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Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Dollars and Sense (and quick facts) of Garage Sales

I'll make this post quick (relatively, for me, anyway)---because we're exhausted!  I've been up since 5am!

When you're in the Storage business, there are a few ways that you can sell your things.  You can open your own store (which is very rare-- only about 4-5 of our competitors have their own store),  you can work for someone else and buy for their store (over my dead body),  you can sell to consignment stores, antiques dealers (those people are the worst of the worst, in my experience so far),  you can use eBay (a pain in the butt),  Craigslist, Facebook,  or do the old stand-by:  Garage Sales

There are pros and cons to anything, of course, and Garage Sales are no exception.  Let's go over them quickly.


1) Very little overhead  (no store, employees, air conditioning, insurance, you get the point)
2)  Cash only (with the occasional check from a friend who stops by your sale)
3)  Easy -- set up and tear down in just a few hours
4) You can make (if you do it right) what you might do in a day or a few days in a couple of hours
5) You get rid of your merchandise quickly (instead of having to hold onto it forever)
6) You get small amounts ($1, $2) for things you might have otherwise thrown away or "eaten"
7)  You get to meet all sorts of interesting people

1)  No store, no air-conditioning
2)  Pockets full of $1s and change (although I usually refuse change, if I can.. story about that in a sec)
3)  Set up and tear down over and over and over again (in a store, you'd set it out once and walk away)
4)  You have to wake up at 5am and usually don't have much of a life on Friday nights before a sale
5)  You get rid of merchandise so quickly sometimes that you don't even know what you had
6)  You get small amounts $1 or $2 for things you could have eBayed and gotten $5 or $10 for w/ time
7)  You meet all sorts of interesting people

Today's sale was an exceptional success for a couple of reasons:

1) We jumped on the ball with advertising early and got our Craigslist/Newspaper posts up 5 days early
2) We had a very good day weather-wise with no threat of rain, it was actually fairly breezy, too
3)  We had some friends let us have it at their house and it was a higher traffic neighborhood than usual
4)  I made very pretty signs (see pictures below)... not that my signs aren't always pretty...
5)  We had about 3 van loads of stuff out (maybe 7 1/2 or 8 units all together, about 22 families worth)

Now (and you can thank me later for this),  are my tips for having the Best Garage Sale Ever:
1)  Make sure you get a permit depending on the laws where you live
2)  Make sure you follow rules on said permit (no more than 2 sales at an address in a year, etc.)
3)  Make really colorful signs... hang them at every entrance to the route to your sale
4)  Get balloons from Party City / Dollar Tree / wherever to hang.  Today we spent $22 on balloons and it probably brought us an additional $200.  Great investment.  It also helps people find you/where to go.
5) Take all of your crappy 5 and 10 cent stuff and lump it together.  Make ziploc bags with 10 of them and sell it for a dollar.   Make kids "grab bags"  or mystery grab bags for $1.   It's better than taking dimes all day.
6)  Advertise Early Birds welcome-- you'll get 1/4-1/7 of your money before 8am.  The reason people advertise early birds is because it is illegal where we live (and most places) to sell before 8am.  So, if you write that it starts at 8, but that early birds are welcome, it's a legal way of saying you'll be out an hour or so early.   Some people think this means 7, some people think this means 5:45.  But it's worth it, because it will make about a $50-$200 difference if you allow early birds or not.
7) Be prepared.  Bring change, a bag for change, sunscreen, aloe, hats, sunglasses, knives or scissors, tape/stapler (for affixing signs, fixing broken things, and hanging up signs),  and whatever else you might need.  Also plenty of water.  I keep an apron (that I can put the money bag and my phone in) and carry the following:  sunscreen, bug spray, mini hand sanitizer, mini scissors, swiss army knife, small pocket for valuables I find (real gold, etc) or just cool little things I want to keep, a little bit of string, tape,  and a pen and paper.  Without fail there is someone who wants to leave you their phone number in case you find their glasses or come across a lawnmower or ____ you want to sell to them, so it's helpful just to keep a pen and pad on you.  

