How to buy props (and sell) at a boot sale
This may feel like an off-topic topic but a member of Inside Stylists recently asked me for some tips on selling at a boot sale as they were about to sell at one for the first time. Knowing that I’m a regular (I share my finds on my EmmaMTStylists Instagram account most Sundays) they wanted to know how to avoid the pitfalls.
I had a lot to say.
How to buy at a boot sale
I’ve been an avid treasure/prop hunter first thing on a Sunday morning for many years. I love to find unusual props for shoots so that my shoots always look completely unique. I’m also partial to a Fugly collection or two for my home. For me it’s the thrill of the chase.
Top tips for buying at a boot sale
There are a few things I do when I buy at a boot sale. Here are my top tips
Before you arrive
I always wear clothes that are comfy and right for the season. I find layers are best so you can peel them off once it gets light and warm. Boot sales can run from March till October so a hat is a must, especially on those early summer mornings when it’s chilly when you arrive and boiling when you leave.
Even in the height of summer the grass is going to be damp first thing in the morning. The boot sales I go to are mostly on farms and you have to walk through the grass to get to the sellers. Often the car parks are on grass too so suitable shoes are essential. I can’t tell you how many times my trainer wearing feet are soaked before I even get to the sellers.
It’s also worth mentioning that even after the hottest week, if a farm had rain the ground is going to be uneven and soggy – especially if tractors, vans, or cars with trailers have been to a recent sale. Watchout for uneven ground.
I wear walking (dog walking) boots until it’s really warm, then switch to trainers when there’s no sign of rain. Loads of people wear flip-flops. I think they’re mad! How can you dash around for treasure in flip flops?
Since the removal of plastic bags very few sellers have bags. They also tend to sell supermarket shoppers rather than give away bags for free. I always take a rucksack. It’s ancient – I bought it when I worked at GAP when I was at uni. Yes, it’s 25 years old! It has handy pockets on the front – great for putting individual breakables in, side pockets for drinks, and a laptop pocket where I always put my keys.
I also take another lightweight fabric bag in case I fill the rucksack or I use it to pack breakables. Be prepared as the scouts always say.
There are lots of pickpockets at boot sales. It’s a bit like going to London. Never put your purse or phone where someone can slip their hand into a front pocket and nab them. For this reason, I take a bum bag. It’s very cool and has a big pocket for all my change and a pocket for my phone. I’ve used cross-body handbags too but the bum bag feels safer.
As I just mentioned – you need change. Lots of change. Most sellers will have a small float when they arrive but if you want something first thing and don’t have anything smaller than a 20 you’re probably going to miss out.
During the week I’ll buy things at the supermarket self check out machines to get change. A meal deal here, chocolate digestive biscuits there, you’ll soon have around £10-£20 in coins to get buying first thing.
I also raid MrMT’s coin stash. I’m not sure if he would do this if I wasn’t a regular boot saler. He puts loose change into a tin so it’s not rattling around in his pocket. I then swipe it each weekend. I’ve learned to check the tin on a Saturday night, not 6am on Sunday morning now so he doesn’t mind.
I always spend more time at the boot sale than I plan so I take a bottle of water and a banana and crisps. Snacks so I don’t just eat mini donuts.
Most of the toilets at boot sales are cabins, converted caravans, or portaloos. Usually, they’re “okay”, but sometimes – at the end of the day, they’re not! It’s always a good idea to have some handy tissues in case they run out. You could also take one of those pocket-size hand sanitisers too as they rarely have hand washing facilities. Yuck!
Also, hay fever! Tissues are essential.
How to buy at a boot sale
Time is everything when buying at a boot sale
I’m sure you’re going to know that I am going to suggest you get to the boot sale early. Many boot sales share their opening times via their social media but you may find that people go even earlier than the listed times. One of my locals says they open at 7am for buyers but I’ve been there at 6am and it’s already busy – even though the sellers are still arriving.
I plan my time there with the mindset of get in, get out and still have a day off. That’s why it’s a good idea to get there early. That and the fact that you have the full choice before the resellers get in.
Parking at the boot sale
You know about Ikea rage right? When people shop at IKEA on a Saturday afternoon not expecting it to be busy and end up shouting at their kids and arguing with their partner. Well, there’s a boot sale version of that. It’s called Car Park rage.
Car parks at Boot sales are nearly always on grass, there are no lines so people park selfishly, they completely ignore the wardens, pretty much can’t see pedestrians, and nearly run them over and that’s just when they arrive. When it’s time to leave the queues can be long and slow and painful. There’s usually only one way in and one way out of the farm and the road leading into the boot sale is manic.
My advice? Park outside of the boot sale whenever you can. Get an extra couple of hundred steps in.
Lots of boot sales have an entrance fee. One I go to is 50p – and they dot your hand with a permanent marker, another charges £1 and one charges £2 for parking – which is really cheeky as it’s on a motorway and there’s nowhere else to park.
