Thursday, July 12, 2012

Some Practical Advice for People Planning to Hold Yard Sales

There are a lot of sites online with advice and tips for folks planning to have a yard sale, and my intent is not to duplicate them. At least not entirely. What I have here is my take on some standard advice, as an experienced seller and buyer at yard sales, plus some tips that I’ve not seen anyone else give, but always wished they would. If you’d also like to see some other takes on holding yard sales, I’d recommend starting with the ever-amazing Yard Sale Queen, and following links from there.

This is going to be a two-parter.  Look for part two sometime next week.  I got a little wordy on this one I think, in part, because I spend a lot of time going to a lot of yard sales an  d I see a lot of mistakes being made.  I would love for everyone who has a yard sale to be successful so that more people will hold yard sales so that there will be more yard sales for me to attend.Take both of these posts with that in mind.

And, of course, I'd love to see your comments on the issue, as well!

1. Having a yard sale is a lot of work!

Be prepared for that going in. It’s not just a matter of grabbing some stuff and throwing it on the front yard. Doing a yard sale right takes planning and advance work. If you’re not willing to put the effort in, don’t bother. It’s a real annoyance to show up at someone’s sale and have to dig through unsorted boxes of stuff that’s not priced and then try to deal with people who obviously don’t know what they’re doing.

2. Price your stuff!

I’m much more inclined to spend money when I can keep tell how much I’m spending. Also, when I see stuff that’s not priced, I tend to think that the person is going to be asking too much for it. That makes me think twice about everything I see that I am interested in.  I don't think I'm alone in feeling this way.  (Even though there are others who see it differently.)

This doesn’t mean you have to tag every single item, you can make signs for groups of similar things, or even be more creative. I stopped at a sale one time where two of the boys in the family were selling some of their action figures. They had a bunch of small paper sacks, and the deal was everything you could get into a sack for 2 bucks. It was cute and much easier than pricing each toy. Plus, it got the kids involved. (See below.)

Don’t tell yourself you’ll just decide on your prices that day because you don’t know how much people will pay or how much you might really want. A guy lost a sale from Keith a couple of years ago from not having things priced and being too strange and indecisive when Keith tried to bargain with him. No one wants to come into your yard and be confronted with that kind of weirdness. Make up your mind beforehand and put it in writing where everyone can see it.

Besides, once the chaos of the sale gets started, you really don't need five people yelling at you for prices on every jot and tidbit.  Trust me.

3.  If you say "Make me an offer," then be prepared for the offer.

Please don't play the "Make me an Offer" game.  It goes like this:

  • You have a sale and don't price your stuff.
  • Someone comes to your sale and wants to buy something.
  • They ask you how much it is.
  • You don't know and you haven't thought about it, so you try to pass the buck to the seller and say "Make me an offer."
  • They do. 
  • You don't like the offer, so you get offended.  You either snap at them or otherwise get bent out of shape.
  • They put the item down and leave.

If you're going to play the MMAO game, then remember why people come to sales--they're looking for bargains.  If you put the impetus back on them, they're going go right for the lowest possible price.  Getting upset with them for doing it is a little tacky at this point.  They are only doing what you asked them to do.

I had a woman at a sale last year make faces at me every time I made the offer she was asking me to make.  She'd screw her lips up, curl her nose, arch her eyebrows and say "Ewwwwwww!" really loudly.

After the third time, I said:  "Look.  I'm doing what you asked me to do.  If you don't like it, then don't accept the offer, but stop being rude to me."  I left without buying anything.

If you do ask for an offer and get one you don't like, then politely counter-offer.  You don't have to accept the offer just because they made it, but use it as a starting point to work towards a price you can live with.  Yard sales are about bargaining and bartering.

Then, after that person leaves, get busy and price the rest of your stuff, like you should have done in the first place!  Keep playing MMAO all day and you're going to sell less stuff, become increasingly frustrated, and generally waste your time.  Not to mention pissing off everyone who comes in your yard.

3. Start on time!

That means “have the yard all set up and everything out ready to sell at the time you advertised.” It doesn’t mean “start hauling boxes out of the house at the time you advertised.” If you’re not willing to do what it takes to be ready when the first customer arrives, then don’t bother.

Yard sales start early. That means you need to start even earlier. How much earlier depends on how much stuff you have to set up. One year, I spent the night at the house where we hold our sales so that it would be easier for more than one person to be there when we needed to start setting up. We had a TON of stuff that year, but we were ready to go at 8 AM.

Yes, getting up before dawn on a Saturday to set crap up is hard. No one said this was easy. See point one.

