Tuesday, September 7, 2010

How to Hold a Pretty Good Garage Sale

One of my favorite summer activities is checking out as many garage sales as possible. I find the best ones are usually in small towns or at church bazaars, places where the people holding the sale don't realize the greatness of their junk. One of my best garage sale finds was from a roadside sale in South River, Ontario (yes, by the Algonquin Motel), where an old man sold me an antique spice rack for $2.00, never once leaving his yard chair. He was also attempting to sell several used bedpans, which we of course snatched up immediately. I'm fairly confident those babies will be worth something one day.

Having attended at least 50 garage sales in my life, I've never actually held one myself. So my gfs Heather, Velvet and I decided to hold a garage sale at our home. We postered, facebooked and word-of-mouthed all about our sale. The night before the big day, we were pumped. Seriously pumped. Running on pure nervous energy, drinking cola straight out of the can. We used little yellow stickers to price everything in the house (Marley walked around with a $1.00 tag on until Velvet felt sorry for him and took it off. I laughed every time I saw it.). We did research and read tips on how to host a successful garage sale. In short, we were prepared. Our friend Leslie even wagered that we'd make at least $400.

And then the big day came...and our garage sale was, as some might say, a major bust.


Allow me to walk you through our garage sale day and share some of the lessons we learned. Perhaps our garage sale trash can become your garage sale treasure. Or whatever.

The week of our garage sale, we postered the neighborhood with lots of homemade and dazzling signs. The night before the sale, we noticed we had garage sale competition--another sale posted their signs DIRECTLY under almost every single one of ours and tried to outdo us by calling theirs a "HUGE MOVING YARD SALE". Luckily for us, their signs were sloppy, looked like they were made by crack addicts and lacked the charm of ours.

Lesson learned: Make your signs awesome and eye-catching and, theoretically, people will want to come. Use tiger-striped colors or sparkly gems and mention your impressive items--in our case, a paper shredder.

WELCOME TO OUR GARAGE SALE! What a beaut, huh? Lots of wonderful merchandise which will no doubt be appreciated by eager customers.

9:00 a.m.-ish. This was probably the highlight of our day but we didn't realize/appreciate it at the time. We had early birds who creepily waited in front of our empty yard beginning around 8:30 a.m. Our extensive research warned us about early birds but I didn't think it would actually happen to us. But it did! And they were as aggressive and annoying as the websites promised! And I hated them. One lady even asked if she could come inside our house to look at the jewelry and bead selection beforehand. Sounds sane to me.

Lesson learned: Expect weird people to show up at least 30 minutes early with unreasonable demands. Don't be afraid to tell them to get a life and get a coffee until 9:00 a.m.

Oh, I forgot to mention that the garage sale was also an art show featuring several of my collages. We integrated a few of my pieces with the merchandise and with nature. Here I am with my piece "Scarlett Johansson."

More of our goods as well as the infamous Angelina Jolie/Jennifer Aniston reversible collage. The frame was $1.00, collage was $750.00. Surprisingly, neither sold, although one customer commented that he appreciated the reversible aspect of it--if you wake up feeling wild one day, flip the collage to Angelina. If you're feeling chill and having a good hair day, it's over to Jen. I guess he was feeling too chill to make any actual purchases, but hey, that's okay. It's not all about the money.

Lesson learned: People may like your art, but that doesn't mean they want to buy it.

Heather forced us to sell many of our books. There are many pros and cons to living close to used bookstores but apparently Heather thinks that having three-plus overflowing bookshelves in the house is a con (I think she just can't read).

Lesson learned: Don't bother taking time (so, so much time) dividing your books into differently priced bins. The first customers will promptly mix all of the bins into one huge pile and continuously ask you "how much is this book?" Mark 'em all as .25 and be on your way.

Try to have lots of amazing things for sale, like we did. That's an important lesson.

And like all fun garage sales, we had a huge free section, filled with exciting and useful items. See that gray homemade tombstone? I put that out there really hoping to see if anyone would possibly be interested in it. A middle-aged guy slowly drove by our garage sale, went to the end of the street, turned around and parked his car, hopped out, grabbed ONLY the tombstone and promptly left. I was really sad we didn't have the opportunity to chat; I would have loved to have discussed his plans for it.

Lesson learned: You never know what kind of stuff people will want, so put it all out there. It also really helps when it's free. Another (somewhat contrasting) lesson learned is that even if your sign says "Free Stuff! Go Crazy! Take it All!", try not to be disappointed when, in fact, no one goes crazy and takes it all.

11:00 a.m. We had a surprise visit from my (fashion trendcaster) colleague, Christina, who was enchanted by the kitchenware selection. She insisted on trying out as much of the merchandise as possible before her purchases. See that hula hoop? It was tested for at least 15 minutes, amongst (possibly scaring off?) the normal customers.

Lesson learned: It's good to invite friends to your garage sales, because they will feel badly for you and buy stuff. Suckers!

An early sign your garage sale is not going to live up to its potential: A large U-Haul parks in front of it for the majority of the day for a move-out. A very long move-out.

12:00 p.m. The sky begins to darken and surprise us with summer showers. Velvet looks pleased by this new development.

Lesson learned: Don't plan your garage sale on a day when there is a chance of rain. I really can't stress this enough. It's a very crucial lesson.

2:00 p.m. Energy levels and customer service are starting to lag. Notice how all of our merchandise begins to creep closer and closer to the front porch, seeking shelter from the sporadic (yet persistent) rain.

I really wasn't kidding about Christina testing all of the merchandise. Yup, those inner tubes both worked. Guess where they ended up? The ever-expanding Free Bin.

Oh hey, U-haul, glad to see you're still here.

Clearly, quality was not an issue at this sale. These were marked in the free bin with the helpful advice of "Makes great Halloween props!" Also useful if you are making your own Buffy episode.

I made cupcakes that said "GARAGE SALE!"but was way too much of a dreamer and priced them at ten cents each. Instead, I ended up having to forcefully convince people to take them for free. We also had cupcakes for dinner that night.

Lesson learned: Don't bother making baked goods for your garage sale unless you're a very cute kid capable of guilting people into buying them.

Also a sign that your garage sale isn't going well--you have time (so, so much time) to take pictures of the increasingly depressing front yard and to play with the merchandise. Why did we ever want to get rid of that ball? It was awesome! (Lucky for us it did not sell.)

I will take this time to reiterate "do not hold a garage sale in the rain."

4:00 p.m. End of the day. We were wet, cold and drinking warm beer. Our stuff had been covered and uncovered by sheets due to the rain too many times to count. Pretty much everything at the sale had been marked down to "whatever few cents you're willing to give us" and I think people were turned off by our desperation. I don't blame them. We hauled most of our stuff to donation bins and the curb. Then we went inside and ate rain-soaked cupcakes.

Grand total made: Somewhere around $100.00. Only $300 short of Leslie's predicted total-- not bad, not bad at all.

Now, I'm confident if you adhere to my helpful lessons, this won't be you! Best of luck with your end-of-summer garage sales. Feel free to share your advice/garage sale horror stories; I love talking junk.