Saturday, November 07, 2009

Garage sale

Today we garage sale'd with some friends. Super early start to the day -- 5:30 am -- but by 11:30 am, we'd cleared about $247 and change. We then took the leftover books and CDs over to Half Price Books and got another $20. Not bad for a few hours of work for stuff we were planning to give away anyway.

Thoughts --

The minute the signs go out, it's like the people transporter beam themselves to the driveway. It's amazing. The re-sell guys were first at our sale and walked around picking out things immediately, did not haggle our prices and probably gave us the biggest bang for the buck right away. The later buyers were more haggler-prone and wanted to bargain everything down. The craziest one was the lady who insisted that she couldn't pay more than $3 for a nice end table with a lamp and then had us load it into her brand new Lincoln Navigator.

People at garage sales will seriously buy anything. It's almost ridiculously comical. As a whim, I marked an empty diffuser bottle with used reeds in it at 10 cents, not expecting anyone to buy it. It sold. A big surprise were the clothes. We put clothes out -- all brand names like Ann Taylor, Anne Klein, GAP, the Limited, etc -- and didn't actually expect anyone to buy them. My friend and I probably sold about $10 to $12 worth of clothing. My friend said that she had tried to sell clothes at previous garage sales and had not succeeded. I suppose our combination of good quality merchandise and the economic conditions came together and we sold several dresses, skirts, coats and jackets between the two of us.

We found that the furniture really attracted people and we had a lot of it. So we put some at the end of the driveway and some of the beginning and people were pulled in. Our traffic reduced quite a bit by the time we sold almost all of our furniture. By late morning, given the sparcity of items, people would just drive by. Still, we got a second wind when we least expected it -- around 10:30 or so. By then, we told people to make us and offer and take the stuff. We cleared another $15 or $20 before taking down our signs.

You have to watch out for the scammers. We almost fell victim to one today, but managed to pull it together before we really lost our shirts (literally). This guy and his wife (?) came by, made idle chitchat and then expressed interest in certain items, especially an IKEA bookshelf marked at $50. Then, without buying anything, they spun us a story about how they were starting a non-profit. We then said if they came back around lunch time, they could haul off whatever was left for free. They said they'd be back then and then offered to pay us $25 for the bookshelf when they returned (they didn't give me the money).

In the meantime, I sold the bookshelf for $35 and was holding it for the lady who bought it (and gave me the money for it). The couple returned and when they found out that the bookshelf had been sold, they left without taking any of the other stuff for their alleged non-profit. The guy told us that despite his offer of $25, he was only willing to pay $10 for the bookshelf. In retrospect, we think that he was trying to get the bookshelf for free and he wasn't really shopping around for his non-profit.

The other lesson we took away is that we started cutting prices way too early. If someone offered us a ridiculously low price for something early in the morning -- say 7:30 am -- we took it. In retrospect, the bulk of our traffic came during 8:30 to 9:30 and we might have gotten better prices on earlier sales if we had waited. There were several moments when there were two or three people interested in a piece and invariably, the second or third person said they would have given us more for the piece than the buyer did. Who knows if they are telling the truth? After all a bird in hand is better than one in the bush.

In another case, I had a piece of furniture that garnered absolutely no interest but I wasn't aggressive in pointing out this television stand -- which was in good condition -- or in cutting the price. We were invariably successful when we chatted up a product and/or talked about the context it was used in or the value of the product in our lives. I didn't do that with the television stand or a glass end-table and the result was that these were the only two pieces of furniture left when we closed down the sale. In the end, we donated both pieces to a local charity, but I should have been more aggressive about it.

I also got frazzled because I was unpacking stuff and still pricing when people started showing up and that was just weird because in some cases, people were buying things I hadn't yet put a price on and it was just crazy that way. I wonder if people show up so early not only to get the best price but to also get those of us running the sale at a time when we're so frazzled that we just automatically quote them a price without thinking too hard about it.

Also, when you're doing a garage sale with three other people, you need to keep track of whose stuff is being sold, make sure you get the right price for it, and then get the money to the right person. It can get super confusing, but I'm glad we did it all together. It was a lot of fun and the camraderie was great. Also, pooling four people's things together created more buzz and traffic through our sale well past 11 am. Which is always a good thing. We sold more than $500 total, about $125/person. Not a bad day's work.

All in all, we think it was a success. We're thinking about doing it again in April when the weather is nice and hopefully have some more stuff to sell, especially things like roller blades or old bicycles which might do better in the spring months when demand is high. I had donated 7 bags of things to the Salvation Army about 1 month ago and I wish I'd saved it to sell instead. I figure, if you're going to donate the stuff anyway, try and sell it first either on eBay, Craigslist or at a garage sale. It's worth a shot, hard work as it is. And who couldn't use a little cash these days?

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