Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Yard Sale Manifesto

Princess Angus, at your service.
I grew up with garage sales and I still love them. They’re a great way to get out of the house, pick up some incredible bargains, meet your strange neighbors and paw through their weird stuff.
When I was a member of my local bike club we used to have special Yard Sale Rides, where people who had bike trailers would accompany a swarm of regular bicyclists all over town just randomly looking for deals. Great fun.
Over many years of being a host and a customer I’ve accumulated a few ideas on what makes for a successful day. Heres 10 things you can do to guarantee that your yard sale will be profitable, survivable and maybe even (gasp!) enjoyable.

1) Prepare. Like, you know, ahead of time.
  • Nothing gets people to stop their cars like a HUGE sale. So as long as you’re thinking of cleaning out your shed, get your friends on board to do the same. This also gives you more hands to help and will make the day more fun for you and your customers.
  • Have your things organized beforehand. Take a good long look at everything you have lined up in your garage. What needs to be assembled? Plugged in? Hung up? Thrown in the trash? Nothing turns me off more as a customer than going to a rummage sale and finding a rubbish sale instead.
  • Important! Make sure that everything you put out is CLEAN. Spend some time with the Simple Green and some rags beforehand. A 5 dollar item will go for 2 bucks if it’s dirty, but may fetch 7 or 8 if it’s sparkling and shiny. Also, go through every pocket of every garment – you might find cash!
  • Bags. Often overlooked. Have a small stash of paper or plastic grocery bags for your customers to haul away their finds in. It’s a small thing, but it can make the difference between a small sale and a large one, and your customers will appreciate the convenience. And you can easily recycle any leftover bags.
2) Have a bank prepared.
  • Start saving singles, fives and quarters a week or so beforehand. Just pay cash for everything that week, pay with tens and twenties and pocket all the change. Bingo: bank.
  • You don’t have to have an actual bank box at the sale (Although its recommended if there are multiple sellers), but if you do, make sure someone is in charge of it at all times. For smaller sales, a roll of money in one pocket and some coins in the other will do nicely.
3) Advertise beforehand.
  • Local paper. Yeah, I know; the only people who read newspapers anymore are old people. Well, guess what? They are also the ones who go to the most yard sales. Seniors have the time – and the money – on their hands, and they love to find gifts for their children and their grandkids. Spend the money and let ‘em know what you’ll be selling.
  • Craigslist. But you’ll have to it the day before or the morning of, so check out the site beforehand, write your blurb and have it all ready to go.
  • Signage. You don’t need a billboard or anything huge, but a couple of colorful, big fonted, copypaper-sized signs on the telephone poles at either end of your block will pay off nicely. You don’t need your address – it’ll be obvious which house is having the sale. Just “Yard Sale”, the date and an arrow will get the point across. Now walk out into the street (or drive by) and make sure it’s easy to see and read. You can do this the night before the sale. One less thing to do at OMG O'clock.
4) Price everything.
  • As a host it gets real annoying to have to spend the whole day answering the question: “How much is this?” Well, it’s even more annoying to be a customer and have to ask. Spend the time to put a tag on everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. Tag the tables, the coatracks, the crates, the tarps - the hat on your head. Every last thing. You never know what people’ll want.
  • This needs to be emphasized: This price tag should be immediately VISIBLE to the customer (I.E. on TOP of the item), and it must be L.E.G.I.B.L.E.
  • There are special pre-priced Yard Sale stickers, and these are handy for small things. Alternatively, just use masking tape or post-it notes. But for large items, don’t be shy: Use a whole sheet of colored paper and use a 150 point font. If they can read it from their cars, so much the better.
  • But whatever type of tag you use, do it BEFORE the day of the sale. You’ll be busy and groggy on the morning of, so get rid of this tiresome chore beforehand.
  • Alternatively, you can go for the collective approach to pricing. Just have entire fixtures or tarps that are 1 dollar for anything here, 5 dollars, 25 cents, and so on. This is really handy if you have lots of tables set out. And again, you cannot have too many signs, and they cannot be too large.
  • Good pricing signage lets customers browse at their leisure and lets you engage in more fun conversations, or you know, not say anything at all for awhile. After 5 hours or so, you’ll be attracted to this latter option.
Up, off the ground = easy to browse.
5) Arrange things to attract the eye.
  • What you are doing at a Yard Sale is creating a temporary retail store. And the more you can do to make it easy and attractive on your customers, the more they will reward you. And just like a real store, make sure they can walk around easily.
  • If you are setting up on your driveway, put the tall things in the back, and the small things out near the sidewalk. Sounds obvious, right? Well many people don’t realize that what your customers are judging you on is what they can see FROM THEIR CARS. And the more items they can see, the more likely they will stop and browse. So don’t put the dresser out front and the jewelry on the tarp behind it.
  • Make it easy to see up close too: Get things up off the ground. Folding tables, card tables, carry your dining room chairs out and hang stuff on them. I once draped latticework over two sawhorses and put a tarp over it. Voila – table.
  • Your customers will appreciate if like things are next to like things. Make your front yard into a Department Store. Clothing over by the hedges. Books by the driveway. Instruments on the porch. This also makes pricing easier and encourages people to buy multiple items.
  • Another painfully obvious idea: Make sure all of the book spines are facing the same way and the CD titles are all readable from the same side. People can read upside down just fine, but going back and forth is hard on the brain.
