After hosting garage sales for many years, I decided to share our experiences with you, in the hope that if you choose to host a sale, you will be more successful. In addition to hosting our own G-Sales, we are frequent ‘shoppers’, often going out every weekend looking for bargains, so I have an idea of what works and what doesn’t when it comes to hosting your own G-Sale.
The key is PLANNING. You must plan all aspects of the sale well in advance. If you have a lot of items for sale, you should start planning several months in advance.
SET THE DATE
Start by nailing down the day of your event. I find that the spring is best, followed by the fall as a second choice. Unless you like to be uncomfortable, or unless your driveway is well shaded, avoid hosting your sale during the summer months - it is just too hot during the summer. The summer months are usually hot and humid, and if you are lugging stuff out of your house to the driveway, you are going to be hot and sticky before you even start. Also, I find that as buyers, shoppers also tend to avoid very hot days as well, so planning a date in the hot summer months will limit the number of visitors you will have.
The spring usually brings showers, so you have to be careful not to pick a date too early. I tend to avoid April; May or early June is usually best. If going for the fall, try September or early October – by that time, the weather is usually cooler.
When picking a date, also consider an alternate – a ‘rain date’, if you will. After all, if you pick a date months, or even weeks, in advance, there is no guarantee that Mother Nature will cooperate. If planning a Saturday date, consider making the following Sunday a rain date. Or if you have concerns about doing a G-Sale on a Sunday, consider making the following Saturday your rain date. If you are unlucky to hit a very rainy season, consider moving the sale to the fall, when there is usually much less rain. Rain is your enemy – even if you end up holding your garage sale indoors like in your house, or actually in your garage, rain will keep your potential buyers away.
SORTING OUT YOUR ITEMS FOR SALE
This is by far the most work. And why you really need to start well in advance. We find it best to go through the house one room at a time, looking for things you want to sell. To do a good job at this, we usually plan to do one or two rooms each weekend.
Inspect all items in each room and decide if you can part with them. If you have something that has not been used for several years, maybe it is time to recycle it and pass it along to someone who can make use of it. Do this for each room, making sure you through inspect all nooks and crannies, closets, under beds, etc. You would be surprised to find things you had completely forgotten you had – and unless there is some sentimental value, then maybe these are items you should consider for sale.
When inspecting each room, do not forget the biggest room – your basement (and also, your garage).
One key thing to remember about items for sale is that generally high priced items do not sell at G-Sales. In my experience, anything priced over $20 is unlikely to sell. This is not always the case, and I have seen some expensive items bought and sold at G-Sales, but as a rule, G-Sale shoppers tend to look for inexpensive bargains, usually a couple of dollars or less. So, if you have something that you think is worth big bucks, you might be better off trying to sell privately, or maybe place an ad on Craigslist or Kijiji. These are free services, and if you are not familiar with them, I will post an entry later on how to effectively market with these services.
If you have any item that needs supporting material, be sure to include it. For example, if a product has or requires a manual or user guide, include it with the item. If it is no longer available, try to download a copy from the internet. If the guide is too large, make sure you include the link where the buyer can download it themselves. If the product needs power to work, make sure you have batteries available so the buyer can test the item, or if it needs AC power, make sure you have an extension cord available so they can test it. Basically, consider that if YOU were buying this, what would you need or like to ensure the item will work in your home.
You may also wish to include clothes. Although, it has been my experience that unless something is very clean and equivalent to new, you are unlikely to get a buyer. After all, would you buy someone’s old tattered clothing or shoes? Also, displaying clothes at a G-Sale is a bit more difficult. I often see people selling clothes at G-Sales and they have them in a pile on the grass beside their driveway. Unless someone is very desperate, they are not going to sort through a pile of clothing. You really need a rack or clothes line to properly display clothing, and make it easy for people to find something. If you are not prepared to properly display clothing, forget it – donate it to Good Will or Value Village, or some other organization that can make good use of it.
Shoes and boots are items I frequently see at G-Sales. Generally, they do not sell (unless they are new, or in impeccable condition). Again, would YOU wear someone else’s old shoes? Same goes for hats, although you can usually clear a hat much easier than old shoes. Having said that, I have seen people buy shoes, slippers, boots, and hats at G-Sales – some people can be desperate. An exception to the ‘no footwear’ rule is sports. Things like skates, roller blades, ski boots, etc. are usually higher priced items that buyers often will pay a fraction of the normal cost if sold at a G-Sale. But you have to price them so that they sell – pricing them near the price of new items, will not yield a sale.