4. Early birds are a fact of life.

It doesn’t matter how largely and clearly you post your hours. It doesn’t matter how many times you say “No Early Birds!” in your ad. There are going to be people showing up early, especially if you have lots of unique or specialty items for sale (see below). Just expect them and decide in advance how you want to deal with them.

There’s no hard and fast rule that I know of for doing this. Some factors to consider:

  • Early birds do have money, which you want
  • They’re also annoying and time-consuming, which you don’t want.
  • It’s not fair to those who stick to the posted times to sell all the good stuff early.
  • Who said yard sales have to be fair?
  • Early birds are often dealers looking to beat out the competition.
  • It is illegal to shoot them, no matter how much you may want to.
  • How early are they? There’s a big difference between someone showing up two hours early and fifteen minutes early.
  • How much set up do you still have to do? If you’ve still got tons to do, you really don’t have the time to deal with someone getting in your way to look at things.
If you refuse to sell to them, they may leave, but you also lose a guaranteed sale.  If someone is really getting in the way, you do have the right to refuse to sell to them early and ask them to leave.  You just need to be firm, but polite.

You might consider appointing one person on your set up crew to be on "Early Bird Patrol."  Their job would be to deal with the EB's, herd them away, watch them to make sure they don't swipe anything, etc.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure everyone at the sale knows about it and that everyone acts consistently.

4. Be honest!

Your best friend bringing over two items to sell doesn’t turn your sale into a “multi-family” sale. Ten books is not a “huge amount.” Four boxes on your front lawn is not a “big” sale.

Sure, you want to have lots of people come to your sale. But if you have to resort to blatantly overstating the truth to get them to come, you’re better off donating the stuff somewhere for the tax deduction.

Honestly, when we pull up to a place that’s advertised with all kinds of adjectives implying that the sale is going to be quite large and quite spectacular only to find that it’s nothing but piddly, we don’t even stop.

5. Point out your specialties

Comic books. CD’s. Books. Religious items. Eclectic. Unique. Words like this get my attention and will just about guarantee I’ll stop by your sale. If you have interesting or different things, play them up in your advertising. If you have things you know others collect, mention them.

I made $300 one year selling comics one year because I mentioned them in the ad. I tend to sell out of all my comics and graphic novels every year because I mention them. Selling with our friend Sharron was a great experience because she always put out fun stuff from her eBay and flea market business. She sold interesting items, so we had interesting items to advertise.

There's an annual multi-family sale near us that I never miss.  Two of the participants are antique dealers and they always have good stuff from their businesses that they need to clear out, so it's cheap.

But again, be honest. A listing that said “tons of Sailor Moon stuff” caught my eye once and turned a sale into our first stop, only to find a handful of figurines (not even a complete set) and a lunch box.

4. Have plenty of start up change.

People are going to come to your sale right off the bat and need change. You need to have it. It’s just common sense. Stop by the bank and get plenty of quarters and ones and you’ll be good to go. If you’re not ready for your first three people to hand you twenties for five dollars or less in merchandise, then you’re not ready. And I can almost guarantee you that your first customer, fresh from the ATM, will have a twenty.

I stopped at a house in a neighborhood sale once and found a Bybee pitcher and a book I wanted.  Total was $3.50.  I was down to twenties at that point, since my small bill reserve had run out.  The seller looked at the bill and said "I couldn't possibly change that." And this was the middle of the morning! I convinced her to hold the items while I shopped at a neighbor's house to get change.  If I hadn't really wanted the pitcher, I wouldn't have done it and just left the sale.

It's your responsibility to be prepared.

5. You’re not in this to make money.

I’ll repeat: You’re not in this to make money. If you think you are, stop now. You’re more than likely going to be disappointed with your sale and miserable all day long.

The only reason to have a yard sale is to get rid of stuff that you don’t need or use anymore. Your goal is a clean closet or a clutter-free house, not tons and tons of cash.

That said, you can make money having a yard sale, but that should be your secondary goal, not your primary. When making money is your guiding reason, you’re more likely to price things too high, be insulted when people try to bargain, and get hung up on what stuff is “worth” to actually make any! These are the kinds of things that turn yard sale buyers off faster than anything.

We always have decent return on our yard sales, but we do it by acting in the exact opposite way. We love to bargain! We won’t accept every price, but we’ll entertain offers and make reasonable counter-offers. We also give people price breaks on stuff when they buy a lot.

We also concentrate really hard on having interesting stuff that’s priced well, organized well, ready to go on time, nicely set up and staffed by friendly people who are obviously having fun. In other words, we follow the advice outlined here. And we have several regular customers as a result.

