How to be a Picker... And Flea Market Buying/selling

Ok, so I'm a young man, 22 years of age and I've been spending a lot of my time at flea markets recently. I love the show American Pickers and I'd love to be able to make a business of buying and selling like they do. Every weekend, I've been riding around the local flea market on my bike "doing some picking" and once I've bought some good items for a low price, I resell them. I've been making some profit off this.. For example, last weekend I made 280 dollars just sitting at the flea market for half a day. I'm the entrepreneurial type, and I want to learn how to increase my profits so that maybe I can make a business out of this sort of thing. Anyone who is a professional picker, or anyone who knows a lot about this sort of thing, I'm asking you... How can I improve? How can I make my business grow? What should I look out for legal and tax wise? And probably most importantly, how can I increase my profit?

Tags: Picker, Pickers, bartering, buying, flea, income, market, picking, profit, selling, More…tax, taxes

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I know two people personally who do works at a Publix in Florida; she has an Ebay store and makes a nice side income reselling stuff.

Another, a friend of an in-law, always did this as part of her nature and ended up founding a small chain of mall stores, captaining another for awhile and is partially retired now, spending her time between her two homes. But she still does what you do for kicks.

I don't think being a picker in itself is a guarantee of success, but it does show you are a natural peddler and entrepreneur, good gifts that you can work up into a very successful career in retail.

Best of luck!

Depends on whether or not you want to specialize in a certain type of merchandise or if you just want to sell general merchandise. 

If it's the former, you need to locate unique sources of inventory, you need to locate and target your clientele, and you need an community and online presence. 

If it's the latter, you need to know what's trendy and currently in demand, and what's always in demand. For example, if you spent a good amount of time, money and effort amassing Pogs and Beanie Babies, assuming you could flip them at a nice profit, you'd now realize that you're up shit creek and you'll never get that money back. But if you spent your time locating and amassing inexpensive baby seats for cars or decent quality bikes (etc.) and sold them at reasonable prices then you'd probably see that you can sell more of those more frequently / regularly. 

So IMO the advice will vary depending on whether you want to be someone who specializes in a certain type of niche products or if you want to be someone who sells good quality used stuff at a reasonable price. 

As for legalities and taxes, it depends on your jurisdiction and it depends on how serious you are. If this is just a hobby and you're occasionally selling things at a flea market or on Craig's List then the odds of you getting hassled for taxes or business licenses (etc.) are low. If you become a regular at flea markets and you intend for this to be a legitimate business then you might need a license and you will have to declare your income for taxation; you'll have to pay taxes on what you make . . . BUT, if you have a business license (if one is required) then you can probably claim your business EXPENSES like your bike, the cost of your spot at the flea market, gas to and from the flea market, etc. Another thing to consider, if you want to go totally legit, is whether or not picking is legal in your jurisdiction. Assuming "picking" means collecting things from the garbage and re-selling them, you might not be able to go fully legit if you declare that "picking" is your source of inventory because, in many jurisdictions, collecting stuff from curbside trash is illegal; in a lot of places, garbage is considered the property owner's property until it's put to the curb and then it's considered municipal/city/county/whatever property. That's not always the case, and most people don't care if you take from their garbage and so they won't report you, but you'd still want to look into it so that you don't get your balls busted about it one day even though you were trying to do everything on the up and up.  

Learn about stuff.  Knowledge is profit.  Know what you are looking at.  Know if it works.  Know how much it is worth and to who.  Other flea market vendors are often willing to talk about their specialties. 

Check with you local tax office.  States have very different tax laws for flea market and yard sale folks.  One state that I lived in allowed up to 7 weekends a year before you had to file for a business license and pay sales tax.  In the off times there is also Ebay and Craigslist to move some types of merchandise. 

Use your smartphone to do quick ebay searches for items you're considering picking or buying for re-sale. That'll give you an idea of what they're worth according to the people who are actually trying to buy and sell them (as opposed to what they're worth according to a price guide). 

Ok so as for the tax laws, I live in Lawrence county, ohio. Is there anyone who is an expert on the laws in my area? Thanks

Income is taxable.  Shouldn't be any different if you're selling old junk or new cars.  The $280 profit you made at the flea market is technically taxable income.  Realistically, the IRS will likely never know about such a small cash transaction.  If you start running a legit business with some significant cash flow, you need to withhold income taxes.  You're a sole proprietorship, so it'd just be on your normal 1040 and Ohio income tax forms.


Not sure about sales tax in Ohio.  Might have one you're supposed to charge and forward to the State.


Yes.  There is an H&R Block around there.

They can advise you if you have a choice of paying income taxes or capital gains taxes on such earnings, and if it's worth it to set things up as a small business, which might make you eligible for additional deductions.

State income and capital gains taxes will follow the federal issues, generally if not exactly.

That just leaves state and local use/sales taxes, business licensing, etc.  H&R Block may know some about that.  Looks like there are a few organizations that can help, too:

And the Chamber of Commerce.

Musical instruments (not guitars, though) are usually a pretty solid investment.  You can pick them up cheap at the end of a school year, then turn around and make a profit at the beginning of the next year, when new students are looking for instruments.


I bought a broken violin a few months ago at a police auction, put in a few hundred in repairs and managed to double my money.

Great of you to make a profit on it. The only thing that will have you succeed is experience and time...that your knowledge of goods is better than others, and you know what you are doing. That can only be learned by talking to others who do it, reading up, and experience.

