antique mall

What is a Multi-Vendor Market?

what's a multi-vendor market?

The multi-vendor market is a common sight in cottage country. It’s a simple business model, especially for the vendors involved, and has helped many small businesses get their sea legs.

If you’re familiar with the flea market and antique mall, then you already know of two types of multi-vendor markets. They don’t work exactly the same way, though, so let’s dive into the specifics.

What is a multi-vendor market?

A multi-vendor market is a store where multiple people sell their goods. They rent booth or shelf space, then the market’s staff looks after customers and collects money from sales. Most markets charge a commission fee on sales, a handful operate purely on commission fees.

I’d call that set-up a consignment shop, but that’s a topic for a different post.

Multi-vendor markets have been around for a long time—despite Google’s insistence that this is just an online thing.

How does a multi-vendor market work?

Much like a flea market, multi-vendor markets provide sellers with space to display and sell their wares. Unlike a flea market, sellers don’t run their booths.

Flea markets run much shorter hours—weekends only, sometimes on a seasonal basis, to a multi-vendor market’s 5-7 days per week. Each vendor sets up their booth and is in charge of maintaining and stocking it. Store owners handle sales, advertising, staffing, and the overhead costs associated with running a physical shop.

What’s the difference between a multi-vendor market and an antique mall?

antique mall

An antique mall is a type of multi-vendor market. They are made up of booths that each sell different things from different people, the main difference is the phrasing.

Antique malls are where you go when you’re mostly after antiques. You’ll find vintage, too, and you’re far less likely to find new products.

One thing you may run into in an antique mall is that vendors work the cash register. This unpaid labour is part of their vendor agreement, or may be in exchange for cheaper rent and fees. I have never been overly comfortable with this way of running things, mainly because it has the potential to create so many problems.

Not every antique mall runs this way—it just comes up often enough that it deserved mention.

What’s the difference between a multi-vendor market and a consignment shop?

Some multi-vendor markets consider themselves to be consignment stores. A typical consignment store will accept others’ items and collect a percentage of the sale price in exchange for making the sale. The consignor isn’t renting space per se, they’re hiring the store owner to sell their stuff for them.

This format gives the shopkeeper a little more freedom to display items how they want. They decide where everything goes and how long it remains in the shop. Most consignment stores have a formal “consignment agreement” with their sellers. This document outlines fees involved, how long items remain up for sale, and any rules the consignor must follow.

A multi-vendor market assigns specific spots to vendors and usually charges rent and a consignment fee. The vendors are in charge of deciding how their space looks, and unless the lease says otherwise, they have that booth until they decide to leave or are kicked out.

Do all multi-vendor markets work the same way?

Ah, no.

In the thrifting and reselling space there isn’t a “blueprint” for running a store. Everybody does theirs differently. If you ask a group of consignment, thrift, vintage, antique, flea market, multi-vendor, or other similar store owners how they handle aspects of business, you’re likely to get a different answer from each person.

What everyone mostly agrees on is that your fees must cover your expenses, and you have to follow local tax laws.

So, some multi-vendor markets take rent and commission, some operate only on commission, and others take rent and no commission at all.

I personally feel that taking rent and commission is the best way to cover expenses and guarantee payment for your time.

Can you make a living selling in a multi-vendor marketplace?

Can you make a living selling in a multi-vendor marketplace?


As long as you keep your rental space clean, rotate stock on a regular basis, help advertise what you sell, and build yourself an audience on top of what the store is doing, you can definitely make a living.

If you’re selling in an area that’s seasonal, then you want to make sure you don’t put all your eggs in one basket: have an online presence, monetize it as best you can, and make sure you’re paying yourself and not spending everything that comes in.

You have to put money aside for the slow season.

And a lot of it depends on what you sell.

What can you sell at a multi-vendor market?

You can sell almost anything—within reason.

Vendors at our store aren’t allowed to sell taxidermy because taxidermy requires a license, which we don’t have. We also don’t allow weapons and live ammo, for example. Some stores have their own sets of rules and you’re best to ask the owners, though they likely will tell you before you set up.

Each market will be a little different.

I have seen everything from jam and candles to crystals and incense, amigurumi (crochet stuffed animals) to craft supplies. We’ve had vendors that made jewelry, upcycled old wood, and even a fella that made birdhouses.

If you can make it, thrift it, order it from a wholesaler, or dig it out of your attic, you can sell it at a multi-vendor market.

As always, when in doubt, ask the owners. Every marketplace owner knows what sells and what doesn’t in their area, and stuff that sells like hotcakes in Toronto may have a hard time moving in Collingwood.

For Treasures by the Locks, we gently suggest avoiding clear glass items unless they’re vintage crystal. Unique is better, especially if it’s old, and if it’s something you’d get from a dollar store you’re better off leaving it at home.

Is it expensive to run a multi-vendor market?

I don’t have experience with any other type of brick-and-mortar shop, so I can’t really compare. We have to cover rent, utilities, website, fuel for our vehicles, supplies like bags, and other little things as they come up. We also have our own stock that we put in.

If you want to run your own multi-vendor marketplace and need some advice or want to pick our brains, you’re more than welcome to contact us and we’ll do our best to help. We’ve been flying by the seats of our pants for years, and we’ve learned a lot!

What are the benefits of selling in a multi-vendor market?

What are the benefits of selling in a multi-vendor market?

The primary benefit of selling in a multi-vendor market is that it’s much cheaper than renting your own storefront. Average commercial rental in Fenelon Falls ranges from $2,000 per month to $3,000 per month, depending upon the size of the unit. This does not include utilities like internet, electricity, or propane for heating.

Compare that with $50 per month at the low end for renting a shelf, and anywhere from $150-$500 for an actual booth. The only other fees are commissions on sales, if the shop charges that, and maybe a maintenance fee (if you choose to let the store clean your booth for you).

When you sell in a multi-vendor market, you get to take advantage of the store’s social media following and their advertising budget. You have access to customers that you can’t otherwise reach, and you don’t have to hang out at the store every day.

That’s my job.

In short, selling in a multi-vendor market takes a lot of difficulty out of starting a small product-based business. It’s a great jumping-off point, and should your business outgrow it, then that’s a great sign!

If you have any further questions about multi-vendor markets, just leave a comment in the box below our subscription form. We’re always watching! … That sounds kinda like a threat, doesn’t it?

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