Best friends take First State Flea market on the road
Jul. 06, 2018
Amy Rausch and Nicole Schmid like to stand at the edge of their flea markets to watch customers peruse items, chat with vendors and walk away with smiles and one-of-a-kind purchases.
"We just think, we did all this," Rausch said of their brainchild, First State Flea, a mobile market that pops up around Delaware.
"When you take that moment and have an Oprah moment, we did this. All these people are here because of us."
The business partners couldn't appear more different. Rausch is a critically thinking blonde Wilmington cop with the frankness of any East Coaster. Schmid is a brunette assistant program director at the Center for the Creative Arts with an intricate arm tattoo, calm demeanor and a mind constantly queuing up possibilities.
The best friends started a registered traveling flea market, First State Flea on New Year's Eve 2015. They wanted to focus on handmade, homemade, vintage, antiques and upcycled goods, after visiting other Delaware flea markets and feeling shortchanged.
"All good ideas come from cocktail napkins," Rausch said.
The pair hit the ground running in 2016 with a goal to have their first flea market in April. After three seasons, they now have a flea market twice a month, with each averaging 40 vendors. They have had events in Glasgow, Wilmington, Lewes, Carousel Park and others. Attendance averages about 1,800 people, they say.
"We had nothing. We didn't know what we were getting into," Rausch said. "She is very antique and I am more contemporary, so we knew we were the perfect combo for this."
But they were always certain they were going to run a business together, Schmid said. The women met as neighbors living a block away from each other on Brown Street off of Maryland Avenue.
"We were just those friends who always stayed in contact," Schmid said. "Even though our paths were different. We would drift out of contact, but come back together after a bit."
Managing a robust flea market has meant both women have had to put in about 30 hours a week on top of their full-time jobs.
"It's tough. There are times where it feels like I don't want to do it," Rausch said.
"Yeah, giving up our weekends for this after working all week can be difficult," Schmid said. "But it's fun for us. That's how we get through it."
"You have to find your niche and what you like," Rausch said. "The reward you reap from when people benefit off of you, that's what keeps us going."
Rausch and her husband upcycle furniture, and can describe one purchase that explains why she devotes all her free time to the market.
"I got goosebumps from when this one person bought a girl's desk and then through Facebook, she took a picture and I was just like, 'Oh my gosh! The girl is studying at the desk!'"
Being co-entrepreneurs has also forever changed their friendship, to include arguments in critical periods of the business. Rausch and Schmid disagreed in the beginning on whether to include direct-sale vendors, such as Avon and Herbalife.
Rausch felt they needed the extra boost to get started, but Schmid felt it tarnished the goal they had set out with.
"We want to be unique," Schmid said. "That's defeating the purpose of why we started. We wanted to be able to provide people with something they couldn't get anywhere else."
After coming to understand Schmid's side, Rausch agreed. Now they only have Mid-Atlantic crafters and artists.
Each flea market starts at 9 a.m. Customers browse through the tents full of furniture, jewelry and candles. Products can range from a cost of a dollar to $750. Custom orders can also be placed for bigger items such as bar stools and personal tables.
But their most popular items are unique pieces, such as laser-cut vinyl record clocks. During an event, Rausch and Schmid check in with retailers and shoppers to make sure the Saturday is successful for both. They have noticed that small items buyers can carry out with them often do well.
A few of their vendors have been able to use First State Flea as a stepping stone to having their products in a store or as in vendor Marché's case, growing their base as a home decor store in Kennett Square.
"They have such a vibrant energy there. I am glad to be a part of it," said Marché owner Deanna Johnson. Her bricks-and-mortar store has been so successful she was able to expand it recently. "I thought it would be cool to add another layer to our business and sell things you don't always see in the store. Vintage art, crystal art decanters, antique textiles."
Candlemaker Meg Kuck would like to follow Johnson's lead. Kuck was selling her candles on Etsy when Schmid sent her a message inviting her to sell with the flea market. She was one of their opening vendors two years ago. For her, this market is unlike others in the state because it's year-round and features small, local business.
"Their events are fantastic. Their following has tripled in such a short period of time because people have been looking for something like this," Kuck said.
Still making her candles in her home under the name Modern City & Main, Kuck hopes her "side hustle" becomes a storefront in the next five years. She believes her networking at the market is pushing her in the right direction.
"It's a central location where you can connect with other vendors and network and also grow your business," Kuck said. "I've met so many great people and my own following has grown."
For Rausch and Schmid, Kuck's success story is what their business is all about. They want to provide an outlet for artists and craft-makers to sell their distinct pieces and for customers to promote small, local businesses.
After every market, they give back to charities.
"We felt like if we could show people that we can give back to the community, the people coming in to vend could then expand their goods," Rausch said. "What we've been able to do in this short time shows there is a need for it. It is just a question of if we can persevere."