How to Kick Ass at Having a Garage Sale

Alex and I have had the pleasure (let’s use that word loosely) of having three garage sales in the time that we’ve been married. I wouldn’t consider myself an expert in the garage sale world, but I’ve learned a thing or two.

garage sale

It’s all about marketing. Our first garage sale was in Louisville, Kentucky. I paid for an ad in the newspaper and we were planning on putting out a few signs. Well, the newspaper made an error and didn’t print the ad. It was a bad deal. We had about 10 people who came by, and we made less than $100. For our second attempt (this time in St. Charles), I plastered our ad all over Craigslist and did an ad in the local paper. I also put several signs (on major roads) out to canvas all entrances to the neighborhood. The same attack was used for our latest sale. We had people waiting at our house for our door to open. I asked several of them how they found out about the sale. They all said Craigslist. I’m willing to bet that we could have done without the newspaper ad.

Plan a group sale. What’s better than one garage sale? Several garage sales in close proximity! People are more willing to go to an area that has more than one garage sale to pick from. It’s all about bang for the buck. This last sale that we had was part of a neighborhood-wide sale. We had nine houses that were also selling their junk, and the crowd was crazy for it! We listed the addresses and items for each house on the ad, and even provided people with maps of the neighborhood so they could easily find all the houses.

Plan your garage sale for two days. Apparently it’s a new trend for garage sales to be over two days. Our last two sales followed this pattern with major success. I’ve been told that Wednesday is a big day for garage sales. Seems a little random, but whatever works. We have done our last two sales on Friday evening and Saturday morning. The serious shoppers will do anything they can to come Friday. I cannot express how insanely busy Friday was for us. We made 80% of our profit on Friday (in about three hours). Now, it could easily get overwhelming. I was by myself with about 40 people in my garage. People were going nuts on Friday to get as much of the ‘good’ stuff as possible. Some people literally came and bought everything they could grab. I had people fighting over items. From what I’m told, hardcore garage salers have a strategy for where and when they are going to hit places. Having a sale start on Friday creates a sense of urgency – people buy as much as possible. Plus, you can ask higher prices on the first day and drop your prices to really move stuff the second day. It’s all a mental game.

Determine your pricing strategy. Pricing at garage sales is difficult. You don’t want to price things too high because it deters people. And, you don’t want to price things too low because you can lose out on potential profits. Now, if your only goal is to get rid of as much as possible – then price the stuff for next to nothing. Heck, just give it away! You have to decide what your end goal is for the garage sale. Also, know that whatever you price things for the buyer is going to try to talk you down. You ask $1, they will offer $.50. You ask a dime, they will offer a nickel. It’s going to happen. As far as labeling all the items, there’s two schools of thought. You can not label anything and just tell prices as people ask them, or you can put prices on items and expect people to offer you less than what is posted. Not labeling prices saves time while you are setting up. However, you will be bombarded with people asking the prices of everything. It’s also hard to keep track of what you have told people, especially if there is a bunch of activity. Most garage salers are annoyed with not knowing prices (and having to ask). Some can even get a little pissy with you. The other option is to price everything. It’s tedious, but saves you from having to constantly give out prices to people. Just remember that the person buying the items is going to reduce whatever amount you priced the item at. Also, if you decide to reduce prices on the second day, it’s hard to get around to everything and change the price. Something I tried out this last time was to have groups of items that I could put a general price on. For example – where our clothes were, I made a sign saying the price of all the shirts, pants, hats, coats, etc. We had a ton of frames and artwork. We broke them up by sizes and priced based on sizes. Small toys were divided into two bins based on price. Stuffed animals were in a separate bin and all priced the same. Large items, such as furniture and baby gear had individual prices. I’ve also found that putting a larger sign with a description of the item and the price helps to sell items. It’s hard to know what items are that are in a pile on the ground.

Mingle with the people – sell the items. I’ve always found that the nicer you are to the people who are pilfering through your junk, the more they are willing to buy. I like to talk to everyone and describe the items that they are looking at. If they tell me items that they are looking for, I give them all the help I can. Basically, give your best customer service to get the best results. This past sale, I had several people who told me to keep the change on the items they were buying. Plus, I also sold items that would have gone unnoticed because it wasn’t clear what the items were. On top of that – I met a ton of interesting people!

Have some really good items to mix in with your crap. A lady came to this latest sale that I recognized from the last garage sale we had. She said that she remembered our address from the last sale and how good the stuff had been. She made a point to come to this garage sale because she was expecting similarly good items. Bottom line – you can’t sell all crap and expect to make a ton of money. There needs to be some quality in the items that you are offing for people to come, stay, and browse through your sale.

Consider your placement of items. When setting up for a garage sale, I like to make areas of like items. It makes shopping easier. When setting items up, consider the view from the street. Intense garage salers will do a slow drive-by to gaze into your garage. If they don’t see anything from the car that strikes their fancy, they speed off to the next sale. You want to place key items so that they can be seen from the road. If your sale appears picked over, people won’t stop. Crowd items together to give the illusion of quantity. One of my neighbors even put out a box that was marked ‘FREE’ to attract people to stop. The box was filled with really small items that she didn’t care about selling, but people were drawn to it. It was a great idea to bring in the people! This same neighbor also had her clothes hanging instead of in piles on a table. She sold way more clothes than I did because hers were easier to access.

Appeal to the Pinterest crowd. There was a new trend I noticed with this latest garage sale. There were several girls that were looking for items to repurpose, refinish, and modge podge. Pinterest has turned the crafting world on its head, and the pins boast finding thrift items to turn into amazing pieces. Because of this, Craigslist and garage sales have become a hotspot for crafters looking to score unloved pieces. Our clothes were really popular with one group of girls who had plans to re-purpose them into new fashion items. Another girl bought an avocado green, metal filing cabinet we had (and was super excited about the find) with an intent on modge podging scrapbook paper all over it for her office. The buzz of the potential craft projects was almost enough to make me not want to sell anything. However, I feared that Alex might disown me if I told him that we were keeping everything for future projects.

Sit back and enjoy the people watching. Let’s not beat around the bush… People at garage sales are hilarious. I mean, you just can’t make this stuff up. Let me say – most people are normal, just looking for a good deal. Those people are fun to talk to and get to know a bit. I actually met quite a few neighbors at this last garage sale.  Planning on a playdate with one.  Another one is a professional clown.  No joke.  Then there are the crazies. There are the people who will offer you a quarter for everything. There are the people who will try to bargain you down on an item that you’ve priced for a dime. There are people who are clearly hoarders and you know that you are feeding their addiction. (I had a guy who wanted to buy our BBQ grill but it would be his 5th one at his house.) There are people who stake claim to items and are willing to fight to the death for something. There are people who will visit your sale multiple times to keep buying items. There are people who let their kids tear up your toys and mess up your displays. There’s all kinds of people. The long hours of a garage sale seem to slip away when you immerse yourself in the environment!