The cast of characters

There are certain types of people that come to garage sales and they are very easily classified.  Today was VERY strange because we had at least one of each type of these people.   I'll post a quick example of each and then tell you about what we went through today.

Birth Control Betty -  This is the woman who shows up with 5 or 6 kids and doesn't supervise them at all.  She usually tells them to go "bother the nice lady" (me)  while she shops in peace.  She's usually shopping for maternity items because she's typically pregnant with another heathen...  angel.    Today I had a few of these, nothing major.  I usually make them feel bad by giving their kids free toys.  It's a win win because I know the kid gets a toy (poor kid deserves a toy), and I usually say something to the mom like "Here's a free toy for little ___ because clearly you need something to keep them out of trouble"

No English Earl (Eduardo?) - This guy, usually a Spanish speaker, is almost always accompanied by at least 5 people.  Surprisingly, not one of them ever speaks any English.  Don't get me wrong, they are our best customers most of the time-- it just would be nice if I could use my good salesman skills on them rather than saying things like basic numbers / dollar amounts.   We had about 50 of these today, the best part is that they usually (despite the language barrier)  find some way to ask me out!

Debbie Downer - This man or lady (about 50/50) just badmouths everything in order to try to get a good price.  I HATE these people. There are two types of Debbie Downers--- experts and laypeople.  They are equally bad.  Example:  We have a beautiful antique table from the 1930s.  For a few weeks we've been trying to sell it and no one has wanted to pay $15.  A week or two ago this antique dealer mentioned to me that I might try painting or varnishing it because it has surface scratches.  So I did.  The same dude shows up today and says "How much for the table?  $15 is too much.  You shouldn't have painted it. That table is from 1934.  You can tell by it's cut. You ruined it.  Will you take $5?"  That's an example of the expert.    The laypeople example revolves around the same table.  This total bitch walks up to Brian and says "what is the price of the table?"  He says $20, he always starts high.  She asks for the bottom line, he says $15.  She then sneaks around to me (see "Play the Parents Paul")  and expects a different answer.  I say $15, and she tells me "oh.  well what's the LOWEST you'll go"   I say $15.   She says  "Oh.  You wouldn't consider any lower?"   I almost asked her if I stuttered, but was still trying to be polite at this point.   I told her $15 again, and she says, in the most ignorant and rude way possible "well, it's RICKETY. It's just a rickety old table."   She then must see the wrath in my eyes because she follows it up with "I'm not trying to be rude, I'm just saying."   Me:  "of course its' old, it's antique"  (now getting louder)  "and it's rickety because it's sitting on a tree root"     Her:  "no, that's not why.  It's poorly made."  "But I'm not trying to put your little sale down."  At this point, Brian RUNS over because he knows I'm about to bitch-slap her, but he doesn't get there before I say this:  "If it's so rickety, then why do you want it?   Why have you been arguing with me over the price for 5 minutes if it's such a piece of crap?"  --  Brian apologizes to her (I still don't know why, she was a total waste of breath)  and escorts me away.   I sit under a fan and suck on my bottle of water so I don't scream at her any more.  ARGH.   We get these people ALL the time.  I don't understand why people argue with you over something and then try to put it down to get it for cheap.  Duh--  if you didn't want it, you wouldn't be having the conversation with us.  We're not stupid.    By the way, if you're wondering what I would have done had Brian not escorted me away it would have either been me saying Brian's classic line of "I'll set that ___ on fire right now before I sell it to you for $____"   OR  me bringing it into the street and jumping on top of it with my 138 lb body to SHOW her how sturdy it is!    I guess we'll never know which one it would have been.

