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What business insights can we pick up from car boot sales

Despite many of us now selling our “pre-loved” items online, car boot sales remain popular. For the uninitiated, sellers pay a few pounds or so for their pitch, after arriving with their car boots crammed with items they want to sell, which are unpacked and displayed on paste tables or blankets on the ground. Bargain-hungry buyers pay a pound or two to enter the site (normally a field or car park).

Some businesses visit “car booties” looking for stock and they’re a major draw for “pickers”, who buy second-hand furniture and collectibles cheaply, do them up and sell them on for a tidy profit. But as well as being a great place to pick up bargains, car boot sales remind us of some key business basics, and can provide us with some business insights such as…

1. Know your market

At car boot sales, most shoppers are bargain hunters with limited budgets, so there’s no point trying to sell expensive items (eBay those or try other options). And whether you’re selling at a car boot sale or elsewhere, you should know what your competitors are offering, as it could be same-value goods for less. Knowing your market - or researching it thoroughly if you don’t - can ensure that your offer the right products at the right prices to the right people.

2. Presentation matters

Whether it’s at a car boot sale, retail premises or website, you must attract potential customers’ attention, tell them quickly what you’re offering and why they should buy it form you. Providing too much choice can be off-putting; being more selective can be wiser. You must show off what you’re selling in the best possible way and make it easy for buyers to find what they want. Whatever you sell should appear as attractive as possible, even if it isn’t new or unique, and your sales pitch must be spot-on. How you present yourself will also affect sales.

3. Offer things people want

Second-hand clothes and shoes sell well at car boot sales, especially if they’re vintage or a desirable brand. Toys are also popular, as are small items of furniture, ornaments, kitchenware, perfume, cosmetics, CDs and DVDs. Many buyers (especially professionals) prefer items that are brand new and still in their original packaging. In reality (old VHS videos apart), most things can be sold if the price is right.

4. Attractive prices

That doesn’t necessarily mean the cheapest, because value is the key issue, but most car boot sale buyers expect to buy things for a few pounds or less. You might get £5 for some things, maybe even £10, but few things are sold for much more (it’s not that type of market). Go too high and you’ll end up taking things home. Go too low and you’ll give away profit. Bundling similar items together can enable you able to shift more goods, and sometimes you must offer discounts (small and large) to make a sale or achieve your targets.

5. Importance of good negotiating skills

If you believe something is fairly priced, you don’t have to accept lower offers, because there may be other buyers. Experienced car boot sale buyers often make very low offers. But when selling, you must know when to hold your ground and justify your prices. There are other times when concessions can be necessary, but never give away too much too soon.

6. People buy people first

It pays to be confident and energetic when selling, but don’t overdo it. It definitely pays to smile, be polite and friendly when trying to sell. You need to engage potential customers in conversation, so you can find out what they want and whether you can provide it. As long as they’re happy with the quality and price, people are more likely to buy from you if they like you. A friendly approach might even help you to sell to those who are mainly there to browse.

Selling at a car boot sale can involve a lot of preparation and hard work, as in business. It’s possible to make a good amount of sales. But even when you’re haggling with the most determined buyers, you should enjoy what you’re doing. It should be fun. Perhaps this is the most important reminder car boot sales offer us about business.

  • By SME content expert (and erstwhile car boot seller) Mark Williams.

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