Tips of the Trade…..

Earlier last month, our third muskateer (did you know we had one?!), Cindy, and I had a blast together at the Brimfield Antique Show in Brimfield, MA. It’s a 6 day, sun-up to sun-down flea market/antique extravaganza. It’s held three times a year (May, July, & September), and people from all over the country travel to find what they didn’t know they just HAD to have.

brimfield barn

You know the saying, “There’s no such thing as too much fun?” This event applies – in spades!  A 1/2 mile long, and booths as far as the eye can see, you won’t experience it all in just one day. If you like anything vintage, industrial, funky, or junky, a walk down any aisle is bound to make you giddy with excitement. Rain or shine, this is a good time, y’all! But being exposed to so much of a good thing can be very overwhelming for some of us.


Now that we’re in the full swing of fall, you’ll see a surge of estate, garage, & yard sales pop up before Jack Frost stays for good. Flea markets are usually in their prime at this time of year. When we are out and about and on the hunt for something great, we want to make sure our time, energy, and $$ are spent wisely.  Whatever you do, you don’t want to get suckered into buying something you might regret later.  Buyer’s remorse is a bummer!


So the Sage & Twine gals want to share some tips for staying focused when looking for those fabulous finds:

1. Do your homework. Go online or read the paper; prioritize the sales you want to visit  in order of importance (i.e. If you are looking for furniture or vintage sewing notions, pass up the sales that list children’s clothes and toys first and look for those key words). Choose the most efficient driving routes so you can hit as many sales as possible in the time you have. There are also free apps you can download to your phone to help you do this.

2.  Know your budget & bring cash.  Most sellers at tag/estate sales & flea markets accept cash only. If you’re lucky, you’ll find one who’ll take a check or maybe even credit, but don’t rely on this. Cash is the best currency to carry.  If you’re keeping to a strict budget, only bring what you can spend. This definitely helps to prioritize and make wiser decisions amidst all the distractions.  Don’t forget to budget in for gas, food, tolls, parking and lodging, if applicable.

3.  Fuel-up!   Shopping on an empty stomach is NEVER fun. You’ll need focus. Fuel your brain. Drink plenty of fluids (but leave room ahead of time for a trip to the loo before you get serious on a buy.  Who wants to shop under that kind of pressure?)

(Cindy & I shared a “Figgin Goat” sandwich at the Gourmet Grilled Cheese truck at Brimfield that was TO DIE FOR!  I was so excited, I forgot to snap a shot of it before it was devoured.  If you needed to find me, all you had to do was follow the moaning.  Shopping after this badboy was blissful!)

4.  Choose the right vehicle. This may sound obvious, but you’d be surprised. If you have a truck or SUV or are shopping with a friend who has one, take it. You never know what goodies you’ll find and having the right vehicle can make or break getting that great find. If all you have is a ten-speed, ask the dealer/seller if your item can be shipped or delivered to your home. However, be prepared to pay an additional fee.

motorcycle-mover- ride the machine

5.  Protect yourself from the elements. This may also sound obvious but is easy to forget. If you are going to be outside for a good part of the day, don’t forget to bring a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, jacket, gloves, boots, umbrella – whatever you think you’ll need for the possible weather. It could mean the difference between an unbelievable shopping adventure or feeling like you’re partnered with Bear Grylls in the eye of the storm! Oh, and sensible shoes are a must if you’re on an all-day excursion.

bear grylls
6. Think outside the box.
So, you’ve found a beautiful, 3-drawer bureau you LOVE while you’re out and about. Ugh, you already filled your bedrooms with four other ones you’ve collected over the years and really don’t need another one. But, but, but the lines of the legs and detailed carvings on it are exactly what you’ve been looking for! Think outside the box. What else could this be used for? Cut two holes in the top for sinks and make it a unique bathroom vanity. Cut down through the top, take out the first drawer and turn it into a bench with storage, or use it in the dining room for your linens and extra dishes. Finding alternative functions for pieces you love may not seem obvious at first. Take a moment and look at the outside lines and shape. Imagine it turned upside down or on it’s side. Deconstruct it (with your minds-eye, of course) and ask yourself, “What else could this be? What else could I use this for?” If it helps to achieve the look you desire, can be a focal point for design, a great conversation piece, or serve as storage/organization, it’s probably a keeper. Most importantly, if you really love it and it’s in your budget, it’s a great find. Find a function that works for YOU. If it’s “Eh,ok,” or is just going to be a dust collector,  and you still want it – I’ll get you the hoarder hotline number. ;0)

sink dresser

7. Check for defects. Look over the entire piece. Use your eyes AND hands (and on occasion, you’ll find your nose can come in handy too)! Don’t be afraid to pull out all the drawers or get down on your hands and knees and look underneath. Wiggle it back and forth. Check for loose joints or cracks. Put some weight on it to see if there’s any give.   If it’s a chair, sit. in. it.  Sometimes, all you need to do is tighten a loose nut or screw, and it’s good to go. Other times, the repair will be more time-consuming and costly. It may also be irreparable. If that’s the case, decide if the reason you want it still makes sense. Some things that look great and tie a room together may have defects that don’t affect that purpose. But if it’s a tureen you’d like to use for butternut squash soup over the holidays, make sure that side crack isn’t going to cause the massive flood that ruined your Great Aunt Gertie’s famous Christmas sweater!

