If your house is full of unwanted trinkets, toys and tat and you could do with some extra cash, a car boot sale could be a great solution to your problems. In a matter of hours you will have decluttered your house, perhaps paid for a weekend away, and learned a little bit about what it is like to be a retailer – a helpful skill for a negotiator. There are several things you can do to maximise your profits and make sure you earn enough to cover the entry fee.
Do a reccy
Go to carbootjunction.com or yourbooty to choose a location. Visit a site as an observer to get an understanding of the market and who is buying there. See where the busiest stalls are pitched; often these are close to the entrance or food stalls.
Pack the night before
Put your items in boxes so you can quickly pack your car in the morning. Take a collapsible table and ground sheets on which to lay the items; make sure this is last in the boot so when you get there you can get them out first. Look at the weather forecast the night before to help you prepare efficiently.
I would suggest not putting prices on items; firstly it saves time, and secondly people may pay more than you expect for an item. But make sure you are aware of the going rate for your gear and know how much you are prepared to accept for each item – visit sites like eBay to get an idea. Last year a Rene Lalique vase was bought by a woman at a car boot sale in Dumfries for £1 and fetched £32,450 at auction at Christie's; visit an antiques shop beforehand if you think an item could be valuable!
Get to the site before the official sellers' opening time so you can be one of the first in the queue and if possible choose a high-traffic site. If it is raining look for a dry pitch to sell your goods. Go with a friend – it helps to have an extra pair of eyes as unfortunately there can be thieves about, and it also makes it more fun. If you have time, check out the prices of other sellers to make sure you are competitive.
Pitch like a pro
Set up quickly and efficiently. Lay out your store like a retailer would: put seasonal items at the front with products placed in logical groupings. For example, on a summer's day put barbecue and camping equipment and parasols prominently, and popular all-year-round items like buggies on a "children's goods" rug. If you are selling clothes, use a clothes rail to present them.
Offering customers a drink may help drum up trade; on a hot summer's day offer a nice refreshing squash or coffee on a cold frosty morning.
When your stall is set out, take a look at it from the front as a customer sees it – would the store appeal to you if you were passing by?
Think what could stop people buying products and have an answer ready for any questions.
"Does the CD work?" – bring a CD player for people to try it out before they buy.
"Does the electronic game work?" – bring batteries.
"I've got no way of carrying it around" – have bags at hand.
"How does this work?" – bring the manuals and packaging.
Now put on your money belt (with plenty of loose change) and prepare to haggle!
Create some point of sale material
People love a bargain. Make signs using sales lines to attract customers – for example, Bogof (buy one get one free) or more creative ones like "collector's gems" for some of your older items such as niche magazines or vinyl records.
Use your negotiating skills
The best hagglers arrive early. Be prepared to bargain and do it with smile and charm. Package items up; if someone is interested in the buggy why not ask them a few questions, for example the child's age and sex. They may be interested in buying a tricycle and a few Thomas the Tank Engine toys – your original sale could double!
If you think someone's offer is too low, politely say no and tell them why you feel it is worth the price you are asking – expert hagglers aren't fearful of early rejection and often bounce back later with a higher proposal.
Move things around
If some items aren't selling well move them to a different position on the stall as customers may have missed them when walking past.
Remember why you came
If the idea was to declutter, towards the end of the sale create an "everything must go" sign. If you wanted to make money and think you might do better selling some items elsewhere, put them to one side. Use your vocal cords to good effect and let customers know of some great tactical combinations; for example the sun hat and sunglasses were £6, now £3 for the pair.
I need to raise some cash and am thinking of selling some of my old junk at a car boot sale. I've never done this before, so I would welcome tips. What sells well? How do I price my goods? And what sort of profit can I hope to make?
