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The Secret to Running a Successful Garage Sale

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by Shannon Meyerkort (subscribe)
Writer. Storyteller. Mother. Find out more at shannonmeyerkort.com/ or join me at fundraisingmums.com.au
Published March 11th 2014
The ultimate check list for making a killing
A garage sale is a fantastic way to get rid of all the unwanted stuff you have lying around: stuff that is too good to throw away, but you simply don't need it anymore. Sure, you can donate it to one of the charities, but perhaps you need some quick cash.

The secret is realising that 90% of the work is actually before the garage sale.

Garage sales are actually a lot of work. Don't just think you can dump some old furniture and junk in your front yard and expect to make a few hundred bucks. The more work you do in advance, the easier the day will go.

running a garage sale
Our girls after setting up their first garage sale


Here is the definitive guide to running a successful garage sale.

Location Location Location (and Timing)
First you need to find a garage, or a carport, a garden or some other space you can use. If you don't have somewhere that is big enough, protected and accessible, consider approaching a neighbour or friend and asking to use their space.

Pooling resources between families means that you can have a super-sale which is appealing to customers, although it makes splitting the money much more difficult.

You have to consider things like: where will your customers park, what will happen if it rains, is there power if people ask to test appliances. Be kind to your neighbours and let them know you're having a sale, especially if parking is a premium in your street and it's possibly customers might park in front of their driveways or on their verge.

Before you decide on a date make sure you take into account things like public holidays (people tend to go away for long weekends), and nearby community events that might draw a crowd or steal your customers.

Make sure you unpack toys so people know what they are getting


What is your goal?
Do you want to get rid of all your stuff or do you want to make lots of money? You need to think about this in advance because often the two aims are mutually exclusive. If you don't sell everything what are you going to do with all the leftovers? Cart it back inside? Donate it to the local op shop? Try and have another garage sale and put lower prices?

Be clear about your start and finish times. Depending on what you are selling it might take an hour or more to set up, so don't advertise a start time of 7am.

Decide how you are going to deal with 'early birds': occasionally these are just ordinary customers who happen to come a bit early, but often they are commercial traders such as antique dealers who are after a bargain. It's your decision if you are going to let people buy before you are officially open. I had people knock on my door the day before the sale asking if we had antiques to sell, which I found a little confronting.

Line up books so people can see them easily


Don't make it look like a garage
It's called a garage sale but that doesn't mean you should make your sale look like a man-cave. Put a bit of thought into where you put things: most customers like to be able to see things without having to touch them or rummage.

Line books spine-up in a large flat box (go to your local grocer and ask for fruit boxes) or bring a small bookshelf outside to display books. Hang clothes on a portable clothes rack, or make a temporary one using a piece of rope. Sort items into clear sections (kids toys, books, household items, tools and garden stuff) so people can go straight to the areas they are interested in.

Beg and borrow enough tables so that the majority of your items are up high, and people don't have to bend down to look. Big items can go in boxes on the ground, but if you want people's good money for items, treat your merchanside with respect and don't leave them lying around on the grubby floor.

If your garage floor is a bit grimy, put down picnic rugs or old sheets so that toys and other items don't get dirty. You don't need to do a full spring clean, but at least give the area a sweep and make sure your dog hasn't pooped all over your garden.

Walk across the road to see what your sale looks like. Is it neat and orderly, or a jumbled mess? What items can people see from the road? The trick is to entice kids and men inside. Kids have pester-power on their side, and if men see something appealing (sports memorabilia, tools, electronics) they might be more likely to agree to stop if their wife is asking him to pull over.

Advertise
Most newspapers offer relatively cheap classified adverts and even if you just have the words 'garage sale' together with the time, date and address it should be sufficient. There are also websites that let you advertise for free such as Gumtree in Australia and Craigslist elsewhere.

We did a letter drop in the week prior to our garage sale. Since we were mainly selling kids' toys we targeted houses that obviously had kids living there, we also put up signs at the local playgroup and schools.

This is the one time you can and should put your address on Facebook. At least to your friends anyway your address will be published on any classified adverts you take out, so why not use social networking to increase your customer base.

Posters can be hung at local community boards, playgroups, shops and other places where you know your target audience might be. I also stuck a big sign on my own letterbox for the week prior. Hundreds of locals walk past my house every week, it was an easy way to advertise.

Make signs up for the day with big arrows directing traffic to your house. Don't forget to collect them afterwards. If you're dumb enough to leave signs with your address out to litter up the neighbourhood, expect a knock on your door from the local council or irate neighbours. Make them big enough to be seen by a passing car. A4 computer paper is probably not going to be big enough. We used empty fruit and nappy boxes with bricks inside so they didn't get blown over.

Start collecting plastic bags in advance of your sale


Don't insult your customers
Be realistic with your pricing and don't try and sell people completely broken old junk. That saying 'one rotten apple will ruin the whole barrel' applies to garage sales. If customers see a grubby, broken old chair with a $20 price tag, or some chipped dishes that you're trying to sell for $10, people will probably be put off and leave.

If you wouldn't pay $20 for someone else's used foot spa, then don't expect someone to come along and buy yours for that price.

Also be generous: if you have a box of small items that are not worth much, consider having a 'free with purchase' box, so that people can grab something small and free if they have already bought something. At our garage sale we had lucky dips for kids using balloons, a Freddo Frog and a generous assortment of small toys, books, clips and other goodies that on their own weren't worth anything, but when you get five or six things for 50 cents, certainly seemed like a good deal.

Convert your old stuff into cold hard cash


What about kids toys?
Stuffed toys are the curse of most families. They might be played with for a day or week then they sit gathering dust for ever.

Chances are, most people don't want to buy your stuffed toys, but if they are in very good condition then consider putting similar sized toys in a large tub with a 'fill a bag for $1' signs. I put a stack of brown paper bags out and kids tried to cram as many toys as they could into the bag. Problem solved.

The little things that make or break your garage sale
Start collecting boxes and plastic bags well before the event so that your customers can carry home their goodies. If you are selling lots of fragile glass wear or knick-knacks then have a stack of newspaper ready for wrapping.

It might take you extra time, but put a price on everything (or at least make signs indicating the price for books/crockery/toys etc). If people have to ask how much everything is, they are less likely to buy. Coloured dot stickers are available very cheaply at most grocery stories. If you don't want to write individual prices on items, use colour coded stickers to indicate prices.

Stick to round numbers: 50 cents, $1, $2 and $5. Don't get clever with pricing such as $9.99 remember you have to add all these numbers up on the day.

Get a calculator or ask a friend who is good at mental maths to help out on the day.

Go to the bank and organise a float in advance. The first customer will probably only have a $50 note, so make sure you have plenty of $1 and $2 coins and the smaller notes. Keep money central, preferably in a money belt, and remember to do regular money drops (inside the house or somewhere safe) throughout the morning.

Keep your house locked during the sale and don't let people in to use the toilet or try on clothes unless someone you know is with them. Unfortunately not everyone is trustworthy these days.

Put 'not for sale' stickers on any tables or boxes you don't plan on selling.

If you're still not too sure about having a garage sale, then why not spend the next few weekends going to a few as a customer. Write a list of things you thought were great and things that really put you off. You will also get to know what sort of prices to put on things, and what sells in your area. As the person who is hosting the sale what they might do differently or if they have any tips.

Have fun and good luck.
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Why? Get rid of stuff and make some money
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