Profitable Yard Sales 101

by Peter Biedlingmaier

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If your basement or garage looks anything like mine, then it has become an obstacle course that would give Navy Seals nightmares. The garage may or may not have a car in it, but it surely has everything else you don't know what to do with.

There could be some buried treasures in there, but the odds are against it. That doesn't mean you can't sort it and make some hard decisions. The first one is whether you are going to donate it to the local Goodwill organization, or whether you'll try and sell some of it at a garage or yard sale. (Whatever you don't sell can still go to Goodwill!)

If you've made the decision to profit from your undoubtably undervalued collection of "stuff," then do it right. Get the most return by treating a yard sale as a business enterprise. Do your homework, make a plan, and then follow through.

Before you advertise your sale, think about what you have to sell and consider who the potential buyers might be. Your neighbors probably have the same kind of junk that you do, so besides giving them an opportunity to look at all your stuff, there probably isn't much they want.

Once you have a good idea of what you want to sell, then it's time to use the five P's of marketing to maximize your profit. Product, Place, Price, Promotion, and People.

1. Product

First, understand that yard sales are not geared for expensive items or antiques and rare collectibles. If you do have such items, then try selling them on eBay or to a reputable local dealer. You will still need to do your homework by researching the items to see what a fair value would be.

Big stuff, like furniture, is better sold by ads in the local paper or at the grocery store. Not many people come to a garage sale looking for beds or sofas. Anything else is fair game. Make it easy for buyers to shop.

  • Group like items and categories (tools, kitchen, kids, clothes).
  • Hang clothes, especially expensive items.
  • Have a box and table of cheap one-price items (loss leaders that get people into the buying mood). Place this at the front of the sale.

2. Place

Well, the name says it all, so the odds are that your driveway, yard, and garage will all be volunteered to serve.

Arrange your items so that they are not only visually appealing, but also easy to touch and test. Some good ideas are:

  • Put items on tables or atop empty boxes, stairs and ledges. Place items high for the older shoppers, not on the ground.
  • Have a tape ready to measure stuff and some paper and pencils so that customers can take notes and come back if they wish.
  • Have a plug available for electrical appliances, so that you can prove they work.
  • Are you ready for the weather? If you actually have a garage or carport, be ready to use the inside. Alternatively, if you have any tarps or shelters that could be rigged up, then you can provide shade and rain-proofing all day long.
  • Do make sure there is parking available.

3. Price

You, of course, would like to make a lot of money. The people who come to garage sales are looking to get as much as they can for as little as possible. Somewhere between those two extremes is where the middle ground will be. Some tactics that work:

  • Put a price on all the major pieces and don't come down right away. Price it about 25% above what you want.
  • For books, CDs, DVDs, etc., make it easy on yourself and set a standard price for each and stick to it.
  • Do put a "negotiable" sign up in a prominent place.
  • Don't hold items without a deposit or you'll be left holding an empty bag.
  • When all else fails, be flexible.
  • Have plenty of change and small bills on hand, preferably in a money belt that never leaves your waist.

4. Promotion

How do you get buyers to your sale? Obvious strategies are:

  • Word of mouth.
  • Signs posted in the neighborhood.
  • Signs/posters at the local store and anywhere else that they have a public bulletin board.
  • Specialized items require specialized marketing. I know of one person who had a large supply of artist materials, paints, canvasses, etc. and knew that the local people wouldn't be that interested. She put up a notice at the local art school and had a sell-out crowd of students. It's all in knowing who wants what and making sure they get the message.
  • Hang out attention getters, such as balloons, flags, etc. They will be noticed.
  • Do greet clients. Make eye contact and then let them browse.
  • Sit towards the back, so you don't scare off the shy people.
  • If it seems appropriate, do tell them about any articles they are interested in and the price you paid. If possible, include any warranties and instruction manuals.
  • Always have at least two people monitoring the sale.

5. People

All kinds of people go to garage sales. Some are looking for specific items; some are committed bargain hunters; and some just go for the fun. Let the browsers browse, help anyone who is looking for specific items, and chat with the others. A friendly smile might get a sale. Casual shoppers are great impulse buyers.

Beware of the 50-cent shoppers. That's their price for everything and they'll probably try to bargain you down. Don't give anything away for nothing. Be strong about a fair price, and if they are insistent, tell them to come back half an hour before closing and you might be willing to negotiate lower. And at day's end, count up your profit. It's all yours! No taxes, no fees.

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