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Yard Sale II (A Series)


photo courtesy of Deposit Photos


A lifetime of holding yard sales has taught me a lot of lessons and this installment is a humorous journey through those instructive moments.


The Signs


I practically weep when I see the sad excuse for signs that some people post for their yard sales. Flimsy paper; small, unreadable writing; addresses without arrows or directional aids; clues like “next Saturday” as though people in 2023 actually schedule things like shopping in your yard.


That is why signs have virtually replaced classified ads as the Siren Song that leads the Saturday morning adventurer to your garage, when they had originally intended to wind up at the mall or the soccer field. The curiosity and "retailitis" that infects our population will force them to turn in your direction.


Signs need to be very large, very bold, very simple, and employ arrows to direct the people to your house. I’m talking old plywood, refrigerator, or TV boxes, with nothing smaller than 3ft x 5ft in dimension. Lettering in red or blue paint (NOT PERMANENT MARKERS). Your signs need to shout, not whisper. If you are embarrassed about having a yard sale, don’t have a yard sale.


Prop the largest signs up against lamp posts, telephone poles, street signposts, and use drilled holes and cord to tie them in place. Do not let the wind or a competitor flatten them. Yes, in my old neighborhood there would be dueling yard sales on a Saturday and jealous neighbors would occasionally “bump” into a sign to give their hand-scrawled paper signs a better chance. We’re talkin’ war here folks.


Once you hook them with the first signs (covering the four points of the compass on the major thoroughfares near your home), guide them with bold arrows...large and similarly secured in place.


Among my best sign performances was one placed on US Route 29 and two translating “Garage Sale” into Spanish. (Venta de Garaje for those of you playing the at-home version of our game). The largest and most expensive item in the entire sale was sold due to that Spanish translation. The wife of the purchaser told us that they only came to the sale because of the kindness of putting out the word in Spanish.


Good signs take some effort, but they bring in the buyers and you will get compliments. In fact, on three occasions I have sold the signs at the end of the sale. Yes, I have learned that when folks compliment your signs you say, “Well, if you like them, they are for sale. Give me $6.00 and collect them from the street at 1pm when the sale is over.” I then have a little more money and one less thing to do at the end of the sale. Since I have not put addresses on my signs and arrows work in multiple directions, the happy purchaser is ready for her yard sale, and I don’t have to store big sheets of plywood and cardboard. Win, win.


The Price Tags


Even though it takes time, put a physical price tag on everything. Masking tape and a permanent black marker work well and an evening of pricing with the family is a fun exercise that gets multiple opinions in the game. Remember to leave sentimentality behind in this activity and think “move the merch” rather than scoring home runs on individual items. This is not retail; this is wholesale to end all wholesale and you don’t want a yard full when this sale is over.


While some things like books, clothing, and stuffed animals can be priced by category, everything else needs a price tag.


Why?


Because 80% of the people who arrive at your sale will be too timid to offer you anything lower than a marked price. It is a cultural American thing, and we are typically afraid to bargain. Think of the number of people who tell you, “I hate to buy cars.” Why? They know they should bargain, employ the fine art of walking away, and never settle for the first or second figure quoted. But discomfort stops them in their tracks.


In my experience, if a person at a yard sale wants to bargain, typically holding an armful of merch early in the day, they are a dealer who’s going to resell the items in their shop or on-line. They know that bundling works and when you hear a number higher than the average price of individual items, you are likely to bite.


The bargainers who made me nervous were the ones with an armful of Beenie Babies or mom’s old porcelain. Ofttimes, they knew more about the value of the goods than I. But was I going to do the research or the on-line selling to get full value? No. My goal was to clear the storage closets and get enough to justify eight hours of my time (4 hours of prep, and 4 hours of selling).


Snacks


The goal at a yard sale is not only to get the buyer into the yard or the garage (NEVER, EVER in your HOUSE), but to keep them there as long as possible. When my kids had passed the toddler stage, I would go to Dunkin Donuts early on the morning of the sale and buy a box or two of donut holes and a box of coffee and set up a little table and couple of chairs in the driveway. The kids could sell the food and drink to our customers. That would keep them occupied and hold the buyers on the premises a few minutes longer. There was also the “isn’t that cute” factor that moves a lot of substandard lemonade each summer in America.


Stuffed animals for sale were usually displayed on one or more blankets in the front yard and tiny tots were encouraged to play with them while their parents shopped the other merchandise. This again kept the parents engaged a little longer and often resulted in a sale when the toddler threw a fit when mom tried to pry the toy out of their hands. It’s the “candy in the checkout line” trick that grocery stores have been playing on us for years.


Back to the never in your house comment. You will occasionally get the “do you have any furniture for sale?” question. If you have an item or two inside that you’d part with for the right price and the inquirer appears capable of affording your terms, here is what you say. “I have (fill in the blank) and would be happy to show it to you this afternoon at 2pm when the sale is over.” Never leave your yard sale to go inside with anybody. Never unlock your doors when 25 strangers are milling around in your garage or in your driveway. Charity might start at home, but you don’t want to prove that the hard way.


