Wednesday 16 May 2018

You too can be a Garage Sale Guru! Tips for Garage Sale Success

Make more money by following my tips!

Written by Robyn T. Braley, 

Your basement is filled with treasures. Well, you call them treasures. Your family calls them junk. 

There are so many things taking up so much space there is no clear path to – well – anywhere!

The die is cast. A date is chosen and the process of organizing your garage sale begins. 

I must admit it. My wife and I love garage sales. You might even say we are garage sale junkies. Saling has taken us to areas of our city we had never before visited.

We have been known to get up early on a sunny Saturday morning and head for a McDonald’s drive-through. Breakfast sandwiches and large coffees are the perfect fuel for a day of garage sale adventure.

We end the day sipping lattes in a trendy coffee shop in a kitschy area. As we review the day and the treasures we have unearthed (sometimes literally), a feeling of exhilaration overtakes us similar to what golfers must feel after a successful day on the course!

Russell Bowers, host of CBC Radio's Daybreak Alberta, talks to Robyn about tips for Garage Sale Success. They dig deeper to discuss the social side of garage sales. 

Start Early

We've also held numerous garage sales for ourselves and others. This is what we have learned.

The key is to start planning early. It is generally best to avoid gathering sale items, setting up the backyard, making signs, placing them throughout the neighborhood, and trying to price items on the day of your sale. The strategy is guaranteed to bring disappointment and failure.

Take time when choosing a date. The middle or the end of the month is when most people are paid and have extra cash in their pockets.

Do a quick search for the long-range weather forecast for your area. Check out community activities. If a big event is happening near your house, that means more traffic past your sale. If it's on the other side of town, that could be bad.  

Subtly ask friends, family and general passers-by if they will be in town on the date in question. Warm them up for the ‘big ask.’  

Garage Sale Goals

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

      Is your goal to get rid of as much junk as possible?
      Is your goal to make some money?
      Is it a little bit of both?

Setting goals implies you have a plan to meet them. Even a rough sketch scratched on a paper napkin at a Tim Horton's or Starbucks will do.


Know that serious garage sale vendors have teams. Now that you have a plan and a date, you can start building your team. There are jobs leading up to the sale and jobs the day of the sale that will require a small cadre of volunteers.

Before the sale, you will need help selecting, moving, staging, and pricing your items. Signs must be made and placed. Flyers must be pinned on neighborhood bulletin boards.

I have found that small children are ideal for making signs if you have a model for them to follow. Just tell them it is a 'craft' that will be fun to do. 

Not all people attending your sale will have good intentions. Sale buddies will keep you safe and help protect you from any with bad intentions.

When the sale is over, signs will need to be taken down and left-over items sent to a thrift shop or garbage disposal. Most important, you will need people to share the celebratory pizza you will buy to thank everyone for their help.

Random piles of junk - errr treasures - on the driveway won't do it!

Its a Sign - DARGS

It doesn’t matter how well you do the other steps, if you don’t have well-made and well-placed signs, nothing else matters.

Start by doing DARGS – that's Driving Around Researching Garage Sales. Start about 6 blocks away and circle back to your house.  

As you drive, note which signs attract your attention and which ones are a waste of time.

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

Are there more visible places for signs? You will find places to put your signs that you would have never have thought of even though you have lived in the area for decades.
Draw a rough diagram of the streets leading back to your house and put an X where each sign should be starting with major intersections. Now you will know how many signs will be needed. The map will make things easier when you place your signs early on the morning of your sale.

Sign Formula

  • Buy the thickest poster board available
  • Choose a bright color like yellow
  • Use a black, wide tip felt marker
  • Keep the information simple
  • Attach the sign to waste-high lathe or sticks
  • Buy sharpened stakes like ones used for political campaign signs. Easy to pound into the ground
  • Distribute them early on the day of your sale

  • Selecting Treasures

    One of the hardest parts of having a garage sale is choosing which items you will part with. Be brutal and ask yourself these tough questions.

          Have I used it this year?
          Have I recently cooked with it?
          Have I worn it since 1985?
          Have I sat on it? Do I want to?
          Have I turned it on? Will it turn on?
          Have I read it?
          Have I listened to it in the past 10 years?
          Have I admired it? Why should I admire it?

    And, the big one. Will Uncle Mel really care if you sell the boomerang he brought from Australia especially for you 20 years ago? After all, he's been dead for 5 years! 

    It's not a bad idea to have a clutter buddy. This is a person who will tell you "NO" when you want to keep things you know in your heart you should sell.

    Organize the Chaos

    Find a place to store the items in the days prior to your sale. A garage or basement floor works best. Large items can be stored on your lawn covered by an old tarp.

    As the amount grows, begin to think in terms of categories. When marketing, the clusters will tell you which items to feature in flyers, online ads and other places.

    Organizing your items will make it easier to price them. Being organized will also help setting up your items on garage sale day.

    • Tech gadgets
    • Toys
    • Tools
    • Clothes
    • Books
    • Automotive gear
    • Furniture
    • Kitchen items
    • Music instruments
    • Camping equipment
    • Sports gear

    Be Responsible

    Check all items with an eye to safety. If in doubt, throw it out.

    Examine children's toys for breakage. Old lamps with frayed cords or small appliances that give off a burny smell belong in the trash, not in peoples living rooms.

    Cribs, car seats and other child-centric products that are 20 years old may not meet the safety standards of today. Protect other families like you protect your own!

