Thursday, May 20, 2010

20 Tips for a Successful Yard Sale

It's that time of year. Warm weather is finally here. Spring cleaning is in the air. It's time to clear out the closets, attic, garage and basement. Your junk could be someone else's treasure.

Yard sale, garage sale, tag sale. No matter what you call it, it means the same thing. In my neck of the woods it's a tag sale. Gather up your unwanted items, put them on your lawn and wait for the customers. Depending on how much effort you put into it, it can really pay off if you do it right. I've had my fair share of tag sales. I've been having one every year for the last few years. I'm currently on a decluttering mission (see my resolutions posts). My next tag sale is scheduled for May 29 - just over a week from now. Eeek. I'd show a photo of what my basement looks like at the moment but it's too scary to post online. I have boxes, bins and bags overflowing with my unwanted junk. I'm going to get in shape just hauling them out of the basement and to the garage!


These are my 20 tips for a successful tag sale...

1. Clean up your items. No one wants to handle a grimy old doodad, never mind bring it home. Take the time to wash or at least dust off your gizmo before putting it for sale. Clothes should be clean and preferably stain free. Dust off shoes, clean the dirt off the soles, throw sneakers in the wash. You want someone to pick them up and admire them, not be grossed out.

2. Price everything. If you have too many items to attach price stickers, make all similar items the same price and post signs. All mugs 50¢, all jeans $2.00, all paperbacks 25¢, etc. This makes it easier for you too. Speaking of pricing, I never price anything lower than 25¢. It's easier to make change if everything is in dollar or quarter increments. If a customer is too cheap to spend a quarter then they don't need it.

3. Set up tables. I try to keep as much items as possible on tables or at least off the ground. Old people can't always bend down. Personally, if I go to a tag sale that has a bunch of stuff thrown on a blanket on the ground I usually don't bother picking through it. If you put it on a table where I can pick it up without having to squat down, reach or bend over I'll be more likely to check it out. I try to have five or six tables (some borrowed). I use storage bins and boxes for additional table space. We also borrow a big canopy to provide some shade.

4. Use clothing racks. Not everyone owns clothing racks but you can easily make one out of an old pole  and a couple of ladders or string a rope between a couple of trees. I got my clothing racks from freecycle. I use them for dresses, winter jackets and Halloween costumes - basically anything I want to show on hangers.

5. Fold clothes neatly on a table. I can't stress enough how much I hate fishing through bins and boxes of clothing at other people's tag sales. Fold it neatly on a table and organize it by size and gender. Price all similar items the same. Straighten things out during lulls in the day.

6. Pricing. It's taken me years to realize that tag salers are bargain hunters. They don't care what something sells for brand new or on ebay - at least I don't. If you're having a tag sale it's because you're clearing out clutter. If you want to get rid of it, price it to sell or you may be bringing it back into your house at the end of the day. I've walked away from tag sales with overpriced items. A good rule to follow is to price things at 20% of what you paid. I usually price my items at less than that. I don't want anything coming back into my house. Children's clothing is a hot tag sale item and I sell them dirt cheap. I could easily give them to Goodwill and be done with it. Instead I price everything (except winter jackets) at 25¢ or 50¢ each. When people see the cheap price they go crazy and grab piles of clothing. They get a bargain. I make a few bucks and get rid the clothes at the same time. It's a win-win for everyone.

7. Keep an eye on your money. Now is not the time for fashion statements. Clip on a fanny pack or wear an apron with deep pockets to hold your cash. Do not keep a cash box in view of customers. I picked up a half apron with two pockets at Home Depot for 99¢. It's perfect. When I start getting too many bills in my pockets I have my husband or one of my kids bring the extra cash into the house. And speaking of cash, start off with plenty of change. Make sure you have lots of ones, several fives, a couple of tens and a roll of quarters. My first customer at last year's tag sale handed me a $20 bill for an item that was less than a dollar. *sigh* Good thing I had lots of change. I was a little nervous for the first hour or so when a couple of others paid with large bills. It all worked out but I wish ATMs would spit out smaller bills.

