By Haynes Knight
[singlepic id=165 w=320 h=240 mode=web20 float=right]Spring is in the air, your windows are open, thunderstorms are rolling across the Mid-South, the jonquils are bursting from their winter hideaways, and you keep on avoiding those boxes at the top of your closet filled with stuff from when you moved in (mumble, mumble) years ago. By the time you read this, the Cooper-Young Community Yard Sale will be a matter of weeks away (Saturday, April 24th, from 8 am–2 pm). Are you getting ready? The way to get started in putting your yard sale together is start with one of those boxes. Just one. The journey of a thousand miles, ya know? Why have you kept all those Mardi Gras beads tucked away in a box for all these years, Blanch?
Although the CYCA will be putting up signs around Cooper-Young, a few signs directing people to your sale in particular are always helpful, especially if you are a bit off the beaten path. Make sure that the lettering is big, bold, and consistent. Something as simple as “SALE!” with an arrow can draw people to your yard. If you put signs up, make sure to take them down after the sale. If you are a Craigslister, post your sale there. I would recommend NOT putting your exact address, however (to avoid someone knocking on your door the day before asking to look through your stuff). Something like “900 block of Meda Street” might be better. Customers will still find you.
Rain or shine—well, if it rains, it rains. Every seller is responsible for deciding if they want to sell or not if we have inclement weather. We are trying to make this an annual “last Saturday in April” event, but as you know in Memphis in late April, rain might fall, so we kind of take our chances.
I could probably fill this LampLighter issue with do’s and don’ts of yard sales, but I’m going to give you just a few highlights.
Let me start out by saying that yard sales are hard work. It is like a mini-move. Like a move, don’t wait until the night before to get ready. I’ve put together some notes from my many yard sales past that might be of some help as you get ready.
Be clear on the purpose of your sale. Are you selling things to make money or to get rid of them? Do you really care about that porcelain cat? Is it really worth $10 to you, or would you take $2 for it? Pricing things on the high-side to negotiate down might be a good rule of thumb at a flea market, but at a yard sale, you might have only one shot at the woman with the crazy hat who has a collection of porcelain cats. Price that cat at $3 and sell it to her for $2. That way, you are both happy. Chances are that next week, you won’t remember you ever owned that silly cat, whereas she’ll be talking to that cat for many years to come.
More stuff draws more traffic, and, trust me, people will buy just about anything. I’ve been amazed at some of the things that have sold at my own yard sales: used mini-blinds, bundles of coat hangers, a rusted-out wheelbarrow and broken lawn chairs (just to name a few). True, I haven’t made much money from these things, but come on, broken lawn chairs!?
Be prepared. Be ready to go the night before so that you don’t have to rush around so much in the morning. You may find “early bird” customers (the “professional pickers”) at your sale as early as sunrise. Most (but not all) early birds will respect a sign in your yard saying “8 am Sharp. No Early Birds.” If you are setting up at 7 am for your 8 am sale and customers are already starting to pick through your items, be firm, but friendly, and tell them you are not open until 8 am, unless you want to start wheeling and dealing before 8 am. There are lots of early birds in Memphis. I should know. I’m one of them.
If you do set your sale up outside the night before, cover your items with tarps or sheets to discourage easy pickings, and don’t put out any of your more valued items. Note: put out the porcelain cat and broken lawn chairs, but wait until morning to put out the Wii console.
Lay out your items so they are easy to look at. Instead of a box filled with books that people have to pick through, have the book titles lined up. Putting things on card tables is always helpful. Think like a customer. The easier it is to see, the easier it is to buy. My mantra: If no one knows I have it for sale, no one will ever buy it. Say it with me: If no one knows I have it for sale, no one will ever buy it.
Price things carefully with the price tag easily readable. I have found that the easiest way to tag things is with masking tape. It doesn’t leave a residue, and you can mark it very easily.
Be friendly. Greet people as they arrive—chat if they’re chatty.
Do not bad-mouth your items. It may be trash to you, but if you are looking for a sale, give your customer confidence that your junk really is interesting junk worth every penny. “Hey, how much for this old trunk?” “Wow, that is an interesting old trunk, isn’t it?”
Be honest. If something doesn’t work and you know it doesn’t work, tell the customer it doesn’t work and price it accordingly. As strange as it sounds, people buy broken things. Let your broken things be their project. I repeat: “Broken lawn chairs, rusted-out wheelbarrow, bundles of coat hangers…”
Be willing to bargain, but be less flexible at the start. Those customers who are at your sale at opening time know what they are doing and probably know the value of your items better than you do. If you are okay with making early deals, great. Refer to point #1. Why are you having a yard sale in the first place? Another little thing to keep in mind: an item really has no cash value if no one wants to buy it for what you want to sell it for. You might have been hoarding Memphis Press Scimitar newspapers from August 17th, 1977, thinking they’re probably worth $100 each in 2010. They’re not. Sorry. In Memphis, you’ll get about $5.00 each (consistently), but if you’re trying to get much more, you may be disappointed.
Do not use a cash box. Keep your money on you at all times. If you find your pockets bulging, go in your house and secure your excess cash.
NEVER let a stranger in your house! You might be sympathetic to the little girl who has to use the bathroom NOW, but remember that this is the oldest trick in the book. Direct people to the McDonalds or other public establishment.
Don’t hold an item without a deposit and a clear understanding of when the customer will be back or you could be stuck with that item until your next sale. This is a lesson I learned the hard way. If an item has sold and the customer can’t pick it up right away, mark it as “sold” and move it out of the traffic area of your sale.
Only accept cash. Do not take a check from a stranger. There are ATM machines throughout our neighborhood. Know where they are, and direct your customers there.
If you are really trying to move stuff, sell in bulk. Instead of a single book/CD/toy/etc, mark a box with a great price on a whole box of books/CDs/toys/etc. Selling bulk boxes is also a way of getting rid of things that you figure no one would ever buy. Let those physics textbooks from the 1980’s be kept in someone else’s garage.
Be careful of distractions, and always try to have more than one person at your sale who can make sure you are not getting ripped off. It is nice to think that everyone is as honest as you are, but that is not always the case.
Last, but not least, wear sunscreen. Do you really want to spend your profits on aloe lotion? I thought not.
After your sale, load up your car with leftover useable stuff and run it over to the Goodwill. You can write it off as a charitable contribution on your taxes. If there are unusable things, they go out on the curb for the “catfish” (as I call them) who will be patrolling the neighborhood until trash day looking for “good trash.” Rarely does anything I ever put on the curb after a yard sale make it to trash day.
By that night, you will hopefully have a pocket full of cash and more space to go collecting stuff that you’ll sell in next year’s sale. Good Luck!