5 Reasons You Aren’t Making Money in Your Booth or Vendor Business

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I LOVE a booth business!

Starting my own 7 years ago was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

It gave me the opportunity to put my creative skills to use and has been a consistent source of income for my family.

All while letting me continue to be at home with my 3 boys with the flexible schedule I wanted.

$250 was my investment to start my business selling vintage finds out of a small rented space at a local antique mall (I mean, what other business can you start with so little money!).

That little investment has grown into a now full-time income as my business has expanded to different venues and outlets.

Not everybody is looking to make full-time income from a booth business, but everyone wants to make at least some money, right? That’s the point of a business!

Despite that, I continue to have conversations with people who make little to no money–or worse, lose money–in their booth or vendor business.

Why is that?

Well, in my experience there are a few common mistakes people make when running their booth business of vendor businesses.

And these mistakes wind up either costing them money or keeping their earnings at the pocket-change level.

If that’s been your experience, I want to help!

5 Reasons Why You Aren’t Making Money in Your Antique Booth

So let’s talk through these common mistakes. PLUS  some simple action steps you can take to help bring your booth business back into the black.


Reason # 1: You Are Selling at a Bad Location

Did you know that every antique mall, flea market, or vendor show is not created equally?

When looking for space to rent or a show to attend, you need to make sure that you join up with only the best.

Renting space at a bad antique mall or attending a lackluster vendor show will kill your business immediately.

No matter how amazing your inventory. How impeccable your display. Or how stellar your social media presence, nothing can save your business from a bad location.

I know because I’ve been there!

The very first location I ever rented was in a brand new flea market that promised super low rents.  I moved into my 10 x 10 space and was all excited about my new business.

Only to slink away when my contract ended six months later with no money in my pocket.

I put everything I had into that little space–great inventory, cute display, regularly moving items around–but none of it mattered.

Everyone else in the flea market was selling garage sale junk.  So the customers the mall attracted were garage sale shoppers.  On top of that, the space was un-air-conditioned and very poorly lit. It was just the wrong location, plain and simple.

Many new antique mall dealers make the same mistake. They shop around for the who has the lowest rent, and move in there.

The lure of saving on overhead clouds their judgment (and mine 10 years ago!), and they tell themselves they will make their space stand out and everything will be ok.

But the truth is you have to be in a good space to make your booth work. A good location is the foundation of a great booth or vendor business.  Period.

Action Step:

Evaluate your current location.  Ask yourself these questions:

  • Is their regular, daily foot traffic (not just on weekends, but weekdays too)?
  • How clean is the store? How often is inventory rotated in and out?
  • How professional and friendly are the cashiers and sales staff?  Would you want your customers interacting with them?
  • What are the largest, up-front vendors in the space selling (their inventory will give you an idea of what kind of inventory does well in this space)?
  • Is this space located in an area with good demographics (i.e. a community where people like to shop for your type of inventory)?

Do you need to move out of your current space?

Trust me–waiting to get into the best mall or market and paying a higher price to do it will be worth it for your business!


Reason # 2: You’re Selling What You Like Instead of What the Shoppers Want

To have a successful market or booth business, you need to figure out what your customer base really wants. It’s not enough to stock your space with wonderful inventory, it needs to be the right kind of inventory.

You may love mid-century modern style, but does the customer base that shops at your mall or market?

If your inventory isn’t selling well, it may not be the style that interests your customers.

It can be hard admitting that what you personally love isn’t what your customer really wants–I get it!

But if you’re going to treat your business like a business (instead of like a personal shopping hobby), you have to be honest about what fits and what doesn’t.

Things Change

Sometimes your style may work initially, but you may start to see your sales drop over time.

If this is happening to you, take a look around and do an honest evaluation of your inventory and the trends you see developing around you.

Case in point–I sell furniture paint, and so I also sell a lot of painted furniture too.

I like painted furniture, and I like selling painted furniture. My painted pieces have been selling well for 7 years now . . . until recently.

My sales of painted furniture have slowed way down, and what I am noticing around me is that stained wood pieces seem to be selling better.

So even though painted furniture is totally my thing, I need to start bringing in more unpainted pieces.  I have to adapt to the market, or my business won’t be much of a business anymore!

Interestingly, this is happening at only one of my two locations!

My two booth spaces are located in different suburbs, and while painted furniture is dying out of one location, it’s soaring at the other!

So when you’re looking at what customers want, look very specifically at your exact location.