8. Signs. This is majorly important. (is majorly a word?) Your signs lead people to your tag sale. If your signs suck no one will come. Make them big, bright and BOLD. Buy neon colored cardstock or poster board (I like green or yellow). Use a thick black Sharpie. Write in big block letters (avoid cursive - it's too hard to read when you're driving). Imagine you're driving down the road and see your sign. Can you read it from a distance? If not, neither can your potential customers. Remember the three B's - big, bold and block letters. Stick with the basic info - date, address, hours of the sale and an arrow pointing in  the right direction. That's all you need. Post your signs in several locations, including intersections that get heavier traffic. Don't forget to put a big sign at the end of your driveway too!

9. Advertise! Advertising in the newspaper isn't cheap but it is effective. I'm lucky because I work at a newspaper so I get my classified ads for free. Otherwise it would cost me about $20. If you get together with friends or neighbors you can split the cost. You can also post free ads on local online forums and Craigslist. Post it as an event on your Facebook page, tweet it, hang a sign near the time clock at work - just get the word out however you can. Just keep in mind that if you hang signs anywhere, make sure you ask permission first.

10. Check your town bylaws. Some towns require a permit. My town allows six tags sales a year but we must have a permit, which is free. This is to prevent those perpetual tag sales (aka junk sales) you see set up on people's front lawns every weekend all summer long.

11. Lock your house. Lock any entrances to your home that you don't need to use that day.  Do not let strangers into your home for any reason.

12. Sell cold drinks. I haven't tried this yet. I always think of it when it's too late. I know there's been plenty of times when I'm out tag saling on a hot day and wish I had a cold bottle of water. Pick up an inexpensive 24 pack at Walmart, figure out the price of a single bottle and double it. You'll make your money back plus a little extra. Let the kids run the cold drink stand.

13. Early birds. There will always be early birds. It's up to you whether you want them or not. Early birds are usually spenders. They're out for the good stuff. That's why they arrive early. I personally don't mind early birds. They're usually cheerful and looking for something specific. If I'm still unpacking boxes I welcome them to poke around. I've sold many items to early birds. I will mention that my garage door stays closed until I'm ready for people. If the garage door is closed there's nothing to see.

14. Expect to haggle on prices. Don't be offended when someone asks you to lower the price on something. Tag salers are bargain hunters (see #6). If you have a big gadget and you want no less than $20 for it, set your price at $25. I guarantee someone will offer you $20 for it. If they offer $15, you then say "that's a little too low but I'll take $20." Sold. Always, always, always expect people to try to talk you down.

15. Keep the dog indoors. Even the friendliest dog can be intimidating to some people. Enough said on that one.

16. Set up a free area or box. Everyone loves free stuff. You may have stuff that's too good to throw out but not good enough to sell. Throw everything in a box or on a sheet on the ground (free stuff is ok to put on the ground) with a big free sign. Watch the customers swarm over it. Don't worry, they'll buy stuff too. Trust me.

17.  Remove or cover items in the yard and/or garage that aren't for sale. I once had a guy ask me if my $40 bird bath was free because I told people that the items on the front lawn were free. I meant that the items on the sheet on the front lawn were free. The bird bath stays with me.

18. Plan ahead for the tag sale leftovers. What will you do with what doesn't sell? Will you pack it back up to try again next year? Will you donate it? Offer it to Freecycle? If you have a game plan it'll make it that much easier at the end of the day. My game plan is always the same. On the morning of my tag sale I post to Freecycle that tag sale leftovers will be available during a certain time frame. After that, everything is boxed up for a trip to Goodwill. Goodwill is right in town so it's no big deal for me to put everything in my husband's truck and drive it over myself. Nothing comes back into my house.

19. Remove all signs when the sale is done. This should be a given but I've seen many tag sale signs still up weeks later. Send your teenager out to take them all down (that's what I do!).

20. Have fun! Be friendly, laugh and make conversation. A tag sale can be exhausting. You can make your day so much brighter if you make a conscious effort to have fun. You're clearing out clutter and making a few bucks in the process. You might as well enjoy yourself.  I've met many wonderful people at my tag sales. It more than makes up for the hours spent decluttering, pricing, setting up and tearing down.

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