When sorting through your items for sale, you should gather all items into one central location, such as your basement, or garage. This is going to be hell for the weeks leading up to the sale, as you will have this big pile of stuff in your basement or garage, that will be taking up useful room in your home. But, when the sale day arrives, you will have all your items for sale in one central place. This will ease the movement to the driveway, and ensure you have all the items you want to sell readily at hand.
PRICING YOUR MERCHANDISE
This step can be done a week or so before the sale. Buyers like to see a price on items, so try to price each item before the sale. It will save you a lot of “how much is this” questions, and avoid you trying to think of a good price when asked.
Go to your local dollar store or Staples, and pick up a package or two of those small yellow ‘price’ stickers. Also, get a Sharpie indelible ink pen. Then start marking your merchandise. If the sticker will not stick on an item because the material is cloth or some other material, use tape or a pin or something to ensure the sticker stays on the item.
Price aggressively. After all, you do want to sell don’t you? Marking an item with a high price, or a price near the new value, is likely to turn off your buyers. On the other hand, you don’t want to price too low either. And always price a little bit higher than what you really want. Remember - this is a garage sale, and buyers like a bargain, and like to bargain, so they will nearly always offer a counter offer. I tend to price items a few dollars higher – so for example, if I want $5 for an item, I price it at $7 or $8. That way, if the buyer offers me $4 or $5, then I gladly close the deal, and we are both happy.
Again, do not try to sell big ticket items. An exception may be something you really don’t want to sell, unless you get your (high) asking price. So if you do sell it, you get good money, but if you don’t sell it, no big loss, since you were not sure about, or comfortable with, selling it in the first place. The down side of this of course is that you will need to bring these items back into the house again after the sale.
If you have a lot of smaller items, you can forego pricing each item individually by grouping them all together. What I do on the day of the sale, is set up 5¢, 10¢, 25¢, and 50¢ tables or groups. This is often a good selling feature, as buyers usually pick up several items because they are ‘cheap’. This is also good for kids who accompany their parents, as they sometimes have their own money and can buy a few smaller and cheaper items for themselves. There is a small downside to grouping items like this, and that is that some buyers will pick up an item from the 25¢ table, and when it comes time to pay, they will claim that it was in the 10¢ table – some people are cheap! So, you need to have a good idea what was on each table. Also, some buyers may pick up an item from one table, and if they decide later to not buy it, they may return it to the wrong table – thus the next buyer may legitimately pick an item from the wrong table.
One trick I use when arranging the ‘penny’ tables, is to get these large cardboard ‘flats’ (short open boxes) from Costco that were used to hold produce. These are free for the taking, and make excellent sorting bins when you are collecting and organizing your merchandise for sale. Then, when the sale date comes around, you just cart these ‘flats’ full of merchandise out to the driveway. Using a large marker, clearly mark the price on the boxes.
WHAT ABOUT STREET SALES?
Street sales, or multi-family sales, are often more advantageous than single family G-Sales. Buyers will often hit street sales before single family sales, mainly because there is much more available in a smaller area – they can park and walk from one home to another. If you live on a relatively small street (100 homes or less), you may wish to consider a street sale. If so, planning again is key. Advertise the fact that you are planning this – create a half page ad, copy it so that you have two ads per page, then print off the pages and cut them in half. Add a G-Sale graphic or two if you wish.. clipart is plentiful and free on the internet. Hand-deliver to the mailboxes of all residents on your street. Do this at least one month or more before your sale, to give them plenty of time to prepare. Include your name, address, and phone number on the flyer, so that anyone can contact you if they need to. (It is not unusual for someone to offer to help put up posters, etc. for the sale, so knowing who you are is important.) If nothing else, having a street sale is a good way to get acquainted (or re-acquainted) with your neighbours, and it can provide you with a distraction during the lull between customers, to browse your neighbours’ treasures.
One of the most important things you will need to do is get the word out that you are having a sale. There are several ways to do this.
Take advantage of the free services online. Sites like Craigslist and Kijiji offer free ads and have garage sale sections to make it easier for people searching for such items. Prepare your ad by listing the time and location of the sale. Include a rain-date. It also helps generate interest if you provide a partial list of items for sale. List big ticket items specifically, and generalise on common stuff, like electronics, computer equipment, baby toys, jewellery, etc. If possible, create a link to your place using Google Maps to help people find you and to let them know the general area where you live. And most importantly, only post this notice the day before your sale – too early, and it gets buried and will not be found.
