Side Hustle: Garage Sale Management

Garage Sale

Pre-sale preparation and marketing are important, but ultimately, the money comes from how you manage the sale.

How many people will you have staffing the sale?  There are a few considerations here.   How many people are involved in the sale?  How many people can take the time off?   It’s best to have three people at the sale at all times. Two people can manage the money while the third plays salesman and security.   Staffer #3 is in charge of watching for price-tag swaps or other theft, answering questions, and trying to upsell.    It also allows for breaks, which, if you’ve ever spent a day in a garage drinking coffee, is important.

When are you going to be open?  You don’t want to open so early you don’t have time to wake up and get ready for the sale, but you don’t want to open so late the professional garage-salers drive past and forget about you.   Plan to open sometime between 7 and 9. When will you close?   Staying open until 6 will catch most of the after-work crowd, but it makes for a long day, but closing at four cuts out a lot of the late-day shoppers.   Our hours were 8-5, which seemed to be a good compromise between a long day and the best sale.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="196" caption=" "] [/caption]Don’t be afraid to shut down. The first day of our sale was cold, wet, and miserable.   We had to canopies in the driveway, but everything was getting wet, anyway.   Traffic was slow and we weren’t enjoying ourselves, so we shut down.  Lunch and a nap improved our outlook considerably.   At the end of the day, we start packing up, even if people were there.    We tried to only pack what they had looked at, and we didn’t try to rush the potential customers, but we did let them know that the sale was ending for the day.  The folks who came in half an hour after close on the last day seemed upset that we didn’t unpack everything for their amusement.

Our layout was designed to get everything easily visible while maximizing traffic.   The first day, we were confined to the garage and tents, so space was limited.   There were baskets under each of the tables.   That forced people to crouch and block each other.   The second day, we expanded to fill the driveway.   Our tables were organized in 3 rows–a “U” shape with a double-wide row of tables in the middle.   This allowed people to see everything in one pass.   The middle row had periodic breaks so we could move around to help the customers.    The pay table was in the middle of one of the outer rows, which let us monitor the entire sale.

Find someone to watch the kids and pets. If you have to keep an eye on your children, you aren’t watching the customers or giving them the attention they need.  Your dog–no matter how well-behaved–is a liability.   It will be stressed at the people.  Some customers will be allergic or afraid.  Just don’t do it.

Ideally, you will have someone who isn’t taking money, knows a little bit about most of the merchandise, and isn’t too shy to talk to strangers.   His job is to wander around, answer questions, and help people decide if they want an item.   He’s the sales-weasel. If he’s pushy, he’ll chase off the customers, but if he’s hiding, he isn’t making any money.   Unusual items should have a sign attached explaining why they are special, so the sales-weasel doesn’t have to explain it to everyone.

Every single item should be priced, but not everything needs to be priced individually.   We priced all of the movies in a group.  “VHS: $0.50 or 5 for $2, DVD $3 or 4 for $10”.   Nobody should have to ask what an item costs. If there are multiple people doing a sale together, make sure everyone is using colored price tags to identify who is selling what.

People come to garage sales expecting to find good deals.  If they don’t, they’ll leave. Our rule of thumb for pricing was about 25% of retail, with wiggle-room for the item’s condition. New-in-the-box sometimes made it up to 50% of retail.  Our goal was primarily to reduce clutter, so a lot of items were priced at 10%.    You have to keep in mind that, if you price things too low, people will assume there is something wrong with it and not assign a value in their own minds.    Price it at what you would be willing to pay in a garage sale, then mark it up–just a bit–to account for haggling.

People love to haggle at garage sales.  It gives them an opportunity  to brag about the great deal they fought for.   Try to accommodate them.   One of the people participating in our sale was selling antiques with a definite value.    She didn’t want to haggle on any prices, so we simply hung up a sign that read “All white-tagged prices are firm.”   Everyone else was willing to accept almost any reasonable offer.   Our most important rule for accepting a price?  If you pissed me off, I didn’t budge on price. Insult me, or offer 1/10 of the price, and my defenses go up, bringing your final price with it.   Talk nice and use some common sense while haggling, and you got what you asked for.

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="196" caption=" "] [/caption]Could we have maximized the sale more?  Probably.   I had intended to hang up a sign that simply said “$100” to set a high anchor-price on everything, but I forgot.

Note: The entire series is contained in the Garage Sale Manual on the sidebar.

Update: This post has been included in the Carnival of Personal Finance.

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    1. Wow…you are the garage sale king! I hate having garage sales because of all the little stuff, but I’d hire someone like you to manage one if all I had to do was get all the stuff together, lol!

    2. I hate wasting a day sitting in the garage watching other people paw through my stuff. 🙂 I normally opt out of garage sales, but after the big declutter, it was that or donate it all.

    3. Wow, very in-depth post. I’ve never had a garage sale, because I’d get bored sitting there from say, 8 to 5.

      Good tips about the haggling though. If I was ever to attend one, I’d definnitely try to get a good deal!

    4. It wasn’t that bad. We had a pretty steady flow of people and several friends were helping, so there was always someone to talk to.

      By myself at a slow sale? Run away!


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