Does the idea of setting up your wares in the front yard and spending a weekend selling unwanted items make you break out in cold sweats? Garage sales don't have to be so painful -- not if you plan ahead from the very beginning. Here are some quick tips for making your sale both fun and profitable.
Advertising Your Sale
Many people don't realize that you can't just put a pile of junk in your yard, slap up a bunch of signs, and hold a yard sale -- many areas have specific rules and regulations about the size, location, traffic flow, and advertising of sales. To be on the safe side, you should call your city or county government for a listing of local yard sale regulations BEFORE you get too deep into your preparations. In particular, be sure to find out about "signage" rules governing the size, shape, and placement of billboards or signs. Also ask whether or not you need to obtain a permit to hold a yard sale in your area. You don't want the cops shutting you down mid-sale because you didn't follow the rules!
Whether you live on a main road or in the middle of nowhere, it's important to put out directional signs for your sale. You never know how many "casual" shoppers you will attract who were simply driving by and saw your advertisement. Put posterboard signs at major intersections and along your road -- and always include an easy to read street address, hours of operation, and an arrow pointing folks in the right direction. You may also want to put up fliers in local stores, laundromats, and churches. These give you a bit more space to list major items of interest.
Most dedicated "yard-salers" check the newspaper listings to plan their route of attack -- so you definitely need to be included in the lineup. Call your local paper for prices and deadlines, and don't forget to check with "free" and community papers as well. When placing your ad, include the date, time, address, and directions (if you live in a hard-to-find area). You may also want to make note of any expensive or unique or high-demand merchandise you will be offering. Plan to run your ad at least one day before and the day of your sale -- much more than that really isn't necessary. And keep in mind that advertising is usually priced by the letter or the word. Don't list every type of item you plan to sell -- folks know that yard sales have books and household items and clothes.
Involving Other People
The bigger the offerings, the more customers you will attract. Many times a multi-family, neighborhood, or group yard sale is larger than the sum of its parts. Put together a fundraiser for your church, scout troop, school, or community organization. Or ask your friends, neighbors, and family to join in, suggesting that you all pool your items together into one large sale. If the profits aren't going into a common pot, have each participant mark his or her items with a different colored pen or different type of sticker or their initials by the price -- so that you can distinguish whose item is whose. Keep track of each person's sales in a notebook, with a running list of items sold (or just the price) under each name.
It can be very difficult (almost impossible) to run a yard sale completely on your own -- so don't be afraid to ask for some assistance. Recruit several helpers -- friends or family -- and bribe them with pizza and sodas at the end of the sale. You should have at least 2 people signed on to stay the length of the sale, or more if they can only help you throughout part of the day. You may need extra assistants right at the start of the first day when things are busiest, fewer later on. Most importantly, educate your helpers about your pricing and willingness to negotiate so they can assist customers without having to ask for your input. And finally, make arrangements ahead of time for a charity to pick up your leftovers at the end of your sale.
Gathering Your Supplies
What will you need to run your sale? "Display" items (tables, racks, table cloths, hangers, etc.) -- "checkout" items (cash box, extra bags, tissue/newspaper, etc.) -- and "try-before-you-buy" items (extension cords, batteries, bulbs). Then turn your attention to the money -- there is nothing more frustrating than running out of change in the first hour. Be sure to get enough to last you through the day -- that means at least $20 in coins, $50 in ones, and $40 in fives. Also create a list of minimum prices you will accept for each item -- so when a shopper asks your friend who is helping out if they will take $10 for your lawnmower, they can handle the situation without having to find you.
The best way to get ready for a yard sale is to sort your merchandise as you clean out (rather than creating a pile of discards and having to go through it a second time later on). While you're purging your home, divide items into meaningful categories (such as kitchen, books, kids, clothes) and have a large box or trash bag set aside for each category. Check each object to see whether or not it works, if it's missing any parts -- then clean and repair anything that needs a little TLC. You will also want to price items as you go and label them with a description (when applicable).
But you have to remember that planning a yard sale layout involves more than just laying out all of your merchandise on the lawn. The first goal is to make sure that nothing is blocking your traffic flow -- you don't want a sales area so clogged with people that no one can get around or see what you have on display. Secondly, be sure to display like items and complementary items together. It will be easier for people to shop if you set up "departments," with all the household items are on this table and all the books are together in these boxes. Put any valuable items that you don't want to "wander off" in a closed case or right at the checkout table. Finally, make sure everything is clearly visible. Some shoppers like to dig, but most people "glance" their way through a yard sale -- scanning tables and floor displays for something that catches their eye.
The simplest way to avoid confusion and conflict during your sale is to decide how you plan to run it -- ahead of time. Determine the length of your sale -- the number of days and hours each day. Also decide if you will accept personal checks or put items "on hold" for people who say they are coming back later. And finally, make up your mind in advance if you will allow early birds or let people in your home (to use the bathroom or phone). Most importantly, once you have put a policy in place, stick with it!
Leading Up To The Sale
The week before the sale is the time to get ready. Put up fliers in public areas around town and place your newspaper ad. Gather your supplies, get change, and confirm times with your "helpers". You should be done pricing and organizing your merchandise by now -- but if not, finish any last-minute labeling. A day or two before the sale, put up directional signs around your neighborhood. But don't do it too soon or you risk your signs being blown down or rained on. Block off any areas you don't want shoppers to enter -- especially if you plan to hold your sale in your garage, basement, or interior of your home. And finally, get a good night's sleep -- you'll need it!
On the day of the sale, you will want to start setting up 1-2 hours before your sale is scheduled to start. When the shoppers arrive, put one person in charge of cash box -- never let them leave it unguarded. And most of all, have fun -- let your kids sell snacks and play some peppy music! Just think of what a load is being lifted -- and how much extra cash you'll have at the end!