Don’t trust what Pinterest says is popular, or what your friend in another mall says is popular, study your own location and your own customers.

Action Step:

Take some time to watch what people are buying at your mall or market.

Do an audit of what has sold for you in the past 6 months, and what hasn’t.

Any inventory that hasn’t sold well in 6 months, consider leaving that style behind.


Reason # 3: You’re Keeping Your Booth Space Too Full or Too Empty

Have you ever been shopping in someone’s booth and wanted to look at a small item in the corner, but to get to it you had to step over piles of stuff on the floor, balance on one foot, then wriggle the item out from under a leaning tower of junk?

Or have you ever walked right by a market or booth space after glancing in at their 10 items and quickly deciding there’s nothing there for you?

A crammed to the gills booth and a sparse one will both deter customers from shopping in your space.

You want to strike the fine balance of having enough inventory in your booth so customers want to come and look closer, but not so much that they can’t access the things they want or feel claustrophobic in your space.

You need to plan your displays carefully.

Each item should have its own place to be properly displayed, and there should be multiple vignettes created around larger items to entice customers to come and see what is there.

Never place items on the floor that clutter up a walkway, and never stack items too tall that if a customer takes one off the pile, everything falls.

On the flip side, don’t just toss 4 pieces of furniture in your space and call it a day!

A customer needs some reason to come into your space and linger for a bit;  they can look at those furniture pieces from afar and decide if they like them or not while never actually entering your space.

Action Step:

Do you have so much stuff in your booth that it’s hard for customers to get to the item they want?

Is your furniture crowded with so much inventory piled on top that you can’t even see the piece anymore?

Then take some of it home! Likewise, if you’re only selling large things, add in some vignettes of small and medium items.

Make sure you are shopping regularly enough to keep your space well stocked so it never looks sparse or empty.


Reason # 4: You Let the Antique Mall or Market do All of Your Advertising.

Yes, a good mall or market should be doing some advertising on your behalf (that’s another point to consider for evaluating #1)

You want your mall or market to be active on social media and have a great website, those will both help with overall foot traffic to your space.

In order to develop relationships with your customers though, you need to have your own marketing and advertising channels that are specific to your own business, and by that, I mean social media accounts and a website.

I get asked some version of this question all the time:

“Melanie, does all that stuff you do online actually help you sell more out of your booth space?”

And over and over again, my answer is “Yes!”

It’s hard to draw a direct line from Facebook posts and website articles to specific items sold in my booth, I will admit.

But I am 100% confident that doing my own marketing and advertising through my own online channels has made all the difference in the success of my booth business.

There are several reasons why.

  • For one, my online presence helps me connect directly with my customers and build relationships with them.  People buy from people they know, like, and trust, so if I can get them to know, like and trust me, odds are they will continue to be my customers.
  • Also, having an online presence legitimizes my business and gives customers the chance to visit and see my inventory even when shop hours are closed.
  • Lastly, doing my own advertising means I can control exactly what is being promoted to my customers and make sure they are seeing the items or specials that are most important and timely.

Action Step:

Social Media and Websites aren’t just for the “big guys”.  Us “little guys” need to make use of them too! If you have not yet started a Facebook Business Page or Instagram account for your vendor business, do it! Like yesterday!

Also, consider the power of having your own website. 

Social media accounts, while effective and free to use, are always subject to the whim of whatever algorithm is ruling the day.

Your website is different though–it’s the one thing online you can truly own.

If your business is only located online inside social media channels, it’s like you’re “renting” your online address, versus actually “buying” the home through having your own website.

A website for your business is stable, longer-lasting, and like a real mortgage, can actually earn you money over time through ad revenue.

Reason # 5: You Think Your Business Stops with What You Sell in Your Space

One of the things I love most about a booth or vendor business is that it can be an incredible jumping off point to a much larger business–and for so little an investment (remember my $250 startup costs?).

You may have started with selling physical items as the main (and only) revenue stream in your booth business, but why stop there? There are so many more revenue streams you can add in!

I have seen booth vendors expand in so many different ways:

  • Opening a second location
  • Offering custom services to their customers (design, personal shopping, painting, etc)
  • Designing wholesale lines or selling their creations wholesale to other vendors around the country
  • Starting a blog and earning ad revenue from their posts
  • Becoming a Brand Rep for a wholesale line
  • Having their business featured in magazines and being paid for their photos
  • Teaching others their creative skills in DIY Workshops

Do you see what I mean?

