Garage Sale Tips

Garage sale success depends on hard bargaining when you buy, and creative marketing when you sell.

Every Saturday morning during the clement weather, people in cities across the United States and Canada pile into their cars and criss-cross residential streets searching for garage sales. Most do it for fun. A growing number have discovered they can do it for profit.

Sure, there's always someone reported to have found a missing Rembrant beneath an overlay of an amateurish pastoral scene. It happens, but it isn't what this is about. This is about turning nickel and dime purchases into items worth dollars, enough to pay the gas for the Saturday

morning garage sale jaunts or maybe enough to pep up your income.

The handy people, the people who seem able to fix just about anything, can readily capitalize on garage sale purchases. Most have a specialty: small appliances; furniture repair and/or re-upholstering; power tool repair; lawn and garden implements repair. A little tinkering and a

working item is ready for your market.

Cannibalized parts and a little fresh paint can sometimes increase value a hundredfold. For example, at one sale is a chaise lounge with an intact frame and worn out padding; at another a chaise lounge with a broken frame and padding in great shape. Voila, you have a complete chaise

lounge in good condition. Five dollars for one, perhaps five dollars for the other; put them together, and doubling or tripling your investment should be easy.

Not everyone is handy, but everyone has special interests. Think small: dolls, children's toys, figurines, dishes, silverware, kitsch.



Dolls are a specialty with very good potential. Doll collecting is a hobby measured in millions of dollars in sales annually, apart from dolls put into use. Accessories can also have considerable value. The typical garage sale doll is usually well worn. More and more, however, dolls "too nice" to have been played with are appearing on garage sale tables. To be sure, they aren't antiques, but some, unbeknownst to their owners, may have crossed the line from toy to prized collectible in the past twenty-five years. Buy the "toy" for two dollars, sell the "collectible" for twenty.

Quite often children's larger toys, such as tricycles, wagons, and play kitchens, and nursery items such as cribs and dressers turn up at garage sales. Often sellers will take low prices just to free up household space, sometimes having no idea of their value in the used goods market. To determine appropriate asking prices when you re-sell these items, check out prices at used baby

and toddler equipment stores.

China and porcelain figurines and dishes, the more fragile looking and decorative the better, can also be re-sold for a profit. Incomplete sets of dishes don't work, nor do chipped dishes, but platters, cruets, cups and saucers, and other singular pieces re-sell readily, especially if they are collected together, then marketed as a piece, i.e., as a china sale.

Souvenir or commemorative plates, usually in excellent condition, can often be sold with a mark-up, provided that you target that specific market.

Tougher to re-sell at a profit is silverware, books, comics and small children's toys. Usually these are in various states of disrepair. Even antique books, for example, can be mildewed and have loose pages and worn bindings. If you buy them, plan on keeping them.

A remarkable miscellany of garage sale items, if systematically collected, find buyers among interior designers. Some enterprising people collect oddments exclusively for sale directly to restaurant and bar interior designers or the wholesalers who supply them. Recently a marina paid $200 each for fourteen completely inoperable old outboard motors to hang from their ceiling.

Cultivate contacts among these suppliers; learn their needs and how much they may be willing to pay. Generally they appreciate help in locating items.

Somewhere out there is someone who will pay top dollar for an Elvis black velvet, a sleek black ceramic panther with green glass eyes, or a big ashtray perched on a stand fashioned to look like a nude, a lion, or an ancanthus. How do you find them?

Hold specialty sales and target your market. For example, one sale could be exclusively children's goods. Post signs around child care centers and mail the centers themselves. Put up a site on your local freenet. In effect, have your own garage sale, but, above all, don't call it a garage sale--that immediately drives down your prices. On the day of your sale have business cards and hand them out freely.

Make sure that if something is supposed to work, it does. If a bike fender has a scratch, a daub of paint can make it look nearly new rather than ready to fall apart. Whatever you sell, make sure it's gleaming. And take some time setting up your displays. Putting out cups and saucers or other china? Use a tablecloth, a vase of flowers, perhaps a candelabra (for sale, of course) to set them off. Cloth napkins are a nice touch, too.

Finally, give something away as a raffle prize. This way, you can capture people's names and addresses for future sales. You can then call or mail them direct, knowing their interests already. Eventually you will become known as a dealer and that translates as repeat business.

© High Speed Ventures 2011