Positive Energy


I had a three-step process to welcome buyers to my yard sales, all delivered in a happy and high-energy voice.


My “good morning” was delivered face to face making eye contact and always accompanied by a big smile. Even those introverts who want to sneak in and sneak out will smile back and that gets the process off to the right start.


Secondly, I would orient them to the floor...books over there, furniture in the garage, appliances on this table, toys on the lawn, and if you have someone setting up a dorm room or moving into a first apartment, there is still some flatware and dishes available. Don’t miss the donuts and coffee, the kids are saving up for college. This was followed by “if you have any questions, please ask.”


Thirdly, get the hell out of their way. People who are so anxious to sell their stuff or are so afraid that something will be stolen, follow buyers around and typically sell nothing. Folks don’t like to be observed or overheard when discussing items with their spouse, so GET LOST. You can watch from a distance, but do not hover.


As I would walk around and welcome new guests, I would keep the energy going with some loud announcements. My two favorites were, “I am feeling weaker by the minute, so make me an offer.” “Everything I own is for sale, so if you like the car, the sidewalk, or any of the plants, make me an offer.” Happy people are more likely to buy.


Some folks are not smart enough to look at the price or read the category signs prominently posted. So, you’ll get the occasional shouted “how much is this?” question shouted across the landscape. My answer was always the same, “How much you got?” This usually got a laugh from the crowd and often the questioner. If they didn’t laugh, I probably didn’t want to sell to them anyway.


Spousal Management


One of the questions that rarely comes up while dating is “so, what do you think about yard sales?” As a result, it is likely that you have exchanged vows and been declared a new family with no earthly idea of your partner’s opinion of dragging your life into the yard, pricing it, and inviting strangers to poke it, shake it, smell it, laugh at it, and maybe, (just maybe), buy it. That will include the fuchsia samsonite luggage, the hideous, jungle carved floor lamp, the ugly Ikea bookcase that leans to the left, and the dishes that you bought while hung over on the drive home from New Hampshire. Even the reminder that one person's junk is another person’s...just shut up.


So, when that magic day arrives and you need more space and more money to fine tune your lifestyle, you will suggest a yard sale. If your spouse indicates that he or she would rather give it away, throw it away, or drag it into the yard and burn it, you have a choice to make. Either do one of those three things or try to convince them that a yard sale would be a better idea. Unless you have the persuasive skills of Clarence Darrow or Ron Popeil, the inventor of the Pocket Fisherman, you will doubtless fail at selling them on retail. It has been my experience that people are hardwired either pro or con on yard sales and there is nothing you can do about it.


You can, however, suggest a nice golf weekend with the guys or a Saturday girls safari to the outlets. I highly recommend that some agreement on the inventory of the sale be mediated prior to the big weekend to avoid marital distress on Sunday night. You don’t want the “YOU SOLD WHAT?” question echoing through the neighborhood.


To illustrate the necessity of spousal absence from the premises during a sale, I will offer just one anecdote, known verbatim by my children and friends.


My sign strategy was to place all of the arrow signs in the neighborhood first, followed by the last giant “Yard Sale” placards on the major thoroughfares. This gave me barely enough time to race home before the yard, driveway, and garage were filled with shoppers. I typically couldn’t even get a parking place near the house so had to park and jog the last block.


The kids were usually my safety net, but as they drifted into the middle school and teen years, their Saturday morning sleeping habits interfered with their ability to man the sale while I raced home.


So, on one bright spring morning, I was forced to ask Hayden to venture into the front yard for 10 minutes before her tennis lesson and babysit the hated yard sale.


All went as I expected. As I was securing the last sign at the corner of Summer Hollow Lane and Route 108, cars started braking and swinging around the corner towards our house. I ran back to my car and raced home to relieve Hayden of her temporary duties. By the time I had traversed the four blocks, the street was already filled with cars and people were walking down the sidewalks towards our home. I parked at the end of the street and hustled down the sidewalk, bypassing walkers on my way.


When I was right in front of our next-door neighbor’s house, a desperate Hayden Constance spotted me and yelled, “Does this VCR work?”


Hayden was standing with a Korean gentleman who I immediately recognized as “TV VCR.” He owned a store on Route 108 and would cruise the neighborhood on Saturday mornings yelling the question “TV VCR?” as he drove past each yard sale.


My exasperated answer shouted back to Hayden was, “Hell no. If it still worked, it would be in the house.”


The answer got a laugh from everyone except Hayden and TV VCR, but since he was in the sales AND repair business, he carried the broken machine away at a reduced price. He was happy, I was happy, Hayden left for tennis.


As these blogs have shown, Hayden Constance has put up with a lot over the years, but we have enjoyed the many things we have purchased with the proceeds of my yard sales. I can’t think of any at the moment, but I’m sure there are some. At least one.

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