If you have a local community newspaper, consider posting an ad there. However, in most cases this will probably cost you $20 to $30, so only do this if having a street sale (and you can share the costs), or if you have a lot of items and are sure you can offset this cost with your sales.
Let all your friends and family know you are having a G-Sale. Invite them to drop by, even for a visit – chances are they will see something they like and offer to buy it. A word of caution: if you are inviting someone to your sale, and they gave you something as a gift, do not insult them by having the gift for sale at your G-Sale.
And probably most importantly, print up signs to guide buyers to your sale. It is very important that you do this correctly. You most probably have seen G-Sale signs that are virtually impossible to read – either because they are too small or illegible. Two important rules: do not hand write signs, and do not use small signs. Any sign that is a standard 8.5 x 11 inches or smaller, is too small. I am sure you have seen these before and you know what I am talking about – you just cannot read them unless you stop and walk right up to them.
My suggestion is to make your signs on a computer, using the largest font you can fit onto the paper. You do not need much – the Garage Sale title, followed by the date (and optionally, the time if space permits), and then the address (street name and civic number). The bottom of the sign should have an arrow pointing in the direction the buyer needs to turn to find your house. There are a couple of choices for the arrow: you can simply draw a 1-inch thick black line and use a marker later to add the arrow heads in the direction needed just before you hang the sign. Or, if you know the direction the arrows are to point, you can use your computer to add the arrowheads. In either case, make sure they are large enough to be easily seen at 10 or 20 meters.
When creating your signs, set the page size to either 17 x 11 inches (this is two 8.5 x 11 pages side by side) or 17 x 22 inches (this is 4 standard 8.5 x 11 pages, tiled together). When you print these pages, select the TILE option, so that you print two pages or four pages; then you can tile the pages together. If you really want to get attention, set the size to 25.5 x 22 (6 standard 8.5 x 11 pages, tiled together), for a really large sign.
Buy some bright fluorescent paper, like hot pink or candy-apple green – this is very visible from a distance. Make all your signs with the same coloured paper – this will provide consistency and help your buyers find your house more easily.
Of course, you can always buy pre-printed G-Sale signs, however these can be expensive if you need to buy 15 or so of them. Also, there is nothing to make these signs stand out among the others in your area, and indeed, could be confused with other signs in your area.
Now the important part: never post your signs as paper only.. you need to paste them to a hard backing. I use heavy cardboard, which one again, I source from stores like Costco or my local grocery store. You are going to need a lot of cardboard, so start collecting early – bring home a piece or two each time you go shopping, and by the time your sale rolls around, you will have plenty.
You are going to need a sharp box cutter (and new spare blades) to cut the boxes to the size you need. Cut each sheet of cardboard just slightly larger than the final paper sign. Buy some spray glue (I use 3M Super 77 Spray Glue) to attach your paper signs to the cardboard backing.
Before staring the gluing process, you will need to cut off the excess paper (about ¼ inch) from the paper sheets, so that they can be tiled properly on the cardboard backing. If you have a guillotine paper cutter, great! If not, use your box cutter and a straight edge to make the cuts.
Set up in your garage, or preferably outside if there is no wind. Remember, spraying glue will spread to other areas with the least little bit of wind, so be careful. Use disposable gloves and wear old clothes just in case. Spread out some newspaper to catch the excess glue. Work one sheet at a time – lay it on the newspaper, spray some glue onto it, especially around the edges, then glue it to the cardboard backing. Repeat for each of the remaining pieces of the sign, carefully tiling each piece next to the others, to make a beautiful and professional looking large sign.
The signs should be made well in advance. And should be designed to be easily read at 10 to 20 meters. Test it out.. if you cannot read it at distance, then neither will your potential buyers. Using your computer to print your signs will give them a much more polished and professional look. Using fluorescent paper adds attraction. And using heavy cardboard backing will ensure they stay flat and readable.
POSTING YOUR SIGNS
Just as important as creating large, readable signs, is posting them in an area so they will be read.
Before actually making your signs, I recommend you scope out where you plan to post them. Either make a hand-drawn map of your area, showing all the streets leading into your area. Or, print off a Google map of your immediate area. On the map, indicate all the corners and other areas you think would be a good location to post a sign. This will give you an idea of how many signs you need to make. It will also help you when it comes time to posting your signs, by giving you a ‘roadmap’ so to speak.
Try to keep the signs within a half kilometer of where you live – people will get frustrated if your signs are further away, especially if there are a lot of turns to get to your location. 10 to 15 signs should be sufficient. You will need to place signs on each side of the corner, to catch traffic coming and going at the intersection.
