Why are car boot sales a significant and valuable channel?

Last weekend I visited my first car boot sale as a seller or a ‘car booter’ as the signs directed me. Near where I live in the East Midlands there is a car boot sale every Sunday during the summer and without fail hundreds of cars and perhaps a thousand people gather in a field outside Leicester and practice the art of hard and fast retailing.

Whilst experience and multi channel are the buzz words for shops it is a very different world in car boot sales. Your car, a trestle table if you are lucky and the communication – ‘Who Dares Wins’ when it comes to engaging with the shoppers.

These events are not like high street shops, with a leisurely start at 9am or 10am. We were up at 0530 and ‘on pitch’ at 0630 and whilst I thought that was a heroic effort we were the second from last to set up. Within seconds of turning off the car engine and opening my burgeoning boot with all the things that had fail to sell on our village fete ‘bric a bric’ stall I was not only approached but had people swarming into the bags, the boot and asking me for vinyl, Lego and any electronic gaming.

What I then realised is that this was phase 1 – the professional buyers. They knew what they were looking for and as I observed had serious cash to spend. Sadly I was not a recipient of their cash as I had nothing they were after. By this time it was about 0645 on a lovely windy and showery Sunday.

We then got our trestles out and started to display our wares or as they say on the high street – we did our visual merchandising. We did not have a bargain end of the table as in supermarkets but tried to arrange or ‘tat’ as best we could in order for the wind not to blow it away.


The next group of people were semi pro’s looking for clothes and any new goods that they could sell on. We have a few new board games and some toys and these quickly went for anything from £5 to 50p. You had to be on your guard as at one point there were about 10 people all in ‘my shop’ picking up looking and then hopefully putting back!

By this time it was about 0930 and time for a coffee and bacon sandwich that my logistics team (my wife and children) brought up to me but if I had wanted deep-fried donuts, burgers, chips or candy floss then I could have had the lot.

The final phase was the families – more sedate and here it was about convincing their children that they did want to read Enid Blyton. Nerf guns are great fun and playing with plastic soldiers and tanks can fill hours of time.

Now if all of that was too boyish then we had lots of cuddly bears, elephants and monkeys looking for a home as well as a ceramic goldfish and three pigs. For the adults there was not much left apart from old size 10 maternity clothes which I managed to sell a few off with one pair of track suit bottoms going to one lady who was not pregnant or planning to get pregnant but the size appealed to her!

I struck up a great rapport with one pregnant lady but alas for me the baby was due in a week’s time so as I write this I hope she has successfully given birth and I am sure we have a range of old baby clothes to sell her when we meet again at the ‘car boot’! After bundling items and reducing prices to 20p and to a select few (such as my new friend who does books to Africa) then we had cleared 95% of our stall with the remainder looking very sad as it was destined for the black bin!

We finally packed up at 1130 having had what I can truly say was a fantastic time. As a family we all had our go at selling and I tried every technique in the book from asking people to pay what they thought it was worth (they always paid more than I had expected), to walking away from a sale when the lady offers 75p for a £14.99 unopened game that I am selling for a £1 – in the end she spent £1.50 with me to the lovely lady who just wanted a few books for her neighbour’s children. One lady was so appreciative of her deal that as a local radio DJ on the Rock Show she is going to give me a shout out as the ‘car boot book man’ – a new handle and something to cherish!

Whilst this was going on I took the odd break to wander and talk to my fellow car booters – all pro’s and incredibly helpful and generous in their advice to me a car booter virgin.

Opposite me was a gentleman, his wife and what may have been his grown up son. They had a large white van which they unloaded and filled 7 trestle tables plus a whole area for shoes! He had anadin tablets, vegetable seeds, shampoo, razor blades, facial creams, pain relief creams, clothing and lots and lots of shoes in boxes.

All of the stuff he was selling was branded (for example the razors were Gillette) and I asked him if they were fakes (as in other parts of the world) but he told me how he gets hold of the stock which was fascinating. It comes from pallets delivered to retailers that might be partially damaged which means the whole pallet is condemned. The manufacturer doesn’t want the cost of taking it back so it either gets sold to someone like my friend or central depot where the stock is held or heads to a crusher.

He was buying the stock at 8p per unit and selling three for a £1. He also sometimes sells the stock (in pallets) to £ shops at 18p a unit and they then sell it for a £1/99p a unit. Now with volume you have a seriously good business and the growth of the mainstream discounters has shown us this.

His rent of his car boot pitch is £10 and he will clear £500+ of stock at each car boot sale. The landlord (farmer) is happy with this diversification as every car booter pays a minimum of £6 and even the shoppers have to pay a £1+ to come in – children under 12 free. So with 300 car booters (£1,800) and say 1,000 shoppers (£1,000) you have a return of over £2,000 an acre (net of costs) – no traditional farming comes close.

I tried to find out how many car boot sales there are in the UK and there is one directory site (www.carbootjunction.com) and they have some maps of where the car boots are. Below is a national picture and my immediate region courtesy of http://www.carbootjunction.com.

Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 09.01.48Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 09.09.52

So car boot sales and traditional markets, especially in times of recession, are a fundamental service to shoppers who want to or can only afford to shop at these locations. They provide an outlets for goods that would otherwise be crushed and provide income to the sellers and the opportunity for others to purchase essentials as well as second-hand goods that they might otherwise be unable to afford.

The diversity of ages, ethnicity and cash that I experienced last Sunday was quite remarkable. I met some people who I would have otherwise not met and everyone could not have been nicer and more friendly.

Was it a success?

The answer is yes and will I be back – absolutely!

My children enjoyed it and learnt the importance of being able to communicate to all and sundry and that in the case of Sunday – do it well and your pocket money swells dramatically!


Photo credit – Christian Guthier

One thought on “Why are car boot sales a significant and valuable channel?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s