Picking the right time and a high-traffic location are the first rules for a community yard sale. But don't spend a lot of time writing out price tags.
Recently, I organized a community yard sale. Its purpose was to raise money for our middle school, plus provide a service to to folks like myself, who live in a place that is not conducive to having a yard sale.
Organizing it was easier than you might have thought.
For starters, our school district allows school-sponsored events to “rent” space on the school district property free of charge, so we didn’t incur any costs to reserve the front lawn of the high school. Next, we decided to charge participants $20 for a spot with a table or $15 for a spot if they brought their own table. That money went to the middle school.
Thanks to our school district’s online listserve — which parents, teachers, students and community members can sign up to receive — advertising the yard sale was a snap. About a month before the yard sale date, I sent out a listserve message, announcing that we were now reserving spots for the yard sale and notifying people that a registration form was available online (via the school district’s website) to download, print and mail to me, with their check.
In addition, I sent a press release to the local paper — which ran a blurb — and I talked up the yard sale at our parent-teacher group meetings so it would be added to the minutes, which are also sent out via the listserve and posted online.
I set the registration deadline for one week before the actual sale so I could let the staff at the high school know how many tables we would need. Additionally, one week before the sale, I put out sandwich board signs to advertise the yard sale and, wouldn’t you know it, people contacted me about buying a table, even at that late date. That was fine, because each table sold meant more money raised for our middle school.
All told, the event was a success. We sold 28 spots and, adding $90 from a simultaneous bake sale, made just under $600 to help support middle school field trips and other services that our budget-strapped district can no longer afford.
More important, everyone who participated sold a ton of stuff — one woman near me actually packed up and left at noon because she didn’t have anything left to sell — and asked when we would be holding another yard sale. There were even people who came to shop at the yard sale who wanted to buy a table on the spot. (Unfortunately, that wasn’t possible but next year I’ll be sure to keep this contingency in mind.)
Were I to do this event again, there would be some things I would keep the same and some I would change. In case you’re planning your own community yard sale, you may find these “keep” and “change” suggestions helpful.
- Set up in a high-traffic location. We were lucky enough to secure a large patch of grass on the school campus, which happens to be on a main street. We were adjacent to a school parking lot that visitors use when visiting our little tourist town for the weekend. Nearly everyone who parks in this lot had to walk by our sale, and this created an ideal high-traffic situation.
- Time your yard sale to piggyback onto another event. We chose to have our yard sale the same weekend as an annual festival that draws people from hundreds of miles away. Additionally, there was a school play the same day, meaning there would be lots of parents parking in the lot near us. This combination gave us proximity to tons of potential shoppers.
- Use the “Priceline” approach to pricing. I know that many people spent time pricing their items before bringing their things to the yard sale. I was going to do the same until my mother, who is a veteran yard-sale organizer, told me not to bother. She suggested we take a “Priceline” approach and let people name their own price or at least ask us to name the price. Though it was somewhat annoying to keep having to answer “How much is this?” I found that answering, “How does $X sound?” made most people accept our suggestion or at least offer a counter – and then we made the sale.
- Have plentiful, clear signage directing people to your sale. I used a combination of sandwich boards and lawn signs that included arrows to quite literally point them in the right direction. While the high-traffic location helped draw drive-by traffic, the signs helped draw people in as well.
- Arrange to have someone take away the leftovers at the end of the day. Having a way for people not to bring home the items they didn’t sell is a huge selling point in encouraging participation. So I arranged for a good cause to come at the end of the sale and take anything that the participants wanted to donate.
- Move the starting and ending time up. We were supposed to run from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., but as soon as we started setting up around 8:30, we had shoppers. By noon, there was a lull, and traffic stayed low until about 2:30. While we had some decent traffic for the last 30 minutes, I don’t know if it was worth waiting around those two hours for the customers to come back.
- Have a rain date when it isn’t raining. If it rained, our plan was that the yard sale would go on, rain or shine, the next day. Next year I’ll be sure to have a rain date for when it’s not raining and not take the “rain or shine” approach.
- Let people bring their own tables. We sold spots at a certain price in exchange for providing a table and offered a discount if people brought their own tables. While 17 of the 28 people who bought spots wanted our tables, the setup and cleanup wasn’t worth the little extra money that this “convenience” provided. Next year we’ll have everyone bring their own tables.
Bottom line: I got rid of tons of clutter and made some extra money – more than I’d ever made at garage sales in the past or even from selling stuff on Craigslist. Based on this year’s success, I would definitely participate in this kind of yard sale next year.
Do you have other tips for a successful community yard sale? Leave a comment and share your wisdom.
Leah Ingram is the author of “Suddenly Frugal: How to Live Happier & Healthier for Less” and shares money-saving tips at Suddenly Frugal.