Placing the signs (and taking them down later) is best done with two people if you are using a car to get around. Have a driver take you to each spot, jump out and post the sign. This will allow the driver to move the vehicle out of traffic if necessary, and still allow you to put up the signs. Use clear 2-inch wide packaging tape to attach the signs to the poles or trees. The driver is also the map person – marking off the location on the map where the sign is posted, and planning the next stop on the route. Keep this map to use later to ensure you remove all the signs later after the G-Sale is over.
Try to place your signs the evening before the sale, provided it is not raining. If it is raining, then you are best to get up an hour earlier on the day of the sale, and place them that morning. You can place them a day earlier if you are absolutely sure it will not rain – rain really spoils signs!
Avoid placing signs on private property, or public boxes like Bell or Hydro utility boxes, bus stop shelters, etc. They may be removed before your G-Sale even starts.
When placing your ads online or in the newspaper, make sure you tell your readers to ‘look for the hot pink (or whatever colour) signs in the area’. This will guide them into your location, and not some other G-Sale in the area.
GET A FLOAT
Sometime before the day of the sale, you will need to get a float. Generally speaking, the first buyers of the day will come with a $10 or $20 dollar bill – and until you have a lot of sales under your belt, you will need to have money to make change for them.
Depending on the size of your sale, you will probably need a $100 to $200 float to start the day. Get a good amount of quarters, dollar and two dollar coins (or bills, depending on your country currency), and five dollar bills. After doing a few sales, you will soon learn exactly how much of a float you will need. It is bad to lose a sale because you cannot make change.
Keep your money with you, preferably in an apron-type of carrier that you can tie around your waist. I have seen people with money boxes on a table that will go walking – especially if there are a lot of buyers to provide a distraction. Better to keep your money on you.
At the end of the sale, simply count up your proceeds and deduct your float to see how much you made at your G-Sale.
PREPARING THE LAYOUT
During the week or so before the sale, prepare how you want to present or display your merchandise for the sale. If you have some tables you can use, great. However, many people do not have large tables unless they are professional G-Sale sellers, so you will have to make do. Try to avoid spreading stuff around the ground – it makes is difficult for buyers to walk around without stepping on something – of course, the exception would be for large items which must stay on the ground. And if you do have a lot of ground space, you can place items there. If you do this, remember that people will be walking all over your lawn, so it might take a beating.
I find a great source of free cardboard is Costco. The have these large cardboard ‘flats’ (shallow, open-top boxes) normally used to transport produce, that make great containers for your merchandise. Also, they have large flat pieces about 4 feet square and a half-inch thick, that are used to separate the large 15-litre jugs of water – these make great ‘table-tops’ as they are quite sturdy. Find some large cardboard boxes about two feet high, place them upside down on your driveway, and then place the large 4-foot water jug cardboard flats on top.
Try to organize your merchandise – put all the jewelry in one place. Same with electronics, music and video. You get the idea. This will greatly help the buyers. If you have items with supporting material such as user guides or manuals, device chargers, etc., make sure you put them with the associated items.
Place one or two larger items, or the more colourful items, near the end of the driveway so that it attracts the attention of the buyers passing by. Often, cars will slow down as they pass, and if they do not immediately see something from a distance, they just won’t stop.
If possible place the least expensive items items at the end of the driveway, and keep the more expensive smaller items nearer to the garage entrance. This assumes your position during the sale will be nearer to the garage entrance, where you can keep an eye on these items. It is hard to believe, but there are actually people that will steal from garage sales – it has happened to us a number of times now, and you must put the more expensive items where you can keep an eye on them.
During the course of the sale, you may want to reposition items as table space becomes available.
Try to have at least two people running the sale. If one person gets distracted with a buyer asking questions about an item, the other can continue to monitor the merchandise and prevent theft. Even better, solicit the help of family members or friends – nice for a visit during the quiet periods between buyers. Also, more people allows for one to go on a coffee or food run, or a pee break – after all, you are going to be going for most of the day and will need a break. And if you are having a street sale, it will give you an opportunity to visit your neighbours and see what they are selling.
Have an extension cord plugged in and handy for those buyers that want to test an electric or electronic product. Speaking of which, if you have an item for sale that uses a rechargeable battery, please have it fully charged up before the sale – nothing like the embarrassment of trying to sell a product that the buyer cannot get to work!
Have a plan for rain – if it suddenly starts, decide if you are going to rapidly move everything into the garage or cover it up. If the latter, have some tarps or other water resistant cover handy.
Watch out for the hot sun – it can ruin things like vinyl albums and candles, making them unsellable. Place them in a shaded area.
