Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Garage Sale Tips for Garage Sale Success

You can become a garage sale guru.

Written by Robyn T. Braley

Brand specialist, writer, speaker

Your basement is filled with treasures. Well, you call them treasures. Your spouse calls them junk. There are so many things taking up so much space in your basement or garage there is no clear path to – well – anywhere!

Your family jokes about submitting your name to The Hoarders TV Show thinking you would be a perfect candidate. The mood has become serious as you’ve noticed secretive glances between your adult children signaling the idea is no longer a joke.

Bowing to pressure, you agree to having a sale. It is then that the branding urges take over. I’m a brand specialist. We will brand our sale.

Full Disclosure

I admit it. I’m a garage sale junkie. My wife and I have been known to get up on a sunny Saturday, pick up a breakfast sandwich at McDonalds, and head out garage saling. We end the day in a trendy little coffee shop siping lattes and discussing our new treasures.

Saling has taken us to areas of our city we didn't know existed. We've met, shall we say, interesting people. The heavily tattoos bikers with mean dogs and the crazy cat lady come to mind. That's part of the charm and mystique.

We’ve found all kinds of usable items like book shelves, waffle irons, paper shredders, office chairs, file cabinets and much more. As a writer and speaker, I look for books by motivational gurus like Tony Robbins, Zig Ziglar, Jim Rohn, John Maxwell or Brian Tracy.

I’m also a history buff. I can’t let go of the bitterness from the day I walked away from a box set of 10 books about WWII. The seller wouldn’t negotiate the $10.00 down to my $8.00 offer.

I walked away with cold indifference. I have since lived years filled with regret knowing the pleasure that extra $2.00 would have brought.

Garage Sales are an Event

I’ve also staged many sales. As soon as neighbors or friends of my adult children note the hundreds of people streaming into my yard while leaving their parked vehicles to clog up neighborhood traffic, I receive requests to organize sales for them.

"After all," they say! "You've already got the signs."

My favorite was a garage sale staged for two small rural colleges that had merged and moved to a shiny new building in Calgary. There were decades worth of treasures that included furniture, library books, recording studio equipment, study carrels, office equipment and other stuff not needed for the new school.

Trailer-trucks had brought the stuff and off-loaded it into the new school gymn and parking lots. Huge stacks had to be organized and priced. An army of volunteers made signs, priced items, moved objects, staffed the money table and ate donuts.

As an aside, I have found that donuts are the fuel that energizes garage sales. Especially in Canada.

We had signs everywhere. We had hundreds of people connected with the school send email announcements to their circles of freinds.

The media got behind it. Radio station community cruisers dropped by several times during the day due to the bizarre nature of the sale. The uniqueness of the sale attracted 1,000s of people.

City police officers came to find out why the traffic had slowed to a snail’s pace on the main thoroughfares around the school. It seemed the large grocery store across the street had issues with their parking lot being filled with garage sale enthusiasts.

The goal was to get rid of stuff and avoid paying to have it hauled away. The first unexpected outcome was that the school realized thousands of dollars. The accountant was giddy.

But, there was another unexpected outcome. The event caused so much chatter that it became a huge public relations success. After the sale, people throughout the city knew the name of the school and where it was located.

Branding 101

Enough about me. The rest is about you.

Your brand is what others think it is. It follows that the stronger people's first impressions are, the more items you will sell.

Your signs, the placement of signs making your sale easy to find, the set up and presentation of your items are pricing are all an important part of your brand.

There is much to be done and garage sale success is found in the details. Doing things well, and then repeating the concept, will be the core of your brand.

Set Goals and Stick to Them

The first step is to set goals. Goals will guide your merchandising and marketing.

Is your goal to get rid of as much junk as possible?
Is it to make money?

Setting goals implies you have a plan to meet them. A plan will bring a sense of order and predictability to the chaos leading up to and the day of your sale.

Pick the Right Time and Date

Check the weather. Rain or snow is a sale killer.

Most people are paid on the middle and the end of the month. Pensions checks are usually issued at the end of the month.

Sales are typically held on a Saturday or Sunday when the most people will be out and about.

The usual start is around 8:00 am until people stop coming late in the afternoon.


Now that you have a plan and a date, you can start building your team. While my 8 year old grand son thinks "team" is a bit stuffy sounding, serious garage salers have teams.

You will need help selecting, moving, staging and pricing your items. Small children can be tricked into making signs. You tell them it is a craft. Simply make one they can use as a model.

The day of the sale heavy traffic will require people management and engagement. Empower your team to negotiate prices. Managing the money table can require two people during customer surges.

Not all people are honorable. Team members can help by shadowing any shady types. (See safety)

Getting Ready

Start planning early. It is generally best to avoid trying to gather sale items, set up the back yard, make signs and price items the day before your sale.

