06/03/2013 03:48 EDT | Updated 08/02/2013 05:12 EDT

Turning Trash into Cash

Flickr: Eastlaketimes

Turning trash into cash -- Colin & Justin's guide to becoming a perfect picker


Car boot sales. A British invention, right? Eh, no. Fact fans will know they actually have their roots in Canada. Research reveals that when Father Harry Clarke (a Catholic priest from Stockport) vacationed during the 1970s in North America, he happened upon a "trunk fair" and, inspired, decided to hold his own version upon returning home.


Devised as a fund raiser to help with religious work, Father Clarke invited his parish to bring its cars -- and unwanted possessions -- to the church grounds. And the rest, as they say, is history. His sale was a resounding success and spawned a million others. Car boot sales are now a MAJOR preoccupation for legions of Brits who get to play shop for the day while raising useful extra cash.

But of course trunk fairs aren't the only way to raise money from bric a brac. With a compromised economy, many people now look beyond the traditional high street when it comes to style; enter the world of garage sales, junk shops, house clearances and flea markets.

It's fair to say "pickers" are now a force to be reckoned with; some of the best relationships in the second hand industry are those which connect pickers to shopkeepers. Many retailers don't have time to run their stores and scour the second hand market and, as such, depend on pickers to stock their shelves.

If you fancy trying your luck as a picker, we recommend familiarizing yourself with the stock that sells in your local antique store. Having a feel for desirability is key; little point, after all, in carting an antique chandelier to your dealer if they expressly don't deal with electrical items. Similarly, don't take Lladro to stores that specialize in mid-century modern or they'll laugh and show you the door.

Practise, of course, makes perfect and some buys will resell for more money than others. The stock market isn't the only mechanism that goes up as well as down; the same applies to the second-hand market so be mindful of this as you find your feet.

Mason jars, for example, while still popular, attract a far lower price than they did last year. As stylists started using them in magazine editorials, pickers went into overdrive, snapping them up to sell on. And of course as the market flooded, values dipped. Last Christmas we paid $30 for four jars at a trunk fair but could probably bag them nowadays for half that price.


Before attempting to become a picker, we recommend dipping your toe in the water by selling off some of your own domestic excess. We're not going to bore you with the laws of de- junking but we'd suggest you consider the 80/20 rule. You, like others, probably use one fifth of your belongings four fifths of the time. Which means that the remaining 80 per cent of your possessions see the light of day just 20 per cent of the time.



If organizing a garage or yard sale, you're in charge of how you set things up. If attending a trunk fair (because others are involved) we advise using "prime spot" logic to establish where best to position. We recommend arriving early (sales generally open a couple of hours before advertised public arrival time) to claim the best pitch. You don't necessarily need to be near the entrance or exit; pitching near a burger truck, for instance, will allow you to capitalise on folk drawn in by the smell of cooking.


Clean up to clean up


Over the years we've arranged many sales and, though certain items were redundant to us, we accorded buyers respect by cleaning and polishing everything; it simply made sense that shiny things would be perceived as having better value than fodder that appeared dusty and unloved.


Smarten up


A little auspicious 'set dressing' via colourful tablecloths and eye catching signage will encourage buyers to gravitate towards you, while a sense of order will inspire confidence. If, for example, you're selling furniture and other home related pieces, 'stage' an area to look like a comfortable room. Dress smaller pieces across shelves and adorn chairs with throws and cushions. Real estate agents, to tempt home buyers, have been playing this trick for years, so follow their lead to amplify business.


The price is right


Some garage, yard or field sellers avoid price labels, but to us they make perfect sense. Rather than pluck a dollar value from the ether when asked, work out how much you'd like to achieve and cost items accordingly.

Allow, of course, for a little negotiation; if you hope to achieve eight bucks for your wonky-eyed china doll, price her at twelve and prepare to descend as your potential buyer starts to negotiate. And remember to smile; customers will be more generous when you're friendly. Be careful, however, not to cross the line between 'helpful' and 'overbearing'; the key is to remain casual and flexible.


All going well, your sale will be a winner and you'll generate loads of spare cash to re-invest in lawn mowers, books, crockery and sofas, all of which (hopefully) can be sold on to your friendly dealer for a tidy profit. Remember this axiom; 'One man's meat is another man's poison'. As Danny Devito's Penguin growled in Batman Returns, "You flush it, I flaunt it!" Which, as far as we see it, sums up the relevance of recycling; if the environment is important to you, then a career as a picker will be right up your street...