Garage Sale Tips: Make the Most from your Sale (Part One)


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* this is turning into a monster post, so I’ve divided it into two parts…*

Visualize, if you will, a house.  Now picture it filled with stuff and bursting at the seams… walls bowed out, things spilling out the windows, and a roof being raised by a pile of junk.

For a clutter-phobe like me, it’s a pretty scary picture.  And yet that’s what my home feels like right now!  After six room renovations and two kids, it’s time for the leftover detritus to GO.

You can read basic garage sale “dos and don’ts” at the Yard Sale Queen, so I won’t go into those.  But having been to tons of yard sales as well as hosting a few, I’ve picked up on some tips and tricks.  Here are a few ideas to really get the most from all your hard work!  And no, I’m not an expert or a perma-garage saler, but we did make $700 at our last sale with no item being sold for higher than $20.  That’s some pretty sweet “pocket change.”

Note: I took the photos at the end because we were so busy during the sale I didn’t have a free hand.  I’m afraid the “good stuff” was gone by then, so please don’t judge me on the leftovers!
Think like a retailer…

* Organize your wares into sections like a department store.  It looks better and makes it easier to shop.  Everything should be out of boxes and with their best face forward.  One picture frame on a table is junk.  Ten picture frames give the buyer choices and makes the one they like the best really call out to them!  Instead of “do I need another picture frame?” it becomes “hmmm… which frame do I want most?”

 Christmas in July August
I organized jewelry into baggies and cards, priced them clearly, and kept them at the cashier’s table.  They sold like hotcakes!

*  Clothing should be organized and hung on racks or on a clothesline.  I used a cheap wardrobe rack from IKEA for one, and a broomstick attached between two ladders for the other.  I organized them by price: one rack was $1 each, and the others were the nicer things clearly priced with index cards (I put a brief description of the item on the tag so they couldn’t be switched, such as: “Calvin Klein shirt, $3).  I made sure they all faced the same way and put the most desirable pieces in front, like a retailer would.  Taking the time to do this shows you take care of things, and people feel better buying clothes from those that take care of their possessions!

Note: keep this rack close to the cashier’s table, because people WILL take them off the hangers and try to buy them for $1 instead of the upgraded price (whether on purpose or not…)

(My husband had cleared the rack to consolidate since it was the end of the sale… I promise this looked MUCH better full of brand-name clothes!  Plus, I put a few good pieces facing out on the ladders to really draw people in.  The shoes were lined up below the clothes, and they got scooped up quickly because they were easy to try on).

* I ran out of room for my handbags, and didn’t want to put them on the ground.  Solution?  Get creative!  Here’s an old shutter between two chairs.  If you have them, a door on two sawhorses works as well.  JUST MAKE SURE IT’S STURDY so you don’t have a liability on your hands.

I probably started out with 25 different bags for sale.  Here’s all that’s left! {yes, I have a handbag fetish.  Don’t judge.}  Oh, and freebie “bonus time” bags from Clinique ALWAYS sell!

*  Remember that people often drive by to see if a sale is worth it.  On that note, put any desirable items closer to the road so people will want to stop.  This was a great tip I found online: it’s often the men that don’t want to stop, so if you have tools or other “man items”, place them up front where the drive-bys can see them.  Ding ding ding!  You’ve now got two shoppers.  {I’m not trying to generalize or be sexist here.  It is what it is.}  🙂

*  For baby clothing, I priced it at .50 and put it in two large bins.  Smaller stuff went in a box for .25 cents each.  It would take wayyyyy too long to hang them, and I figured at that price people wouldn’t mind digging a bit.  It worked like a charm; people purchased loads of them!  Keep in mind that these were pieces that weren’t good enough to hand down or sell at a consignment shop.  They sold nonetheless!

*  Books should be organized with spines facing up and all in one direction.  Better yet, put them on a bookcase!  They should also be priced the same.  For example, I priced my children’s books at .25 each, paperbacks at .50, and hardcovers at $1.  If I have any really special ones I put them aside in a separate spot and priced them higher.   Of course, I was a librarian, so I can’t help but go crazy with the books.

It’s better to put these on tables, but I didn’t have that much space so I tried to make it easy to browse by having a special “book section”.

*  If you have time, take a second to dust off or clean things up.  No one wants to get dirt from a planter in their car for .50, but for that price I’d bet they’d love a nice clean one!  Also, it shows you take care of your things, which of course means they are in better shape… right?

*  Got bookcases?  Put objects and books on them to show off how nice things look in them.  It also shows off the objects and books better than being placed on a table.

…but price like a liquidator.