Deciding what to keep and what to ditch is much harder than you think. You never want to experience garage sale regret – like selling your adult child’s stuffed puppy or your spouses favorite shirt without previous consultation.

Never underestimate the sales potential of anything. You will be surprised what people will or will not buy. Search closets, cupboards, bookcases, your basement and your garage for sale items.

Even mechanical or electronic items that no longer work may have appeal to someone looking for parts. I bought a relic of a working VCR for $5.00 that was perfect for changing old videos into a digital format.

Be brutal when asking yourself these questions.

Have I used it this year?
Have I cooked with it?
Have I worn it?
Have I sat on it?
Have I turned it on?
Have I read it?
Have I listened to it?
Have I admired it?

Designate a place to store your inventory leading up to the sale. It could be your garage or basement. Large items like furniture can be stored outdoors covered by a tarp.

Market Research

"Really grandpa? Market research for a garage sale?" I can imagine my 10-year-old grandson saying that as he rolls his eyes!

"Absolutely," I respond suspecting that a teachable moment is at hand.

Spend time doing DARGS – Driving Around Researching Garage Sales. A couple of weeks before your sale, start about 6 blocks away and drive in a circumference that narrows as you get back to your house.

Signs will be the most important element of your marketing strategies. Identify the key intersections and how many blocks there are leading back to your place.

Note where garage sale signs are placed, and which ones attract your attention.

Are they easy to read?
Is there a trail that takes you directly to the sale?
Is the sale easy to spot once you arrive in the block?

Are there more and better places? When you look with inquiring eyes, you will see sign placement locations you would have never thought of even though you may have lived in the area for decades.

Draw a rough diagram of the streets and put an X where each sign should be. Now you will know how many signs will be needed.

Drop into a few sales.
What are your first impressions?
Are the items well organized?
Can you easily find your way through their stuff?
Does each item have a price tag?
How is the seller managing their money?
Are you made to feel welcome?

Yard sales have their own protocols. Ask what really worked or what would they do differently.

The Antiques Road Show Syndrome

We’ve all seen it on the PBS show. Someone went to a garage sale and bought a painting, book or Beatles album for $1.00.

They took it to the visiting Road Show where it was appraised. The value, which is always given the caveat 'at auction' by a man wearing a bow tie and speaking with a hoity toity east coast accent, is estimated to fall between $40,000.00 and $50,000.00

You never want to be that guy or girl who let the antique or collector’s item go for a pittance. If you are suspicious, spend some time researching the history of the item. At a minimum, do a search on eBay or Amazon for clues to the true value.

Prepare Your Stuff

As you gather your items into your staging area, organize them into categories. That will pay dividends when it comes to final set up and pricing.

Tech gadgets
Automotive gear?
Kitchen items
Camping equipment
Sports gear

Spritz it Up

First impressions are everything. A little elbow grease can yield big bucks. Don't go overboard on a $2.00 item, but sprucing things up will add value. Glitz, glamor and sparkle will attract attention.

Clean, fresh-smelling clothing hung on hangers command a higher price than stained and rumpled items in a pile on a table or in a box. In fact, would you even look at those? I don't think so.

Stuffed toys are kid magnets. Parents can’t leave without buying at lease one. Wash them and add extra softener to the dryer for an inviting fragrance.

A spritz of automotive vinyl protector will make plastic or vinyl covered furniture shine like new
Throw dusty dishes, old coffee cups and filmy glassware into the dishwasher
Basketballs, footballs or soccer balls should be clean and inflated
TV’s should be turned on

The Set Up

Garage sale cruisers will drive slowly by your location, quickly scan your setup and either move on or pull over. Placing attractive items near the front where they are easy to spot by bargain hunters is the secret to making them brake to a halt.

Place furniture, exercise equipment or sports gear where they are easy to see. Angle them so they can be easily seen while not blocking smaller items behind them.

If all cruisers see are tarps piled high with mountains of clothes or other junky looking items heaped on them, they'll be long gone.

This is the big one. Beg, borrow, or ... borrow … as many long and short tables as you can find. When you run out of tables, find narrow strips of plywood, shelving or wooden planks that can be placed on saw horses or sturdy boxes to display smaller items.

People will not stoop down to root through items piled on a greasy blue tarp. It just won't happen.

Tables also make it easy to display your treasures as attractively as possible. As items sell, keep tables looking attractive by filling empty spots.

Stand books, record albums or CDs into separate boxes. Cut one side out so buyers can see the titles on the spines. That makes it easy for them to flip through the items.

Create a makeshift clothes rack to display dresses, shirts, suits and T-shirts even if it means tying a rope between two trees. Go to your neighborhood dry cleaner and buy thin metal hangers for pennies apiece.