Up and down
When I plan my route along the rows I tend to do them all in order when it’s a small site – around 10-15 rows. When it’s bigger – and this drives my mum completely mad, I don’t do the first row and then I skip rows. I don’t know why I do this. It just makes it more interesting to me. It may be because I am on a timer. I like to be home or at least leaving by 10am so I know from the get-go that I won’t get to see everything. It’s just potluck. The only reason I would do every single row is if I’m looking for specific props. Then I go till I find it or there are no more rows.
There’s no rhyme or reason to how to navigate the rows just go with the flow.
Bootsales are infinitely more fun when you have a specific item you’re looking for. When I’m hunting for props boot sales are the best. But if I’m just looking for me then I have an idea of something I’m collecting. Right now it’s specific ceramic swans (again – fugly things), I’m also on the lookout for a certain style of plant pot. I want lots of the same design so that I can paint them and have them on my window ledge above the stairs. This is a great boot sale goal.
When I’m propping I have a list. I break it down into areas – furniture, china, vases, accessories etc so I can look and see if I still need something for my shoot in an instant.
If I’m propping I don’t go to the boot sale with anyone else. My sister always wants to walk around together but I like to fully focus.
A word about buying props at a boot sale
I’ve always bought props from boot sales and my clients never mind. I obviously can’t get receipts so what I do is list everything I buy for their shoot on my Notes app on my phone and then I itemise everything when I send my invoice.
Clients are happy with my choice of props – which are so much more interesting when vintage and there’s also the lower cost too.
If you’re buying props for a new client it might be worth mentioning that this is how you work before you start. You don’t want to be left paying for their props as they need receipts.
Another word about buying props at a boot sale
It has to be said that props can be much less expensive when bought at a boot sale. Things I am always on the lookout for are frames, mirrors, furniture, and vases. I also always keep an eye open for the unusual and retro / vintage pieces that I can use at a later date.
I love to paint props to fit in with a shoot and this is the best and most creative way to do it. Miss-matched candle sticks all painted in the same colour just work. Don’t you think?
To haggle or not to haggle
I’m not a big haggler but some people love it. I think as long as something is a reasonable price I’ll get it. If it’s over my budget I’ll ask “What’s your best price on this?”.
I think most sellers ask for more than they want so there’s some wriggle room to drop the price.
A word about charities.
There are often charities at Boot sales and Scouts raising money for trips or people saving for wheelchairs. Watch out for the signs. I have heard people haggling with these stalls so many times and I can’t make out whether they don’t see the signs or don’t care. I pop a few coins in their collection pots. That feels really good. An easy way to give back.
Get an Ice cream
If you’ve seen my Instagram stories you’ll know that I always get a scoop of chocolate ice cream at the boot sale. They’re such a treat on a hot day. Also, the owners live around the corner and they’re lovely.
How to sell at a boot sale
As well as buying at boot sales I’m often found offloading old retired props, the kid’s clothes and toys, and anything else I can get my hands on when I’m having a full-on declutter.
Selling at a boot sale needs a bit of prep and now that I have done it a few times I can share how I do it to save you the stress.
The day before
Check the weather
If there is any chance of rain it may be worth waiting till next week. The same for if it’s going to be cold at the end of the season.
If it’s going to be super hot the sellers will probably pack up a bit early.
Get your crew. How much is a boot sale pitch
Pitches for boot sales can be anything from £8-15 for a regular family car so it’s worth teaming up with another person or two and splitting the cost. It’s also really great to have someone there so you can nip off to the loo or check out the nearby stalls.
Pack up your car
I’ve found that Supermarket shopper bags are great for transporting your sale goods to the boot sale. You’ll also be able to use them to drop things off afterward. Boxes tend to be too bulky and prevent you from taking as much stuff as you wanted. You can really pack bags in. In the footwells. On the passenger seat. In nooks and crannies of your car.
It’s worth mentioning that you will probably have more to take than you first thought. If you can it’s worth filling up one car and driving the rest of the crew in another. They can then bring the chairs.
My sister always likes to take a garden chair to sit on at the boot sale but to be honest I rarely sit down (ADHD baby!) Last time we did one together I was selling vintage garden chairs. They didn’t sell and she was really pleased!
If you don’t want to stand around for hours take chairs.
Tables – How to sell homewares at a boot sale
I have an unhealthy amount of strong wallpaper trestle tables. I don’t know why but I’m glad I do. They are big and strong so don’t fall over if someone leans on them. They are quite heavy though.
I always pack up the car and leave space at the top for the tables. You can put them in sideways so you can slide them out but they got stuck once so I avoid that now.
Some people take tablecloths for their stall but I always forget. It does look nice but not having them has never prevented me from making sales. If I was just selling vintage homewares I would definitely have one.
Things to take with for selling at a boot sale
If you have nice clothes to sell a clothes rail is a good idea, but make sure it’s a strong one. The kind fashion stylists use. Otherwise, it will fall over (seen that a lot) or it will need to be propped up against the table (seen that a lot too)
Buyers expect clothes on a rail to be more expensive so be ready to share prices especially if everything is the same price. Make a sign.
Don’t forget hangers, plenty of hangers.
Tarpaulin – How to sell clothes at a boot sale
If you just want to get rid of your clothes on mass then a large tarp on the floor with a sign is a great idea. People love a good rummage at a boot sale.
