17 Steps to Building a Better Garage Sale
Back when money was tighter than Simon Cowell's T-shirts, my youthful neighborhood posse would rise early each Saturday, pile into a tiny compact car and roar off to make our weekly garage-sale rounds.
We outfitted our first homes with frugal finds, but it was the entertainment factor that kept us coming back week after week. Each Saturday we'd play a new game of garage-sale bingo, in which the goal was to locate bingo-square items found at nearly every yard-sale. Favorites included salad spinners, crocheted toilet-paper covers, cracked crock pots, Presto Burgers, fuzzy macrame plant hangers and other eminently useless junk.
If your home is bulging with useless or trash-to-treasure items, now is the time to start organizing a yard sale. Here are 17 tips on how to get organized...from a true garage-sale junkie.
1. Team Up
Generally, garage sale addicts are drawn to neighborhood sales because they'll spend less time driving and more time buying. Combining efforts also helps divvy up organizational work and expenses while serving to motivate everyone involved.
On the downside, the person who initiates a neighborhood sale tends to get stuck with the majority of organizational work. You'll have to decide if the work is worth the results.
2. Picking the Day
Timing is everything. Late May to mid-July is prime time as even the hardiest fans can be burned out on yard sales by August.
Avoid holidays, particularly the 4th of July, unless your goal is to spend a lot of time sitting and waiting. The one exception is for those who live on a street or road that will attract drop-in tourists.
Your heaviest traffic day is Saturday. Friday's tend to draw die-hards who will pay the bare minimum for your choicest items. By Sunday, merchandise has been picked over and the best deals are gone.
Prime sale time is 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., which means you'll need to rise extra early. (Yuck) While it may be tempting to start at 8 a.m., rude early birds tend to distract you at an important time.
Traffic usually falls to a trickle after 11 a.m. but you may want to stay open random browsers, particularly if you still haven't unloaded major items.
4. What to Sell
Modern furniture, lawn-care items and major baby supplies (strollers, car carriers,cribs, and just about anything else you can find at Toys R Us) are the biggest draws. Comb your house and hidey-holes for items you don't want or will never use. Set them aside for a few weeks and, if you haven't used them before the sale, slap a price on those suckers!
5. If You Advertise, They Will (Probably) Come
Advertise, advertise, advertise. There's no getting around the fact that local newspapers are your primary and most expensive advertising outlet. Read previous ads to determine which ones grabbed your attention and follow their example.
As with everything else, however, the Internet is beginning to eat into this market. Websites that offer free garage-sale ads include Craigslist (check out this handy how-to guide) JustGarageSales, GarageSaleTracker, and GarageSaleCow.
Check each site to see if there's much traffic for your city before bothering to post. Your local community may even have it's own website with free online classifieds.
Finally, don't forget the power of social media. You can quickly spread the word by creating a free Facebook event page, Twitter linking to the location and sending out a blast text message.
6. Sign Design
Well placed and easy-to-read signs will pull in impulse shoppers. Remember those bumper stickers that read, "I break for garage sales?" That's your impulse audience.
Signs should be large, easy to spot and posted on major thoroughfares. For easier reading, use bold, black letters on a white background. Include your address, the time and day of sale and a huge arrow pointing in the appropriate direction.
Attach balloons to your signs to draw more attention and indicate the sale is ongoing.
7. Sign Placement
Ask permission before you place signs on private property. Check local ordinances and your homeowners association before posting signs on public property, medians, center meridians, utility poles, traffic signs, trees, fences, etc.
Most importantly, send someone else out to spread signs as you already have your hands full.
Surveys have shown people assume an item costs more when no price is listed. Even more important than how much you charge for items is making sure everything has a clearly marked price. Day-glo stickers and tags, available at most office shops and big-box stores, are well worth the added expense.
If you have no idea what to charge for old CDs and grandma's cookbooks, GarageSaleSource has a nifty list of pricing recommendations that will get you started.
For more expensive items, check out Craigslist then price the item a tad lower. Remember this isn't Sotheby's Auction House. Don't push prices too high or you'll scare off customers and still be stuck with higher-ticket items at the end of the sale. Friendly negotiation can make for a happier day and a happier customer.
Make sure you place large tags on non-sale items, such as tables and chairs you're using to run the sale. People will still ask but you have to try.
9. Corral the Cat (and Dog)
Pets, even smart ones, are distracting and frightening to some people. Plus the activity can frighten your pet. Keep Bowser and Mr. Snickers inside or behind a locked fence until the sale is over.
10. Displaying Your Wares
Organization is key. Hang clothing, keep books, CDs, toys and other like items grouped together. Display hot items at the end of the driveway to attract drive-by customers. If you're selling office furniture, china cabinet or other large piece of furniture don't use it to display sale items or attach a prominent sign indicating the price.
Men aren't usually big garage sale fans, but some will stop by if you prominently display power tools, home and garden items and other typically male products.
11. Making Change
With all the many details of arranging a sale it's easy to overlook stocking up on change and creating a cash box. Visit your bank before the sale and prepare to have small bills and change ready to deal with $20 and $50 bills that tend to show up early in the day. â€¨â€¨An easy-to-use calculator can be a real godsend when you're juggling multiple sales in rapid fire.
12. Keeping Hold of Your Cash
Clearly mark your cash box or use a metal, official-looking box. If you're working alone, it can be easier to wear a carpenter's apron so you can take money and make change on the spot.
Don't accept checks unless you are willing to take the risk of getting a bad check. A check that looks perfectly fine may be from a closed bank account.
It goes without saying you should never leave the cash box unattended. Watch out for tricksters who will try to lure you away while a friend snatches your cash. During slow moments, transfer extra cash to the security of your locked house.â€¨
13. Death to Early Birds
Early birds can be a nightmare or a blessing, depending on your attitude. Frankly, I have a terrible attitude about people who show up while I'm still insanely running around like a reality-show contestant. I clearly advertise "EARLY BIRDS WILL BE SHOT!" That doesn't stop them, however, so I require those who arrive ahead of the advertised time stay off my property until the sale begins.
If they leave in a huff they likely were hoping to undercut your price before others had a chance to examine the merchandise. But that's just my attitude. (Please direct complaint emails to NYTimes.com.)
14. Bag It
Stockpile plastic grocery bags, boxes of various sizes and newspaper to wrap fragile items. For large sales, put each purchased item in a container as you add up the total so you don't double charge or miss something.
15. Rained Out
Nothing puts a damper on a garage sale like rain. (sorry) While hard-core garage salers will still show up, most will defer their searches to the following week, so it helps to include a "rain date" in your advertising.
Check with your newspaper to see if they offer a free "rained-out" ad in the following week's paper. You'll also have to repeat all your advertising efforts, which is a total drag but absolutely necessary.
16. What to Do With Leftovers
I like to leave remaining items at the curb with a large "Free!" sign until the end of the day. It's amazing how many leftovers will disappear. If you're still stuck with a large pile, local charities always appreciate donations of useful items. These include the Salvation Army, ARC and similar second-hand stores. â€¨â€¨
Dress For Success is an excellent national program that collects women's professional clothing and distributes them to disadvantages women. Libraries often accept books in decent condition, either to stock their shelves or for an annual second-hand-book sale.
The Vietnam Veterans of America greatly appreciates donations of clothing and household items.
Remember to take down all those signs you put up earlier. You're likely tired and it's a real pain, but there's nothing more irritating than following arrows to a garage sale that doesn't exist.
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