6. Allow folks to browse in peace.

I’m not one for small talk, and I’m easily irritated by sellers who wander around and tell me the story of every item I touch. Honestly, if I need to know something, I’ll ask. But it’s early in the morning on a weekend, and I’m standing in your yard looking at your junk, waiting for my coffee to kick in. I need some space. Seriously, it’s not you, it’s me.

Later in the day, I'll be more friendly, but I still like my space.  Acknowledge my presence and then let me do my thing.  I might just spend lots of money with you if you do.

7. I don’t care if it’s never been out of the box, it’s still used!

Your front yard is not a store. You are not “retailing” when you have your yard sale, but “re-selling.” People don’t drag themselves out before the crack of dawn on a Saturday morning to pay the same price for something they would pay at Target. Never used? Never worn? Never out of the box? Your yard sale is not the place to recoup your losses. It’s the place you get rid of stuff you shouldn’t have bought in the first place.

8. People are going to offer you lower prices. Get used to it.

It doesn’t matter if you saw one sell on eBay for three times what you’ve got it marked for. It doesn’t matter if it was an heirloom from your great aunt Tilly. It doesn’t matter if Ghandi used it. Or if it’s hardly been used by anyone. If I think it’s priced too high (meaning more than I want to pay for it), I’m going to make a lower offer. Don’t take it personally.

I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve seen sellers react like someone just insulted their mother, their children, their dog, the flag and the Bible when offered a few dollars less than the price on an item.

And for god’s sake, don’t automatically assume someone is trying to rip you off if they do offer you a lower price. There are a good many reasons why I as a buyer might want to bargain with you. For starters, I know exactly how much money I have budgeted for this little adventure and you don’t. I’m not going to break the bank all at one stop. I know how much I have and how many other stops I’m planning on making. That as much as anything else determines how much I’m willing to pay for stuff.

Everyone has their own limits and standards about what they’ll pay. I’ll rarely pay more than a buck for a CD or a hardcover book, unless it’s something I consider very special. It’s just one of my little quirks.

And sometimes, I’ll try to bargain just for the hell of it. There’s a place for general principle in all of this too. It’s a yard sale. There’s supposed to be some bargaining going on.

But, get this, I’m never rude when I make my offers and I don’t appreciate being snapped at because I had the temerity to try and barter. And there have been plenty of times that my offer has been rejected, but I’ve accepted a reasonable counter offer or gone ahead and paid full price.

And for god’s sake, if you spend all your time bellowing loudly that you’re willing to bargain and are very glad to accept and/or consider offers, don’t snap at me if I decide to take you at your word. A woman did that with me during the Highway 60 sale a couple of years ago, and we were back in the car and on the road before she even got finished with her little tirade about how she “knew” how much that CD I offered her a dollar for was worth.

And, yes, I'm also thinking about what price I might be able to re-sell something for when I make an offer.  So?

9. Don’t do it alone!

I cannot repeat enough that this is a lot of work. For one of our sales, we’d have me, Keith, Sharron, her daughter, her mother, her son, a couple of her friends, and her neighbor involved. Everyone doesn’t show up at once, but it’s good to have fresh blood popping in during the day. It gives everyone a chance to rest a bit. Plus many hands make light work. And it never hurts to have extra eyes watching the merchandise.

10. Involve the whole family.

Let the kids play a part by selling canned drinks or cookies.  If you let them keep the money they make, they'll have good incentive to stay involved.  It's hard to resist a can of Coke from a cute little kid on a burning hot day.  And I've seen some of the kids really get into the selling.

Older kids can get involved by selling their old stuff.  I've seen lots of little wheeler dealers working hard and raking in the cash getting rid of old toys.  It's never too early to start learning good work habits or good money habits.

Unfortunately, it's usually not the best idea for the dog to be one of the family members involved, unless you know absolutely for sure that there's no chance of biting or barking.  Fluffy may be the sweetest, kindest thing on four, but there's always going to be someone who is afraid of her.  Remember, it's also kind of hard for Fluffy to understand why all of these strange people are coming into her yard.

Look for the rest of my tips in the middle of next week!  Thanks for reading!

1 comment:

We are: Clamco said...

Just went to a sale this morning. Nothing marked. Thought of you. When I have sales, I set up everything in my 2 car garage and open the doors when I'm ready. I also have a free pile at the end of the driveway and add to it during the sale. Last time I did that, I unloaded tons of stuff. Like you said, it's not about the money, it's about getting rid of stuff. But some things can be too hard to part with for a dollar. I'd rather keep the item or give it to someone that I know will appreciate it's value.