In this day and age, everyone seemingly knows how to put together and hold a garage sale. Yet if this is so, why are some people lucky to gross $150 while others consistently make $1,500 or more from their garage sales.
Pick almost any city or town in the country; drive through any middle-class neighborhood or residential area on any weekend. You are sure to spot at least a half dozen garage sales. And what’s being sold at these garage sales? The accumulated “junk” that many people no longer use or want takes up space in or around their homes.
Is it hard to hold a profitable garage sale? Not in the least! All it really takes is some of your time and an awareness of a few merchandising tactics. But to be a real profit, you must know and exercise careful planning.
First, let’s look at some of the backgrounds. Everyone accumulates items that others are searching for and are willing to buy. These items range from discarded or outgrown items of clothing to furniture, tools, knick-knacks, books, pictures, and toys.
Start by taking an inventory of everything you have “just taking up space” around your home. Decide which items you’d be better off getting rid of, and make a list of these things. These are the things you are going to put up for sale. And if you are honest about what you really want and need, the pile will grow if you look over your household a second and third time! Remember that many garage sale offerings are items of merchandise purchased on impulse and later found to be not what the buyer wanted. It is the human condition: We discover too late that we don’t like or have used things purchased; we “outgrow” in size or taste articles that once fit or pleased us. You’ll find that many items offered at garage sales are gifts that have been given to the seller but are not really suited to the recipient. In other words, before you stage your first garage sale, it will be to your benefit to take a week or so to browse through all the garage sales you can find.
The problem is, most people just don’t have the time or energy to gather up all the items taking up space around their homes and staging a garage sale to get rid of them. Believe it or not, many people really don’t know how to stage a garage sale; a lot of people feel that putting on a garage sale is just too much bother and work.
This is where you enter the picture. Your enterprise will be an ongoing garage sale of items donated and collected from those who lack the initiative to put on their own garage sales. In other words, you can become a “liquidator of people’s junk” via super garage sales that you promote.
We’ve already suggested that you spend a few weeks visiting your area’s garage sales, swap meets, and flea markets. Your purpose will be to see what is being offered for sale, what the people in your area are buying, and how the merchandise is being sold. One of the things to notice is how the inventory is displayed. You’ll also want to notice how the sellers handle customer browsing and the prices they charge for the merchandise offered. You’ll find most items tagged with a price sticker. Still, the seller is generally open to either price negotiation or a reasonable offer made by the customer.
Begin your enterprise by cleaning your attic, closets, and basement or garage. Talk with your relatives and friends; tell them what you’re doing, and ask for donations (or at least consignments) of unwanted items. Here, you’ll get your first experience in negotiating, and you’ll usually get enthusiastic cooperation. You’ll find people explaining that they don’t have a use for a specific item and don’t want to keep on storing it. Still, they have just hung on to it for sentimental or other reasons.
Once you have a little bit of experience, you’ll be able to advertise in the newspaper that you purchase garage sale items or take them on consignment for a percentage of the final sale price.
The wife or woman of the house should handle the garage sale itself – that is, let a woman be the one who greets the potential customers, shows them around, and generally engages them in conversation. If it’s a woman staging the garage sale, arrangements should be made for a second one to “mind the store” while she’s out digging up more items for display and sale. And suppose you are running a massive sale. In that case, a second or third person can be handy in selling and generally keeping an eye on things.
The advertising angle is quite simple and shouldn’t cost you much, either. Check area newspapers, and select the one with the most garage sales ads. You shouldn’t concern yourself too much with competition from other ads. People who go to garage sales either go to all they can locate or only to those within a 3-to-5 mile radius of their homes.
You should run a small classified ad in the newspaper of your choice about three days in advance and up through the day of your sale. Once you’re operating on a full-time, every-day-of-the-week schedule, you’ll want to change your ad schedule and advertising style. But in getting started, stay with small classified ads simply announcing that you’re holding a garage sale, emphasizing that you’ve got everything from A to Z – something of interest to everyone. Such an ad might read:
BIG GARAGE SALE! Hundreds of exciting items.
Through Saturday, July 16th. (address)
To get ideas on how to write your ad, check your newspapers for a week or two. Cut out all the garage sale ads you can find, and paste them onto a piece of paper. Then, with a bit of critical analysis, you will be able to determine how to write a good ad of your own by identifying the good and bad features of the ads you’ve collected. Keep in mind that the bigger and better your sale, the bigger and better your “getting started” ads should be. Always remember that to increase your profits in any business, you must increase rather than decrease your advertising. At the bottom line, you’ll find that the greatest reason for a garage sale failing to turn a profit is the lack of promotion and advertising used to publicize it.
You should also have an old-fashioned “sandwich board” type sign to display in front of your house when your garage sale is open for business. The purpose, of course, is to call attention to the fact that you’re holding a garage sale and are open for business. If you haven’t already informed them, this will pull in your neighbors and attract people driving by. Sandwich boards are also sometimes set out at key traffic intersections not far from the garage sale site. These will attract attention and point the way. However, check your local ordinances to ensure this sort of advertising is permitted.
