Tips for Having a Yard Sale for ESRA

You need at least 6 things to have a successful yard sale!

1.) Lots of clean, saleable merchandise
2.) Lots of traffic
3.) Well thought out presentation and organization of the merchandise.
4.) Lots of good help
5.) A good yard sale manager or management team
6.) Good luck

This is how to deal with each of these:

1.) Lots of clean, saleable merchandise!

(a)  Each local ESRA member should know that you are going to have a yard sale next month, next year, etc, and be asked to save merchandise for the sale.  It should be brought up at every meeting, and mentioned quarterly in newsletters and/or emails.

(b) Go to local rummage sales of churches and charities, explain who you are, and ask for their left over merchandise.  You'll be surprised at how willing people are to help in any way they can.  Many of the higher priced sales come from items that aren't presented well for sale at those places. Start doing this three weeks before your event.   But be selective.  Don't ask for their merchandise if they don't have merchandise that should be easy to sell.

(c) Go to yard sales and ask the same question.  Same story.  People are glad to help, and glad to not have to take things to the dump or to wait for charity to pick it all up.  Also the same story (only more so), that some of the best items are just not well-enough presented to sell well.  Yard sales are much more likely to have undesirable merchandise than rummage sales.  Be discriminating in knowing who to ask.

(d)  Determine who will be on the Yard Sale Committee and have a planning meeting at least 4 weeks in advance.  Assign people to look up church rummage sales in the newspaper and to attempt to acquire merchandise each Saturday.  Keep a rough running inventory of what you have.  The chairman should try to maintain balanced inventory.  Everything needs to be clean.  Glass and china should be shiny, clothes should be clean and folded or hung.  Everything clean - devise an ongoing system to keep them clean, or sufficient time at least two days before the sale. Note that it is important to have some large items such as furniture or file cabinets for people to see as they drive by.  Anyone checking it out as they drive by should want to stop.

2.) Lots of traffic!

(a)There are several ways to get traffic, but none is more important than excellent signage.  The basic rule of signs is that all signs should be almost exactly the same size, format, and color.  The color should be bright, the letters should be dark, heavy, and large.  Our example says "Yard Sale" and is 350 point type in a moderately heavy font.  You can fit "Yard" on one 8½ x 11 page (landscape), and "Sale" on another.  Try to match the color of the paper, to the color you paint the sign.  The arrow should be prominent, and easy to tell what direction it is pointing from at least 200 feet away.  Make sure of this.   Set one down the street, and walk away at least a hundred paces and look at it.  Spray paint an arrowhead from a template cut out of 8½ x 11 card stock, and make the shaft from black duct tape.  To be sure you fully "blanket" your area, make at least 30 signs.  Paint 30 "campaign signs" (that the candidates or proposition supporters didn't pick up after an election), a bright color like pink. 

Gather those signs and wire frames for future use after any election!   They come with wires or sharpened boards to stick them into the ground.  Use a bucket of paint and a roller.  Cans of spray paint don't work well, and are very expensive.  Use two coats on each side.  These signs can be turned to point in either direction, and are particularly effective if they're already double-sided (just be sure the arrows don't conflict from side to side).  

The progression of the sign-making.

Finished signs.  Turn them around and they point the other way.  If I'd had more time, I'd have stapled in 100 point type "18 family" on some of them, and "Springer Spaniel Rescue" on some others.  These labels were spray glued, then stapled.

The signs need to be well placed.  Once a sign is placed anywhere, every subsequent turn needs to be well marked, and clearly visible from at least 200 feet away.  If someone is expected to drive over a mile, there needs to be a confirmation sign that they are going in the right direction at least every half mile.  In most cities, the general rule is that there is a major artery every mile, and a smaller "through" street every half mile.  At a minimum, all traffic on each of the 4 arteries (N, S, E, W) needs to have signs, and the half mile streets should have signs as well.  Go a mile and a half in two directions, and a mile in the other two (covering 3 N-S arteries, and 3 E-W arteries).  Many corners should have two signs to make sure that traffic flowing in either direction has no trouble seeing the sign.  It takes well over an hour to place the signs, and nearly an hour to remove them.  Whoever puts them up is probably the best person(s) to take them down.  Remove the signs each day when the sale is over, and replace them the next morning. Leave them up overnight only if local ordinances allow, but be prepared to "lose" such nice ones overnight! You'll also get more traffic than you can handle before you are ready the next morning.  You're swarmed as soon as they go up. The signs pull off the wires on Friday night, and are just pushed back on the next morning. 

(b) Place an ad in the major paper and on the local community internet site for events, and if planned well enough in advance, the free monthly paper that comes to your driveway.  Do not put an address in the paper, because the "dealers" converge hours before you are ready.  Mention a major intersection, and direct them with the signs from there.  If you get help from several rummage sales, say something like

"18-Family Yard Sale benefits Springer Spaniel Rescue",
"Fri & Sat 7am-Noon"    (General location, like) "Sixth Avenue, North of Main Street"
Once again - no address.

(c) Also put a similar ad on Craig's List if it covers your area.

3.) Well thought out presentation of the merchandise!