    Spritz it Up

    If the first item a customer picks up is dusty, dirty or slimy, their shriek of, “Eeewwww!” will send a cold chill through the rest of the crowd shopping at your sale.

    A little elbow grease can yield big bucks. Don't go overboard on a $2.00 item, but sprucing things up will add value.

    Clean, fresh-smelling clothing hung on hangers command a higher price than stained and rumpled items dumped in a pile on a table or in a box.

    Stuffed toys are kid magnets. Parents and grandparents can’t resist buying at least one. Especially if they are dealing with a whiny kid. Wash the toys and add extra softener to the dryer for an inviting fragrance.

          Spritz vehicle vinyl protector on plastic or vinyl-covered furniture and make it shine like new
          Wipe leather-covered furniture with car seat wipes
          Wash dusty dishes, old coffee cups and filmy glassware in the dishwasher
          Inflate and clean basketballs, footballs or soccer balls
          Turn-on TV’s and other gadgets

    To Price or Not to Price

    People ask, “Should I price each item, or make up prices the day of the sale while 10 people wait impatiently with arms loaded with treasures while I make up my mind.”

    Don’t be lazy. Pricing items before the sale will make you money. It will also help you think through values and develop a pricing strategy.

    Use 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 will also speed things up at the checkout table.

    Buy easy-to-apply stickers at a Dollar Store or Office Supply Store. They should be big enough to be easily found and read by old people who may not have their reading glasses. 

    For larger items like furniture or gym equipment, use a larger piece of paper. The bigger the item, the higher the price requiring a bigger sign. Big and bold does it.


    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.

    Tables make it easy to display your treasures as attractively as possible. As items sell, keep the tables looking attractive by filling empty spots. This is a great job for kids.

    Make garage sale cruisers brake to a screeching halt, park and come in due to smart merchandising. Place large furniture, appliances, exercise equipment, bikes, portable basketball hoops or other items where they are easy to see.

    Some men abhor stopping at garage sales. Help their spouses by placing bait like sports equipment or tools where men can see them.

    Make it easy for people to flip through your music. Place your CDs, albums or cassette tapes in sturdy boxes. Cut the top flaps off so buyers can easily see the album titles and covers. If you have 2-300 units organize them into styles - rock, country, classical, pop or gospel.

    Do the same thing with books. Arrange them by topics like business, fiction, biography’s, how-to books, inspiration, war stories, children’s or other topics.  

    Finally, have an electric cord available for people to try out your blender, lamp or radio. Have a few different size batteries available for toys or electronic gear.


    Choose a name and use it consistently. The name will be central to your marketing.
    Adding an adjective to describe it adds energy. 

          Gigantic Garage Sale
          Huge Yard Sale
          Colossal Moving Sale
          Mammoth Moving Sale
          Large Estate Sale
          Serious Downsizing Sale

    Advertise your sale online for free. Spread the news of your sale by word of mouth to co-workers, friends, family – anyone who might be interested.
    • Take attractive photos of key items to feature in activities below
    • Place your ad on Kijiji and other online free advertising sites
    • Pin flyers on bulletin boards in your community (grocery stores, libraries, community centres)
    • Send email notice through your personal contact lists
    • Text to your groups
    • Message through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and others

    Show Me the Money

    Have a specific table called your checkout table. Use an old fishing tackle box, toolbox, muffin tins or plastic food storage containers to organize money exchange. A calculator will speed up volume transactions.

    Before the day of your sale get a variety of bills and coins so that you never run out. Area businesses do not take kindly to people rushing in with $100.00 bills asking for change in coins and small bills.

    Eliminate temptation. As the amount of cash grows, periodically place larger bills in a safe place like a fanny pack.

    Setting the Mood

    If you feel people are judging you, get over it. They probably are. Don’t worry about it.
    • Don't be a Debby Downer or Somber Steve
    • Be positive and enthusiastic
    • Mingle and talk to people
    • Comment on cute children and T-Shirts slogans
    Don’t go overboard. There is an adage that the sale is lost when the seller starts talking. You want to be friendly, but people aren’t interested in your life story unless they ask.

    Why do grocery markets and malls play background music? All together, now! It makes people feel good. When they feel good, they buy things.

    Play middle-of-the-road pop songs or light jazz to raise the energy level. Megadeth will make some people feel tense and kill the mood. The bikers with the tattoos and mean dogs snarling and snapping as they strained at their tethers trying to eat me come to mind.


    Be safe. Not everyone visiting your sale will have good intentions. Don’t allow people to wander without supervision. This is where your team comes into play. 

    Keep your eyes on customers but don't stare at them or hover inches away. That’s creepy.

    If you are having a moving or estate sale, people will need to go into your house to view furniture and other items. Assign team members stations where they can see all things and all people at all times.

    Never leave your checkout table unsupervised. You or a team member must be there at all times.

    Have an Exit Strategy

    Have a strategy for the sale's end. First, reduce the prices by 70-80% about 2 hrs before the official end. Let new visitors know by placing large signs at the entrance to your sale.  

    Many charities will pick up all unsold items and will pick them up at the end of your sale. You can also box leftovers for delivery to a thrift store donation site.

    Your job is not finished until you have retrieved your signs. Remember the rough map you sketched while doing DARGS? That will help you or team members to find them. Have the pizza delivered hot and ready accompanied by cold drinks when they return.

    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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