Another “sign idea” practiced by a few sharp operators is the old “Burma Shave” type roadside pointers. Here, you simply make up a few cute sayings (verse or one-liners), write them on pieces of cardboard, and tack them onto the power poles at about 200-yard intervals on the thoroughfare leading to your garage sale. You are sure to create a lot of traffic for yourself. People are amused by and drawn to people who do something a little different, unusual and creative in promoting a sale of any kind.
To come up with some cute verses, visit your public library and check out a book on limericks. Adapt the ones you feel are most humorous, and start making signs. Again, a word of caution before you get too deeply involved: Be sure to check your local ordinance before you start nailing signs to power poles.
By all means, search out and use all the free bulletin boards in your area. It’s better and usually much more profitable to take the time to make up an attention-grabbing circular you can post on these bulletin boards than just to use a scribbled 3 by-5 card announcement.
Pick up some Ҁtransfer lettering;” go through your newspapers and old magazines for engaging illustrations, graphics, and pictures; then, with a bit of imagination and flamboyancy, make up an 8 1/2 by 11 poster announcement of your sale. When it is pasted up, take it to any quick print shop and have them print up 50 or 100 for you. Your cost for this small print order should be well under ten dollars.
Make this circular/poster up with versatility and long-term usage in mind. You can use it repeatedly simply by pasting on a new date. If you feel “left-out” when we talk of “pasting-up” things, this simply means pasting a piece of paper onto the overall page you’re putting together.
Say you have made up your circular with a date of Wednesday, May 1st, and want to change it to read Thursday, July 16th. Rather than do the entire thing over, simply write out a new date with your transfer letters on a separate sheet of paper, cut this out to fit in the space occupied by the old date, and paste the new date over the old date. The artwork master is now updated; the printer does the rest. Incidentally, this is precisely what is meant in mail order. Other dealership offers where they furnish you with the primary advertising/promotional material and advise you to “paste over” their name/address with your own.
For paste or glue, drop by just about any stationery store and pick up a tube of “glue stick.” This is a small tube of paste, about the size of a tube of lipstick, generally sold for less than one dollar per tube. The tube glue stick works much better than regular glue or paste and is not as messy as rubber cement.
Your signs must be effective, but you must remember to keep them simple. Don’t try to cut corners on your signs. Signs announcing and pointing the way to your garage sale should be placed at each intersection within a one-mile radius of your sale location. If it takes 50 signs, then make 50 signs. The important thing is to let people know you’re holding a garage sale.
Signs can be made simply by cutting and using the sides of cardboard boxes and writing on them with a heavy felt tip marking pen. Make it easy for your signs to be seen and for people to read what’s on them. All you really need are great big block letters reading “GARAGE SALE,” with the street address and an arrow pointing in that direction. Don’t think for a minute that people will stop and read a lot of “stuff” you’ve written on your sign when they are driving by; you just want them to see your sign and proceed in the direction necessary to reach the location of the sale. They’ll be moving by your sign too fast to see or read anything else you may have written.
The ads you place, the bulletin board announcements, and the signs you put up will bring many people to your garage sale location. Many people will drive by slowly and just look, but most will stop to browse around.
But you still have to contend with many people who just drive by without stopping. So, let’s talk about the “inside secrets” of drawing people into your sale and the merchandising gimmicks that will result in the maximum number of sales for you.
You must call attention to your sale. Don’t be shy, bashful, or self-conscious about letting everybody for miles around know that you’re having a garage sale. If you could afford to get the Goodyear Blimp to “hover” over your garage sale, then, by all means, you should do it!
Some sharp operators do the next best thing. They rent miniature blimps, send them up above the housetops, and tether them there on sale days. Of course, this giant balloon or miniature blimp has some sign on the side of it, inviting people to your garage sale.
This is one of the most robust available advertising ideas for pulling traffic to a sale of any kind. For more details, write Pie-In-The-Sky Company, PO Box 5267, San Mateo, CA 94402, or explore if there is a local outlet for this kind of advertising merchandise for rent.
You have to give your sale some flair. Put some posts across the front of your property and run some twisted crepe paper between them – or better than crepe paper, run brightly colored ribbons. Invest in some colorful pennants and fly them from temporary flag poles. And don’t forget the balloons!
Make your garage sale a fun kind of event, with clusters of balloons anchored to your display tables and racks. Be sure to “float” them well above your customers’ heads as they browse your merchandise displays.
Cover your display tables with colorful cloths. Don’t hesitate to use bright colors and busy patterns. Effective display (packaging the event) is essential to your success regardless of what you sell.
The secret to outstanding garage sale profits is having the widest or most significant selection of merchandise. And part of the process is taking great care in displaying and labeling your merchandise.
You cannot simply dump items haphazardly on a table, sit down, and expect to realize significant profits. The people doing the most business and holding the most sales are the ones with interesting displays, action, and color.