This is the modern world
I did a car boot sale and was surprised how little people were prepared to pay - they would haggle over a price tag of 50p. On top of paying £7 to sell, it was hard work and there were a few awkward customers to deal with. If you have a computer, eBay is a far easier if lengthier option. Joanne Quinn, Reading
Tips of the trade
My tips: 1. Put price stickers on your goods before the day of sale. 2. Pack items in smaller cardboard boxes - they are easier to move in and out of the car. 3. Take a table for your goods, such as a paste table 4. Arrive early - ring the organisers to ask what time they suggest. 5. On arrival, unload your table and one box then lock your car while you unpack the box, otherwise people will swarm all over your car, picking up items and confusing you totally. 7. Dealers come early to make offers. Don't take them unless you are happy with the price; better to tell them to try again later as you've only just started selling. 8. Take lots of change and a container with a lid for money taken. Once you have a few notes, lock these in your car. 9. Take a chair, wet wipes, carrier bags for buyers, sandwiches and a drink. 10. Best of all, share the stall with a friend as this halves the cost and ensures you get a toilet break! Lynne Smith, Cornwall
It's all in the timing
Last weekend we sold a greenhouse heater for £5, an old oil painting for £10, four CDs for £4 and DVDs for £1 each. The early birds will be dealers; don't give an item away as they will come back at the end if they really want it. The nine o'clockers will pay better. See you on Sunday! Ruth Hutson, Lincolnshire
A fun way to make some cash
I've done a car boot sale nearly every week for a year. Don't expect to make a fortune because it's where everybody goes for a bargain: 50p-£1 is common for things like videos, books, clothes, toys and garden pots; maybe £3-£5 for small kitchen appliances. Be prepared to get up extremely early and for a good deal of loading and unloading. We take a folding pasting table, folding chairs, sheets of plastic to spread on the ground (good for displaying clothes), warm jackets, sun hats, an umbrella, food, flask, a float with change and a copy of the Guardian for slack periods. It's great fun if you enjoy the hustle and bustle of markets and you can shop while you're there. You will save money and feel good because you're taking part in the great recycling of goods that are car boot sales. I think they're great! Jo Protéro, Bath
Rules of engagement
First, let's be clear about one thing - there will be NO profit! What you get from your car boot sale will probably be around 10% of what you originally paid for the items you sell. Rule one: do your homework! Visit a couple of local boot sales before you go as a seller. For locations go to Carbootjunction.com. Find out when they start - this is often as much as two hours before the advertised time. Rule two: take a helper. Quite apart from the obvious advantage that having someone with you will be useful to keep an eye on the stock when things get busy, it also enables you to visit the toilet and to have a look round the other stalls, but mind you don't end up taking home more stuff than you sold. Rule three: get there early! If you arrive after the event has already began you will be immediately surrounded by vultures looking for bargains and emptying your car boot for you. Rule four: it's probably best not to label your goods with prices, but instead have a good mental picture of what you've got and what you want for it. Price labels give you away as an inexperienced first timer and will attract the attention of hardcore professional buyers. Most importantly, enjoy the experience! Not only are you recouping a few pounds on items you might otherwise have thrown away, but also you are helping the environment by recycling things rather than consigning them to a landfill site.
Mike Pim-Keirle, Cornwall, who wins this week's £25 National Book Token
It's a boring lottery
I've only ever sold things at two car boot sales. At the first I made approximately £80 and at the second I just about broke even for the price of the pitch. In the second one everything was in good condition but hardly anything sold, particularly the children's books and games. It definitely helps if things are labelled with a price. People also tend to rummage if they're not being watched. My advice is to take a book - it staves off the boredom! Nicola Dias, Cambridgeshire
A fellow novice speaks ...
I have no experience but have been thinking along similar lines. My plan of action is to research two or three local sales without parting with any money just to get the feel of the event. It is important not to travel more than about five miles otherwise the exercise can prove too costly. Sort your items into three or four price bands - 50p, £1, £2 and £5, for example - and use the same number of clearly labelled boxes with these prices on. Each item could have a coloured spot representing its price band so there is no confusion or cheating by the customer. Anything worth more than £5 should be sold on eBay or through small ads to realise its full market potential. Keep an account book to enable you to assess how worthwhile the project is. Good luck! Linda Richardson, Lincoln
Car boot versus computer
Don't rush off to sell until you have worked out the value of your 'junk' and where the best place to sell it might be. Do some research - scan adverts in Loot, free local papers or newsagents' windows for current prices. Auction houses will sometimes give free valuations. Check the completed sale listings for items on eBay to see what things actually sold for. Car boot sales may have 500 visitors if it doesn't rain while eBay has millions worldwide. eBay is good for branded good and collectables, while car boot sales are good for selling tools and toys, domestic equipment and the sort of anonymous, average china, glass or costume jewellery that does not sell well online because it can't be precisely described and searched. A significant advantage of car boot sales is that people pay cash and carry their purchases away themselves. Loveday Lemon, London
This week's question:
I buy clothes from discount retailers but am concerned about the working conditions in which they're made. We don't have much money and can't afford to use big stores. The recent publicity on this issue has left me feeling guilty. What's a girl to do?
Any ideas? Email your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org