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How To Organize a Successful Garage Sale

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Photo courtesy Eastlaketimes @ flickr/Creative Commons
Whether you just need to unload a few items from the house or garage, or want to start an annual fundraiser, holding a garage sale may be just the ticket. But as anyone who has toured garage sales with any regularity knows, there can be a big difference between those that are a waste of time and those that separate you from some money. When organizing a garage sale, you want it to be the latter kind. A well organized, well stocked and accessible garage sale can put more money in your pocket and encourage shoppers to return next year. Here are some tips on how to succeed in the garage sale business.

Timing

Start your garage sale on Thursday. If that's not possible, then start it on Friday. These can be your two most productive days because serious garage sale shoppers are always looking to beat the crowds. Garage sales held only on weekends find themselves competing against every other garage sale in town.

Make it a habit

Plan to hold a garage sale every year. Many successful garage sale organizers have been making good money with annual garage sales for years. Team up with a friend or neighbor, and turn the venture into a something you plan for throughout the year. Keep your eye out for good bargains at other garage sales that you know you can sell at a higher cost at your sale later.

Build your brand

Yes, the idea of "building a brand" has become something of a cliché, but that's due in part to the fact that it is a key to long-term success. Building a brand is really nothing more than establishing some name recognition, thereby inserting yourself into the minds and memories of others. With an annual garage sale, organized around a consistent theme or name (Main Street Bazaar), you establish the content you need to advertise your sale. People's memories will click into action once they see that ad, and they will instinctively know where to go and what kinds of items to expect.

Change the inventory

Plan to add new items on each day, and then make sure your advertising promotes that promise. New items will attract repeat visitors. People who showed up on Day 1 and were generally impressed with the offerings will be motivated to drop by early on Day 2 and Day 3.

Keep it organized

There are really two aspects to successful garage sale organization. First, create storage spaces for similar objects. As you accumulate items throughout the year, make sure you have labeled cardboard or plastic boxes to store items. Second, when it comes time to set up for the annual garage sale, keep those similar items together on tables, racks and hangers around the garage sale site. Many people visit garages sales looking for very specific items (kitchen supplies, clothing, tools, books and records, etc.), so make it easy for them to find what they need quickly. Serious garage sale shoppers may visit a dozen or more garage sales per day. Make it easy for them to quickly assess if you have what they need and they will leave with a memory of the easy shopping experience. Even if they leave empty handed this year, they will be inclined to return next year.

Keep it clean

Whether you are setting up shop in a driveway, garage, yard, or some combination of the three, make sure the area is clean. Don't use your garage if it is already filled with objects that are not for sale. If you have a couple of tables of things you want to sell sitting in a garage in front of bikes, tools, and a nice mower, shoppers will wear you out asking if those other items are for sale. Don't confuse and disappoint them. Either clean out the garage first or close the door and hold your sale in the driveway and yard. Also make an effort to keep the street as clear of vehicles as possible. This is especially feasible when you are holding a neighborhood sale. Try to get cars out of the streets and out of the driveways. Not only will this open up the street and make it easy for shoppers to see your signs and balloons, it will also make it easier for them to park. Nothing can kill a garage sale quicker than an absence of parking spots.

Price it

Put a price tag or sticker on everything you sell. If you don't, you may well find yourself spending hours on end answering the "how much you want for this?" question. If you can't avoid having a few nonsale items around, put "Not for sale" signs on them.

Price it right

As the man said, you can fool some of the people some of the time. That's usually not a good approach to pricing items at a garage sale. Think about what you would pay for an item and price it accordingly. Forget about any sentimental value it has; strangers aren't going to pay for that. Remember that people will be looking for bargains. Don't disappoint them.

Get out the word

Place advertisements everywhere people look for garage sales -- newspapers, radio announcements, online sources such as Craigslist, flyers, announcements in newsletters, etc. Start the advertising 10 to 14 days in advance. List some of the nicer or more unusual items you will be selling. If it is a neighborhood garage sale, be sure to promote that fact. The more people participating in the garage sale usually means more items that will be for sale.

Make it shine

Make sure that everything you want to sell is clean and neatly displayed. In particular, launder any clothes and hang shirts, pants, dresses and coats on hangers. Put shoes, boots, hats and gloves on a table. As much as possible, don't make people have to pick things up off the ground to inspect them.

Always be closing

At the end of the day, salespeople understand that if they don't close the sale, they don't get paid. Greet everyone who shows up with a warm "hello," but let them look around at their own pace. When you notice that someone is spending a little time looking at an item, try to initiate a conversation. Ask if they have any questions about the item. Try to find a nice balance between pestering people and ignoring them.

Get plenty of change

Make sure you have a good supply of bills in the $1 to $20 range as well as several rolls of quarters. You don't want to miss out on selling a $50 item to someone carrying a $100 bill just because you can't make change.
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