There are so many ways you can take what you do in your booth or market business and expand it.

Be creative!

Don’t think just because nobody else is doing it that it’s too crazy of an idea–be the first vendor in your mall to add in a new revenue stream!

Action Step:

Consider what creative or business skills you have and how you can market those as a service to someone else.

Be on the lookout for new opportunities that come your way, and think outside the booth and market box!

If you’ve been struggling to see the kind of profit you want to see from your booth or vendor business, I encourage you to take at least one of the above action steps this year.

It’s time for you to see more reward for your hard work!

I’ve also written several other posts about the business of running and booth business and painting furniture to sell:

4 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Becoming an Antique Dealer  

Can You Make Money Selling at an Antique Mall?

5 Tips to Make Money Painting Furniture

Options for Where to Sell Your Flipped Furniture Makeovers

Thanks for joining me today!


Rosemary Thompson

Monday 2nd of October 2023

Hi Melanie! I started watching your YouTube videos months ago and enjoy your vintage style, your honesty& humor and sharing of information to help others. Also, absolutely love your Last Supper collection! I have a question. I started renting a case in an antique mall a month ago. It looks more like a large hutch which is beautiful but it can only be accessed from the sides. I put a note on the front that tells customers items can be accessed from doors on either side. But, I still feel this is a deterrent for customers. The mall has a perfect location in Chadds Ford PA & the waiting list for booths was very long, so I was grateful to get this opportunity & my foot in the door. Do you have any suggestions on what else I can do to help my foot traffic & make customers comfortable enough to access my case. Thank you for your time. Rosemary Thompson [email protected]

Melanie Alexander

Tuesday 3rd of October 2023

Hi Rosemary! Congrats on taking the step to rent your shelf space! It does sound a little less than ideal, but I think getting your foot in the door of the mall you wanna be in is key. Often times, booths that open up are offered to existing vendors before new ones, so you took a good step! I think adding the note is the right idea, the only other thing I would for sure suggest is making sure all your prices are visible by looking through the glass. Customers may not want to take the time to pull an item out just to check the price. Otherwise, just start promoting your items for sale on your social media, and do your best to find the BEST items to offer on those shelves! Great items will be hard to resist :) And hopefully a bigger spot will open up for you here soon.


Sunday 28th of May 2023

Have 2400 sf. In a prime location in Groton Ma. How can I find people to rent this space to ? Love the vender co-op idea.just what this town needs. Any suggestions as to where I might advertise to attract venders/dealers would be hugely appreciated.

Melanie Alexander

Sunday 28th of May 2023

Hi Karen! Are you on any social media? If so, I would start looking around on Facebook or Instagram for people who have business accounts and are selling vintage. Instagram in particular has a huge vintage selling community, and you can search by location for people who are posting in your area. You can also start your own social media accounts on that platform and start posting that you are looking for vendors, with photos of stuff you would like to see sold in your store. The vintage selling community is pretty tight knit, once you get in with a few vendors the word will start to spread!

Stacy Thomason

Friday 3rd of February 2023

I am a vendor at a vendor mall. The mall has gone through some changes in the three years I have been there as the first half is all new furniture now. The other half is upscale boutique looking vendors and here I am selling used vinyl records, record art and birdhouses. I feel the customers have changed. There was a larger vinyl record booth in the vendor mall and they recently packed up and left so I am the only one selling records. There is no interest in my record art or bird houses anymore only vinyl records. My tax record said I made $1300 my booth fee is $50. How do you know when it’s time to go?

Melanie Alexander

Friday 3rd of February 2023

Hi Stacy! It depends on your goal--is this for fun? Or are you looking to make regular income from it? If the $1300 is just fun money for you, then I think you can stay as long as you are enjoying it :) But if you are needing this to provide more regular income than the $1300, then you will need to make some changes. It sounds like you have identified the major issue--the customer base has changed for your location. So you have 2 choices--you can change what you sell to better fit the current customer base, or you can try to find a location that better fits your brand. There definitely is a market for vinyl records! It's just getting in front of the right people. Also, have you considered expanding into selling online? That could be a great option for you!


Saturday 12th of January 2019

Its very inspiring that you started with $250 and converted it to full time income . Really inspiring , i wish i can also do something like this .


Saturday 12th of January 2019

Its very inspiring that you started with $250 and converted it to full time income . Really inspiring , i wish i can also do something like this .

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