Running a Killer Garage Sale

Avoid signs like this. Instead, use fluorescent posterboard.
I've routinely had $1000 one-day sales, and want to show you how your next sale can exceed your expectations.

Deciding on a sale

*Just because you've had a garage sale fiasco doesn't mean you shouldn't try again.The difference between a really good sale and a sale that wastes your time will be outlined here.

*If you're in a high tax bracket, you might consider just donating your items for the tax deduction.

*Be sure you have enough to fill several tables. Invite a friend if you need to. Even if you don't need to, still invite a friend, because it's more fun that way. You can laugh at the things people buy, and you'll have a chance to go to the bathroom.


*No newspaper ad required. Before the advent of Craigslist, we routinely held sales without advertising. It's all about the signs, but you can advertise on Craigslist if you want. If you do, post photos of your most exciting merchandise.

A giant marker or a can of black paint is perfect for signmaking.
*Signs--this is THE #1 MOST IMPORTANT THING: Invest in fluorescent posterboard. It's expensive, but if you don't, you're just shooting yourself in the foot. Fold the posterboard over a political sign wire. Don't hang it on a telephone pole. Nothing says "you might be going on a wild goose chase" like a sign on a telephone pole. Either use black tempura paint or invest in a big, fat sign marker. Coming from a tightwad, they're expensive, but worth every penny, and then some.

*What your sign should say: Write on the sign something like, "SALE NOW! Tools, toys, furniture, bikes, and more!" with an arrow. Print big enough to read when you're driving past fast; the higher the speed limit on the street, the larger the sign needs to be. There's something about "SALE NOW!" which gets people to come. No need for address or even the day or date. If your signs are good enough, no one will think they were abandoned. Put up the signs the morning of the sale, AFTER your stuff is set up. If you put them up too soon, people will pester you so much, you won't be able to set up. One little tip: you don't need a sign for the front of your house. It's funny how some people put their best sign in front of their house. If you set up right, it will be OBVIOUS you are having a sale.

*Where to put signs: At every fairly large intersection in your vicinity, and at every turn. I would think nothing of putting up 10-12 signs, but the number required will depend on sale location. Another thing almost no one does but will greatly increase traffic to your sale is have a sign that says "SALE AHEAD-NEXT RIGHT" and "SALE AHEAD-NEXT LEFT" on the main road from which your customers will come. How many times have you skipped a sale because you drove past and didn't want to turn around? On the blank back sides of those "SALE AHEAD" signs, write, "YOU MISSED A GREAT SALE (frowny face)!" You'd be surprised by how many people have turned around to come to my sale because of "YOU MISSED A GREAT SALE!"

*If you have any too-bad-to-steal chairs, they make great signs. Just put the chair on the corner with a sign over the back. Nothing says "Our sale is AWESOME!" like having so much stuff, you can afford to put a chair by the corner.

*Sign NO-NOs:
      -Don't let your kids make your signs. You cannot risk having your signs be anything but excellent.
     -Too small
     -Too few
     -Writing "Everything Must Go!" No need to sound desperate, unless you want lowball offers all day long.


*Weekday, preferably Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. Lots of competition can kill a garage sale, and people will think about hurrying to the next sale instead of concentrating on your merchandise and lingering at your sale. The longer people stay, the more they buy.

*When school is in session. First of all, more people are on the road taking their kids to school. Second, the kids aren't in tow, and the parent tends to shop longer.

*Generally, one day is sufficient if your signs are good enough. IF you do a second day, let it be your dirty little secret. Nothing says, "Please make a lowball offer, and assume there's nothing good left" like having people know this is the second day of the sale. This is a good reason not to put a day or date on your signs.

*Early spring or late fall is ideal. Remember: competition is your biggest enemy.

*If you don't have hours on your signs, you can just start whenever you're ready, and take down whenever you want.

*Weather: Pick a day that is not windy. If the temperature's too cold, people keep their hands in their pockets; people with pocketed hands don't handle and buy. If it's too hot and sunny they'll hurry back to air conditioned comfort. Any weather that will make people hurry is not amenable to a garage sale.

*NEVER participate in a neighborhood garage sale. I made that mistake twice and only sold about $300 each time, when the same sale held another day would've netted about $1000. Don't be shnookered into a neighborhood sale.

What to Sell

*Broken stuff okay. You know how many broken Hose Mobiles I've sold? Even broken stuff can find a loving home. You can always pitch it later if you have to.

Nothing is ever too ugly to sell.
*Sell everything, don't forget to put out guy stuff. Parts, garage junk, used paint, cleaners, perennials (you can even have them you-dig), junk from kitchen, bathroom, food from your cupboard, used shampoo, undergarments, socks, ugly plastic plants, horribly dated clothing, empty egg cartons. It doesn't matter. Just because you think it's awful doesn't mean someone else won't buy it. Bundle inconsequential like-items together. According to Amy Dacyczyn of The Tightwad Gazette, one hanger=junk; bundle of hangers=good stuff. Shoppers' purchases will surprise you.

*Price as if you love it. Once I priced an awful plastic plant really cheap, and would've been surprised if someone took it at any price. Shortly after the sale opened, a woman snatched up the plant, gloating to her friend about the great bargain on a nice plant.

*If you're doing the sale with other people: If one person thinks an item is too cheap, it is--up the price. If one person thinks an item is priced too high, leave the price as it is, don't lower it. If even one person in your party thinks the item is priced appropriately, chances are, one of your many, many customers (remember how hard you worked on the good signs?) will think so, too.

*My pricing goal is high side of reasonable. It's okay if 10 people grouse about the price, then the 11th person buys it. Anyway, if you price too cheaply, you are contributing to the delinquency of a packrat. Don't worry about leftovers; that's what Goodwill is for. You might be left with a little more than if you priced super-cheap, but you have a whole lot more money to show for your work.

*Hold firm to prices, and graciously decline offers: "Thanks for your offer, but I think, if you don't take it, someone else will." "The sale has just started," or some other reason should do. You can follow up with, "Would you still like it?" An invitation to buy can make all the difference. Another thing I do is say, "How about, for the price I'll throw in ____________." ( _______ is an item that you really wanted to get rid of anyway.) It is especially important to turn down offers when other people are within earshot. I am much more likely to make an offer on something I planned to pay full price for if I hear the seller taking other people's offers. If you DO decide to take an offer on one thing, then the person makes an offer on the second item, refuse the second offer no matter what, or they'll be making an offer on everything else they're buying. It's easier just to turn pretty much everyone down, though I do make exceptions for large or expensive items at the end of the day. For every person who walks away from something because of the price, there will be 10 people who won't.

*If you don't hear at least a few people grousing about your pricing, or you don't have some people walk away because of price, you know you are pricing too low.

*Price as you go. In the months before the sale you find something to get rid of, before throwing into your garage sale box, price it. It's much easier to do it as you go than to have to price hundreds of items the night before.

In another installment: Setup, Money handling, Actually running the sale, How to make money with garage sales.

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