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How to Get Buyers to Your Garage Sale – Tips for Effective Advertising

You can put a lot of work into getting ready for your garage sale, but if no one comes . . . you’ve wasted your time and energy.

Before I share tips to get people there, please be aware that you need to check the regulations for your city. Some cities require permits, limit the number of sales you can have, and even limit what you can sell. I was very surprised to learn last year that many of the towns in my area do not allow the sale of new items at garage sales. Some people said that they had been shut down or fined for selling new clothing or items they had gotten for free with coupons. It isn’t the case in all areas, but you should check beforehand to avoid any problems. It would be frustrating to lose any of your hard-earned profit because of ignorance. Also, many cities limit where you can place your signs and have city workers who will pull them up. You may not know why your traffic suddenly decreased until you go looking for your sign that evening.

Now, for the fun stuff. First, just like with expectations and pricing, you need to learn how things work where you live.

Learn when to have your sale:

Know that generally, your first day will be your best day. My aunt (the queen-mother of all garage sale-ers) lives in Kansas. In her city, it is common to start a garage sale on Thursday and hold it for several days. Where I live, however, a garage sale starting on Thursday is uncommon, and so most people don’t even look for them on Thursdays. Then, when they do look at garage sale listings for Friday or Saturday, if they see that they missed the first day of the sale, they assume that it’s been picked over and put it on their list of “if I can get to it” sales.

Consider starting your sale early. You want people to come to your sale first, while they still have all of their cash. If most sales start at 8 a.m., and you start yours at 7 or 7:30, they’ll hit yours first. Of course, they’ll get there at 6 or 6:30 . . . (Don’t try starting your sale at 10 a.m. People will still be there at 8 am, and you’ll just be mad. If you don’t go ahead and start, they may not come back, and if they do they’ll have already spent quite a bit of their money by 10:00.)

You should also try to find out when garage sales typically end in your area. Here, all garage sales are done around 2 pm, and people don’t come after that. My next door neighbors should have read this post, because they stayed open one Saturday until 6 p.m. I watched and they had maybe 2 people stop by after one o’clock (other than my kids who kept buying things for nickels).

Learn how people find garage sales in your area.

The best way to learn this is to ask someone you know who goes to garage sales, or by visiting other sales in your area like I advised in this post. In some areas, newspapers are the best way to advertise. Where I live, in a smallish town of about 20,000, you can usually hit all of the garage sales in one day. The paper is the primary advertising method. People who want to go to garage sales get a newspaper and then use it to find all of the sales in the area for that day.

However, where my parents live, the newspaper is not the primary advertising method. It is a much larger city, and looking at the newspaper is confusing because people generally don’t know where everything is, like they do in a small town. There, signs are the best way to find the sales. Knowing this can determine how many days you should hold your sale. In my small town, where the newspaper rules, a one-day sale is fine because the vast majority of traffic is informed and direct – they’re looking up my address. But in the larger city, a 2 or 3 day sale may be better as most traffic is “drive-by” and more days open means more people stopping by.

And of course, use Craigslist. It’s free and there’s no reason to NOT use it in addition to whatever other method is the norm for your area.

Get the most from your signs.

Signs should be in neon colors. My aunt and I often laugh and say that this should be required. Bright colors make them stick out from real estate or election signs, and if you can see them from farther away, you’re more likely to be able to slow down in time to make the turn. On your sign, your address should be the main, largest information. It is pretty obvious that a neon home-made sign at the corner of a neighborhood is a garage sale sign, so “Garage Sale” can be written smaller. The driver is trying to catch a glimpse of your address.

The picture at the top of this post shows the best sign method I’ve found. If you don’t have a solid metal sign that you can tape your neon poster over, putting it on a box and placing a brick or large rock inside the box to keep it from blowing away is a good solution. Posterboard on a stick may fold or flop in the wind, which will make it difficult to read.

If you live in a city that is strict about sign placement, you may need to ask permission to put signs in the yards of people who live on corners of streets that lead to your house. A creative and effective solution to this problem that I once saw was a family who moved their vehicles to the street corners where people needed to turn to get to their sale. They put huge neon posters on their cars giving directions.

Get the most from your Newspaper Ad and Craiglist.

Know when your paper comes out. I lived in a small town once whose newspaper was mailed out on Thursdays. Yes, mailed. Therefore, if someone had a Thursday sale, no one even knew about it until Thursday when their mail came. And here, even though the paper comes out daily, it doesn’t come out until late afternoon. Yes, late afternoon. So, if someone has a Friday sale, they need to be sure it comes out in Thursday’s paper. Make sense?

