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4 Garage Sale Setup Tips to Best Display Your Items & Make More Money

Picture this: You’re cruising down the street one day, and you spot two garage sales right in the same block. At the first sale, you see clothes hanging on a portable rack, books and records neatly lined up in bins, toys and home decor grouped on separate tables, and a few high-value items — a bicycle, a guitar on a stand, some well-cared-for furniture — prominently displayed near the curb. At the second, there’s a jumbled pile of clothing on the ground, a few filthy-looking chairs, and a bunch of boxes scattered randomly across the yard, so you can’t really see what’s in them from the street.

Which sale would you be more likely to stop at?

This story illustrates how crucial presentation is to a successful garage sale. You can and should advertise your sale ahead of time, but you also want to encourage passers-by to stop and look at your wares. If your sale doesn’t make a good first impression, most of them will just keep going.

No matter how much good stuff you have at your sale, it won’t bring in shoppers who can’t see it easily. People passing on foot only have your sale in their sights for a couple of minutes at most, and drivers on the street see it for as little as a couple of seconds. To draw these people in, you must show off your pieces so effectively their first glimpse is enough to convince them your sale is worth a closer look.


Tips for Presenting Your Items

1. Clean Your Items

Suppose you’re shopping yard sales looking for outdoor furniture. You come across a set that looks sturdy, but the chair arms and backs are coated in grime and their cushions are mildewy. Would you buy them or keep looking for a set in better condition?

That example illustrates how important cleaning is. Something that’s otherwise in perfectly good shape becomes a complete turn-off for buyers if it’s covered in dirt. Even if you haven’t used something in years, it can come out of storage sporting a thick coat of dust that makes buyers pass it over.

So before you even think about how to display pieces, give each of them a quick touch-up with a dusting cloth. If anything is especially dirty, like the patio set described above, take the time to scrub it down with soap and water. Run clothes through the washer and dryer to remove dirt and odors, and give shoes a quick polish to remove scuff marks. If you have purses or other bags to sell, clean out dirt and debris from their interiors (and while you’re at it, make sure there’s nothing of value left inside).


2. Show Off the Good Stuff

Shoppers get their first glimpse of your garage sale from either the street or the sidewalk. If all they can see in that first look is a bunch of cheap junk, many will keep moving instead of stopping to browse. Even if there are some real gems hidden toward the back of your yard or garage, many prospective buyers will never even see them.

If you want your sale to attract as many buyers as possible, it makes sense to put your most appealing merchandise front and center. In my experience, the things most likely to draw buyers to a yard sale include:

  • Antiques of any kind — furniture, houseware, jewelry
  • Appliances
  • Board games
  • Clothing and accessories in good condition, such as shoes and purses
  • Electronics like TVs and stereos
  • Furniture
  • Musical instruments
  • Sporting equipment, including bicycles and camping gear
  • Tools, including garden tools like lawn mowers

In general, large items have more curb appeal than small ones. For one thing, they’re easier to see from the street. Also, little things like cheap toys and kitchen utensils aren’t that expensive to buy new, so they don’t offer the potential for a major bargain.

Another useful strategy is to display merchandise likely to appeal to men, such as golf clubs or power tools, as close to the road as possible. In general, women are more likely to stop at a garage sale than men, so you don’t need to go to as much effort to reel them in. By displaying the “guy stuff” most prominently, you’ll attract men as well as women to your sale.


3. Group Similar Things Together

Once you’ve drawn customers to your sale, you want to keep them there as long as possible. It might seem like the way to do that is to place everything randomly so shoppers looking for specific finds have to hunt through every table at the sale to discover them. However, this strategy is likely to backfire.

As a shopper, I always find it frustrating when a yard sale has no clear layout. If I’m looking for something in particular, such as clothing or books, I want to see all the clothing or books available in one place. If they’re scattered at random across all the tables at the sale, I’m likely to get frustrated and walk away.

To make shopping easy for your buyers, group similar items together. Make one table for clothing, one for books, one for housewares, and one for toys, for example. That way, people can go directly to the table that interests them and start browsing. If you have a lot of one type of product, sort it into narrower categories, such as children’s books and adult books.

To make it easier for yourself, sort your merchandise into boxes by category before your sale. Then, on the day of the sale, you can simply bring each box to its own table and start laying everything out.


4. Keep Everything Visible

The easiest way for you to sort goods into categories is simply to leave them in their boxes. However, that isn’t easy for your buyers. No one wants to bend over a box pulling out one baby onesie after another until they find the particular size and color they’re after.

Haphazard piles of stuff aren’t appealing either. I’ve walked away from more than one rummage sale because all the clothes were in massive, unsorted piles on the tables. Digging through them all to find the few outfits in my size would have taken hours with no guarantee I’d find anything I liked.

To make your sale appealing, lay your wares out in ways that make them easy to see at a glance. There are multiple ways to display different types of merchandise, depending on how much of it you have and what condition it’s in.

Clothing

The best way to display clothing is on hangers on a portable garment rack. That keeps clothes off the ground and makes them easy to sort through. If you don’t have a rack, look for a makeshift alternative, such as an old ladder or a sturdy clothesline strung between two trees.