Hide any items that are not for sale. In a garage, you can cover shelves and bigger items with old bedsheets.

That eliminates having  to say no people who insist on buying what you don’t want to sell. It also looks less cluttered and focuses attention on the garage sale items.

Think about crowd flow. Organize your tables and display centres to make it easy to work their way through your merchandise. Make sure it is easy for people to walk from centre to centre.

Use simple sales psychology like grouping similar things like furniture, sports equipment, music products or cloths. People are more likely to choose more than one item.

Finally, have an electric outlet or cord available for people to try out their blender, lamp or radio. Have batteries available to try out toys or electronic gear.

I don't know how many times I've heard, "It works. Honest!" That is followed by that moment cold silence when you infer they can't be trusted when you insist on turning plugging it in and turning it on.

The Price is Right

Yard sales have a unique culture. People may have visited 5-6 sales by the time they reach yours. Yes, Matilda, there is garage sale competition.

When pricing, remember two things. First, your goals. Are you trying to make money or to get rid of ‘stuff?’

Second, bargaining is a big part of garage sale culture. Refusing to play the game will likely mean you will loose. The person will go away mad.

You can always go down but never go up on the advertised price. A general rule of thumb is to set prices one quarter to one-half of their original price and add a few dollars to allow for bargaining.

Finally, a brutal truth. Nobody cares how much you paid for an item when you bought it new or how emotionally attached you are to it. It is only worth what people are willing to pay. 

Money Exchange

Go to the bank and bring home plenty of change. Buy a cheap fishing tackle or tool box to store your change. In a pinch, use a muffin tin as a change holder and small boxes or food storage containers for paper money.

Unless you have the mathmatic mind of an accountant or engineer, have a calculator ready to add up numerous prices. This is also where you can loose money when someone has a bundle priced at $10.00 and offers you $5.00.

Placing price stickers on most items will reduce stress. It takes more time, but it also forces you to think about the pricing and injects a feeling of order and control.

Buy brightly colored pricing stickers or mailing labels
Use a dark felt pen to write the prices on the stickers
Place the sticker where it is obvious and easy to see
Use larger paper for signs on larger items like couches

The alternative is to make up prices as you go during the sale. Imagine four people lined up with arms full of items waiting impatiently for you to determine prices. You could easily loose $200 or much more just through disorganization. Don’t be lazy.

Pricing Basics

Price items in round numbers. Pricing items at $1.00, $5.00, $15.00 or $50.00 rather than $1.45, $10.85 or $50.10 eliminates the need for mountains of change.

It is perfectly fine to bundle items for a single price. Place objects in a grocery bag or large freezer bag. Clear bags are a bonus as people can easily see what they are buying.

Small toys
Electronic cords

Bundle anything. I bought a box of screws, fasteners and other home repair items many years ago for $3.00 and still use them.

Ends of carpet roles or random tiles can be placed in boxes with a single price for the entire lot. Most would probably not sell individually.

Items like books or recordings can be organized for easy review but sold for a single price each. For books, have one large sign pricing what you have.

$3.00 for children's
$2.00 for hard cover
$!.00 for soft cover

Keep blank poster board (see signs) and markers for the last section of the sale. Post signs advising that all merchandise will be half-price after 2 p.m. on the last day of the sale.


Sales are positively affected by crowds of people. People attract people.

People driving by will stop to when they see a crowd. People are motivated leaving with their arms full of merchandise. Call it animal behavior or sales psychology. It works.

One of the first branding tips is to choose a name and use it consistently. Call it a yard sale, lawn sale, tag sale, moving sale, stoop sale or one of a dozen other names depending on where you live.

Ad Copy

O.K.! Maybe I’m going too far. However, writing your sale ads in advance will save time but also add brand value give you time to craft it.

Always include who, what, where and when information. All of your information on flyers, social media or free online sites should be similar. When people see it in more than one place it will add to their recognition and recollection of the sale.

If you have a few high interest items, mention them. If you have room, include photos (see below).


"Photos?" you ask with a sense of alarm. Absolutely!

Taking them is not hard if you have a phone. Photos are the currency of social media marketing and you can also use them for flyers and online marketing. 

Place a white sheet on the ground outside or your house. Outside is another way of saying ambient light.

Select 10ish different things that people may want. Place them on the sheet, hold your phone over it without casting a shadow, and voila!

If it is a large item, place it against a neutral wall so the background does not look cluttered.

Also place the 10ish items in a collage with the smallest items near the front or on top. Note that a collage is not French for a pile.

This will be your key photo for flyers and online ads. Take time to set it up so it looks attractive.

Word Smithing

Using the same name in the same way repeatedly will provide predictability and easy recognition. I do suggest using adjectives to describe your sale.