For a newspaper ad, use all of your allowed words, and use them wisely. For my paper, there is a set price for garage sale ads with a 25 word limit. There is no reason to not use all 25 words. “LOTS of misc.” or “Too much to list” doesn’t get people to your sale. They might come to yours after they go to the others who listed the items they were looking for, but by then, they won’t have as much money to spend!

Be specific in your ad. If you are selling any furniture, be SURE to list what it is. Couch, dining table, bookshelves, crib, recliner, bunk-beds etc. are all items that people specifically look for at garage sales. Along the same lines, if there’s anything that you feel is really worth something (and it didn’t sell on ebay or Craigslist first) list it in your ad. Designer purses and Dept 56 Christmas houses will sell much better if people come looking for them, rather than if people just happen to stop by.

I always list general clothing sizes as well. My ad will look something like this:

1234 Anystreet Saturday– 7am-? TONS of clothes, Boys 4-6, Girls 2-4, Women L-XL, riding toys, Books, home décor, teacher materials, videos, fridge, stroller, much more.

It doesn’t have to be beautifully written, it’s the STUFF that gets them there. If you’re in major decluttering mode like I am, you might try what I did last year. I put in my ad that all clothes would be 25 cents and most items would be under 1.00. It worked! I’ve seen other sales do this, and they’re always the busiest.

If you live in a place that is difficult to find, you should use your 25 words to give succinct directions to your house. An example might be: “Bellview Street – at the very end of Park Lane,” or “behind *** Shopping Center.”

On Craigslist, put your city and zip code in the title. You aren’t limited on words there, so you should list all the categories of items that you are selling, and specific directions. Always say “. . . and much more!”

If you plan ahead and make good use of advertising, you’ll have the best traffic possible for your sale. More traffic means more money, and best of all . . . MORE STUFF GONE!

I’m linking this up to Tip Junkie’s Tip Me Tuesday.

I’m also participating in Works for Me Wednesday at Wearethatfamily.com.

Garage Sale Tips Part 2: Pricing

More tips from The Girl Who Knows Too Much (about garage sales).

Once you’ve established some realistic expectations for your garage sale, let’s talk pricing. Even though you’ve given up the idea of buying a new car with your proceeds, it’s okay to be honest about wanting to make some money. If you didn’t want to make money, you’d just donate all of it.

Before I start with pricing tips, let me remind you that if you think something has real value, try selling it on ebay or Craigslist first. If your garage sale is two to three weeks away, like mine is, now is a great time. While working in the garage on Saturday, I pulled out a few things to do this with myself. They are specialty items like dance shoes, sought-after toys, or boutique clothing. I view this as giving these items a shot at making some real money. If they don’t sell, I will stick them in the sale and price them low to get them out of here. At least I’ll have no what-ifs or regrets.

Now for the pricing tips.

1) Less may mean more.

Lots of items sold at low prices make more money than a few items sold at high prices.

Let me share a story. It’s a real story told to me by a friend, but know that it is not unique. I’ve heard it from many people with slightly different details.

She was having her very first garage sale. She had four kids, and was quite well off. She lived in a beautiful home, one that people would assume had nice things to put in a garage sale. She had many generous relatives who gave her very expensive clothing for her kids.

She put the nice clothing on hangers and arranged it by size, season, etc. She looked at each piece and priced it according to what she (who is used to paying “store” prices, and knows the high-end brands) thought was a rock-bottom price. Generally 2-4 dollars apiece. As an afterthought, she decided to also sell the stained onesies and sleepers, but since no one would want those, she put them in a box and labeled it “25 cents each.”

Can you guess what happened? No one even looked at the nicely hung clothing, but pretty much fought over the stained sleepers.

The reality is that people probably did look at the hung clothing, but when they saw prices that they considered high for that area, they didn’t bother to keep looking. But “25 cents” caught their eye. She should have taken those nicely hung clothes to a resale shop first, seen how much she could get for them, and then put the leftovers in her garage sale for a price more in line with the garage sale prices in her area.

Just last week, I went to a sale like this. The dresses were beautiful, but they were about a size above my daughter’s current size. They were priced between 2 and 3 dollars. If my daughter needed dresses and was wearing that exact size right now I might have purchased 3 at that price. But if they were priced at .50-1.00, I probably would have taken everything she had, and saved them for future use. And I don’t think it’s just me, since I got to this sale quite late and her racks were still full.

Now, please note that pricing is different in different areas. Like I said in the first post of this series, do your homework. Ask your friends who have had garage sales if they sold a lot of clothes. If they live in your area, and sold a lot, try the price they did. If they didn’t sell many clothes (or toys or whatever you’re selling) try a lower price.

