How to shop at a hamfest...
Next weekend is the Timonium Hamfest - one of the largest hamfests on the east coast, and located very close to me - one of the perks of living in Baltimore. Hamfests are basically swap meets/flea markets geared towards ham radio, electronic, and computer enthusiasts. I've been selling at hamfests for the last 5 years or so, although last year was the first year I sold at Timonium. I generally avoided selling so I would be able to focus on buying stuff, but I've been more active at buying stuff for resale lately and want to convert it to money and free up some space in my house. I'm spending part of this weekend pulling stuff out of my basement and pricing it in preparation.
Last year I did the outdoor tailgating, and only sold on Saturday. This year I sprung for an indoor tailgate space and will be selling both days - it was cold last year. I figure that this will give me a few advantages besides comfort - the indoor space doesn't open until 8am, which means I can shop the outdoor tailgaters before I start selling. I can also set up Friday night, and bring additional inventory Saturday and Sunday if I have space. I don't know if being inside will help or hurt sales, though... we'll find out.
Based on my selling experiences, I figured I'd share a few tips about how to have a productive buying experience, from someone who has been on both sides of the tables full of junk.
1)Bring lots of cash - most sellers will only take cash, and you don't want to miss out on something because you don't have enough money on you.
2)haggle, but don't be a dick about it - many sellers, myself included, price stuff above what they expect to get for it because they know most buyers will haggle. So don't be afraid to offer a lower price for something. However, don't be a jerk - I'm a lot more willing to work with someone who is nice and tells me they need a lower price because they don't have a lot of cash, or don't have space, or that their wife/girlfriend will be mad if they buy it than someone who tells me that I'm stupid for wanting that much for an item or that it's probably broken and they don't trust people who sell at hamfests. Also, how much I'm willing to go down depends on a lot of things - how much I paid for the item, how long I've had it, how big/heavy it is, how many more of them I have, if it's something that becomes obsolete, and how early in the day it is. Chances are, if you are looking at a couple year old desktop pc near the end of the day, you have a lot more haggle space than if you are looking at an iPod at 6:05 am.
3)don't spend money you cant' afford to lose - I'm honest about what I sell, and try to test used items and describe them accurately. Still, sometimes stuff is defective or worked when I tested it but got knocked around in transit. I'm willing to give out contact info if someone wants it (I even have cards printed up this year with my email, ebay id, and google voice number). Also keep in mind that not every seller knows that much about what they are selling - there are a lot of resellers who just buy lots of stuff at auctions or the like and drag it to the 'fest. To me, it's not worth intentionally selling stuff I know doesn't work because I sell year after year to the same people, and if I burn them once they won't buy from me in the future. I have a handful of customers who seek me out at fests, and a few I sell to outside of hamfests, and I've heard customers telling other people they've had good experiences with me. If I ripped them off, they would be telling people to avoid me instead. Still, not everyone thinks this way.
4)if you are looking for something specific, know what you are looking before before you come - I'll often have people ask me if I have RAM or a power supply for "a Dell laptop", but they don't know anything more specific. If you need a part, research the part number or specs before you come up. Asking for RAM for a Dell laptop is as useful as asking for a tire for a Ford - a Fiesta tire isn't going to work on an F-450 Super Duty pickup.
5)don't grumble about how there aren't enough ham radio stuff and that it's all electronics and computer stuff - there is a reason most ham radio clubs market their hamfests to computer and electronics sellers and buyers as well - because there aren't enough vendors and hams to support a fest6) that's just ham radios. There is enough crossover between the electronics, computer, and ham worlds that stuff that appeals to one often appeals to another. Besides, the dues that sellers like me and buyers like the people who buy from me pay goes to support ham radio clubs - and maybe some of the people who come because of the computers and electronics will become interested in ham radio.
6)arrive early - most fests start early - Timonium tailgating opens at 6am to buyers. If you get there late, you will miss some deals. Lots of vendors pack up pretty early, because they've been up really early and want to go home and get some sleep.
7)dress appropriately - comfortable shoes, layers in case it's warm or cold, rain gear if there is a chance of rain. Some people find a backpack useful if they are buying a lot of small items.
8)if you want it, act fast - if you pass something that looks interesting and say "gee, I'll come back and buy that", there's a pretty good chance it won't be there when you get back. And don't be afraid to ask the price of something, don't just assume it's out of your range. I've been surprised at how low some sellers are willing to sell stuff. Worst that can happen is they quote a price you don't like and you keep walking.