My Junk, Your Treasure
by Gary Foreman
Dear Dollar Stretcher,
How about an article on how to run a yard sale?
My pleasure! Yard sales, or in some parts of the country 'tag' or 'garage' sales, can be a lot of fun whether you're the buyer or the seller. But, a successful sale is more than taking stuff out of your garage and putting up a few signs.
There's been a lot written about yard sales. But in all the articles I've seen, none have tried to apply techniques that are used by retailers to make the most of every sales opportunity. Let's see if we can't take some ideas from the big stores and use them in our simple yard sale.
The first thing that any serious retailer does is to try to understand their customer. They'll do focus groups and surveys to find out what the customer wants. For you it's much easier. Just think like a yard sale shopper!
Start by remembering the signs that you've seen when you've been yard saling. Ever stop for the ones that were written in crayon and couldn't be read? Me either. And there's no excuse for a bad sign. All it really needs to say is "Yard Sale" and your address in big block letters. You can use a computer or draw the letters free hand. Just make sure they can be easily read.
Make the sign overly large. Get something that's 18" x 24" or larger. If you can't find cardboard, go to a home center and buy a 4' x 8' sheet of drywall. You can cut it with a razor knife into whatever size and shape you want. For less than $5 you can have a whole bunch of big signs. And draw attention to the sign. Helium filled balloons or bright colors on the sign will attract drivers' eyes.
Next you'll want to consider the different types of shoppers. They have different styles. Take the young mother shopping for children's clothes. She might have her children with her. That can be a distraction. But if you put kids' toys next to kids' clothes, the little ones will play while mom shops. And it's likely that the kids will ask mom to buy a toy, too!
Just like your grocery store puts the milk in the farthest corner, you can take things like children's clothes and put them in the back. That's because your most likely buyer is determined to find bargains.
Another type of shopper is looking for collectibles and antiques. Not serious Louis XIV antiques, but rather the kind of thing that hasn't fit in your decor for 15 years but is becoming trendy again. These are people who 'see the possibilities' when looking at an item. They tend to be creative and you'll do better if you can help them trigger their imagination. Sometimes just mentioning that an item reminds you of your grandmother's house during the 60's will be enough to get them going. And remember that you won't get antique prices here. People are looking for bargains, not museum pieces. You can place collectibles towards the back of your 'store'. For collectors half the fun is in the search.
Men are a totally different type of yard sale shopper. Even when they're just browsing, they'll shop with a goal in mind. And they want to shop quickly. If you'll be offering tools or building supplies put them up front where they'll be easily seen. And have an extension cord available if anything is electric powered. Items must be marked. Many guys won't even take the time to ask a price.
How you display items can also work to your advantage. Try to put the most valuable items on tables so that they can be more easily seen. Toys, on the other hand, should be on the ground where kids can pick them up and get attached to them. Use removable stickers to clearly mark prices.
We can also learn some pricing tips from the big retailers. Be creative with pricing. Things like "buy one, get one free" can work for you, too. Don't be afraid to mark things down as the sale progresses. Or announce a 'blue light special' to the next person who buys a particular type of item. Don't hesitate to do something unusual. Informing your next customer that they're the 25th shopper and entitled to a 25% discount will get a conversation started and could lead to a sale. If nothing else, you'll have more fun.
Pricing items for a garage sale is almost an artform. It's hard to say what an item is really worth. Leave room so that you can come down 25% to 50% and still make what you want from an item. Try to think what type of buyer would be interested and how much they'd be willing to pay.
Having a successful yard sale is no accident. It does take some work. In fact, unless you have enough items so that you can reasonably expect to make a couple of hundred dollars, it might be wise to take the better items to a consignment shop and give the rest to charity for the tax deduction.
But if you don't mind a little effort, a yard sale can make you a few bucks and provide some fun at the same time. I've read that many big retailers started with just a few items. Who knows, you might be the next J.C. Penney!
Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who founded The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters in 1996. He's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, Credit.com and CreditCards.com. Gary shares his philosophy of money here. You can follow Gary on Twitter. Gary is also available for audio, video or print interviews. For more info see his media page.