If there’s no way to hang clothes, the next best option is to arrange them in neatly folded piles on a table, rather than on the ground where customers must bend over to examine them. That’s also a suitable way to display clothes for babies and small children. Just keep in mind that your neatly folded and stacked items will invariably get unfolded and strewn about as the day goes on, so you have to tidy up your piles from time to time.

Whichever method you choose, try sorting clothes by size, type, and gender. That makes it still easier for buyers to find what they want. A nice added perk is to display garments such as coats with their extra buttons if you still have them.

Accessories

There’s nothing more frustrating than finding one shoe in your size and then having to hunt around for the other before you can try them on. You can significantly increase your shoe sales by taking the time to line pairs up together, either on a table or on a sheet or blanket on the ground.

You can display purses and bags on tables, on the ground, or neatly lined up in boxes. Or if you have a large tree handy, you can make an eye-catching display by hanging handbags from its limbs.

Jewelry is a high-value commodity, so it’s worth making an extra effort to display it well. Wrap a piece of cardboard in fabric, then stick in pins or small nails to hang necklaces, earrings, and bracelets. You can pin brooches directly to the fabric. If you have coordinating pieces, such as necklace and earring sets, display them together.

Books & Recordings

Books are easiest to see if they’re arranged side by side with their spines facing out so people can view the titles at a glance. The easiest way to accomplish that is to line them up on a bookcase or shelf. However, don’t use a bookcase you’re also planning to sell because if someone buys it, you’ll have to remove all the books in a hurry and find a new location for them.

You can also display books in a box, lined up with their spines facing up. Or if you have a smaller selection of books, you can fan them out on a table face up so shoppers can see their covers. Whatever you do, don’t stack books in boxes or pile them on tables so shoppers have to lift each one out of the way to see what’s below it. For all but the most dedicated book buyers, that’s simply too much work to be worthwhile.

These same display ideas work well for audio or video recordings, including CDs, DVDs, video game cartridges, records, and cassettes. (Yes, there are still people who have held onto their old boomboxes and are willing to buy tapes if they’re cheap enough.) Make the titles visible, and don’t force your buyers to dig.

Furniture & Home Goods

When displaying furniture at a yard sale, consider what type of buyer it would appeal to. Place sturdy pieces suitable for families near the street, where they’ll draw buyers in. Older, worn-out pieces might appeal to students furnishing a dorm room or DIYers looking for pieces to make over. Display these pieces farther back but with prominent labels indicating their low prices.

Antique furniture creates a bit of a dilemma. On one hand, it’s an appealing item that can attract shoppers. However, if you place a lightweight piece too close to the street, you run the risk an ambitious thief will snatch it when you turn your back. Large and heavy furnishings can go in the front, but it’s best to place smaller ones close to the checkout where you can keep an eye on them.

For smaller home decor, consider maximizing its visual appeal by creating little vignettes. For instance, you can toss a bedspread or throw blanket over a couch to show off its pattern and accessorize it with a couple of matching throw pillows. If you have a set of dishes to sell, consider laying out one full place setting on a table, complete with a napkin and flatware, and keeping the rest stowed in their box.

Finally, if you’re selling old electronics, make sure you have all their parts — remotes, cords, and the manual if you have it — bundled along with the primary equipment. You can wrap them up and stash them in a clear plastic bag taped to the side. Customers will appreciate being able to see at a glance that the equipment has all the necessary parts. And if they want to test the device to make sure it works, all the pieces they need are available. Consider running an extension cord to the house for testing purposes or at least having one handy for shoppers to use.


Final Word

Ideally, most of the goods at your yard sale should be on tables, so shoppers don’t have to bend down to look at them. If you don’t have enough tables to display all your wares, consider borrowing from neighbors or friends. Also, look for ways to create more “table” space from scratch, such as laying plywood over a pair of sawhorses, milk crates, or even cardboard boxes. You can also use any naturally elevated surfaces in your yard, such as porch steps or retaining walls.

If you’ve tried all these tricks and still don’t have enough table space for everything, prioritize. Reserve your table space for high-value merchandise you really want buyers to see and delicate pieces that could break if left on the ground. Everything else can go on blankets or tarps.

Finally, remember to make room in your sale area for a few things you don’t intend to sell. Set out comfortable chairs for yourself and any helpers so you don’t have to spend the whole day on your feet. Set them near a small table or another surface you can use for making change and bagging up purchases.

A well-organized garage sale takes more work to set up than a haphazard one. However, putting in this extra effort maximizes the chances your sale will succeed once it gets going. Shoppers are more likely to stop for an attractive sale, and those who stop are more likely to stick around long enough to find something they want to buy. By taking the time to display your goods well and price them right, you can turn more of your clutter into cash.

Do you have any tips for effective garage sale displays?

Amy Livingston
Amy Livingston is a freelance writer who can actually answer yes to the question, "And from that you make a living?" She has written about personal finance and shopping strategies for a variety of publications, including ConsumerSearch.com, ShopSmart.com, and the Dollar Stretcher newsletter. She also maintains a personal blog, Ecofrugal Living, on ways to save money and live green at the same time.

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