Some thoughts..i know they are totally obvious. I have sold a few things online, and used to do a bit more collecting.

  • If you are serious after a few months, go ahead and get a little LLC for it, and report the sales you make on sites like Ebay, Amazon, etc. You can even get a federal EIN for the business, so you can separate out what you sell with what you spend at home.
  • Do report income from Amazon and Ebay and such. While IRS doesnt care about a few bucks that you spend on a coke at the flea market from profits, what is sold online, if over a certain amount, will trigger a 1099 I think, so you will want to report it on your taxes. However, I think you will find that if you are selling alot of stuff, you will have LOTS of deductions, including driving expenses to the markets, packaging, and even some computer costs if you can figure what percent you use it... so deductions will be your friend...and will make your little business grow.
  • Go to the SCORE or one of the business assist groups in your town..perhaps they have an accountant, volunteer, who can set up your books and get you started.
  • Turbo Tax is excellent at keeping up with expenses...and will help you with what to deduct.
  • Try one of those services like Square or Paypal, both of which have apps so that you can take credit cards.
  • You may well get enough stuff to get a booth at a flea market. But be can also be tied to the booth and if you are finding good stuff on weekends, it may not be first priority. However, some flea booths in old stores, shopping centers, etc. have a main seller and the "booths" are not manned... But evenutally if you get a place to sell your stuff, it will feel more like a business, and less like a hobby.
  • Try to listen to the spirit of the law, but realistically some cities and counties dont even want you to run an Ebay biz out of your house. But realistically, if you are going to flea markets and selling stuff online, you can probably avoid getting a county business license as long as you arent selling alot of stuff out of your house or apartment. The other thing that will trigger the locals business police zoning busybodies is if you are having LOTS of UPS trucks come to your house every day.
  • If you get really busy, consider getting a postoffice box at a postoffice or at one of the UPS places..that way you will have easy address to send to.
  • there are good apps for Ebay, etc.
  • See if you can find a cheap way to package stuff online. Seems like there are low margins on lots of ebay stuff but the packaging and mailing is where you can either improve margins or lose money.
  • Learn as much as you can about the history of the items you like to sell, and try to specialize a bit...I am sure there are plenty of areas of collecting where there are not that many experts.
  • There is lots of space out there for knowledgeable sellers. Lots sell stuff that is hard to make a profit on like sports memorabilia and "collectibles" that were made to be collected, but lots of other areas have less experts...again, find a niche.
  • Try to make sure you put as much stuff as you can online, and publish lots of things online about your niche and your videos of stuff, pictures, etc. will help you be found. There are inexpensive ways to do websites and you can hook it in with facebook, twitter get max exposure.

Good luck..sounds like fun.

A few more thoughts on taxes:  This business model would make a great hypothetical for a tax planning exam.  Report as capital gains or earned income or some of both?  Can you take home-business expense deductions like the home office deduction for a home business that's all about realizing capital gains?  How do you keep records of your expenses/basis if you're picking up coffee tables for $10?

A lot of this depends on the household's other income and its sources, how diligent at record-keeping the taxpayer is, and how complex he's willing to let his bookkeeping be.

out and making, not earning, money!  Even better to start at a young age, as I wish I would have done.  Enough about that, how to do better and make more money?  Here is what I can offer from what I have seen and know.....

First, do NOT try to emulate "American Pickers" or any other TV show.  The two guys on AP are only showing a small amount of what they do as they could never earn a living on the road several states away in a small van, driving all day.  Enjoy the show.  Learn from the real parts.  But do not be under the illusion you can "be like them."  Same with "Pawn Stars" and "Storage Wars."  Realize that money on flea market items is made $1-5 at a time mostly.  Keep earning it that way, though, as the beer you buy with part of that $280 at the flea market will taste a little colder and smoother than the one you buy with the money you made at work.

Next, specialize.  Find a line or two that you know sells and know what it sells for.  For example, say it is tools.  If you find some old tools in one place ignored you can offer $10 for the lot, but you know at your flea market there are always guys looking for tools and you can get $20.  You may have a few areas of expertise, but it will probably be just a few.  Even on the TV Shows the guys mostly work with a small number of things.

Besides specializing, find sources where you can buy the whole lot.  Someone dies, offer the relatives $100 for all the tools, or another fair amount for a "lot"  (not "a lot") of stuff.  Maybe you get a bunch of stuff you know little about, but sell it cheap at a flea market where people will buy $1-2 things all day long.  Donate the excess to Goodwill and write it off.  Consider buying a pickup truck or SUV as your vehicle to haul it all out.

Finally, don't forget eBay, craigslist, and other ways to get rid of more pricey items.

Good luck.  It will be a road to make a full living, and to make a full living you may need to learn to buy and unload scrap metal when you buy an estate lot.  But you can probably do it!

"Finally, don't forget eBay, craigslist, and other ways to get rid of more pricey items."

Find the niche communities and deal with them directly. 

For example, I stumbled upon a store in my city that was selling dead stock brand new New Era baseball caps from the 90s of our MiLB team that no longer exists. They were selling the caps for $5 CAD each just to get rid of them so I scooped every single one they had. I tried to sell a few locally on Kijiji and Craig's List, thinking some nostalgic baseball fans would jump on them but I didn't get many offers above $10 CAD each. (IMO not really worth the time and effort.) So, instead, I located a variety of online messageboards and Facebook groups for New Era collectors and posted eBay links to the caps I was re-selling. I wound up selling all of them for over $30 USD each. 


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