How To

Run Your Garage Sale like a Business

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Photo: iChris

By last summer, our tiny house was bursting at the seams from a decade of bargain shopping, vacation souvenirs, outgrown clothes and upgraded gadgets and appliances. We had already suffered the separation anxiety of several runs to Goodwill when our neighbors invited us to join other families in a communal yard sale.

Based on past experience, I was loathe to the idea. I didn’t think the earnings would be worth the hassle, but we had too many valuable items to simple give them away to charity and too many items for the hassle of auctioning them off one at a time on eBay.

By the time it was over, we had a fanny pack full of cash, really nice suntans, a lot more room in the house, and a list of tips for what to do and what not to do. And clearly, we’re not the only ones: Craigslist ads are up by more than half and garage sale permits have more than doubled according to some sources.

There’s a lot of conflicting advice out there from professionals, so we’ll tell you what they say, but also what worked for us.

Cathy Pedigo, author of the book, “How to Have Big Money Garage Sales!” claims you can more than triple your profits if you follow her advice, which she tests personally. One weekend she’ll host a garage sale using other people’s tips and tricks; the next weekend, she sets it up her way, based on 25 years of personal experience. The results:

Their way: less than $200

Her way: more than $1,000

Maybe you’ve never worked at the mall, but you’ve been there, no? The main thing to remember for a successful yard or garage sale is to use your shopper’s instincts, Pedigo says.

Whether your intention is to make money (why not?) or just to get rid of stuff, experts, confirmed by personal experience, will tell you to treat your sale like a business in terms of merchandising, marketing and pricing. In our case, even though our primary motivation was a massive reduction in clutter, we still earned more than enough to compensate for the hours we put in.

Merchandising

Allow plenty of time for preparation. We started weeks ahead of our sale, cleaning out cupboards, dressers and storage spaces to identify everything we wanted to sell before cleaning and sorting it. But come our first Saturday, there were still cartons’ worth of stuff we forgot to put out. As a result, we repeated our sale the following weekend based on lessons learned.

Next, we underestimated the amount of time it would take to carry everything out to the driveway and arrange it before the horde of early shoppers (often professional) who inevitably ignore your start time. Swap meet dealers will paw through boxes before you’ve even put them down and offer insultingly low prices. But they don’t care if things work, buy books by the box and snap up antiques without scrutiny. They will drop cash and be gone before you know it.

So we improved our system by loading everything into tables inside the garage so they could be hauled out in place first thing in the morning—and starting work before dawn.

All the experts agree that organization is important. Sort by “department” too because each shopper has things they are looking for. Place items back into their original boxes or keep original tags for that “like new” look. An extension cord lets people test appliances and electronics. Hoard plastic shopping bags.

Tables are important because shoppers shouldn’t have to do too much bending and squinting. We placed lower quality or lower price items beneath tables in boxes. All clothes were hung on hangers across the bottom rail of the raised garage door (with tarps hung to block access to the rest of the garage). Flashier items went out by the street to catch the eyes of passing motorists.

Use a front-facing fanny pack as a cash register and make sure you have enough singles and change before you start.

Finally, like a store, manage your risk. Check local laws to see if you need a permit. Have liability coverage in your insurance and check for sprinkler holes and other hazards in your sale area. Don’t sell anything that has been officially recalled—such as kid’s toys. Never put something truly valuable out on a table if it could be easily shoplifted. Jewelry or watches don’t take up a lot of room, so they can be grouped on the table in front of your “cashier.” Keep valuable items in front of you, or put out their empty boxes until someone asks to see them. Keep your house doors and gates locked. Next Page.