  • If you have a bunch of clothing, consider renting one or two free-standing racks from a rental company or party supply store. Pretty cheap and makes a very attractive browsing experience. And don’t forget hangers!
  • Your Yard Sale is a retail store and all stores, even temporary ones, need PARKING. So move your cars down the street. And ask your neighbors (Ahead of time) to do the same. As a host you only have a few seconds to convince your customer that you are worth a looksee. Having your merchandise displayed attractively and plenty of parking right out front will pay off for you.
  • Gimmicks:
    • Free items, with big signs advertising them. I’ve used this one a few times, with mixed results. The amount of people who came straight to the free stuff (at the very back of the merchandise, of course) was offset by annoying people yelling questions at me from their cars.
    • The Bra Tree, a great 'hook'.
    • The Hook. This one is great if you have a huge, showy item that you can use to hook people into stopping. It doesn’t matter if the item is for sale or not – you are in the business of attracting eyeballs here. I’ve used a spare refrigerator as the Hook (and sold it at a ridiculously high price), and a prized guitar (that wasn’t mine) that I displayed on my porch for the day – with a teeny ‘sold’ sign on it. (Actually, on the back of it.) Anything that will attract attention will do.
6) Start early.
  • This cannot be overstated. Ideally you should be up and running by 7am. You’ll snag three types of customers as the sun rises:
    • The Seniors. Old people are often up early, and they read the newspaper. Be ready for ‘em.
    • Joggers and dog walkers are often up with the dawn. Give ‘em something to wake up to.
    • Professionals. THIS is who you are after. They may only stay a few moments, but if you have what their market is (Old Levis, Old Books, Barbie Dolls, Cameras) you can move a big chunk of your merchandise before you have both eyes open.
  • Being set up early also lets you relax and be ready for the more casual customers. And, it must be said, you can pay more attention to folks who may be looking for “five-finger” discounts.
7) Get your customers to linger.
  • Retail studies show that the more time your customer spends in a store, the more money they’ll spend. Well, you are a store. What can you do to keep your guests around a little longer?
  • Coffee. Duh. Doesn’t have to be out and obvious for everyone, but if you spy a neighbor or an acquaintance or someone who is seriously browsing, offer them a cup of coffee. Throw in a Costco muffin on a paper napkin and you’ll have a new friend (and odds are they’ll leave with a bag full of items). Have a trashcan handy for empties.
  • Music. It soothes the savage shopper (and lets them discuss your wares without having to whisper). When was the last time you were in a store and there wasn’t music playing? Right. Never. Humans have been responding to music since we had two rocks to whack together. A simple CD boombox or iPod speaker will do. Make a playlist (or a stack of CDs) that is a crowd pleaser. Steer clear from the screaming death metal and the spoken word pieces; This is shopping music. But that doesn’t mean it has to be Muzak. Think 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. (Shorthand: Chuck Berry, Beatles, Eagles, Cars: Done.) Remember, it is older people who will be the majority of your customers, and anyone under 40 will already be listening to their own iPods anyway.
  • Having drink, food and music on hand sounds like the ingredients of a party, right? Right. No surprise there. You want an atmosphere where people are having a good time. And you’ll have more fun too.
8) Be good to yourself.
  • Hosting a yard sale is work. Aside from all the preparation you (hopefully) put in, you’ve had to get up early on a weekend, haul heavy tables and crates of books out to a wet lawn, and spend the morning trying to stay awake and warm.
  • By afternoon you’ll be fried, so do something good for yourself: EAT A MEAL. Have a pizza delivered for you and your friends. Dispatch someone to go get sandwiches. Unwrap the cheese and cold cut tray you bought yesterday. The important thing is to get some protein in you. Odds are you’ve had nothing but coffee and doughnuts all day, and your body is crashing big time.
  • Speaking of coffee – it doesn’t really help with thirst. You may be awake, but you can still be under-hydrated. Have some real drinks ready to go for you and everyone who helped.
  • And on a day you’ll spend outside (even if it’s only 10 feet from your front door) - don’t forget a hat and the sunscreen.
9) After 2pm, start discounting the remainders.
  • The goal of your yard sale was probably not to make a fistful of cash. More than likely your initial need was just to get rid of a bunch of stuff. So as the afternoon wears on, be aware of that. Start cutting deals. Offer quantity discounts. Keep the merchandise moving.
  • Start moving signs. The 5 dollar table becomes the 2 dollar table. The dollar tarp is now “make us an offer”.
  • Rearrange the items. Take down some tables and move things closer together. Keep things tidy and organized. Yeah, your tired, but your late-rising customers are still people with disposable income who may want to buy your crap. Clean up your store for them.
10) At 3pm, close your store.
  • Statistically this is the end point for yard sales. The customers are gone, and you’ve been up since 6am, open by 7am, your shift is just about over, you sold your brain two hours ago for 10 bucks, and you can’t be counted on to make change accurately anymore.
  • So pack it up. Ideally the week before you arranged for a fresh couple of friends to appear just to help you clean up. You even offered them cash money. (You’ll have it, and it’s worth it.)
  • Final decisions. Is there anything you want to save for the next yard sale? Be honest. For everything else have a place designated to drop off the leftovers. You can do it tomorrow though.
  • One last thing to do today though: Take down your signs from the telephone poles. It’s the decent thing to do.
  • Now, once everything is put away and your help had been dismissed, spread out all your new cash on your bed, and take a nap on it. You’ve earned both.
Angus McMahan

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