When Aaron LaPedis was seven years old, his mother left him to tend to the family’s garage sale while she made lunch. Seeing the sale was going well, and being the eager entrepreneur he was, he grabbed end tables, lamps and anything else he could carry from the living room and put those items on sale as well.
A day later, his mother noticed half her living room was missing. She couldn’t have cared for too long, though, because soon holding garage sales would turn into a very profitable enterprise for LaPedis.
Want to make the most of your next garage sale? Here’s what you need to know, with advice from LaPedis and other successful sellers.
1. Hold a Themed Sale
J.D. Roth of GetRichSlowly.org once had a “Geek Garage Sale” that earned him $2,400. He gathered graphic novels, computer gear and other “geeky” items and used the theme to market his sale, netting him more than $2,000 in two days. The third day, he found he had mostly books left over, so he changed the theme to “Book Sale” and made $400 more that day.
Take a look at what you’d like to sell and see what the most appropriate theme might be. Consider a Sports Sale, Garden Tool Sale, Outdoor Gear Sale or Techie Sale.
2. Schedule It Right
While weekend mornings are the traditional time for garage sales, consider a different time in order to have less competition.
One neighborhood may have dozens of garage sales on Saturday morning, but how many do they have on a Tuesday morning? Timing a sale during early morning or late afternoon commuting hours helps grab the eye of commuters, parents taking their kids to school, and others looking to snag a deal.
Or, schedule your sale in conjunction with a local event that will bring people in the neighborhood. If people are already relaxing and enjoying an event, they likely wouldn’t mind doing a little browsing (and hopefully buying).
3. Team Up
Work with your neighbors to see if they’re also planning an upcoming garage sale, and consider teaming up. The larger your sale, the more enticing it is for potential customers.
An added advantage of hosting a neighborhood sale is that you can pool your networks and resources to get the word out to a wider audience.
Don’t just throw some items outside and call it a garage sale — be sure to spread the word about your upcoming sale beforehand.
Put up fliers in your neighborhood and use online messaging boards to let people know about your sale. Use Craigslist, local messaging boards or EBay Classifieds. Specialty forums cater to those specifically looking for garage sales, including GarageSaleHunter and YardSaleSearch.
Also, be sure to use social media, including Facebook and Twitter. If your Facebook groups allow this kind of promotion, be sure to share your garage sale details and let people know what you have and when to come on by.
When advertising, list the special and big-ticket items that will help lure people in. Consider putting up pictures of furniture, antiques, entertainment centers or particularly appealing items that might bring people in.
5. Put Up 15-20 Signs
The biggest mistake people make is to not have enough signage to draw customers in, according to LaPedis.
Put up a lot of large, brightly colored signs; LaPedis recommends 15-20 signs per sale. Aim for signs that are at least three feet square in bright colors.
Simple signs work best, as it’s hard to read a lot of text while traveling down the road at 30 miles per hour. A simple arrow pointing the way along with the word “SALE” should do just fine. And these signs are reusable, since they don’t have any specific dates or details.
6. Be Prepared
When preparing for your sale, think about what people might need or want. Do you have a lot of accessories for sale? Have a mirror so people can see how the hat or scarf looks on them. Selling electronics or small appliances? Have batteries or an extension cord handy so people can try things out and see that they work.
Also, have change! Be sure to have plenty of small bills (and coins) on hand so you can quickly make change for customers. Bring more than you think you’ll need, and be sure to secure your money during the sale.
7. Make It Look Like a Store
People leave disheveled stores quickly, often without buying anything. Don’t run into that problem at your garage sale.
Make everything look nice and tidy. Borrow or rent tables so people don’t have to bend over or crouch down to inspect items on the ground. Also, group like items together (kitchen items in one area, men’s clothes in one place, kids’ clothes in another) so people can efficiently evaluate what you have on offer.
Put big-ticket, bright and colorful items closest to the street to draw people in. Throughout the day, be sure to tidy up and keep things neat and orderly.
8. Price It Right
A good rule of thumb is to sell items at 10-25% of their original value. Most people aren’t looking to spend a lot of cash at garage sales, so try not to price anything over $100 (selling big-ticket items online is often more effective).
Or, don’t price anything. LaPedis advises not placing price tags on items under $15, and instead talking with people to see how much they’re willing to pay. Conversation can draw people out and, not only do you meet new neighbors this way, but you can hopefully get a better price.
Towards the end of your sale, consider posting a “half off” sign and offering even better deals to move more items. Another useful technique is bundling like items, such as books or DVDs. “Five DVDs for $5” will catch people’s eyes. If you really want to move items by the end of the sale, have a few paper grocery store bags on hand and tell people to fill the bags with whatever they’d like for $5 or $10 per bag.
9. Get Comfortable
You’ll be out in the sun for hours preparing your sale, hosting the sale and then picking everything up, so be sure to make yourself comfortable. Wear comfortable clothing and shoes, and wear a hat and sunscreen.
Keep in mind how the sun moves throughout the day and what times you may be in the sun. Have water or other beverages handy.
10. Make It a Party
Supermarkets play music for a reason — it entices people to stay longer and spend more. Crank up the tunes, put out some cookies and lemonade, and make people feel welcome.
Also, consider keeping a cooler full of ice-cold water, soda and teas for sale — or if you have kids, encourage them to get entrepreneurial and sell these beverages.
11. Be Safe
While most garage sale buyers are good and honest people, don’t let any potential bad apples cause problems. Don’t let anyone in your home to use the bathroom, and be sure to lock your doors while you’re running the sale.
Safeguard your money. It’s best to keep big bills in your pocket, but consider an apron for small change. Cash boxes can also work, but you have to be very mindful to always have an eye on it. Sometimes people will act in groups to cause a distraction and snatch cash or goods. Make sure you have back-up help so you can go to the bathroom or step out for a minute if need be.
Your Turn: If you’re a garage-sale expert, what are your best tips for making the most of your sale?
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Kristen Pope is a freelance writer and editor in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.