20 Tips for a Successful Garage Sale

 Posted by on April 20, 2010  Add comments  Tagged with:
Apr 202010

Stacey writes,

“I’m going to have my very first garage sale this summer and I’m wondering, do you have any helpful hints/tips you can offer to make it a successful sale?”

My husband and I refer to ourselves as “power garage-salers” (see Our Power Garage-Saling System), because in a normal year (read: when I’m not pregnant, and all of the children are ambulatory), we outfit ourselves and our home almost entirely with garage sale-purchased merchandise. It’s not unusual for us, on a summer Saturday, to hit 25 sales or more. It helps that our kids are also garage sale fanatics who get insanely excited when they see a “sale” sign.

In addition to shopping at garage sales, we’ve also held many of them. We typically have one each year (again, if I’m not pregnant. When I’m pregnant, I usually feel so unbelievably horrible that I don’t take on anything I don’t have to). We also have substantial knowledge of the reselling market because of our many years of experience as eBay Powersellers. We actually supported ourselves for about a year, solely with eBay profits.

Our reselling experience has taught us a lot, and I’m more than happy to share these tips with you, but please remember that your sale outcome may depend, in part, on the market in your geographic area. I know from watching “Clean House” that garage sale merchandise commands much higher prices in California than it does in the Midwest! As always, take what you can use, and ignore the rest 🙂

1) Garage sales are hard work. It takes time and energy to sort, price and organize all that stuff, so start early! My husband and I put garage sale merchandise in our back storage shed throughout the year, so it’s all in one place, and I typically begin setting up and pricing a week in advance. Make no mistake, if you advertise that your sale begins at 8:00 A.M, people will come early. You want to be prepared. Also, make sure that you find out about any restrictions in your area, and get a permit if necessary. In our town this isn’t required, but in some cities it is.

2) Choose a sale date, and put out the word. In our area Saturday mornings are best, but don’t have your sale on a holiday weekend, because people are otherwise occupied. I try to check the Farmer’s Almanac before choosing my sale date, to avoid rain, because I’m notorious for inadvertently planning sales on days when torrential downpours are forecast. You can advertise your sale in the local paper, but there are also many good places online to advertise for free (CraigsList, anyone?) I also make bold flyers, and tack them up on bulletin boards in local stores, and at the library.

3) Have good signage. Tiny, handwritten signs are very difficult to read, and do little to promote traffic to your sale. My husband painted our garage sale signs on cardboard boxes, which we put over metal stakes in the ground.

We place these at prominent intersections, and they’re traffic stoppers, let me tell you.

4) Be organized. PLEASE. Arrange your merchandise neatly on tables, in categories, and hang clothes if possible. Make sure that your stuff is clean, in working order, and clearly marked. There is nothing worse than driving all over creation to find a garage sale, only to find that all the merchandise is stuffed in bags or boxes, and nothing is priced. I don’t want to dig through piles of unwashed clothing, and I want to know what people are asking for their stuff. This is the biggest complaint I hear from garage salers. Please, please, price your stuff! If you don’t, be prepared for people to just walk away.

5) Have plenty of change, especially small bills. I usually get (2) 5-dollar bills, 10 singles, and $5 in quarters to start. This has always been more than adequate.

6) Price items in 25-cent increments. Don’t mess around with dimes and nickels. For example, don’t price something 10 cents, or $1.99. Just start with 25-cent items and work up. It’s much simpler.

7) Remember your objective. If your goal is to get rid of stuff, price it to sell! Visit some sales in your area to get an idea of typical pricing, and be competitive. For example, I can buy children’s clothing for 25-cents to $1 all day long, so that’s what I price my kids’ clothing. My goal is to move the stuff….and I don’t mean back into the house.

