Video: Spending scratch at the Raynham Flea Market
A buck buys your way into the shopping experience that is the Raynham Flea Market, 50 cents for seniors and the kiddies under 12 pass by the outdoor ticket booth for free.
That outlay gets you a raffle ticket and the chance at door prizes that vary from week to week - and a look at merchandise with the range of the Canadian Rockies.
There’s the white-framed Marilyn Monroe poster, skirt in mid air-vent hoist, the vintage Nintendo 64 accoutrements, customized cloth banners announcing your alma mater or nickname preferences, pots, pans, sunglasses, work gloves, lamps, doorknobs, T-shirts, team jerseys, tools and dishwashing liquids.
And that’s just a sampling of the stuff on display outside the 57,000-square-foot market building on a bright temperate Sunday recently.
The Raynham Flea Market’s open every Sunday, year-round, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., as well as Saturdays from Thanksgiving to Christmas.
The vehicle traffic in and out of the Raynham Flea Market parking lot at the corner of Judson and South streets, a few hundred yards from Routes 44 and 24, is constant. An orange-vested employee assists the cars navigate their way in and out and secure parking.
The market employs five full-time and about 20 part-time employees.
The foot traffic is continual, as well, but patrons are on their own when it comes to making their passage down the lanes created between the vendors and their goods.
Owner Jeff Mann started the business 34 years ago with wife Debbie in West Bridgewater as a sideline. They decided to take the full plunge into the flea market retail world after four years and moved to their current location. Thirty years, three building and four parking-lot expansions later, the Raynham Flea Market with its more than 500 vendors and 8,000 to 12,000 visitors during Sunday business hours is the state’s largest flea market, and probably the largest in New England, Mann said.
And Mann knows a lot about the nation’s flea markets through a combination of three-plus decades experience and his role as president of the National Flea Market Association, which has 300 members across the country.
Some of the larger flea markets are in Florida and Ohio, Mann said, adding “probably the largest proliferation of markets is in California.” They do it big in Texas, as well, with one Lone Star market featuring 3,000 vendors and an amusement park.
Land is a big issue, he said, and a reason why today it’s cost-prohibitive to open new flea markets in this area, given the scarcity of affordable lots large enough to support vendors paying $35 to $40 per week to set up shop.
The ability to offer a budding entreprenuer or someone cleaning out the attic the opportunity to operate their own business at such a low rent is the greatest flea market asset. “We offer the last vestige of entrepreneurship,” he said.
Where else can someone go into the retail business at those kinds of rates, he said, with security, marketing, as well as lights and heating (inside) coming at no extra cost? The low overhead is one of the reasons flea market vendors can compete with the big-box stores buying in bulk, he said.
And, besides, if patrons don’t like a price, “they can haggle a bit."
“You can’t do that with the big-box stores.”
And shopping at a flea market is an experience, he said, they hope is fun. The average person will spend two to three hours checking out the wares, Mann said.
He and Debbie recently returned from an NFMA meeting in Scottsdale, Ariz. where the group mission is to share industry information and continue to develop professionalism.
That’s one of the big changes over the years, Jeff and Debbie said, particularly in the last 10: The increase in professionalism.
Vendors must provide detailed contact information, so any problems can quickly be identified and “bad actors” barred from the site.
Many vendors accept credit cards, and there’s an ATM on site, he said.
Picking the right blend of merchandise can be as important as picking the right vendors. That’s Debbbie’s province, with help from manager Christine Kelley, who also handles all the food operations – pizza, pretzels and other community-fair-type fare.
There are staples, like TVs, where the consumer can buy price-reduced tubes that have been culled from displays, some are from “take backs” and some might have a scratch or ding.
There are fad items, from the Ferrari sun glass craze to the Pokémon period through Beanie Babies and up to Webkinz.
The idea, though, is diversity, Debbie said. “My end is trying to get a good mix of merchandise.”
Jeff said they would prefer an open spot to too much merchandise repetition.
And spots are important in the retail world with its maxim of “location, location and location.”
Bill Mayer of Raynham, proprietor of Breezy Days wind spinners and owner of a store selling Del Sol-style products in Hyannis, said his new indoor corner location, right on a main lane, was much better than his former spot lost in a middle aisle. His wind spinners do just that, spin decoratively in the wind as ornaments to augment your landscaping. He’s hoping to get into kite sales, as well, in keeping with his Breezy Days theme.
The vendors, like the merchandise, represent a wide range. Some are in it for the short term, maybe selling off estate goods, while others, like Brockton jeweler Michael Uretsky, have been a part of Raynham Flea since it opened when, Uretsky joked, he had more hair and no kids.
Joe Braga of New Bedford, is a retired antique dealer who’s been manning a Raynham Flea Market-aisle spot for about two years where he purveys estate-sale-type goods. He sells, “anything you’d find in a house,”except larger items, like furniture.
He said business was down while a woman inquired about the price of a miniature iron wood-burning stove replica – $30 – and then continued on her way.
The flea market business is subject to the economy’s fluctuations, like any retail operation, Mann said. And when there’s a slow period sales can suffer, though there’s a certain amount of “shopping down” when times are tight and people are searching for flea-market bargains.
But when times are good, he added, “we’re flourishing just as much as Blomingdales.”