Vintage View: Car boot sale dealing

Kya deLongchamps offers advice on dealing at a car boot sale — from staging, to seducing, to dealing and selling as the sale season takes off.

Tis the season of cool, dawn rises, and a frolic towards that glittering armada of yawning road barges, puddled around with unpredictable ballast.

Irish boot sales are four sales to the wind again. Every one of us has enough unappreciated things to make a few euro over a weekend or two — so here are some tips to become your own personal Lovejoy — of a Sunday anyway.

First of all, unless you are unloading at any price and happy to bring most of it home again, offer truly saleable goods rather than grot fit for the landfill. 

Give them a wash or a wipe down and launder all clothes — especially baby clothes which should look A1, in other words — new. Bundle smaller unbreakable items into groups or interesting disparate gangs (small tougher ornaments, bags of buttons, bundled cutlery etc). Place them in a wide-bottomed container, stuffed around with newspaper for the journey, and assign them under one price — everyone likes to dig, it’s simply gene level.

Reserve your middling to great goods to stage by size on the tables, pricing things individually, and preferably I would argue, with a sticker price. 

Buyers like to feel they are bargaining down from the price offered to everyone.

Preparation is everything, and buyers will fall on later arriving cars like slavering hyenas, snapping away your resolve on price. 

While packing up the day before, make clear notices for every family of thing and put it in the boxes. If you have something you’re not sure of, research it online. The more you know about an item and can discuss with a potential purchaser (don’t bore with too much personal history), the better.

Don’t be distracted by prices being requested on eBay as a guide. Click down to ‘Sold Listings’ on the left hand menus to see what things are actually achieving at completed auctions only — much more realistic. 

Use as wide a table and as stable as you can fit in the car or trailer. Wallpapering tables can prove rickety on uneven ground and are rather narrow and not great for fragile, top heavy, goodies.

Wash the car (yes, it does create a better draw) and pack it strategically. 

You will be revealing your best pieces over the course of the golden morning hours (serious buyers will be gone by midday if you have vintage items or antiques).

Put the table in last to come out first, and have an idea of your first set up, reserving a couple of boxes and star buys to freshen up the stand and to draw back wanderers lapping the event. 

Plastic bags, newspapers, sunscreen, snacks, a float with masses of change, and a ground sheet for immediately under the table and you’re ready.

Arrive early. 6-7am is not unusual for claiming the tasty pitches, but check with the organisers the day before. Buyers, dealers, and other civilian sellers will start on you as soon as you pull up.

If you have something they are after but it’s buried, ask them to come back in a few minutes rather than disembowelling the whole vehicle on some stranger’s promise. 

Stretch a bit of material over a table frame and pin up your costume jewellery. An old velvety curtain is a good disguise for the table- arrange, stage, fluff — act as if you value these pieces (even if you just want to get shot).

Now, with the treasure box open, it’s time to put you, yourself, the ringmaster, out there too. There’s a microscopically shaven line between enthusiastic and pushy, between informative and condescending.

Walk that line and keep smiling. I recently examined a third rate 1970s continental porcelain centrepiece, with a highly desirable piece of Frederick Rhead Arts & Crafts pottery from about 1910, bolted to the top. This tragic Frankenstein I was informed tersely (having not asked anything about it), “would be €3,000, except for the chips, so it’s just €600”. 

If I had possessed €600 — if I had wanted the freakish gee-gaw at all — the attitude and expression of the seller (to quote Les Dawson, “all the charm of a bulldog chewing a wasp”) — killed the deal.

Choose your moment to offer information, and be gracious if someone has a long, friendly chat and then flicks it away with “ooh no, I don’t think so”. They may come back for something else because they just liked you. 

Give people time to look and discover your goods before stepping in and potentially scaring them off.

Expect to deal. It might be 25c, it might be €25, and in some cases it’s not worth losing a customer over a few cents and heaving something back home. Weigh each negotiation as it comes, taking on board the complete fortunes of the day.

Go from your fair asking price, and if they ask “what would you let it go for”, tag on a bit extra to come down slightly again, to ensure their tail is wagging and the thing is sold. 

The true chancer can appear (and often is) very rude. Keep your cool, and finish with “I’m sorry, I just can’t do that price”, smile, and serve someone else.

If someone is looking at something and is obviously intrigued, venture a price to them lower than the ticket in a “ah — go on then you darling man/woman” way. Be wary of €50 notes. If they don’t appear to have a genuine texture/metallic thread/watermark and holograph, or you have any doubts, make an excuse about change, hold the item, and let the buyer return to you.


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