8. Ask questions. If you can locate the dealer or seller, ask what they can tell you about the piece. You’d be surprised how many times sellers will point something out you may have missed. You may also learn some interesting facts or history about it. This also helps you to develop a good rapport with the seller and get a feel for how your transaction will proceed.

9. Don’t be afraid to bargain. Ask the seller if he/she would take less. What’s the worst that could happen?  They may say, “No,” but this is usually unheard of at garage/yard sales or flea markets. If you feel completely uncomfortable, you can put the ball in their court and ask, “What’s the best price you could give me on this?” Even after their answer, there may still be some wiggling room to what they’ll take.  Regardless, be prepared to throw out a price.  They most likely have a minimum amount they’ll take and odds are, it’s lower than the tag price.  What you don’t want to do is be a “low-baller.” If the price says $150, don’t offer $25. You will most likely insult the seller and may seal your fate of walking away with nothing.

make a dealThere are also places you can score a great deal where you can’t “dicker.”  In most antique stores, you can’t go back and forth with the dealer, but at the counter, they’ll take 10% off the tag price (unless it says, “FIRM”), but only if you ask.  Sometimes with a larger or more expensive piece, the cashier can call the dealer and you can offer less.  Do this discreetly.  You may get yourself an even better deal.  Sometimes you’ll receive a discount for paying in cash or check as opposed to credit.

In other shops, the price is the price, is the price.  What’s on the tag is what you pay.  Period.  This is the case in most shops.  Shop owners buy and sell or create and sell their work looking for fair market price.  Most items are in very good shape, new or are artisan-crafted.   At Sage & Twine, for example, we work hard to find, refurbish, and/or repurpose the pieces we sell. Those we refurbish with paint and distressing techniques are a reflection of our individual artistic expression and the result of hours of additional work to make it look the way it does.  Many times, we will leave certain features of imperfection because we feel it lends character to the piece.  As long as it doesn’t affect the integrity, we’ll leave certain marks because they are interesting and tell a story.  So, even if you see a distressed crack down the center of a farm table, know we’ve priced it according to its overall condition, character, and quality.  Most shops who sell this way do the same.  But it’s not all, so look over your pieces well before you consider buying them.

10. (S)He who hesitates is lost. If you are immediately drawn to a piece and get that excited, panicky, breathless feeling, pick it up. Literally. If you can’t pick it up, grab the tag, or immediately tell the seller you are interested and try to make the deal. We learned this the hard way early in our buying years. If you gasp, throw both hands to your cheeks, stare wide-eyed at your friend, are in need of tape for your jaw, or if you scream or mutter an expletive under your breath…..PICK. IT. UP! You feel that way for a reason. While you have the piece or tag in your hand and are looking around, you can think about it for a few more minutes. Don’t leave it or walk away to think on it or come back later. Instead of reminiscing about that amazing piece you found that makes you feel all happy inside, you’ll be crying in your cosmo about the one that got away (I’m still kicking myself about that shelf, Becky!).  Listen to your inner voice.



11. Be nice! Well, yeah…… Like most of us, I think that treating others with respect and kindness should be at the top of the everyone’s list. However, you’d be surprised how even well-meaning, grown adults can act when they want something badly enough.

women arguing

Remember, you can bargain in some places but not in others.  It’s not very hard to determine what the atmosphere is dictating regarding the bargaining factor.  Read the tags carefully.  Listen to other transactions between the merchant and customers.  Think about where you are. If you are having trouble reading the “lay of the land” at a sale, just ask.

As shop owners, we buy AND sell, so Becky & I have been on both sides of the coin (pun, intended!). We are often out buying, and come across some crazy good pieces.  We want to try to get as good a deal as possible so that we can pass the savings on to our customers. It’s easy to get aggressive when we want a fantastic piece.  But…..there’s nothing more annoying than a buyer who acts entitled, is pushy, or insults the condition of what you’re selling. If they push or knock someone else over to get to it, odds are, they won’t get very far in making any kind of deal (it has happened!).  Don’t let this be YOU!

After trying to bargain, if the seller stands firm to a price you don’t agree on, respect that. If you don’t like the deal, or someone else grabs it first, simply move on. No snarky comment needed. You may be shooting yourself in the foot by getting upset.  Put the boxing gloves down.  You may see something else you like or the seller may have second thoughts and come down on the price.  Either way, always take the high road.  It’s less stressful and will keep your blood pressure down!

boxing gloves1Keep in mind, anyone holding a sale has worked to set it up, price, and manage it.  Most sellers are not looking to swindle you. They are looking for fair market value, to drum up business, or move things out and make a little something in exchange.  Be respectful of this, but also be smart about it.  One person’s trash can be another person’s treasure, but stay educated and look closely at what you are buying.  More often than not, a deal can be made where both parties are happy.  Whatever you do, have fun and be nice, people, because it does matter.

~ Amy

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