THE DAY OF THE SALE
On the day of the sale, you need to act fast. Allow at least an hour to set up, maybe more if you are not used to doing this. That means if you advertised your sale from 9am to 3pm, plan to start moving your merchandise out to the driveway by about 8am – with two people working, you should get most of your stuff out and ready. Remember, you also have to set up tables, etc.
Be prepared for early birds. No matter how much advertising you, there will always be people coming by earlier than your advertised start time, just to get a jump on the others and get the best bargains. You have to be firm with these people – tell them you are not open yet and cannot make change: if they really want to buy an item, insist that they have exact money, as you cannot make change. Yes, I know I said you need a float, but just say you don’t have change, otherwise they will only delay you from finishing your setup, and when your advertised start time rolls around, you will not be ready. Again, this is another reason to have 2 or more people working your sale.
Set up a few chairs so you are not standing all day. Also, have some water or something else handy to drink. Maybe some music – great if you are selling a stereo so people can see it working.
Be prepared to bargain – that’s part of the allure of G-Sales. If you hold fast on your prices, you are unlikely to make any sales. If something is marked at $7, and the buyer offers you $3, counter offer at $5 or $6. Keep it going until you get a sale. If a buyer looks interested in an item, and puts it down and starts walking away without buying it, don’t hesitate to lower your price in the hopes that they will reconsider. Sometimes a person may seem too shy to make a lower offer, so you have to take the initiative.
Bargaining is one thing, but do not give away items just to get a sale. I have had some absolutely ridiculous low-ball offers.. like someone offering me $1 for something I priced at $10. I tell these people that I would rather give it away to Good Will than sell to them for $1. That sometimes embarrasses them, but I have never had someone making such a low-ball offer actually make a purchase. You will find this type of scum at every sale – just looking to get something for free, or nearly free. You need to be firm with this type of buyer.
It is unlikely you will sell everything on the day of the sale. Have a plan for what to do with the remainder of your merchandise at the end of the sale. If the remainder of stuff is essentially worthless, put it in the trash. Or put it at the foot of your driveway – it will usually disappear within a day – some people just love anything free, no matter how worthless it is. If the remaining items have some value, but not enough to keep, consider donating it to Good Will, Value Village, or some other organization that takes in used merchandise. If there are items remaining that in your opinion are worth something, consider posting them on Craigslist, Kijiji, or eBay.
During your sale, do not be afraid to talk to your buyers. Be friendly. It is surprising what you may find out about people once you start talking to them. I once had a buyer stop by who was a house painter, and I ended up contracting him to paint our house later – and got a very good price to boot! If other families on your street also have a sale, wander over and talk to them. It is a great opportunity to meet your neighbours if you haven’t met them already. And, you may just find a hidden treasure.
AFTER THE SALE
I would advise not going too much past 2pm, if you started at 8 or 9am – especially if it is a very hot day. Many people stop looking when it gets too hot, and you may find yourself getting too hot sitting there – unless of course you have the luxury of having a very shady treed lot.
If you used some empty boxes for table legs, it is now time to get them out and start boxing up the ‘remains of the day’. Separate what you want to keep, what is going in the trash, and what is going to be donated.
While packing up, you may notice that some late comers stop by looking for last minute deals. It is of course up to you, but if you have already made the decision to pack it in for the day, and have placed some items you no longer want at the end of the driveway, tell them that stuff is free. You will be surprised at how much of your ‘garbage’ suddenly disappears – some people simply can’t resist something if it is for free. Let the scavengers clear your junk for you.
So, you have moved some of the more valuable stuff you want to keep or sell privately, back into the garage. The remainder that is not going to the dump, box and bring to your local Good Will or Value Village.
And while you are out delivering this remainder to GW or VV, TAKE DOWN YOUR SIGNS. Yes, I am shouting, as this is most important. There is nothing worse than people leaving their signs up for days, weeks, even months! Use the map you used when posting the signs, and follow it to remove them now. This will also stop people from wasting time only to find you have closed shop for the day.
TIME TO RELAX
Ok, it is all over now. You cleared up the remainder of stuff on your driveway, dropped off what you no longer want to keep, put what you want to keep back into the house, and the remainder into the trash. And have taken down your signs.
Now it is time to have a cold one in a cool spot.. hopefully a nice shady back yard. And count your money – subtract your float, and see what you made. Hopefully, a few hundred.
Was it all worth it? Did you make mistakes? Is there something you could have done better? Do you want to try another next year? All questions to discuss over the cold one in the back yard.