Garage Sale Success Story

I have a genuine love/hate relationship with garage sales (both my own and other people’s).  When I’m out garage saling, I love finding a great deal on something like my $1 spice rack, a barely used cast iron skillet, and a bag of 10 sets of knitting needles for $2.  I hate that I have to get up early to find the good stuff.

With my own garage sales, I love clearing things out and making a little extra money.  Our most recent sale earned us $600, which came at the perfect time because Dan had just been laid off. What I hate (you’ll see a trend here) is getting up early to set up.  I love, as in L.O.V.E. my sleep.  Still, though, a couple times a year I can be coaxed to get up before the crack of dawn (usually as my husband pours ice on my head to wake me up) to peddle my wares in my driveway.  We typically have tremendous success, but every once in a while we’ve had a flop.  Here’s what I’ve learned about how to have a successful sale and how to avoid some common pitfalls.

1. Save up for your sale– Create a little spot in your garage or find a spare closet and use it to store anything you want to sell.  The bigger this pile is before your sale the more money you’ll make (economies of scale, and such), so go through every room and purge.  Every time we think we can’t get rid of anything else we find a random box with more stuff.  I’ve also been known to check out the free section on Craigslist and pick up any curbside freebies to include.  Just because someone else doesn’t want to go to the trouble of selling it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t (unless they request no resellers…I always respect that).

2. Advertise– Craigslist is the way to go for this one.  Even if there’s not a CL for your immediate area, post it on whichever location is closest and you might be surprised by who makes the drive.  Include specific types of items for sale and you’re more likely to drum up business.  If someone wants “skis” and you have it in your posting, it will show up in their search results and you might have someone come just for that item.  Even better, include brand names, descriptions, and even a couple pictures of specialty items to peak people’s interests.  You can also post on Facebook, and I’ve heard of some other garage sale specific sites, but when I looked for some sales in my area there weren’t very many listed.  I stick to the tried and true.  You may have a different experience with those other sites.

3. Signage– In addition to online advertising, the signs you use can really make a difference.  Our part of town is popular for garage sales.  People drive up and down the blocks looking for sales, so we only put up a couple signs and get tons of business.  Even if your location isn’t so great, guide people to your sale from the two or three most popular streets around you.  The worst sign I ever saw was just an arrow on a piece of cardboard that said “sale.”  No date, no address, nothing.  I drove for a few blocks but there were no more signs so I turned around.  Write big and very clear, include an address, and get neon paper (any color works, we use pink) and include that color on all your signs.  Make it easy for people to find you and they will. Make sure to take down your signs when you’re done.

4. Location– You might not have the best spot for a sale, but if you know someone who lives in a heavily trafficked area ask if you can camp on their lawn for a Saturday morning.  We lived in a condo association for six years, and the one time we tried to have a sale there it was dismal.  No traffic so all the sales were to our neighbors and maybe a few passersby.  The next time we loaded up our SUV and took it to my parent’s house.  They have a great location and we more than tripled our profit.  There’s a big neighborhood intersection two blocks away from where we live now with a big enough area that people bring their stuff and sell out within two hours with no signs or advertising.  Think through options for a location before you go through the trouble of putting everything out.

5. Sell stuff– This might seem obvious, but I have literally been to garage sales where I don’t really think the person actually wanted to part with what they put out.  If you’re not willing to budge on the price, label it with your price and write “firm” so people know what to expect.  Other than that, you’re trying to get rid of things, not put them on display to pack up at the end of the day and haul back to your garage.  Instead of trying to convince people why something is worth what we’re asking, we decided that our goal is to make a little money before toting everything to the thrift store.  We figure, we’re donating it at the end of this, so if we can make a few dollars and not have to pack it up then let’s do it.  People like to negotiate for a deal, so if you want to start a little higher on the price that’s fine, but if you really want to sell stuff you need to be flexible.

6. Put prices on everything and stay organized– There are a couple different camps here, but we’ve done it both ways and always have more success when we grab a roll of masking tape and sharpie and price everything (even the 25 cent things).  It takes the stress out of the morning because we’re not trying to price it when someone asks.  We can put some thought into the prices, and we’re both on the same page.  Once, I sold one of my husband’s items for less than he was expecting, and after that I decided that it’s easier if we price things ahead of time to avoid any misunderstandings. It’s easier for the shoppers and it’s easier for us.  The argument against labeling is that someone might be willing to pay $1 for something that you mark as 50 cents. To be frank, I don’t care.  If it’s worth 50 cents to me and someone would pay $1, let them feel like they’re getting a deal and I get what I feel it’s worth.  Win/win.  People will still negotiate even with marked prices and that’s okay.  It’s just easier to have a designated starting point.

7. Don’t join up with neighbors– We tried to have a dual family garage sale with our neighbors one year and it did not work.  We both made less than we would have if we’d had them on different weekends. The theory is that there’s more stuff to sell so it might draw more people.  Well, if you advertise, put up good signs, and have enough stuff on your own, you don’t need to join up with anyone to draw a crowd.  My self-imposed garage sale budget is $20 on any given day.  If there are two houses next to each other, I’m more likely to split my $20 between the two than just spend it all at one house (depending on what’s for sale, of course).  Do each other a favor and claim separate weekends for your sales.

There are a lot of other things that help: use or borrow tables to keep things off the ground and easier to reach; merchandise your items by type: kitchen, books, electronics, etc; towards the end of the day sell clothes by the bag not by the piece; be nice to people and engage in conversation…I use garage sales as another way to get to know people in my community; get your kids involved by setting up a coffee/donut cart or selling lemonade as long as you have an extra adult to help supervise (depending on the age of the kids).

There are probably a lot of other great tips and tricks, so feel free to share yours.

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