In the mid 80’s, after having been a partner of a flea market in the mid 70’s for a short while, I sensed that there was an ever-increasing demand for a venue where “moms and pops” could sell their various merchandise as well as a place where people who wanted to dispose of unwanted items from their home could sell their items where there would be a lot of foot traffic. So, in 1984, I formed a small partnership and developed a sizeable flea market in Fletcher, NC. It basically consisted of long sheds, where we had lined-out numerous 10’x10’ ‘booth spaces’ with each having a couple of tables so vendors could rent and sell their merchandise they brought to the market. This was the general concept of the first flea market I built in 1975 on the farm I where I was raised in Waldo, FL.
I was excited about the potential for this market! The location was excellent; situated in the North Carolina Mountains, about halfway between Asheville and Hendersonville, NC and on a major U.S. Hwy. (25) about a ½ mile north of I-26. The land that we had purchased was ready for development and it had all the necessary utilities available along the right-of-way. In addition, I was excited about the anticipated population growth that I sensed would occur in the area over the ensuing years, thereby, increasing the customer base; both of sellers and buyers.
So, in October 1984, we open Smiley’s Flea Market at Fletcher, NC. Thousands of people showed up to shop from the hundreds of vendors set up to sell. After seeing the opening day’s resounding turn out and deeming the business a huge success, I returned to Florida to take care of my real estate and auction business along with being where I could spend time with my two young children.
But, over the next few years, the market would experience seeing attendance dwindled off quite a bit. One by one, two by two, there were fewer and fewer vendors and shoppers each week. Slowly, but surely, the market had turned into a financial drain rather than the profit entity my partners and I had originally envisioned. The business became so bad, that we attempted to sell the market by offering lucrative seller financing - but no one was willing to buy it!
And to top it off, the passion was gone. I wasn’t enthusiastic about the market and neither were my partners. I barely even wanted to go there. I found just walking onto the property depressing.
Then it came to me: the market needed a new synergistic model involving all the stakeholders to get it back on its feet. What the market needed was buy-in and passion from the vendors and sellers as well!!
When I discussed this with my partners, it became obvious that we needed a single direction and that it would be best to dissolve our partnership leaving one of us as the sole owner. I bought out my partners and took over managing the market.
At first, I wasn’t sure what exactly needed to be done! So I talked to the vendors and shoppers and asked them what they thought would make the flea market more valuable to them. During these conversations, it came to me that I needed to find out how I could best serve them instead of trying to get them to ‘serve me’ and conform to my way of thinking! Listening to them ignited my passion once again as I began implementing their ideas. And as these ideas gained traction, my confidence increased and I became even more enthusiastic!
This was a BIG turning point for me. When my PASSION turned from making money to helping my vendors and shoppers become successful, the entire market changed. Their success became my success and my success became their success.
Today, Smiley’s is one of the most successful flea markets on the eastern seaboard. We consistently have hundreds and hundreds of sellers, thousands upon thousands of buyers, and millions and millions of items weekend after weekend throughout the year.
And now, I love to go to the market! I love to talk to the vendors, I love to make improvements, and I love to see cars lined up to get into our parking lot. People call Smiley’s “The Mecca!” Our combined passion and enthusiasm means we all win.
Indeed, PASSION is the key to Success in any endeavor! It fuels confidence, creates excitement and it's contagious!