Play the Parents Paul -  Person who goes back and forth between Brian and I trying to get a better price, just like a little kid who asks Daddy when Mommy says no.  It's ridiculous too because we're ALWAYS paying attention to what the other is doing.   And if someone asks one of us, and then asks the other, the price goes up.  If they go back to the original person, they make it go up again!   If they ask why, we tell them they should have trusted the original price :)

Loudmouth Larry -  This guy wants to fight everybody.  We actually had a guy today chase another guy in a car down the street trying to hit him and his car.  He was screaming something about the way he was treating his wife, or the way he looked at his wife.  What's ironic is that his wife calmed him down by saying "when you come to garage sales hun, you have to deal with the lower class people- it's part of the territory" --  which would have been good advice, except for that, did she really just think someone was lower class than her husband who chased a man down the street screaming expletives in front of a bunch of customers and unsupervised children?   Ha.

Disgusting Dan -  I can't say too much about this guy without feeling dirty myself-- but it's some old guy who hits on me.  It can be innocent enough "I haven't seen a girl as pretty as you in 50 years"  -- or it could be something totally creepy, like my least favorite customer, who once told me "I like your little sundresses because I can stare at your ____"    I won't write the word here, but if you are interested in it, comment and I will be happy to give you more details.  On the bright side, Brian threatened to kill him if he ever said anything like that again, and that was pretty amazing.

The Craigslist Killer - this person is a pretentious douche who has too much time on his hands.  It's almost always a man.  He shows up about an hour after the sale is over, complains that there's nothing good for sale, and then goes home and writes about 25 craigslist ads about us and how much we suck, probably while he sits with his 20 cats or cardboard cutouts or whatever he does with his sad little life when he's not craigslisting.

Sam's Club is not Stupid - Sam -  This person asks how much something is (like golf clubs, for example, or records), and you say, $2 a piece or all of them for $20, there's 40 there.    You remind them that buying in bulk is a good idea.  They say "no, I don't need that many, how dare you ask me such a ridiculous question"  and then proceed to buy 9 for $18.  Happens EVERY time.

Crazy Carl -  This person shows up every week and follows you around asking you ridiculous questions about things that don't make any sense.   He picks up about 20 things and asks you to quote him a price and after you give him a great deal they try to weasel out of 18 of the things leaving you a huge mess and a pile of exasperation to boot.  They waste so much of your time making you think it's a big sale and then you miss out on helping real customers because they are attention starved idiots.  Today, for example, this dude brings me a free pillow and a free pair of shoes (for me to sell) and then expects me to give him a "discount" -- dude, I didn't ask for yo old grungy pillow.   I STILL don't want it.   You didn't do me a favor.   Then, he picks up a $290 Heater Core and asks me what it is,  I explain it, he asks me how it works, I explain it (thank goodness for my years in automotive, right?), and then he asks for a price.  To get him to go away I quote him $20 (which by the way is less than it's value in aluminum scrap metal) - and he calls his buddy to make sure it's "worth it."  Then he interrupts 2 or 3 real sales to ask me "what is it again?"   Dude, you either buy it or you don't.  You don't know what it does anyway, nor do you need to know what it does to sell it or buy it.    To add insult to injury, he picks up 4 things, I quote him $24 for everything, he asks for a discount, I tell him $22.  He then puts the heater core down (only) and tries to give me $2.  I don't think so.  That's not how it works.  Still unsure whether he's a con artist or just a big dummy.

Nickle-and-Dime Nancy -  This person (men and women equally), will insult just like Debbie Downer to try to get a good price, but the entire time he/she is walking around with their nose in the air like they grew up with Paris Hilton, and then when it's time to pay they conveniently only have some random amount of change in their purse.  "I know I have $24 dollars worth of stuff, but lookie here, I only have $8.52 in my purse!  In dimes. Will you take that?"    And then they try to make you feel guilty for not taking the amount of money they have.  They try to give you some sob story about how they went through Katrina or they're down on their luck and have no money.  "Here's a little newsflash:  Katrina happened to all of us within hundreds of miles of here and it happened 6 years ago.  On top of that, if you don't have money, you shouldn't be SHOPPING at a garage sale.  And it's not like you're buying food or kitchen knives or bowls, you're buying a coin purse and a stuffed teddy bear.  Clearly necessities."   ARGH.

