(POSTED JUNE 5, 2014)
One of the best activities my family and I look forward to doing at least once a year is hosting a garage sale. Over the course of many years we’ve had some great and not so great ones so in honor of this wonderful Spring/Summer tradition here’s an in-depth guide on how to do a family garage sale like a pro.
Saturdays are the best days for garage sales
Saturdays really are the sweet spot for garage sales because Sundays are church day for many people and Monday holidays generally don’t work well either. Stick to Saturdays.
Location, Location, Location!
The location of a business can often make or break it. The same holds true for garage sales. If given the choice of hosting your garage sale in a huge house with a spacious yard or a small house with lots of traffic, go for the one that has more traffic. More people = more sales.
Put clearly marked Garage Sale signs in high traffic locations
In addition to placing your Garage Sale signs in high traffic areas, it also greatly matters what you put in the sign itself. At a minimum it should have the address, time of the start and end of the garage sale and the calendar date when the sale will take place. If your address is in a weird location, be sure to include additional directions on the sign (third left on 65th St.). Whenever possible use Garage Sale signs that have directional arrows.
Post your ad online to Craigslist the day BEFORE your garage sale
In the old days, you couldn’t do a garage sale without paying for a newspaper or magazine advertisement. Today all you need is Craigslist but you still have to make it count. Be sure to create an online ad that includes at least one image of what you’re selling (preferably something that’s very desirable) and remember to pepper your garage sale description with a detailed listing of the stuff that will be of most interest (i.e…electronics, computers, appliances, quality clothing, video games, family furniture, etc…) Posting your ad the day BEFORE your garage sale is best because Craigslist sorts ads by date and it’s ideal to display your sale toward the top of the listings.
Let your neighbors know you’re having a garage sale
Notifying your neighbors can help you promote the event to an audience that will often be doubly receptive to coming by. It will also give you a perfect excuse to network with your neighbors, share a light drink and catch up on what’s happening in other parts of your area that might be of mutual interest to you.
Make it a multi-family garage sale
It’s no secret that when it comes to garage sales, bigger is better so be sure to ask your family, friends and neighbors if they want to join their items into your garage sale. Your garage sale will be humming with even more people, you’ll spend quality time with people you care about and you’ll even have extra “sales” help while you’re selling.
Organize your merchandise the smart way
You don’t have to necessarily recreate Target but when organizing your merchandise it does help tremendously to make viewing it easy, logical and attractive, just like the big retailers do. Organize stuff by categories as much as possible and do try to display the more attractive things on tables as they will make them look more valuable and better taken care of.
Be ready to deal – downward!
Everybody knows that garage sales are all about getting great deals so it’s imperative that you ALWAYS prepare yourself and your family for obscenely low offers. On eBay you may typically get 30 to 50% of the value you paid for nicely cared for merchandise. Not so in garage sales. In my experience, garage sales will often recoup between 5 to a maximum 25% of what you paid.
Don’t underestimate what items will sell
Short of selling your underwear, you can pretty much put anything up for bid at our garage sales including broken devices, furniture, toys, light bulbs, school textbooks and more. (Always disclose what’s wrong with them, of course). Every time we host a garage sale we like to note that one weird item we never thought would sell. This year’s winner was a 3M product that is used to attach pieces of wooden furniture that have dislodged from each other. We recouped $2 of the approximately $5 we spent on them, a pretty good resale value.
When people come to your garage sale they want to find sellers who can easily engage with them about the items they might want to buy. Don’t sit back ignoring people and don’t be pushy either. Whether you’re sitting or standing ALWAYS politely connect with people so they know you’re friendly and eager to help them. If a potential customer tells you what they’re especially interested in, try to help them find those items or offer them other ideas that might relate to those. In my experience, excellent customer service often results in much higher sales.
Have single dollars and small change on hand
Before you do your yard sale, be sure you get plenty of single dollars for change because you will need them and some sales will literally slip away if you’re not able to quickly give people the change they need. Twenty to thirty dollars in singles should be generally enough to last you the full day.
10 a.m. Is Mark Down Time
In my experience the best garage sale times are 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Many people put a start time of 7 a.m. for their garage sale but I prefer 8 because if not I will have to deal with extreme early bird sale hunters starting at 6 and 6:30 a.m. Your peak sales times are almost universally strongest until 10 a.m., at which time it’s time to mark down prices. By 11 a.m. your prices should probably be 40 to 50% less than what you started at. By 1 p.m. it’s fire sale time because all the things you still have in inventory have a low likelihood of selling, even at the best rates due to the fact most people generally see 11 a.m. and later as “leftover” sales time.
Don’t forget the lemonade stand!
My kids favorite part about garage sale is the lemonade stand. Well, we sell bottled water and potato chips too so sometimes we call this the lemonade stand something different so people know we have a broader offering but lemonade stands are perfect too because all adults know what they are and they’re the ones with the money. As a matter of principle my wife and I will buy the kids all the supplies they need (bottled water, ice, lemonade, cookies, etc…) but at the end of the day we only let them keep the profit minus costs so they appreciate how things really work in the real world. (They made $25 profit at our last garage sale).
Give Your Stuff Away
We try to make garage sales a terrific teachable moment for our kids not just in terms of learning about business and the value of things but also about giving. In addition to setting aside a small stack of items we don’t want to sell for one reason or another, we also have items that we empower our children to randomly gift to strangers who appear to really want or need them. Sometimes that may come in the actual sale price of an item that we know someone should pay $50 for but that we practically give way at $5 or $10.
Research your prices and don’t worry about making pricing mistakes
If you’re unsure of what a certain item might fetch, go to Craigslist and study what similar items are being marked for. You can cross reference Craigslist with ebay but remember that garage sale prices are ALWAYS LOWER than what those services say. If you make a mistake and give an item for less than what you should have, don’t worry about it. It comes with the territory of doing garage sales and you will get better at it.
Put some classical music on
I don’t know if there’s any science to it but putting ambient music in the background such as classical definitely helps foster sales somehow. Vivaldi works wonders!
Don’t advertise your garage sale in your social media
I’m pretty public about my life but when it comes to garage sales, you won’t ever find me advertising my garage sales in social media. Yes, we would get tons more people showing up but I think there are certain times when posting too much information about oneself is, well, a little too much. I don’t recommend you do it.
Document your garage sale
My kids LOVE to do garage sales so every time we do one, we love to document them with photos and Instagram video like we’re doing in this story. Every garage sale has its characters and “moments” such as the guy who approached my son today with a magic in return for buying a bottle of water or the 92-year-old woman that I accidentally offended when I tried to give her a book free that she wanted to buy.
When you’re done with your garage sale, be sure to take down the signs!
A couple years back we held a garage sale at another house. We unfortunately forgot to take down the garage sale signs and by Monday we got a code enforcement officer that fined us $100, $50 more than what the lousy garage sale generated. This was a painful lesson that when you’re done with your garage sale, it’s time to immediately take down your signs. In some neighborhoods, especially private ones, you are either not allowed to publicize garage sales on the street or even to host one so be sure to know the rules before you get a nasty fine from an association or code enforcement officer.
Originally published June 5, 2014.