Gigantic Garage Sale
Huge Yard Sale
Colossal Back Alley Sale
Mammoth Moving Sale

Never, ever use the word miscellaneous. Not ever.

If you have room, name several high interest items. Camping gear, 3 bikes, summer novels, treadmill and much MORE is an example.

Never blather on. Keep it short and sweet. People only scan flyers and online ads
Use action words like "buy, come, go, take home" where possible
Use bullet points as they guide the eye to the most imporant points

Where to Advertise

Advertise your sale on websites offering free advertising like Kijiji or Craigslist. Also, search for localized sites that focus on your community. There are often local blogsites that will list your ad.

In smaller cities, local radio stations advertise garage sales as part of their community service. Some newspapers also have free listings.
Use your social media channels like Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Take good photos of key items and keep them in a file
Write several messages complete with hashtags and tag to freinds
Save them in a document so you can cut and paste in the heat of the action
Use your automated features to schedule 2-3 messages per day in the week leading to the sale

Another trick is to ask your freinds to help you through their social media chanels. That may mean retweeting or liking.

You can also send your photo file and message document to friends asking them to personalize and distribute them through their communities. "My freind Kim is having a sale ... Check this out."

Design an attractive flyer that includes the who, what, where and when information. If design is not your thing go to Canva and use one of their free templates.

Print low-cost flyers at a copy store or print them off on your inkjet. 100 flyers can go a long way. Place them on bulletin boards throughout your community in grocery stores, recreation centres, churches, community centers, your place of work and anywhere else you can think of.

Signs that Scream for Attention

During the research stage you identified the main traffic routes and other places to place signs. Head out at 5:00 in the morning to put up your signs.

I suggest buying cheap lathe and cutting them into four foot lengths. Cut a sharp pointy end on one end and attach your sign to the top.

Why? When people stop at traffic lights, they often can’t see signs sribbled on cardboard boxes or wooden triangle signs sitting on the ground.

Buy brightly colored poster paper. Bright yellow or electric pink are the best. Signs that scream for attention is central to your brand. People will follow the color to your house.

Write key information with a black, thick felt pen. Thick is the operative word. Double or triple the lines if needed.

Place the signs at key intersections. Place smaller signs with only a thick arrow along the way. The arrow on your paper color will assure drivers they are on the right path to garage sale glory.

You may need to form a T at the top of your lath stick using a shorter piece. That allows you to tack the sign across the top of your sign post and to the center lathe. The top of the T adds stability if there is wind.

Finally, make the arrival at the destination obvious. Find a large box and affix the colored paper to the box. Place it on top of your vehicle with a giant arrow pointing to the sale. It’s not a bad idea to add helium balloons for added visibility. They also suggest a party atmosphere.

Setting the Stage

People will start arriving at 8:00.

Keep things light and personal. Never be a Grumpy Gus or Debby Downer.

This is where your team comes into play. Always have someone at your money table so you can move about and engage people.

Make eye contact as you welcome people. Comment on cute children, bumper stickers and T-shirt slogans.

Not only will you create a "sales" energy but you'll meet neighbors you never knew you had.

It's O.K. to provide a little personal background to interesting things.
ow's the time to play salesman.

There is an old adage that the sale is lost when the seller starts talking. You want to be engaging, but people aren’t interested in your life story unless they ask.


Be safe. Not everyone visiting your sale will be a nice person.

Don’t be na├»ve! There may be shop-lifters, shady characters and worse who may have bad thoughts. Single women working alone is a bad idea.

If you are having a moving or estate sale, people will need to go into your house to view furniture. Don’t allow people to wander without supervision. This is where your team comes into play. 

For all other reasons, just say no! Don’t allow strangers into your house to try out appliances, try on clothes or to get out of the rain. If they need to use a washroom, direct them to the nearest service station.

Don’t overthink this, but reduce liability by removing things that can be tripped over or slipped on. Take care of slippery spots or hidden hazards by checking the garage floor or driveway.

Ambulances with screaming sirens and flashing lights do not create a possitive selling environment. Some litigious types might even sue if they are hurt after tripping on a cord.

Plan for the Leftovers

Avoid having to dispose of unsold items by arranging for a charity to pick them up. Call and schedule a 4 p.m. pickup for sale day box the leftovers for delivery to a thrift store donation site.

Don't forget the signs. Have one of your team members head out to collect your signs. After all, a good impression is part of your brand.

The End

I want to hear from you. Do you have Garage Sale stories? Tips? Any nightmare stories? Please comment below. 

The end

Robyn T. Braley is a brand specialist, writer, and speaker. He is a media commentator and co-owns UniMark Creative which designs websites, produces videos, provides media services and graphic design. He speaks about improving personal communications and maximizing the power of personal and company brands.

Contact Robyn

Twitter: @RobynTBraley 

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