day and age, everyone seemingly knows how to put together and hold a
garage sale. Yet if this is so, why is it that some people are lucky to
gross $150 while others consistently make $1,500 or more from their garage
Pick almost any city or town
in the country. Drive through any middle class
neighborhood or residential area on any weekend. You're sure to spot at least a
half dozen garage sales. And what's being sold at these garage sales? The
accumulated "junk" that a lot of people no longer use or want taking up space in
or around their homes.
Is it hard to hold a profitable
garage sale? Not in the least! All it really takes is
some of your time, and an awareness of a few merchandising tactics. But to be
really profitable you must know how and exercise careful planning.
First, let's look at some of
the background. Everyone accumulates items that
other people are searching for, and are willing to buy. These items range from
discarded or outgrown items of clothing to furniture, tools, knickknacks, books,
pictures and toys.
Start by taking an inventory
of all the things you have "just taking up space"
around your home. Decide which items you'd be better off getting rid of, and
make a list of these things. These are the things you are going to put up for sale.
And if you are honest about what you really want and need, the pile will grow if you
look over your household a second and third time! Remember that many garage
sale offerings are items of merchandise purchased on impulse and later found to
be not what the buyer wanted. It is the human condition: We discover too late that
we don't like or have use for things purchased. We "outgrow" in size or taste
articles that once fit or pleased us. You'll find that many items offered at garage
sales are gifts that have been given to the seller but not really suited to the
recipient. In other words, it will be to your benefit, before you stage your first
garage sale, to take a week or so to browse through all the garage sales you can
The problem is that most people
just don't have the time or energy to gather up all
the items taking up space around their homes, and putting on a garage sale is
just too much bother and work.
This is where you enter the
picture. Your enterprise will be an ongoing garage
sale of items donated and collected from those people who lack the initiative to
put on garage sales of their own. In other words, you can become a "liquidator of
people's junk" via super garage sales that you promote.
We've already suggested that
you spend a few weeks visiting the garage sales,
swap meets, and flea markets in your area. Your purpose will be to see what is
being offered for sale, what the people in your area are buying, and how the
merchandise is being sold. One of the things to notice is how the merchandise is
displayed. You'll also want to find out how the sellers handle customer browsing
and the prices they charge for the merchandise offered. You'll discover most
items tagged with a price sticker, but generally the seller is open to either price
negotiation or a reasonable offer made by the customer.
Begin your enterprise by cleaning
out your own attic, closets, and basement or
garage. Talk with your relatives and friends. Tell them what you're doing and ask
for donations (or at least consignments) of unwanted items. It's here that you'll get
your first experience in negotiating and you'll usually get enthusiastic cooperation.
You'll find people explaining that they really don't have a use for a specific item,
don't want to keep on storing it, but for sentimental or other reasons they have just
hung on to it.
Once you have a little bit
of experience, you'll be able to advertise in the
newspaper that you purchase garage sale items, or take them on consignment
for a percentage of the final sale price.
It's best if at least two persons
handle the garage sale together. Greet the
potential customers, show them around, and generally engage them in
conversation. While you are out digging up more items for display and sale your
coworker can "mind the store". And if you are running a really big sale a third
person can be very useful in selling and generally keeping an eye on things.
The advertising angle is really
quite simple and shouldn't cost you very much.
Check area newspapers and select the one that carries the most ads for garage
sales. You shouldn't concern yourself too much with competition from other ads.
People who go to garage sales either go to all of them they can locate or else
only to those within a three to five mile radius of their homes.
You should run a small classified
ad in the newspaper of your choice for about
three days in advance and up through the day of your sale. Once you're operating
on a fulltime, every day of the week schedule you'll want to change your ad
schedule and the style of your advertising. But in getting started, stay with small
classified ads simply announcing the fact that you're holding a garage sale,
emphasizing that you've got everything from A to Z something of interest to
everyone. Such an ad might read:
BIG GARAGE SALE! Hundreds
of interesting items. Through
Saturday, July 16th. (address)
To get ideas on how to write
your ad check your newspapers for a week or two.
Cut out all the garage sale ads you can find. Paste them up onto a piece of
paper. With a bit of critical analysis you will be able to determine how to write a
good ad of your own from identifying the good and bad features of the ads you've
collected. Keep in mind that the bigger and better your sale, the bigger and better
you should make your "getting started" ads.
Always remember that in order
to increase your profits in any business you must
increase rather than decrease your advertising. At the bottom line you'll find that
the greatest single reason for a garage sale failing to turn a profit is the lack of
promotion and advertising used to publicize it.
Have an old fashioned "sandwich
board" type sign to display in front of your
house when your garage sale is open for business. The purpose, of course, is to
call attention to the fact that you're holding a garage sale and are open for
business. This will pull in your neighbors (if you haven't already informed them)
and attract passers by. Sandwich boards are also sometimes set out at key
traffic intersections not far from the site of the garage sale. These will attract
attention and point the way. Check your local ordinances to be sure that this sort
of advertising is permitted.