All merchandise should be clean.  Clean shiny glass makes a much better impression than dirty glass, for example.  Men's clothes should be separated from women's clothes, and separated from children's clothes.  Keep like items together.  Garden, toys, seasonal, furniture, office supply/school, kitchen, furniture,  "guy stuff" (tools, auto, outdoor, etc). Have a LOT of banquet or equivalent tables (a 4' x 8' piece of plywood on saw horses, and covered with a tablecloth or sheet, for example, is good), and a similar amount of smaller tables (like card tables).  Plan ahead for this.

Try to have the yard sale where there is a large presentation area.  It won't work on a small driveway, or where there isn't adequate street parking for at least 20 or 30 cars.

Pricing:  Entire tables of similar items can be priced the same.  For example, all children's clothes at 25¢ or 50¢ or with a quantity discount (50¢ or 3 for a dollar)  Have the price well marked on the table, and have a price list next to the cashier.  Larger items should be priced initially by the donator.

Ten-foot clothes rack in progress (before bracing)

Early stages of getting organized

Deliver all merchandise to the yard sale site a minimum for four days before the yard sale for organizing, staging, and set up. Be sure there is enough help for set up, enough tables, enough table covers if the tables aren't in good condition, and fabric or plastic to cover merchandise to protect from overnight dew. Watch 4-5 days forecast for rain before this section is positioned. 

Have a Supply Box full of supplies. This should include wide marking pens, pens, pencils, scotch tape, packaging tape,  several scissors, pre priced stickers, blank stickers or signs for larger items, paper towels, small baggies, kleenex, rubber bands, string, rope, paper for adding up multiple sales, calculator, magnifying glass (to read jewelry markings), hospital-type latex gloves for workers,  Don't forget hundreds of used grocery bags for merchandise and lots of clothes hangers.

Make general merchandise/price signs for tables for larger catagories, e.g., shoes, jackets, baby clothes, sweaters, books, games etc. Set up your Cash Drawer with start up funds the day before. $100 in tens, fives, ones, and quarters works well.  Have your complete coffee service ready. Don't forget electricity. Customers will want to test anything electric to be sure it works.

If you have someone very experienced in retail merchandising and yard sales, let them do most of the planning here.  Coffee, water, soda, pastries, cookies - priced to sell - bring in a lot of money.  Use good quality on all of this.  Make that a priority!  Have a separate cashier for food, if you can, because it is just too much for one person to try to do this and do the merchandise, too. Set up the food area a safe distance from your yard sale cashier to avoid congestion.

4.) Lots of good help! 

If you don't have enough help among your local ESRA members, get help elsewhere.  Friends, spouses, children, parents, neighbors.  Make it a fun event.  Get definite commitments for definite times from people that can be relied upon.  Don't attempt this without reliable help.  Be sure everyone is on the same page on pricing.  Prices, for example, shouldn't vary depending upon who is asked.  You'll need some heavy lifting help at times, so account for that.  Muscle help will be necessary at setup, shutdown, and support in moving furniture, file cabinets, etc.  Six people at all times is not enough.  Ten is.  Somewhere in between, maybe, maybe not.  Most help should have nametags and/or aprons, and/or the same colored shirt, so they all recognize each other, and are recognized by the customers.  If you bring in a neighbor, they're not likely to know who is on staff and who isn't.  It might be a good idea to have someone who isn't marked to watch for "shrinkage."

Appreciating the money after it's all over. Volunteers are looking at the $100 bill taken in!   If you decide to accept bills this large, consider getting one of those line-drawing verifying pens from an office supply store.

Counting the first day's proceeds.

After the sale is over, it should be "all hands on deck" for tear down, packing unsold merchandise, trash detail and general clean up.  Everyone should be exhilarated because the sale went well.  Whoever's house it's at will be much more inclined to do it next year if they aren't left with many hours of cleanup, yard repair, and trash detail.  Cleanup is a large task.  Left over items can be sent to a resale shop to earn even more money, donated to a charity, passed on to another group for their yard sale, or discarded.  If you can arrange for another group to take all your leftovers for their yard sale, they could be recruited for cleanup and packaging.  If garbage were hauled to the trash this day or the next, it would be a great assistance.

5.) A good yard sale manager or management team!

Don't put someone in charge of a yard sale who doesn't shop yard sales.  Like anything else in the world, if you don't deal with it regularly, you don't understand the issues.  People who do yard sales understand the value of good signage, as explained above.  Of what they've seen, they know what they like, and they know what just irritates them.  If you don't do yard sales how would you know?   It's important that the yard sale manager be someone who is well organized, well liked, and able to devote a lot of time to it for several weeks.  If there could be just several man-hours of help the day after the sale for final cleanup, the people who hosted it would be very appreciative.

6.) Good Luck!

Never discount just plain-ol' dumb luck as an element of your success!!  Just accept it if it comes your way!

Thanks to Steve Henes, Phoenix, Arizona, for this article.  In November 2006, Steve and Kaye Klein hosted the Phoenix area ESRA volunteers, and had a hugely successful garage sale that netted over $2300 to benefit ESRA's dogs.

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