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Published: Saturday, 8/1/2009

Garage sales can be profitable for buyer and seller alike

BY ANN WEBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Margaret Trowbridge, left, pays Judy Dilworth for an item at Mrs. Dilworth's sale. Margaret Trowbridge, left, pays Judy Dilworth for an item at Mrs. Dilworth's sale.
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Nothing says summer like a garage sale.

Signs are spreading on street corners like purple loosestrife in a ditch. Follow the trail and you ll find yourself in an explosion of merchandise clothing that has been outgrown, toys that have lost their appeal, books telling the tale of a damp basement, trends that time forgot.

Tons of "misc. & more." Something for everyone. Stuff and more stuff.

"Mark it low and watch it go" Grant Rayfield said that s his marketing strategy for the treasures that he and his wife, Brenda, laid out on a recent Thursday for bargain-hunters outside their home on Beechway Boulevard in South Toledo. Their sale was one of 15 advertised in The Blade that day just for that end of town alone. Others were advertised in north, west, and east Toledo, Michigan, and northwest Ohio suburbs. (And that doesn t count moving sales and estate sales.)

By mid-morning, the Rayfields had sold a brand-new exterior door that had been taking up space in the garage ($30), a bunk bed set ($25), a window-air conditioner ($10), and eight boxes of candle holders that had been used as centerpieces at their wedding reception ($10 for the lot), along with many smaller items, 25 cents and up.

Among the curious goods that were left were a Butthead game (two nylon caps with attached Velcro strips and three foam balls for the players to throw at each other) priced at $1, a BeDazzler Stud and Rhinestone Setter ("As Seen on TV") for $2, and a Zobmondo!! "outrageous game of bizarre choices" for $1.

Still too pricey, hard-core hagglers might argue.

"We have had some negotiators," Mr. Rayfield said. "If [the offer] was reasonable, we took it."

Browsing nearby, Mark and Sarah Sheets of South Toledo said they make the rounds of garage sales just about every week, both for practical reasons and simply the thrill of the hunt.

"The key is to not look for anything specific, so that way when you find something, it s exciting," Mr. Sheets pointed out.

"Just keep an open mind," Mrs. Sheets added.

They ve been buying furniture and stashing it in his parents basement until they get their own home. Their finds include a cedar chest they bought recently for $10.

Bargain hunters

Earlier that morning, at Janet Shubert s sale a couple of miles away on Atlantic Avenue, the couple paid $3 for a Fisher-Price toy chest for the kids they re planning "in the near future," Mr. Sheets said.

Betty Kime of South Toledo found some things there for her grandchildren, including a Barbie doll still in the box and priced at $1 and clothing.

"I buy everything at garage sales," she said clothing, furniture, jewelry, knickknacks, even antiques for her home.

"You get bargains," she pointed out, noting that plenty of people are shopping in the grass-roots marketplace. "With the way the economy is, check out who s coming. It s everybody."

Indeed, Mrs. Shubert reported a week later that this year s garage sale was her best ever although she declined to say how much money she, her mother, and two friends made on their joint venture. They packed up what little was left and donated it to a church on the east side.

They started out with 14 tables piled with stuff (clothes, games, toys, books, mugs, plates, lamps, sports equipment, etc.). They put more things in boxes, and arranged larger items on the ground and along the driveway.

Win-win situation

It s a big job, setting up for a sale. "Usually if two of you are working, it takes 10 hours," Mrs. Shubert estimated. "Two people working diligently."

She agreed with Mr. Rayfield that one of the secrets of success is low prices kids jeans for $1, T-shirts for 25 cents and 50 cents, for example. "And we re always willing to negotiate," Mrs. Shubert said.

"People will come and spend $15 and walk away with five bags of clothes," she added. A woman last summer bought enough clothing to fill a box for her family in Mexico.

"It s a win-win situation," Mrs. Shubert said.

Mostly, anyway.

Buyers and sellers alike need to be on the alert for products that have been recalled.

Under a new federal law, it s illegal to sell a recalled product, "but the bottom line is you don t want to pass a potentially hazardous product on to another person, especially a child," said Patty Davis, a spokesman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Speaking by phone from Bethesda, Md., Ms. Davis advised checking the recall lists on the commission s Web site, cpsc.gov. (Another is www.recalls.gov.)

You can search the Consumer Product Safety Commission recalls by company, by product type, and by product description, she said.

The commission also has produced a Handbook for Resale Stores and Product Resellers, which is aimed at explaining the new law to sellers, but can be helpful for buyers as well. The publication can be downloaded from the Web site; a hard copy is expected to be printed this month.

Under some circumstances, sellers also could run afoul of local regulations.

The city of Toledo, for example, allows people to conduct a garage, yard, or estate sale without a license provided that the sale does not exceed seven cumulative calendar days in a 90-day period, according to Paul Syring, general counsel for the city.

Tips for selling

And then there are the unofficial laws of garage sales: what works and what doesn t.

Shoes don t sell. Adult clothes don t sell except for jeans. Winter clothing leaves people cold in the summer. Baby clothes sell and so do toys, but you ve got to make sure they re clean. Exercise equipment doesn t get much attention.

Those are among the lessons of previous garage sales that Judy Dilworth shared as she minded the store behind her home on Beverly Drive in South Toledo. As she talked, she sold a purse and a book to one shopper, an alarm clock and several small glass figures of animals to another, and an assortment of stuffed animals to a third a woman who returned almost immediately after spying a stuffed chipmunk toy that sings "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" when you give it a squeeze.

Another woman bought a dandy plastic tray with compartments for relishes, maybe, or snacks. She s at least its third owner and it still has its original box.

"I bought that at a garage sale and never used it," Mrs. Dilworth told her.

Among the choice merchandise left is a stuffed Alf, a relic of the 1980s TV sitcom. A mystery item that resembles a lava lamp glows from the garage,

No. 1 rule for a successful sale, Mrs. Dilworth says, is to get the word out. For her current sale she advertised in The Blade and online, and created signs with letters that are substantial enough that people driving by can read the address easily. Her signs, positioned at four key intersections in the area, are made of poster board in a can t-miss neon yellow-green. Eye-catching blue balloons bob off one corner.

Be organized, she continued. Group similar items, and have enough tables for everything that needs to be up off the ground.

Be businesslike, too. On this day, Mrs. Dilworth has sale items from nine households to keep track of. Each one of the sellers has identified his or her items with a sticker or strip of masking tape marked with a price and their initials. As something is sold, Mrs. Dilworth records the price in one of the nine columns in the ledger in front of her.

She has a calculator to help tally sales, and a supply of bags by her side. She stashes proceeds and makes change from a cash box that started the day seeded with $20 to $30 worth of quarters and dollar bills.

"I try to keep everything in multiples of 25 cents that makes it a lot easier," she says.

Mrs. Dilworth also suggested having an electrical outlet available so people can satisfy themselves that something like a radio or TV set works. Keep any expensive things where you can see them.

She determines prices by asking herself, "If I saw this at a garage sale, what would I pay for it?" On the last day of her sales, she slashes prices by half.

Finally, go the extra mile for customer satisfaction.

"Got any old vinyl records?" a man asked Mrs. Dilworth.

A crate of old albums is fetched from the house. He flips through them.

And Mrs. Dilworth made a sale.

Another win-win.

Contact Ann Weber at: aweber@theblade.com

or 419-724-6126.



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