Picture this: You’re cruising down the street one day, and you spot two garage sales on the same block. The first has racks of clothes, bins of books and records, and a few high-value items prominently displayed near the curb. The second features jumbled, messy piles and boxes scattered across the yard.
Which one would you stop at?
Presentation is crucial to a successful yard sale. You can and should advertise your sale, 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 will just keep going.
No matter how much good stuff your sale has, 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 them in, you must show off your sale items so effectively their first glimpse convinces them to take a closer look.
Garage Sale Tips for Presentation
A garage sale has two purposes. It’s a way to declutter your home and bring in some extra cash. And the best way to achieve both goals is to attract as many customers as possible.
When you’re trying to draw in shoppers, pricing isn’t the most crucial factor. Yes, yard sale shoppers love bargains, but if your garage sale items don’t look appealing, no one will even stop to look at the price tags.
So before you even get out the price stickers, you need to spend some time thinking about how to set up your yard sale display to catch the eye.
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 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, take the time to scrub it down with soap and water.
Some garage sale items need more specific cleaning treatment. 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.
There may be some real gems hidden toward the back of your yard or garage, but many prospective buyers will never see them.
If you want to hold a successful garage sale that attracts as many buyers as possible, put your most appealing merchandise front and center. In my experience, the best yard sale items for attracting buyers include:
- Antiques of any kind — furniture, houseware, jewelry
- Board games
- Clothing and accessories in good condition, such as shoes and purses
- Electronics like TVs and stereos
- 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 helpful 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 my experience, 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 things that typically appeal to them most prominently, you’ll attract men as well as women to your sale.
3. Group Like Items 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. But that 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 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. 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 to leave them in their boxes. But 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 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.
The best way to display clothing is on hangers on a portable clothes rack. That keeps garments off the ground and makes them easy to sort through. If you don’t have a clothing 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. That’s also a suitable way to display clothes for babies and small children.
But note your neatly folded and stacked garments 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 like coats with their extra buttons if you still have them.
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. But 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 by lining them up in a box with their spines facing up. Or if you have a smaller selection of books, you can fan them out on a table faceup 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 worth it.
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 DIY fans 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, an ambitious thief could 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 over a couch to show off its pattern and add a couple of matching throw pillows. To sell a set of dishes, lay out one whole place setting on a table, complete with a napkin and flatware, and keep the rest stowed in a 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.
5. Make Space for Everything
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 your wares, borrow from neighbors or friends.
Also, look for ways to create more “table” space from scratch. For instance, you can lay 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.
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 purchases.
6. Promote Your Sale
No matter how good your yard sale looks, it won’t attract customers if no one comes close enough to see it. That’s why even the best yard sale needs adequate signage.
Before putting up signs, check to see if your town has any regulations about them.
For instance, it might regulate how many signs you can put up, how large they can be, what materials you can use, and where you can display them. It may also have rules about how long before the sale you can put signs up and how long you have after the sale to take them down.
While you’re at it, check all the other local regulations.
Some towns require you to get a garage sale permit, and others limit you to a certain number of sales per year. Putting up signs puts you on the local authorities’ radar, so make sure you’re not running afoul of any rules. Otherwise, the fines could eat into if not exceed your profits.
Once you have any necessary permits and are clear about the signage rules, it’s time to set about making them.
Good yard sale signs are large, clear, and easy to read. Include the address as well as an arrow to point passing motorists in the right direction. If your town allows it, hang signs at all the busiest intersections near your house. From there, leave a trail of signs all the way to your house, pointing shoppers the right way at every turn.
Ensure your yard sale signs include the date and times of your sale as well. I always find it frustrating to see a sign that says, “garage sale,” with an address and no date because I never know if the sale is coming up, currently going on, or already over.
Listing the date and taking down signs once the sale is over ensures shoppers don’t show up on the wrong day.
You can advertise your sale online as well. Sites like Garage Sale Finder exist specifically for this purpose. Many local Craigslist groups have a section for garage sale advertising as well. Other places to put the word out include social media sites like Facebook and Nextdoor.
A well-organized garage sale takes more work to set up than a haphazard one.
But 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.