Sunday, May 24, 2015

Reflections of a Lawn Sale

Although I have been working steadily to downsize the house, it has been a few years since I’ve held a lawn sale.  During this stint of downsizing I have largely relied upon either donations or Craig’s List and both have been good resources to knocking down clutter, but each has its limitations.  For example, Craig’s List is great for ticket items over $5 or $10, but isn’t so good if you have a lot of “small” priced items.  Donations are great, there is the intrinsic value of contributing to a good cause; however, financially you will need to itemize to benefit which means record keeping and also keep in mind that a deduction only reduces the amount that you are taxed on.  (For example, if you donate $100 worth of stuff and your tax rate is 20%, the value of the tax deduction is $20, not $100).  With this being said, I am going to hit some of the high notes from my recent lawn sale experience.

  1. Lawn sales require effort.  I have gone to many lawn sales where the stuff is strewn all over the ground and/or is still in boxes that are just shoved out without thought.  At times, I have stopped at a lawn sale and didn’t spot a living sole (owner) the entire time.  None of these scenarios is conducive to a successful lawn sale.  In preparation for this lawn sale, we had started amassing items into a lawn sale area in the house 6 months or so in advance.  There is nothing worse than working your tail off on a lawn sale only to find in the week following your sale umpteen more items that you wished you’d put out – get it in your pile from the get-go!  For larger items that you can’t pile such as an old lawnmower, start a list.

  2. Advertising.  It used to be necessary to take out an ad in the newspaper.  Depending on where you live, this might still be a good idea.  For many living in the suburbs, a Craig’s List post and good signage may be sufficient.  When posting your sale items on Craig’s List, be specific.  For example, don’t just identify “books, CDs and household,” instead, list some of your books (name and author) and name some of your CDs (artist and name of album) and liberally identify your household items.  If you are selling clothes, identify whether they are boys, girls, men’s or women’s and approximate sizes.  Additionally, make sure you take a generous number of pictures and post with your Craig’s List ad.  Your goal is to play the odds that something will attract customers – hook them with your Craig’s List ad, then reel them in and close the sale when they arrive.  Signage doesn’t need to be expensive to be effective.  I was able to purchase a couple of signs for the dollar store and supplemented by running a couple off the household printer.

  3. Watch the weather.  Yes, it makes a difference and like Goldilocks, you want it just right – not too hot, not too cold and definitely not raining.  While weather forecasts are not a guarantee, they generally do give you a good indication 2-3 days out.  If like me and many where you don’t need traditional newspaper advertising, you can make your “go” decision 3 days or so before the sale date.  Just have your stuff organized, have your Craig’s List ad ready to go and have your signage and plenty of change ready for the event.

  4. Pricing.  I used to recommend pricing items and maybe for some higher price items this may or may not be a good idea.  (It is possible that it may backfire as if you price too high, you may scare away possible offers).  What I did was to establish a price list which I posted conspicuously and also encouraged bundling and offers.  For example, I offered CDs for $1.50, button shirts for $1.50, pants for $2.00, soft-cover books .50, hard cover $1.00, etc. and put these prices in a list format in large text (14 point or so).  By demonstrating that items were priced to sell, I believe many felt comfortable to make an offer.  If the primary purpose of your lawn sale is to get rid of things, be prepared to be very flexible on prices and don’t be afraid to negotiate your own bundled deals – for example, if someone is interested in your clothes, maybe you can offer them a package deal to buy 3 shirts instead of that 1 shirt that would have been easy to sell anyway.  Also, keep in mind my illustration in regards to the monetary value of a donation.   Remember, that donation of $100 worth of clothes doesn’t put $100 in your pocket.  As stated above it might amount to around $20 or so off your taxes so maybe it would behoove you to sell those clothes and have $40 cash in your pocket today!

  5. Lawn sales are a social sport.  Part of why I wanted to do a lawn sale is because I do enjoy meeting people from the community.  While I enjoy some interaction, it is important to read your individual customers.  Some enjoy a little chit-chat; some do not.  It is a fine art to be attentive but not hovering.  I’m not a social butterfly, but I would make a point to welcome my customers and let them know I was available to help if they needed it, but did not want to be a pest either.

  6. Display your sale items prominently and neatly.  Yes, they need to come out of the box!  Think out a display strategy.  Do you have fold up tables?  Can you borrow a table(s)?  Use an outdoor dining table or that old picnic table?  Can you create a table from leftover plywood and 2 pails?  Maybe a string can be strewn across a 6 foot step ladder to hang clothes.

  7. Strategically time your sale.  I have seen some sales advertise to start at 10am or even noon.  In my experience, these are ridiculous.  Plan on early birds regardless of whether you instruct “no early birds” in your ad.  Use these early birds to your advantage.  Depending on what they are angling for, don’t hesitate to price at a premium price for early birds.  For example, I had early birds show up at 7am for my advertised 8am sale and the draw was old costume jewelry.  Yes, I wanted to sell it, but I was a bit less flexible on my pricing for these birds.  Likewise, I’ve seen lawn sale sellers advertise too long of hours.  Keep in mind that while you want to get rid of stuff and make money that your time is valuable too.  Do you really want to hang out from 2pm to 5pm for those 2 customers who buy less than $5.00 worth of stuff?  Typically, I’ve found 8am – 2pm to be about prime time for lawn sales.  If you have 5 cars show up at 2pm for your sale that was advertised to end at 2pm, guess what?  Keep going and let the crowd tell you when to pull it.  On the other hand, if you advertise your sale to end at 5pm but poop out at 2pm, you may find an irate customer knocking at your door at 3:30pm.

  8. Pace yourself.  A homeowner should be on hand throughout the sale.  Make sure that other family members can give you a break when you need it.  Get a comfy lawn chair positioned and plan activities to fill any gaps between customers.  A good book works well.  An iPad or cell phone might also work; however, recognize the risks of electronic devices including the risk of breakage or theft and the greater risk that you may appear too interested in your device and not sufficiently attentive to a potential customer.  There is nothing more annoying than feeling as though one is ignored by someone on their phone.  Don’t forget to have fun, but don’t forget that the driving goal is to move the stuff from your driveway to someone else’s car.