Have as wide a selection of colors as possible in your clothing racks, and mix them for a “rainbow” effect. Make sure that your jewelry items shine and sparkle. Arrange them in and on jewelry boxes, ladders, and other items sold to show off the jewelry while keeping it neatly organized. Some people have even gone so far as hooking up battery-operated lazy susans and arranging their jewelry on them. Having the jewelry slowly turn on the lazy susan will not only catch the eye, but it will also catch the light, making an attractive display even more beautiful because it sparkles and gleams.
Think about it, and then study the methods of display used by the “rack jobbers” in the stores in your area. These are wire racks that usually hold card packaged items. Such a rack or display would lend itself beautifully to anchoring a cluster of balloons. Keep these things in mind, and build your individual displays as part of the whole. Make it pleasing to the eye and convenient for your customers to browse through and select the items that appeal to them or catch their fancy.
At many garage sales, some of the merchandise (particularly the clothing) is dirty. Notice this when you visit other people’s garage sales and then take it upon yourself to ensure that every item – positively everything you show – is clean and sparkling bright. A bar of soap, a bucket of water, and a few old rags will do wonders for shop tools, garden equipment, and bicycles. The same goes for furniture polish on old furniture and a run through the washing machine for all washable clothing.
It is advisable to determine a price for each item before you set it out for display. Then mark that price on a price tag, and attach a price tag to each item. Your prices should always be rounded off to more or less even numbers such as $.25, $.50, $1, $1.50, $2, and so on. In other words, don’t ask for $.35, $.95, $1.98, or any of that pricing. Almost needless to say, you should always mark everything up by 100% or more. In other words, if you have acquired a particular item for $l, set a price of $2 or more on it. It’s also a good idea to mark up your asking price from the bottom-line price you’re willing to accept. The price marked on the price tag at most garage sales is the starting price from which the buyer and seller negotiate. Most garage sale promoters price their cheaper items at the bottom line price they will accept and don’t deviate from those prices as shown on the price tag. Then on the more expensive items – $2 and over – they mark up their asking prices by 20 to 40 percent and use that margin for negotiating with the customer.
If you’re a little bit shy relative to personal selling, here are a few “inside” secrets that will give you an edge:
Always radiate an attitude of friendliness, regardless of the circumstances or your first impression of the potential buyer.
Always smile and say hello in a voice loud enough to be heard.
Speak to everyone stopping or dropping by your sale location.
Be helpful, but allow the people to browse on their own until they specifically ask you for help.
When you’re “keeping an eye on your merchandise,” be as unobtrusive as possible; no one likes to feel he is being watched too closely. Whenever a customer appears to have made a selection and asks you what you’ll take for it or what kind of a deal you’ll make, be ready to enter into “friendly negotiations.”
Before you open, of course, you will have done your homework and know the value of each item of merchandise you have for sale. Don’t ever take a customer’s “claimed” value of an item. By the same token, don’t listen to a seller when you’re buying items for your sale when he claims he’s offering you an antique or priceless treasure. Sometimes (rarely enough), you’ll be able to pick up fantastic treasures for virtually nothing. By knowing your merchandise, you’ll not let “the flag that Betsy Ross made” slip through your fingers for a song. Be sure to have all possibly precious items appraised by authentic dealers. These people are listed in the yellow pages of your telephone directory.
Some of the “extras” that contribute to the success of a garage sale include Plenty of change because, without proper change, you’ll lose many sales. A tape measure because people often want to know the exact dimensions of something (especially furniture) to fit it into a specific space they have in mind. Long extension cord and electrical outlet because your customers will want to “plug in” and try out the mixers, vacuum cleaners, hand tools, or other electrical appliances.
Back for a moment to draw in those “cruisers” who aren’t quite sure they want to park their cars and come browse: Look for some kind of interesting or unusual item to call attention to your sale – something you can set up or park in front of your home during your sale. Some of the displays we’ve seen include a horse-drawn surrey, a restored Model T, and an old farm plow. Anything of an unusual or interesting nature will do the trick for you. One couple we know put up a display using a manikin dressed in an old-time farm bonnet, long dress, and apron. This display depicted a farm woman of old, washing clothes with a scrub board and two steel wash tubs. It’s not hard to believe that this display really drew the crowds, and crowds always mean sales!
Go wherever your imagination takes you; you must be different and distinctive. You’ll get lost in the hundreds of garage sales going on if your sales look like the next half dozen.
If you take the time to employ a bit of imagination and set your sales up with the kind of flair we’ve been talking about, you will not only draw the crowds; you’ll be the one reaping the most profits.
As you think of beginning this garage sale business, remember this: It’s almost a compulsion for some women to go shopping – searching for interesting, sometimes rare, and valuable items. This fact alone will keep you as busy as you want to be, staging and promoting garage sales. The market is so vast and the appetite so varied that anything from a brass bedstead to a used diary of someone’s long-forgotten grandmother will sell fast at garage sales. Put it all together, use a little imagination, and you’ll succeed in an exciting, challenging endeavor!