Here’s how I operate as a garage sale shopper. If an item of clothing is 3.00, I probably won’t buy it, unless it’s in like-new condition, is exactly the right size, I NEED it, and it’s the end of the day and I haven’t found anything else. If it’s 2.00, I might buy it if all of those things are still true, but I’ll try to talk myself out of it. If it’s 1.00, I’ll buy it if it’s in really good condition. If it’s .50 or less, I’ll tear through that pile and grab anything that MIGHT work. Guaranteed, I’ll spend more money at the sale that prices things at 1.00 and under. And they get rid of more stuff.

I’m focusing on clothing here, but the concept applies to all of your stuff. I’m not suggesting you sell a couch or recliner for 5 dollars, but if you’re thinking you want 300 dollars for a 15 year old couch, you should probably think again. A bread machine new in the box might go for 15 dollars, but a used one with the manual missing probably won’t.

Don’t just discount the original store price you paid, think garage sale price. A Little Tikes car that was originally 50 probably won’t sell for 40, but it might roll on out for 5 or 10.

2) Remove emotional value.

This is difficult. You remember that toy on the day that you gave it to your daughter and her eyes lit up. This memory can keep you from seeing that it is now rather fuzzy. A stain might not have been noticeable when your son continued to wear that shirt, but it’s noticeable to the person who is considering paying 2.00 for it. Garage-salers love church garage sales because generally, the people pricing the items don’t have any emotional attachment.

Remove the emotional value when you price the item, but let yourself cry when you see it leave your driveway. I boo-hooed when we sold our crib.

3) Make money on stuff that people don’t buy.

What if “people don’t buy clothes around here”? This is true in some areas. Where I used to live, clothes didn’t do very well. At least I thought they didn’t until I went to a sale where they had a big sign that said “All clothes – 25 cents.” I had never looked at adult clothing at a garage sale before, but that made me look. I even went to the seller and asked if it really meant “all” clothing. Yes, it did. I found some really cute clothes there.

The next day, when I was having my own garage sale (yes, I know), I decided to try the same thing. It worked, and I made more money than I had ever made at a sale before. See, I have three kids, and I have a problem with excessivity (nice made-up word for collecting clutter/being a slob), so I generally have a lot of clothing to sell. If I sell 100 pieces of clothing, that’s 25.00. And at my last sale, I decided to be crazy and priced clothes at .50 apiece, and still it left my garage like crazy. I probably made at least 100 to 150 just on clothing priced at .50 an item. Not bad!

And blanket pricing, meaning posting a sign that says “All ________ – $1.00” makes people look at things that they might not otherwise look at. It also helps things even out in the end. While it may kill you to “give away” that Gymboree sweater for a dollar, you may also giggle with glee that someone paid 1.00 for those shorts with a hole in the crotch.


4) Know your business:

Remember that garage sales operate on cash. Once people are out of money, they’re out of money. If they come to your sale first because your ad said you had exactly the items they wanted, but your prices are higher than most garage sales in your area (and they know because they shop garage sales regularly), they are probably going to keep on going to other sales. Why would they spend 5.00 to purchase one item at your sale when they might get to another sale and buy 5, or even 10 items for that 5.00? You want them to spend the money at your sale, and you want that stuff gone!

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If you’re trying to get rid of things, price them low. It is amazing how quickly quarters and one-dollar-bills add up. A few years ago, I had a huge sale. I priced almost everything at 1.00 or less. Truly. The only things higher than that were a bassinet which I sold for 5.00, a set of dishes which I sold for 5.00 and a recliner that I sold for 40.00. I made over 250.00. Not bad!

Higher prices=fewer sales=more clutter staying in your garage=less money made overall.

Disclaimer:

Here’s where I state that there’s always the possibility that I’m wrong. You could have a very rich, spendy person, pockets full of cash, who comes to your sale. They might absolutely love everything that you have deemed to be junk. They might be fully aware of “real-store” prices for all of your items, and realize what fabulous deals they are getting. It could happen, and to a degree, does happen occasionally. But it’s a gamble.

I’m not a gambler.

The next post in this series will cover set-up. I’ll also share some tricks and a few things to avoid. It will answer questions such as: Do I put a sticker on each and every item? Do I have to hang up all of my clothing? When and where should I have the sale?

Garage Sale Tips: From the Girl Who Knows Too Much – Part 1

First of all, let me give you my resume here. What exactly qualifies me to give advice about garage sales?

I’ve been to many garage sales. Many many garage sales. Too many.

I’ve plotted out my course the night before, mapquesting directions and marking the newspaper with order of priority. I’ve awakened at 3 a.m., disappointed that it was too early to get up and get going.

I’ve clothed my 3 kids almost completely from garage sales, and for several years I earned our spending money by buying things at garage sales and selling them on ebay. Or at least selling most of them. The rest of them cluttered up my home.

And now that I no longer sell on ebay, I’m experienced on the other end of things. I’m about to have my 4th garage sale in about 3 years. And I have PLENTY of stuff for it.

