Lessons Learned from My Yard Sale - Savvy Intrapreneur

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Lessons Learned from My Yard Sale




I'm now preparing to make a big cross-country move. The daunting task of emptying closets to determine what gets purged and what gets shipped looms for weeks ahead. I stared at stuffed closets for a week in an attempt to alleviate the anxiety of the job.

As I scanned my possessions, I thought that the purged stuff might have value for someone else. So, I decided to hold a weekend yard sale to ease the burden of packing what gets shipped, and to earn some extra cash to help pay for moving expenses.

A fun and easy thing to do, right? Well, I soon found out otherwise. I spent hours laboriously organizing sale items, cleaning, assembling, pricing, and setting them out on tarps, blankets, and fold-out tables. I thought that just about everyone who walked by would be interested -- and buy something. Soon enough, I discovered that interactions with yard sale shoppers stirred up basic retailing rules that didn't occur to me as I embarked on my humble sole proprietor enterprise.

Even a yard sale won't work without a plan. It used to be that you could set up an umbrella, put your stuff out on the lawn or sidewalk, and wait for passers-by to make sales. These days, with competitive yard sales on every block, you have to think about marketing, presentation, your sales pitch, and possible follow-up with customers.

A simple Craig's List announcement probably netted me a few drive-bys, but no one who actually shopped said they found my sale online. Not much interest from apartment building neighbors, save for some casual chat about the weather. "Had I known about it in advance, I might have checked it out," one politely said. A shopper told me I needed to post signs on telephone poles.

In preparation for Day 2, I blasted a yard sale announcement email to friends all over town, including a short inventory of the sale items. Five replied within an hour, asking me to set aside things that they'd pick up later. I put up a sandwich board with "Sidewalk Sale" in big type. Sales increase ten-fold on Day 2.

Lesson learned: Had I planned my marketing and merchandising plan more thoroughly, I might have done better on Day 1. "Dressing up" even the dullest merchandise helped sales, too.

For some very helpful advice on staging a successful yard sale, consult
the Yard Sale Queen's list of important tips. I wish I'd read this first!

Not everyone thinks your stuff is cool. I ulcerated about selling my prized first-edition hardcover literary novels. I babied those books for years and kept them in excellent condition. New, the books cost me some $30 each; my yard sale price, $2 - $5 each. But these days are all about paring down and living simply. Books are heavy and therefore expensive to move. I can always borrow them afrom the library.

While I have enough trade paper non-fiction books to stock a small bookstore, I thought I'd make more off the bat with the sexy hard covers. Only a few shoppers perused the novels' titles. Three out of about 30 sold.

Lesson learned: The reading material I like is certainly not part of mainstream tastes. At least not for my yard sale crowd. I should have put out the mass-appeal paperbacks (customers asked frequently for cookbooks and gardening titles). Appeal to the yard sale demographic -- that's my target audience.

Price is not an issue, bargaining is. I could have marked my two wooden bar stools at $60 each and sold them for $50. Instead, I marked them at $25 each, $40 for the pair. Each person interested asked if I'd take $20 for one, or $30 for two, or some other lower price.

This happened for almost every item on the sidewalk. Yard sale junkies want to think they're getting away with a "good deal." They like to haggle. They expected me to indulge them in this yard sale etiquette.

Lesson learned: Price second-hand goods at reasonably high enough prices to allow for bargaining room. When I threw back an in between price, customers always accepted. It's not about the price, but instead the perceived value that matters most.

Yard sale as a business model. Yard sales may be only remotely akin to what we do in the contemporary business world, but they've been going on since humans began trading as a form of interaction and community-building for hundreds of thousands of years.

Twenty-first century savvy intrapreneurs learn to use their business smarts in all manner of business and personal experiences.

Good business sense reflects effective interpersonal skills. Listening to peoples' needs, providing solutions, and enjoying the ensuing handshakes and smiles (and financial rewards) breeds good will -- and more business!

What lessons have you learned at yard sales?

Karen Meek is a senior communications strategist. Follow her @karenmeektweets.

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