Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Garage Sale Do's and Don'ts

Everything I've learned about the right way to do a garage sale, I learned from my mom...or we learned it together through experience. When I tell people how much money we make, they always want to know how we do it. So, here are our garage sale Do's and Don'ts.


...advertise. We listed our sale in the newspaper with our address and the date and time of our sale. We also did a Craigslist ad with the same info and listed our sale on Garagesale.com. Both of those online ads were free. We asked people how they found us and the two most common answers were the newspaper and our signs.

...invest in good signage. Buy or borrow signs that are large enough to be seen by cars passing on the road. Write your address legibly and largely. Place the signs on a main road, and if necessary, on smaller neighborhood streets to make sure that people can find you. Signs with arrows are also helpful, or you can draw one in. Also...check to see if you need a permit for your signs. We did, and last time (4 years ago), we learned this the hard way. A police officer showed up at our sale with our signs in hand that he had removed because we didn't have a permit. So, do your homework because signs are HUGE in the success of your sale.

...take care of your money. We always wear our money rather than have a cash box. I have a tool apron that I got from Lowes many years ago that I use. It just ties around my waist and has two pockets where I keep the bills and coins. If you have a cash box on a table, then you can't really (or shouldn't really) leave the table....even if it locks. And being stuck behind a table is not always practical or useful during a sale. You need to be able to move around, answer questions, and keep an eye on things.

...display everything well. You will sell things much better when they can be seen. I've been to a couple of garage sales where absolutely no effort was made to set things out for buyers to see. There is a certain amount of disorganization to any garage sale, but spend the time to open things up, spread them out, and make them visible. Hang up clothes if at all possible. Borrow or rent tables if necessary to create a space for everything so it's not on the ground or clumped together. It's usually another small investment that has a big payoff.

...group like things together. This actually helps to sell things, because if someone is looking for dishes and sees something else on your "kitchen stuff" table, they might just buy it too. Also, people will come in and ask for specific things...toys, jewelry, clothes...and if you have them on a particular table together, then it's easy to point them to everything you have in that category.

...price everything. Or at least as much as you can. This is one that takes time before the sale, but saves time the day of the sale. It is so annoying for everyone to be asking what you want for something...and if you haven't priced most of your stuff, it will wear you out. Not to mention the fact that you have to answer on the spot.

...price your stuff correctly. One big mistake would be to over-value your things. They may be special to you or you remember how much you paid for them, but this is a garage sale. If it is too valuable to be priced for a garage sale, then consider selling it on ebay or Craigslist. On the other hand, don't give your stuff away either. Find that middle ground because people will want to bargain with you even if you've priced something at $1.00. They'll want it for $0.50. Not that you have to say yes...which leads to...

...bargain smartly. We always say that the first hour of our sale is a no-bargain hour, for the most part. If someone is buying a lot you may choose to cut a few dollars off their total, but for the most part, keep your prices fairly firm for the first bit of the sale. As it goes on, you can lower your prices if stuff doesn't move quickly. In our experience, most people will still buy it if they want it (it's already a great price). Or if they don't and it's a nice item, someone else probably will. This rule is especially important for your bigger or higher priced items like furniture or very nice housewares, etc.

...think about providing bags. In the past we've just saved up our plastic shopping bags when we knew we were having a sale, but since we use reusable shopping bags now, we didn't really have anything to offer people this time. And that's really okay. You don't have to have bags. But, if you want to, ask the grocery store that you frequent if they want some free advertising by giving you a stack of bags. Our Tom Thumb did just that and it really made things easier for our buyers.

...assume that people will want to try things out. Especially electronics. In other words, have an electrical outlet and possibly an extension cord handy so that when they ask if something works, you can just plug it in and show them.

...label, cover up, or remove things that are NOT for sale. This minimizes questions and misunderstandings. We even covered the cabinetry and some things in the garage with a tarp and labeled it "not for sale." And did the same for the chairs we brought out to sit in during slow times. We moved other things inside the house to make sure they didn't accidentally "walk away" during the sale.


...accept checks. Of any kind. Cash is the only way to go.

...hold merchandise. If someone doesn't have the cash, tell them where the closest ATM is. If they really want the item, they will return quickly, but you can't get stuck with something that could have sold to someone else if they don't come back at all. One other option is to take a deposit and give them 20 minutes or so to return.

..be a victim of theft. We learned this the hard way. Don't get me wrong...there is always going to be something that gets stolen. This year (that we know of) it was a boy walking off with a small truck. His parents knew he had it, but people just assume that because you are wanting to get rid of this stuff that they can just take something small like that. So, just be prepared for that and let the small stuff go because it's going to happen. What I'm really talking about is your big stuff or more valuable stuff. Keep an eye on it. Place it near your check-out table and not in the back corner. One time, a whole bedding set got swiped from our sale because two vans full of people (obviously operating together) hopped out and swarmed our check-out table by purchasing very small items. Both my mom and I were occupied, and when they cleared out, the bedding was gone.

...carry large bills, even on yourself. Even if you choose to carry your money on your body as I've suggested, if someone gives you a $100 or even a $50, take it to a safe place inside your house instead of keeping it with the other money.

...let people inside your house for any reason. If they have to go to the bathroom, tell them where the nearest one to your house is...at the gas station, a fast food restaurant, etc. But don't let them in to your house. It's just asking for trouble.

...do a garage sale by yourself. Besides the fact that it's really too much work for one person, you'll need a partner for other reasons. On the day of the sale, it's nice to have two people to keep an eye on things, answer questions, and make sales. And if you need to run to the restroom, then you have to have a backup. Never leave your sale completely unattended.

...give the wrong change. Use a calculator if necessary! And don't put the bill up that they've given you until you've completed the sale. This way they can't claim they've given you a $50 when it was only a $20.

...get caught without change. Make sure you get several bills to make change with before the day of the sale. We always get about $200 in change, and about $100 of that should be $1's. And some should be coins. Just write down how much you've started with so you know how much you've made at the end of the day.

...assume you have to cart off the leftovers. Call the Humane Society or The Salvation Army and see if they'll come pick up all the stuff you didn't sell.


Valerie said...

There are several other sites where folks can advertise their garage sale for free. One of these is GarageSaleFinder.com. More than just a listing, your sale appears on a map with printable turn-by-turn directions to the sale.

Plus, if you have a GPS device, you can download the data to your unit and hit the road paper-free.

Anonymous said...

Rachel, I'm so glad I read this post. As Jonathan and I have been settling back in, all the stuff we won't want back in the house is going in a separate pile for our first ever garage sale. Your tips were very helpful. I feel like you've saved me some time in doing extra garage sale research!-Christina