So what’s my first piece of advice?

Adjust your expectations.

You’re not setting up a re-sale boutique in your garage. You’re having a garage sale.

When I had my first garage sale, before I had become an addict myself, my mother gently warned me that I was pricing my items too high. She said that I had to make it my goal to get rid of stuff, not to make money.

She was very very right. Decide, before you start, that your goal is to get rid of EVERYTHING. You don’t want to bring it back into your house, and you don’t want to have to make 60 trips to the dump, either.

Your garage sale should be your last resort. If you go through your house looking for things to get rid of, and your head starts to fill with dollar signs, check yourself. If something has real value, like your Dept 56 Christmas Village, put it on ebay or Craigslist.

I don’t have statistics or anything, but let’s just be logical. Not everyone collects Christmas Villages. And those who do, don’t necessarily look for them at garage sales. And those who do look for them at garage sales may or may not live in your town. And those who live in your town may or may not go to garage sales on the day that you have yours.

Your chances of selling them for what they are actually worth are much higher when you have a bigger buyer’s pool, like on ebay. At your garage sale, it is possible that someone will stop by who has always wanted to buy a complete collection at 50 dollars apiece, but it isn’t probable.

The same goes for everything, even your kids’ clothing. Don’t tell yourself that if it doesn’t sell for 5.00 apiece at your garage sale, you’ll take it to a consignment store. Take it to the consignment store first, and see what they’ll give you. I’ve talked to many people who thought they would make a lot of money by consigning their clothes, only to find that the store accepted 5 items out of their 100.

If you truly see your garage sale as a last resort, you’ll be much more willing to take less for an item, and therefore will greatly increase your chance of that item leaving your home. And you’d be shocked at how quickly quarters and one-dollar-bills add up.

Don’t reject any buyers.

It may be tempting to be rude about people arriving at your sale an hour early, but it’s better if you just accept it. These are generally the people who are serious about buying. They’re the ones who are looking for specific categories of items, and if they see that you have something they’re interested in, they could very well buy everything you have in that category. You also want them to come to your sale first, when they have all of their money.

Don’t reject “dealers.” By dealers, I mean those people who are buying things at garage sales to sell in their own store or online. While it might irritate you that they are going to buy something from you for .50 and sell it for 5.00, the reality is that you are just opening your garage and spending one day getting rid of your stuff. They either rent a booth somewhere or pay fees to put it on ebay, and they have to make sure it is perfectly clean and in correct working condition before selling it. For ebay, they take pictures and write out a description. Then, if it sells, they package it carefully and mail it. They have spent time researching when to start an auction, how to properly list the item, etc. You just put it on a table. You may miss out on the big profit, but you are also missing out on the big hassle. The reality is that the same dish is not worth as much at a garage sale as it is in a cute little antique booth somewhere. If you’re not willing to take 50 cents, that’s fine. But if the only reason you don’t want to take 50 cents is a feeling of irritation that he’s going to sell it somewhere for 5.00, get over it.

Don’t be offended when people ask if you’ll take less. It really is okay to say no. Remember, your goal is to get it out of your house, and if you’re going to donate it anyway, why not? You’ll still have plenty leftover to donate, and you’ll be a dollar richer.

Know your area.

You may have heard a story about a friend (or a friend of a friend of a friend) who made 2,000 dollars at their garage sale. Before you get too excited, ask a few questions.

Where do they live? Different areas have different garage-sale success stories. If they live on a golf-course in an exclusive part of town, people may drive from miles around just to see what they’re selling. Would people drive from miles around to your house?

What did they sell? You might find out that they sold a car for 1750 and included that in their total. Did they have furniture? Was it newish, or was it of the scratchy plaid variety? Did they sell electronic equipment? Were the clothes they sold of the same name brands/quality/condition as the ones you plan to sell?

If you don’t find someone who lives near you and sold the same types of things you plan to sell, go check out a few garage sales in your neighborhood. Don’t go early. Go around noon, and do some research. If you drive up and it seems like they don’t have much stuff, that may be a good one. Ask them some questions like: Have you been busy today? Did you have any furniture (or whatever you are planning to sell)? How much did you sell it for? Did you have to come down on the price?

Likewise, if you see a garage sale that has TONS of stuff in the afternoon, you can try to find out what they did wrong. See what their prices are. Be nice, but ask some of the same questions as above. Remember that if they are discouraged and think that nobody buys stuff at garage sales “around here” it’s probably that their prices are too high.

It’s possible to have a good and profitable garage sale. But more than anything, your goal should be to clear things out of your home. If you make some money at it, all the better.

I’ll be posting more in this series soon. Topics will include: Set-up, pricing, and getting people there.

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