Last but not least....  may I present.. our triumph over nickel-and-dime Nancy:

So today, there's this woman who is buying all this baby clothing...  it's not like our baby clothing is expensive, it's like .50 a piece.  And we discount for bulk.  She has 20 pieces, drops it down to 10, drops it down to 6.   Should have been $3.   I charge her $3.  She whines and whines about how one piece is "faded"  -- I tell her she doesn't have to buy it.  She tells me her little granddaughter needs it, I tell her to give me the $3... she says it's faded.  We go back and forth and I felt like saying "the kid is 1, is she really going to notice?"  but I don't... and I'm feeling charitable and it's still pretty early in the day (and I'm surrounded by a bunch of my friends and usually I'm not) so I do the nice thing and let her give me $2.50.  I usually do not let people do 50 cent increments because I don't do change, and let them know that.   I even claim not to have quarters for change, but they usually say "oh, I've got the change right here!"  and then I'm stuck. This particular nightmare pays me in dimes.  Of course.  When she opened her wallet, she had a $5 and a bunch of $1s, but no, she pays me in dimes.  Whatever.   When she drops the final dime in my hand, thanks to Brian's classes on how to tell silver and gold from non-silver and gold, I IMMEDIATELY realize it's some percentage of silver.  I grab it out of the pile and clench it in my hand, and drop the rest of it in my apron.  Not sure if she noticed or not, but I'm hoping she did.  Moral of the story is,  she was so eager to save fifty cents, that she ended up giving me a 1948 silver dime that's probably worth about $4.  Dummy.  I hope she misses her $3.50.

That's it for now... have fun with your garage sale adventures, if you choose to have them!

Here are some pictures from today:

My beautiful garage sale signs.  (Yes, I'm available to paint for your garage sale, for a fee! ;) )

Close-up of garage sale signs:  Brian says these colors are the best colors for garage sale signs.

Preparing for Garage Sale High-Fives!

A set of balloons hanging out outside:  (one of Birth Control Betty's heathen kids eventually tortured them into submission and death)

An overview of the layout of the sale,  this was about 2/3 of the people we had at our busiest point:

The rest of the people/tables that were cut out of the picture above:

I found a bin (out of about 38 bins, pretty good odds) that was still un-processed (not yet gone through), and processed it really quickly on site.  I found this amazing shirt.   If someone would like to tell me what they've learned from this blog about garage sales or share a fun garage sale story with me the best one will receive this shirt!  And if you don't want the shirt, that's okay too ;)

Until next time!


PS - You'll be happy to know that I tried on roller blades we were selling and tried them out in the street.  I wasn't going anywhere and was having trouble, and then all of a sudden I hear Brian laughing at me.  The wheels were DISINTEGRATING as I was rolling along.  One of them came completely off and broke in like 4 pieces.  If you're sorry you missed it, you should definitely come to our garage sales more often!


  1. Rebecca enjoyed your stories and think I have had everyone of them at my sales plus one more. We had a hand full of walking canes, elderly man comes in goes over to them,checks them out, picks one, walks around for about 30 min then leaves with one without paying. Asked hubby later if he sold it to the man, (not) nor me. Guess he really needed that cane. Not a big lose but funny.

  2. Thanks for the comment! We loved reading it (read it while waiting for the auction to start, in fact)... maybe he was senile and walked around with it for so long that he genuinely thought it was his! Too funny.

  3. Rebeca and Brain: thank you so much for this information, it was great plus i laugh my ass off about the characters. I start auction hunting the end of this month feb 2012. Here in south west florida, I'll see how it goes but i will definetly share with you guys any experiences. I will put in use everything that i've learn from you 2. Blessings.

  4. hate garage sales



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