hobby has had a long and enduring history. (Did you all know that the first Model Horse Congress was held in Michigan? Truth!)

In other words, the Breyer "brand" has a ubiquity to it here that manages to temper antiquers’ fantasies about just how much a "Genuine Vintage Breyer" can actually bring. Some of them definitely try - and occasionally succeed - but at least here hobbyists have some negotiating room, price wise. Breyers aren’t so rare that the casual collectors will snap up any old thing at any crazy price.

I know that a lot of hobbyists are not enthusiastic about sharing information about Breyers - good or bad - with antiquers. If they know more, they’ll charge even more than they’re already charging, right?

No, not in my experience. Most antiquers specialize in certain items or categories - furniture, glassware, car parts, toy trains, pottery, whatever - but won’t pass up buying something out of their usual categories if they think a little profit can be made from it. They have to rely on word of mouth, or on general price guides to guide them. If they run across a small stash of horse shaped objects, they’re not going to go out and buy a "dedicated" price guide of any sort, as that might cut into their already slim profit margin.

This is where I think our secretiveness gets in the way: when we fail to share information in a constructive or positive way, the people who are lacking this information not only know it, they respond it kind: by either raising their prices, or being equally uncooperative.

Years ago, I decided to head off this problem by creating a "price guide" of my own to give to the handful of dealers I had managed to develop a comfortable working relationship with. I categorized everything by rarity, from "extremely common" to "extremely rare," and gave a rough price estimate of what I would pay for models in each category.

I think my prices topped out at $200-250, for items in the "extremely rare" category, which included mostly Decorators, a handful of Woodgrains, and a few early SRs. Everything else was significantly less. I also included a page or two explaining condition issues, boxes and other stuff.

You know what? It worked. Prices didn’t go up significantly, and the dealers felt that they were negotiating in good faith.

It also helps that I’ve been going to this market long enough that dealers know I’m a regular - and that I’m willing to pay a little extra for something really good. Not necessarily up to retail or hobby market value, but a price both of us could be happy with.

There have been days when I’ve left some modestly good items on the tables - nothing super-rare, but in good condition and decently priced - and watched the festivities.

Oh, some of the things I’ve seen!

I won’t name names - because I’m awful with faces, and I can’t - but I can remember one particular pantomime two collectors put on in front of a dealer, over a Woodgrain FAF. It was $10, and near mint. It was a performance so contrived it would have made William Shatner blush.

The dealer didn’t budge on the price, and they walked away. I gave the dealer a quick glance - she was a semi-regular, and I had dealt with her before - and she gave me a knowing look back. It’s one thing to play a little dumb; it’s quite another to play stupid.


Alicia Vogel said...

Back when I was on Haynet in the early nineties, I heard reports of collectors nabbing some extremely valuable Breyer collectibles for peanuts. Then after the transaction, they would gloat about it in FRONT OF THE VENDOR.

Naturally vendors started pricing anything Breyer high just out of self-preservation. I don't know what the market is like anymore since I've moved. I'm in a larger city now and it's flea market isn't like the circuit ones. It's more where you find all your stolen property. But the local resale shops has the odd breyer in body quality, which are moderately priced so I think things have evened out?

Tehana said...

I've been flea marketing my entire life. My parents are antique toy and collectibles dealers (Well not so much dealers any more, they buy more often than they sell, but anyways), I find it hilarious some of the "Bargaining" and buying techniques of some people. I've tried to teach people a bit of the good way to do it and I think people are more apt to whining about how people like us "Have such good luck" and that all dealers "Overprice" things.

I have several dealers at my local flea market that know I'm a serious collector, same with the local antique stores. And when I find a new one with an overpriced horse I'll sometimes give them a bit of education, sometimes when they inquire about me and my collection a quick run down of my collection size will get them to let me pay what I feel its worth.

Most dealers aren't bad, they are just ill informed, and informing them would do quite a bit to help, and many are happy to learn!

BTW: You should start posting in the Fabulous finds thread, I'd love to see what you pick up this year!

Heather said...

I'm from CA, land of the year- round antique/swap meets. There are a handful within the Southern CA driving range that are scheduled...first, second, third Sunday, etc....some are specific, as in Collectible meet or split new item to the left, "vintage" to the we are lucky in that vein. Ebay put a big time dent into variety, as in what did not sell on Ebay, went to the meet. But the heyday...the 1970's, '80's and into the 90's were a treasure trove of items to find.

I agree, make your intentions known to the dealers that regularly have horse figurines and you will be rewarded. But usually I bought for myself, and at times since there were other collectors at the meet, we would mention to each other ....a gloss Pal FS on row 25 midway up...

I had so much fun then, I found many a horse I 'needed' and made many friends of the dealers and other collectors. It was competitive but not dog-eat-dog.

I don't go to meets as often, finding less and less so it does not justify the early morning rise, 5 am, or hour drive.

Thanks for the blog...great work!

~Heather W
Yucaipa, CA