Another "sign idea" practiced
by a few really sharp operators is the old "Burma
Shave" type roadside pointers. You simply make up a few cute sayings (verse or
one liners), write them on pieces cardboard, tack them onto the power poles at
about 200 yard interval on the thoroughfare leading to your garage sale, and
you're sure to create a lot of traffic for yourself. People are amused by and drawn
to people who do something a little different, unusual, and creative in promoting a
sale of any kind.
To come up with some cute verses,
visit your public library and check out a book
on limericks. Adapt the ones that you feel are most humorous and start making
signs. Again, a word of caution before you get too deeply involved: Be sure to
check your local ordinances before you start nailing signs to power poles.
By all means, search out and
use all the free bulletin boards in your area. It's
better, and usually much more profitable, to take the time to make up an attention
grabbing circular you can post on these bulletin boards than just to use a
scribbled 3 by 5 card announcement.
Pick up some "transfer lettering."
Go through your newspapers and old
magazines for interesting illustrations, graphics and pictures. With a little bit of
imagination and flamboyance make up an 8 1/2 by 11 poster announcement of
your sale. When you have it pasted up take it to a quick print shop and have them
make up several hundred copies. A small print order should be well under twenty
If you make this circular/poster
up with versatility and long time usage in mind,
you can use it over and over again simply by pasting on a new date. In case you
feel "left out" when we talk of "pasting up" things, this simply means pasting a
piece of paper onto the overall page you're putting together. Say you have made
up your circular with a date of Wednesday, May 1st, and want to change it to read
Thursday, July 16th. Rather than do the entire thing over, simply write out a new
date with your transfer letters on a separate sheet of paper, cut this out to fit in the
space occupied by the old date, and paste the new date over the old date. The
artwork master is now up to date, and the printer does the rest. For paste or glue,
drop by just about any stationery store and pick up a tube of "glue stick." This is a
small tube of paste about the size of a tube of lipstick, and generally sold for less
than one dollar. The tube glue stick works much better than regular glue or paste,
and is not as messy as rubber cement.
Your signs have to be effective,
but you have to remember to keep them simple.
Don't try to cut corners on your signs. Signs announcing and pointing the way to
your garage sale should be placed at each intersection within a one mile radius
of your sale location. If it takes 50 signs then make 50 signs. The important thing
is to let people know that you're holding a garage sale.
Signs can be made simply by
cutting and using the sides of cardboard boxes and
writing on them with a heavy felt tip marking pen. Make it easy for your signs to be
seen and for people to read what's on them. About all you really need is great big
block letters reading "GARAGE SALE" with the street address and an arrow
pointing in that direction. Don't think for a minute that people driving by are going
to stop and read a lot of "stuff" you've written on your sign. You just want them to
see your sign and proceed in the direction necessary to reach the location of the
sale. They'll be moving by your sign too fast to see or read anything else you may
The ads you place, the bulletin
board announcements you post, and the signs you
put up will bring many people to your garage sale location. A lot of people will
drive by slowly and just look, but most will stop to browse around. But you still
have to contend with the huge number of people who just drive by without
stopping. So, let's talk about the "inside secrets" of drawing people into your sale
and the merchandising gimmicks that will result in the maximum number of sales
You must call attention to
your sale. Don't be shy, bashful or selfconscious about
letting everybody for miles around know that you're having a garage sale. If you
could afford to get the Goodyear Blimp to "hover" over your garage sale then by
all means you should do it!
Some sharp operators do the
next best thing. They rent miniature blimps, send
them up above the housetops, and tether them there on their sale days. Of
course, this giant balloon or miniature blimp has some sort of sign on the side of
it inviting people to your garage sale. This is one of the strongest available
advertising ideas for pulling traffic to a sale of any kind. For more details check
your local telephone directory to see if there is a local outlet for this kind of
advertising merchandise for rent.
You have to give your sale
some flair. Put some posts up across the front of your
property and run some twisted crepe paper between them. Better than crepe
paper, run brightly colored ribbons. Invest in some colorful pennants and fly them
from temporary flag poles. And don't forget the balloons! Make your garage sale
a fun kind of event, with clusters of balloons anchored to your display tables and
racks. Be sure to "float" them well above the heads of your customers as they're
browsing through your merchandise displays.
Cover your display tables with
colorful cloths. Don't hesitate to use bright colors
and busy patterns. Regardless of what you sell, effective display (packaging the
event) is still absolutely essential to your success.
The secret to outstanding garage
sale profits is in having the largest selection of
merchandise possible. And part of the process is taking great care in displaying
and labeling your merchandise. You cannot simply dump items haphazardly on a
table, sit down, and expect to realize great profits. The people doing the most
business and holding the most sales are the ones with interesting displays,
action, and color.
Have as wide a selection of
colors as possible in your clothing racks, and mix
them for "rainbow" effect. Make sure that your jewelry items shine and sparkle.