Over the last few years, I’ve seen groups of teens out together at boot sales. They are so eco-conscious and know how to spot a bargain and a unique piece that their friends won’t have. They’re often found rummaging.
Again, take change. The more you can get the better. I wouldn’t go with less than £20 in change. 10-15 in £1 coins and the rest a mixture. And don’t be afraid to send someone away if they try to buy something early on for £1 with a £20 note. They can come back. Don’t be tempted to put it to one side. You’re not a shop. They may not come back and someone else will probably want the item too – especially early on.
If you are facing the sun on a boiling hot summer’s day you’ll appreciate a hat, and sunblock. I keep sunblock in my car at all times as I hate to get burnt but if you don’t take some with you.
Some people take parasols or gazebos for their stands- they obvs have space to spare.
Last time I sold with my sister and daughter and left my hat in the kitchen. Luckily Beau was selling a few.
Stickers and pens
This was a game changer for my boot sale selling days. I used to price everything up the day before and it would take hours. Now, I take stickers, pens and scissors with me and once I’ve got everything out I put prices on things. Some people are more likely to buy if they can see a price. It also sets the tone for the rest of your pricing.
I’m an ‘eat as soon as I’m awake’ kinda gal, but I will still take second breakfast and lots of snacks and drinks to the boot sale when I’m selling. It’s usually really busy when you arrive and then an hour or so later I’m starving. It’s even more important to take food if you’re selling on your own. Who knows when you’ll eat again!
The same as with buying, take tissues for the toilets and hay fever. Never get caught short.
Baby wipes (eco-biodegradable ones) are great for cleaning up dusty items that have been in the garage or loft for a while and need a quick spruce-up. Also, for when you want to clean your hands.
Having a bag for rubbish while you’re selling will speed up your pack-up time. You’ll be surprised by how much rubbish there will be. A bit like a shoot.
You may also need bin bags for packing up items for the charity shop.
Charity shop drop
If this is your one and only selling boot sale of the season you’ll probably want to get rid of everything before you get home. Lots of charity shops are open on Sundays and are happy to take your donations. Check for ones that have easy parking near you before you head out.
Whenever I have sold at a boot sale I’ve always thought we can set up at 6.30am, pack up at around 10.30am so we can shop a bit, and be home by midday but it takes time to drop off the donations to the charity shop and then unpack the car of tables, chairs, rubbish, and food stuff. It’s more like 2pm by the time you’re done and it’s exhausting especially if it’s hot and sticky. Keep that in mind.
How to set up your boot sale stand without losing it.
If you’ve ever seen a car pull into it’s spot at a boot sale you will know that resellers descend like locusts before you’ve even got out of the car. “Got any perfume/records/games/sports cards” are the usual questions. It’s frustrating and stressful and the best thing to do is to politely say no or tell them to come back later.
My setup goes something like this.
Get out my tables and open them up
Lay them down on their sides to create a barrier
Get all my stuff out of the car and put it behind the table till the car is empty
Set up the clothes rail and hangers.
Lay out the tarpaulin and empty clothes onto it.
Flip the tables upright and start unpacking while watching people come to your stall and buy, buy, buy.
I’m sad to say that I have had things stolen from my stand most times that I have sold. This setup helps me feel in control and less jumped on.
How to price at a boot sale
Bootsales are a funny thing. They used to be a great place to find a real bargain but nowadays – probably because of the cost of living crisis, people are charging a lot more than before. Clothes are more expensive, homewares and vintage finds are the same kind of price as you’d find on Ebay and the resellers get in really early and snap up all the good stuff before you’ve even got out of bed.
When it comes to pricing up your items you need to be happy with the price. Be fair and reasonable. Know the item’s worth and if it’s electrical take a video to show it working. Or charge it up.
When a kid asks how much something is
When my kids were a lot younger I would teach them the value of money by giving them £2 each and they had to ask how much an item was and then once the money was gone it was gone. Lesson over.
The problem was that people would continuously give them free stuff. They would come home with tons of stuff. Not so much lesson learned.
What I do when a kid asks me how much something is, is I ask what they would like to pay for it. When they tell me I say “That is exactly what I was thinking”. You get massive smiles. You don’t get much more feel-good than that. That is a real lesson.
How to find car boot sales
There are a few ways to find boot sales
CarbootJunction has a multitude of boot sales listed around the UK. Find your nearest one
Ask Google “Bootsales near me” obvious but I have found new ones that way.
Word of mouth.
Listen to the sellers talking to each other. There is often someone saying “Oh I was at X,Y,Z boot sale last week and it was a better boot sale than this” Another way I found a massive boot sale.
The best thing about boot sales as an interior stylist
I believe as an Interior stylist the very best thing about boot sales is you get to see the same people week after week. The house clearance guys are my favorites. You never know what they’re going to have, it’s always fascinating and I have to give myself a budget or I would run out of money for food! The sellers get to know you and give you a good price because they know you’ll be back for more. It really is the best treasure hunting there is.
So what do you like most about boot sales? Do you have any great tips to share? If so leave a comment below. I’d love to hear them.