I’ve written here about garage sales before, and I don’t have a lot to add, but we have been in garage sale mode for the last several weekends, so it might be worth another look. New material is in italics.
Kim and I have always enjoyed having garage sales. The analogy I use is that it’s like taking a crap and someone else hauls it away – and they pay you for it! (These days, with both of us over 80 and experiencing various health and mobility issues, I use another analogy: We are in a sinking ship, and it’s time to throw stuff overboard.) But there is more to it than that. Garage sales are a way that we connect with people, both neighbors and strangers.
As a guy, I don’t make those connections easily. Most of my friendships, except those dating back 55+ years at college, come on the coat tails of Kim’s girlfriends. (This means you, Manny, Ted, Jerry, Rick, etc.) I’m not very good at initiating friendships on my own. These garage sale connections are a lot less than friendships, resembling more what I learned to do as a Starbucks barista, initiating a conversation based on the customer’s clothing (“Is that a University of Wisconsin hat?”), or accent (“Boston?”) or book they might be carrying (“Shades of Gray? Really?”), [Note consecutive punctuation marks.] I’d form a brief 30-second relationship while making change, and then on to the next person. Perfect.
My garage sale relationships last a bit longer. In fact, most of the time I’m standing out in the driveway talking with the husband while Kim is in the garage explaining some of our weird merchandise to the wife. I figure that the longer I can engage the guy in conversation, the better chance Kim has to sell something – though half the time she is just discussing health or grandkids with the wife. I’ve learned that people are a lot more interested in themselves than they are in me or anyone else, so that is where I take the conversation: “Where are you from?” “What did you do before you retired?” “Have you always been this fat?” (Just kidding with the last one . . ..) Some of our “customers” stay for over an hour. One guy insisted on showing me photos of his dog, and several times Kim has invited couples into our home. A few couples have come back to visit, though they pretend to be looking over our stuff again.
(Some sale relationships are not so positive. We have experienced shoplifters. And we have customers who expect everything we are selling to be less than $5, including antiques, furniture, and artwork that Kim has spent hours creating. And we have a hostile neighbor who steals our signs and accelerates past our driveway, recently endangering the life of a little girl wandering out to her car.)
We enjoy making money at our garage sales, but Kim also enjoys trades. She traded one neighbor some kitchen stuff for banana bread and rhubarb sauce, and a stranger returned with an oriole’s nest that she somehow learned that Kim fancied, and Kim gave her a bedspread in exchange. But making money is important. It allows us to pay for trees and flowers without feeling bad. We do not put prices on anything, as Kim prefers to engage in conversation with customers (“How much do you want to pay?”). If anyone asks me a price, I say, “Let me ask my wife,” and they immediately understand.
I did accidentally come up with one marketing strategy that I have not yet tried. We had a garage sale in Saline where we were selling some tools of Scott’s. I wrote the word “tools” on our sign, and I noticed a lot more cars stopped. Why? Not to stereotype, but usually when couples drive around, the guy is behind the wheel. Guys behind the wheel tend to see Garage Sale signs better when the word Tools occurs on the sign. So, I’m going to try using the magic word, even with no tools, explaining to the guy, while his wife shops with Kim, that I just sold them all 10 minutes ago. We’ll see how that works.
Another advantage of garage sales involves multitasking. We have yet to advertise our sales, preferring simply to put out our signs when we are doing yard work. We rarely have a lot of traffic – one car every 20 minutes counts as “busy” – so we get a lot of planting, weeding and watering done. I’m not very good at multitasking, but I take pride in my ability to squirt a hose at a tree while glancing at the garage.
Many of the people who stop at our garage sale ask about the bark siding on our house, and usually we invite them to take a closer look. Some of these folks are or used to be builders, and others are looking for cottage ideas. Occasionally these people neglect to check out the garage sale, but that’s OK. We are proud of our Bark House.
(I think we could have sold our home several times, which would have escalated our garage sale earnings. It’s a good marketing technique. And we did sell a previous home at our garage sale!)