I have been garage saling for a lot of years. During my childhood, neighbors held an annual street-wide sale that I just loved. I discovered our church’s St. Vincent de Paul sale in high school, and in college was introduced to the Salvation Army by my good friend, Bev. In grad school, another friend Zenna introduced me to the garage sale scene in the Albany area, and I’ve not stopped!
So today I’m pretending that garage sale season is just around the corner (hah! about three months away), and I’m offering my Garage Saling Guide, which I hope will help you to get the most out of your garage sale experiences. (Spell check does not like saling, but I think sale-ing looks stupid, not that spell check likes that either. Anyway, I’m going with saling. Hope there are no objections?) Okay, onto the guide.
1. Be Prepared
Make a list. Take some of time the night before you plan to garage sale to check both your local newspaper and Craigslist for the sales you’d like to attend in the morning. I list the address and times on a piece of paper by general location. My town (Colonie) has lots of hamlets, so my list goes something like this: Latham, Loudonville, Colonie, and maybe Menands. After making my list, I look up the addresses I don’t know and jot down a few instructions on how to get there. This saves loads of time. Of course you can just use your GPS, but punching those little numbers and letters onto that little screen is not my favorite way to spend time! I want to get to the sales.
Select your first stop. Peruse your list and pick out which one you want to go to first. You might just pick the best looking one and start in that area, or you might think that a grouping of sales in one area is bigger or better than another. And I almost never start in the “middle.” For me that’s Loudonville; it’s in the middle of Latham and Colonie. I don’t want to go in circles, I’d like to take somewhat of a path, if I can. So sometimes my choices are driven by geography, sometimes by gut. However you decide, decide, so you don’t waste precious minutes in the morning reviewing your list.
Bring cash. There’s nothing worse that walking up to the seller at your first sale with a 50¢ item and a $20 bill to pay for it. Bring ones, fives, and tens, along with a pocket full of quarters. You’ll be glad you did. (I keep all my cash in my front pocket for easy, quick access. Sense a theme here?) Other items to stash in your car: a banana box, some grocery bags, and a tape measure–all pretty self-explanatory. A box and bags will keep you organized, the tape measure will be handy and save you time waiting for the seller to find his/hers. Tuck a bag in your back pocket, then you won’t have to wait for the seller to poke around and find you a bag.
2. Be Early
Whatever time my first sale starts (usually 8 am on a good day), I will plan to arrive 15 minutes early. I don’t want to be rude and pushy, just a few minutes early. If the seller is still at work, but there are items to be looked at, I’ll just politely ask if s/he minds if I look around while they’re still working. When I ask nicely and smile, I invariably get a “Yes.” Being the first one at the sale means if there are any bargains to be had, I’m going to be the one to get them! If there’s then an 8:30 or 9 am sale, I’ll do the same thing, try to be 10 or 15 minutes early, and so on.
3. Be Intentional
It’s important to stay focused while you’re out garage saling, particularly if it’s a part of your business. You could spend all day at one sale, picking up each item, thinking about it, putting it down, picking it up, chatting with the seller, etc. Or you can focus, make your choices and get on to ten or fifteen other sales.
My strategy is to take a few minutes to browse the entire sale and quickly pick up items as I go without thinking about them too much. Once I’ve cased the joint, I go back through again, looking for things I may have missed and taking more time with other items I may’ve passed over.
Then I’ll look at what I’m holding (or what I’ve piled up near the seller) and put back anything I don’t really want or need. If the seller had a lot of what I like, I might take a moment to ask if they have more. Sometimes this has paid off, either immediately or later. If they say yes, but can’t get the items right away, I’ll ask for their number, or give them mine.
The bottom line is to keep moving–you want to get to the next sale as soon as possible. Sometimes I get caught up at a sale only to realize I’m looking at stuff that’s not for the business. and that I don’t really need in my home. Use your drive to find the next big treasure to get you out of there and onto the next sale!
4. Be Brave
Don’t be afraid to dicker. You may find it difficult to offer less for an item or to ask, “What’s your best price?” But most sellers expect a little dickering, so what’s there to lose? I think you’ll find that the more you do it, the easier it gets, especially if you’re polite about it (see #5 below). If I have an item priced at $5 in my hand, that I only want to pay $3 for, I might approach the seller with a bit of a shy smile, three $1 bills in my hand, and ask, “Do you think you could take $3 for this whatsit? I’d say 8 times out of 10 they’ll say yes. The other two times they’ll say “How about $4?” And I’ll usually say yes to that.
Don’t worry about making “mistakes.” Don’t agonize over items priced at $2 or less. Just buy it. Once you’re home, if you’re displeased, consider selling it for what you paid, giving it away, or donating it to a thrift store. Don’t hang onto “mistakes” any longer than necessary. My girlfriend, Robin, who got me into the antiques business years ago, told me you can’t lose in this business, because you always learn from your so-called mistakes and because invariably, you can at least make your money back, if not make a tiny profit.
5. Be Polite
Avoid the stereotypical dealer personality. The way most people say the word “dealer” or “antique dealer” makes the term(s) sound like a swear word. And really it’s no wonder. I’ve been at sales where dealers approach harried sellers with pushy or rude questions, or where a dealer’s offer has been rejected and they feel the need to explain why the seller doesn’t know anything about “xyz collectible.” I wonder if some dealers grow so object focused that they’ve forgotten how to be kind?
Anyhow, stepping down from my soapbox…it’s important to be polite! Even friendly, why not be polite and friendly. Even compassionate, why not? I know this conflicts with my “keep things moving” mantra, but a couple of minutes here and there is allowed. I’ve been to several sales run by sweet elderly women who viewed the sale as a perfect opportunity for a little companionship. I’m embarrassed to say that on many occasions I’ve rushed through the sale and bulldozed right through the payment, only to realize later that I missed the opportunity to be kind. Ouch. Okay, I’m done preaching to myself.
There you have it, my famous guide to garage saling, well it’s not famous yet, but a girl can hope. Anyway, I hope I’ve given an idea or two on how to approach the fine art of the garage sale.
Last tip: HAVE FUN!
I’d love to hear it!
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