8) Garage salers expect a deal, so don’t overprice. Here’s an example: Last weekend, my husband and I took a bunch of stuff to our local consignment store, and they were having a 25% off sale. I bought a Fisher Price Little People race track for DJ’s 1st birthday. It was complete and in the original box, and I paid $4.50. However, there was still a garage sale sticker on it, indicating that someone had attempted to sell it for $17.50! My husband and I have a saying at sales like that, “These people are very proud of their stuff.” Because here’s the thing – the world is full of stuff. Nearly everything can be easily acquired, especially with the advent of eBay and CraigsList. A complete Fisher Price Little People race track can be purchased on eBay for around $6 (plus shipping), so unless yours is made of gold, don’t price it higher than that. Garage salers spread the word about overpriced sales, and if yours is one of them, you’ll quickly realize the impact of word-of-mouth advertising when people stop showing up.

9) Have a variety of merchandise, and plenty of it. We skip sales when we can see that there’s only one pitiful little table with a few, sad knickknacks on it. We save our energy for the big sales, so ask your friends and neighbors to collaborate with you, and if you don’t really have much to sell, save it until next year when you’ve accumulated more.

10) If you’re selling purses, coats, or clothing, go through the pockets. Last year, Bee bought a little purse for 25 cents, and when we got home she discovered $3 in the inside zipper pocket. Very poor economy for the person who sold the purse.

11) Leave people the heck alone! My husband and I get very irritated when we’re browsing at a sale, and the proprietor follows us around, pointing out the merits (real or imagined) of their stuff. It’s like having a pesky mosquito buzzing constantly around your head, and we’re likely to leave without buying anything, simply because we’re pissed off.

12) Don’t try to sell stuff that doesn’t work. It’s dishonest, and downright mean. Bee once bought a Hello Kitty alarm clock that she was very excited about, only to get home, put batteries in it, and find that it was crap. You don’t want to do that to some poor little kid do you? Put trash in the trash can, not on your garage sale.

13) Have a place to test electrical items. You’re more likely to sell things if people are confident that they’re in working order.

14) Have a free box. Little kids love them, and they’re a good way to get rid of Happy Meal toys that breed and multiply of their own volition.

15) Smile, greet your customers, and be friendly. If people like you, they’re more likely to buy your stuff. This is where my very wide, toothy smile comes in handy 🙂

16) Be vigilant. Stuff has a way of miraculously disappearing at garage sales. When you’re busy making change and dealing with customers, thieves have a perfect opportunity to pocket stuff, so have friends and family available to help you keep an eye on things. Especially, GUARD YOUR MONEY! Wear it in a fanny pack around your waist, or have a full-time cashier keeping tabs on it at all times.

17) Don’t have a “perpetual garage sale.” You know, the ones that are open every weekend, trying to sell the same old crap. Believe me when I tell you that nobody likes these neverending sales, and they’re seldom successful. We actually keep a list of these addresses in our glove box so we don’t waste time stopping at them.

18) Sell snacks and drinks. This is a great money-making idea for kids. Bee sold cookies and lemonade at our last sale, and she made 22 bucks! (we call her “moneybags”). In the summer months, it’s really nice to be offered a cold can of pop, and when there is food and drink available, people spend more time at your sale, and are more likely to buy stuff!

19) Be willing to negotiate. Part of the fun for seasoned garage salers is the bargaining, and most people expect to be able to do it. People who aren’t willing may appear rigid or stingy, and that’s a real turn-off to buyers.

20) When your sale is over, take your signs down! It’s just common courtesy. When you leave signs up, people take the time to drive to your house where they find absolutely nothing. It’s very rude.

And my very last tip….HAVE FUN! For us, one of the big attractions of garage saling is the people. We’ve met so many nice, like-minded people at sales, and also some, erm…eccentrics. We have some funny stories that we tell over and over, and here’s one of my favorites:

An older woman (I’d say about 60-ish) was browsing through our stuff, and suddenly she ripped an explosive fart that echoed throughout our metal storage building. She then tried to cover it up by clearing her throat and coughing in a very exaggerated manner, as if she was fooling anybody. My Dad was there, and his reaction was almost funnier than the fart, and still, to this day, my husband tries to crack me up by farting on purpose so that he can cough and clear his throat excessively. It works every time.

See what I mean? Enormous entertainment value 🙂

***UPDATE*** Jenny mentioned in the comments something that my husband told me, but I forgot to add – cover up or cordon off stuff that you don’t want to sell, unless you enjoy parroting “it’s not for sale,” repeatedly to overzealous shoppers.