* Your goal is to get rid of things, and make a buck or two in the process.  Don’t price things what you think they are worth, but rather what you would pay for them at a yard sale.  NEVER price them at retail value, or even what you could get for them on eBay.  eBay is a lot of work, that’s why those prices are a little higher.  You are settling for less to avoid doing that work and to get rid of things.  There is a rule of thumb to price them at 1/3 the retail price; use that as a guideline only because it really varies per item.  Your Trivial Pursuit game might have cost $15 in 1983 but in 2010 it’s very outdated and worth not much at all– certainly not 1/3 of the original price, which would be $5.  Also, people don’t want to pay a lot for clothes that might not fit at a yard sale, so they won’t go for very much.  I price mine at $1 each, and if it’s new with tags or really worth more I’ll mark it a few dollars higher.  Could I get more money on eBay or consignment?  Yup, but I just don’t have time for that right now.  I made enough on clothing to buy a few cute new outfits.  It was certainly worth it!

*  That being said, remember you can always go down in price but not up.  I price things at the very edge of what I want for them with a little wiggle room.  That way, if it sells for the price marked– hooray!  If someone asks for a discount, it won’t hurt to go down a dollar or two.  You both win.  If you don’t mind hauling it back into the house then stay firm at the price.  If you want it to go, negotiate!

* If negotiating makes you uncomfortable, this is what I do: let’s say your item is marked $15 and someone asks if they can pay $10.  Suggest $12.50, right in the middle.  (unless you really want to keep it or really want to sell it, see above).  This method is easy, it’s fair, and they’ll appreciate you budged on the price even if it isn’t as low as they wanted.  I did that at my sale and sold everything I negotiated for!

* As the sale progresses, walk through like you are a buyer and re-evaluate those items that are left.  Only an hour or so to go?  Consider a bag sale (for a certain dollar amount, people can fill a bag with clothes or books, etc.)  Hey, it’s better than packing it all up again and driving to the thrift store!

*  Speaking of pricing, take the time to do it.  Some people say you don’t have to, but honestly it doesn’t take that long and trust me you’ll make more money.  As a shopper I HATE asking for prices because first of all I’m shy, second of all it doesn’t give me time to react (if it’s too high I’ll just put it down and run out of there!), and third it takes time– especially if the seller is busy helping someone else.  If you don’t have a lot of time to price thing individually, make signs for groups of objects:  All Handbags $2 each, All Shoes $1 a pair, etc.

*  You can buy price tags at the dollar store for… one dollar.  Do it.  For bigger items, make a bigger sign.  I type mine and tape them to the item on sale day.  No one wants to search for a tiny tag on a big item!

Ambiance is Key.

*  Let’s face it: browsing sales can be awkward, especially if you are the only one there.  I love the idea of playing music to avoid that dreaded silence!  (keep it tame, people– only play something a majority of people will like!  I personally love the James Taylor station on Pandora and there’s nothing like “Carolina in my Mind” to get people in a happy mood.  Leave the hard core rap for after the sale.)

* No dogs.  We didn’t think twice about having our beagle with us at a sale a few years ago since we kept her behind the cashier’s desk.  Most people mooned over her, but one woman was so scared of our tiny dog that she stood at the end of the driveway and asked if she could pay us from there.  I love dogs, but you can’t always predict how they will react so keep your shoppers safe.

*  As the sale progresses, be sure to move your things around to fill up empty spaces on the tables.  Retailers call it “facing the goods”– face things out, make them look attractive, and you’ll get more sales!  Remember those all important “drive-bys”.  That goes for your house, too– again, the neater you keep up the outward appearance of your home, the better impression you’ll have on your shoppers.

*  At my favorite yard sale EVER (I had it with two friends), we sold soda for .50 a can.  It was a warm day, it it sold!  Better yet, if you sell cans of your favorite soda or bottled water then you won’t mind the leftovers if it doesn’t sell.

We put these out to display, but kept the others iced in a cooler for thirsty shoppers.

*  Do it for the children.  Or any charity.  My husband laughed when I put out a jar for donations to Team Abby, but guess what?  We made enough to buy TWO Care Bags, and raised awareness of our charity as well.

*  Most garage sale buyers cruise your tables visually.  They won’t pick things up or dig around unless something catches their eye.  The junkier the goods on your table, the harder it is to spot the good stuff.  I put the 25 cent and 50 cent items in their own bins.  Kids had fun looking through the bins, and people did take time to see if they could find a steal for a quarter or two.  That left the items on the tables to shine because they stood out without “clutter” hiding them.

Yes, I also tagged them with price stickers despite the signage on the bins.  Otherwise I wouldn’t know which bin they came from, so taking a second to do that saved me tons of time at checkout.

In part two, we’ll tackle:
::: When to have your sale
::: Driving traffic to your sale (where to list your sale online, signage dos and don’ts)
::: Finding “stuff” to sell
::: Sale day: what to have on hand, handling a multi-family sale
::: The Aftermath: clean up and donations

If you’re lucky, I might just whip up a checklist to help keep things organized before, during, and after your sale.  But only if there is any interest, so let me know!  😉

What are your thoughts for having a successful sale?  Am I way too compulsive, or do these tips make sense?
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