1. Find a good location. Hopefully, you can find someone in your group (or a friend of a friend) who is willing to donate their home as the site of the sale. You don’t really need a garage — the front lawn and driveway are usually enough. The key is finding a house on a high-traffic street. We’ve used Danny and Katherine’s house in Glendale, which is a corner house on two VERY high-traffic streets.
2. Garage sale basics. The more merchandise, the better. The more “prime” merchandise the better. What’s prime? Antiques, usable furniture, tools, car parts, kids toys, usable furniture, new books and DVDs. Interestingly, framed artwork does not sell very well. Give your members plenty of advance warning, and have them search their houses for items that will get a lot of interest. Let them know this is NOT a consignment sale — all of the proceeds go to the group, and any unsold items will be donated to charity at the end of the garage sale (see #9 below). Have a cash box on hand, about at least $50 in change: singles and fives. Maybe a couple of bucks in quarters, but don’t go crazy on having change ready. Most sales come in multiples of $.25 or $1. Have plenty of tables and display racks. The more the better. (see item #8 below). Have a table set up just for the cash, and have it at the very back of the sale. DO NOT SELL MERCHANDISE BEHIND THE CASH BOX. PROTECT THE CASH BOX AT ALL TIMES. It’s not like the world is full of thieves, but the world is full of folks who’ll grab a loose stack of cash if they spot an opportunity.
3. Get a crew of volunteers to work the event, which means getting to the site by 6:30 or 7am at the latest. The serious garage sale buyers are out at dawn, literally, looking for bargains that can be resold. These people will make or break your sale. If they come by at 7am and you have nothing to sell, you’ve lost a big opportunity. We generally make half our money by 9am, and 80 percent of our money by noon. (Make sure you have a reliable cashier who knows how to bargain with customers. It’s also a good idea to have bags on hand for purchased items.)
4. Try to make it a fun event. We usually have doughnuts and coffee for our volunteers, and Danny grills hot dogs around noon. We sell the hot dogs to the public, but we give them to the chapter members who are on hand. It’s a cheap morale booster (and a bonding experience). We’ve also tried having homemade goodies for sale. It’s not a big moneymaker, but it gets all of us involved.
5. Market appropriately. Like all garage sales, you want to put signs up in the neighborhood a few days in advance. And you can place garage sale listings on sites like Craigslist, Recycler.com and the Penny Saver. Make sure to list it as a non-profit fundraiser. Have a large banner or sign at the garage sale itself promoting this as a non-profit fundraiser, and offer receipts staying that HLAA is a 501c3 non-profit organization.
6. Pick a date in the spring or fall (not too hot, not too cold), and if you want to make it an annual event, keep it around the same time period. It’s surprising how many people have shown up at our garage sale year after year.
7. Put your most people-friendly out front. Not everyone is a born salesperson, or a born schmoozer. Our group has a couple of each, and they tend to take a large role, encouraging people to stop, shop and spend. Have one or two people handle the cash and negotiate with shoppers. The others can keep the displays neat and fully stocked.
8. Neatness counts. Don’t throw a pile of clothes on the ground and expect people to buy lots of them. Organize the sale by type of merchandise as much as possible. Electronics on one table. Books on another. Kids toys in one section, artwork in another. It’s almost impossible to do this 100 percent, but it helps people find the merchandise they’re most interested in.
9. Plan for the end of the sale before the sale begins. We advertise a sale from 8am to 3pm, and one of the smartest things Danny and Katherine ever did was arrange to have a charity come by at exactly 3pm to pick up EVERYTHING that wasn’t sold—even the crappiest items. Some charities will want to pick through and select what they will or won’t take, which could leave the homeowners with a huge cleanup problem. Find a group willing to take everything, and have a crew of volunteers to help pack up the leftovers in boxes and load the truck. Do NOT expect the same group that set-up at 6am to have the strength to clean-up at 3pm.
10. The big one: Plan to have fun but work really really hard. If it’s not fun, it’s not worth it, no matter how much or how little you make. Working with your fellow chapter members is a great bonding experience, and a great team-building exercise. You will be closer when the day is over than when it begins.
This post was written by Alicia Fernandez and her husband Michael Caplan, who are members of the HLA-Los Angeles Chapter.