Arrange them in and on jewelry boxes, jewelry ladders. Show off your jewelry
while keeping it neatly organized. Some people have even gone so far as
hooking up battery operated 'lazy susans' and arranging their jewelry on these.
Having the jewelry slowly turn on the 'lazy susan' will not only catch the eye, but it
will catch the light as well, making an attractive display even more attractive
because it sparkles and gleams.
Study the methods of display
used by the "rack jobbers" in the stores in your
area. These are wire racks that usually hold card packaged items. Such a rack or
kind of display would lend itself beautifully for anchoring a cluster of balloons.
Keep such things in mind and build your individual displays as part of the whole.
Make it pleasing to the eye as well as convenient for your customers to browse
through and select the items that appeal to them or catch their fancy.
At many garage sales some of
the merchandise (particularly the clothing) is dirty.
Notice this when you visit other people's garage sales, and then take it upon
yourself to make sure that every item , positively everything you show is clean
and sparkling bright. A bar of soap, a bucket of water, and a few old rags will do
wonders for shop tools, garden equipment, and bicycles. The same goes for
furniture polish on old furniture, and a run through the washing machine for all
It is advisable to determine
a price for each item before you set it out for display.
Mark that price on a price tag and attach the price tag to the item. Your prices
should also always be rounded off to more or less even numbers such as: 25
cents, 50 cents, $1, $1.50, $2 and so on. In other words, don't ask for 35 cents,
95 cents, or $1.98, or any of that sort of pricing. Needless to say, you should
always mark everything up by 100% or more. In other words, if you have acquired
a particular item for $1, set a price of $2 or more on it. It is also a good idea to
mark up your asking price from the bottom-line price you're willing to accept.
Basically, the price marked on the price tag at most garage sales is taken as the
starting price from which the buyer and seller negotiate. Most garage sale
promoters price their cheaper items at the bottom line price they will accept, and
don't deviate from those prices as shown on the price tag. Then on the more
expensive items $2 and over they mark up their asking prices by 20 to 40
percent and use that margin for negotiating with the customer.
If you're a little bit shy
relative to personal selling, here are a few "inside" secrets
that will give you an edge. Always radiate an attitude of friendliness, regardless of
the circumstances or your first impression of the potential buyer. Always smile
and say "Hello" in a voice loud enough to be heard. Speak to everyone stopping
or dropping by your sale location. Be helpful, but allow the people to browse on
their own until they specifically ask you for help. When you're "keeping an eye on
your merchandise" be as unobtrusive as possible. No one likes to feel he is being
watched too closely. Whenever a customer appears to have made a selection
and asks you what you'll take for it or what kind of a deal you'll make for it, be
ready to enter into "friendly negotiations."
Before you open, of course,
you will have done your homework and know the
value of each item of merchandise you have for sale. Don't ever take a
customer's "claimed" value of an item. By the same token, don't listen to a seller
(when you're buying items for your sale) when he claims that he's offering you an
antique or priceless treasure. Sometimes, however, you'll be able to pick up
fantastic treasures for virtually nothing. By knowing your merchandise you'll not let
"the flag that Betsy Ross made" slip through your fingers for a song. Be sure to
have all possibly valuable items appraised by authentic dealers listed in the
yellow pages of your telephone directory.
Some of the "extras" that contribute
to the success of a garage sale include:
Plenty of change, without which you'll lose a great many sales. A tape measure for
people who want to know the exact dimensions of something (especially furniture)
in order to fit it into a certain space they have in mind. Long extension cord and
electrical outlets are necessary for your customers to "plug in" and try out the
mixers, vacuum cleaners, hand tools, or other electrical appliances.
Back for a moment to drawing
in those "cruisers" who aren't quite sure they want
to park their cars and come browse. Look for some kind of interesting or unusual
item to call attention to your sale something you can set up or park in front of
your home during your sale. Some of the displays we've seen along these lines
include a horse drawn surrey, a restored Model T, and an old farm plow.
Anything of an unusual or interesting nature will do the trick for you. One couple
we know put up a display using a manikin dressed in an old time farm bonnet,
long dress, and apron. This display depicted a farm woman washing clothes with
a scrub board and two steel wash tubs. It's not hard to believe that this display
really drew the crowds, and crowds always mean sales!
Go wherever your imagination
takes you. You have to be different and distinctive.
You'll get lost in the hundreds of garage sales going on all around you if your sales
look like the next half dozen. If you'll take the time to employ a bit of imagination,
and set your sales up with the kind of flair we've been talking about, you will not
only draw the crowds; you'll be the one reaping the most profits.
As you think of beginning this
garage sale business, remember this: It's almost a
compulsion with some folks to go shopping; to search for interesting, and
sometimes rare and valuable items. This fact alone will keep you as busy as you
ever want to be, staging and promoting garage sales. The market is so vast, and
the appetite so varied, that anything from a brass bedstead to a used diary of
someone's long forgotten grandmother will sell (and sell fast) at garage sales.
Put it all together, use a little imagination, and you'll succeed in a very interesting
and challenging endeavor!