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Planning drives garage sales

Garage sales have a lot going for them.

They motivate you to streamline your possessions. They represent the very essence of entrepreneurialism and thrift. They give you an excuse to meet your neighbors.

Heck, they're even environmentally friendly. Just think of all that stuff you're recycling.

But successful garage sales don't just happen. To make the bucks, you have to make the effort.

We gathered tips from the experts for making the most of your next garage sale (or yard sale, basement sale, rummage sale or whatever you want to call it). So get selling. Your profits are waiting.

Advertising is the best way to get people to your sale. A classified ad in the newspaper is an obvious choice, but don't stop there.

Consider free advertising sources such as Craigslist (www.craigslist.org) and WeekendTreasure.com, suggests Chris Heiska, a yard-sale fanatic who runs the Web site YardSaleQueen.com. Maybe a local library, community center, grocery story or church has a bulletin board where you can post a flier. (It's good form to ask first.)

And of course, post signs on sale day -- good signs, Heiska said. Bad signs are a pet peeve of hers. She even posts pictures of them on her Web site.

A good sign is one that can be read fast and easily. Include just the basics, she said -- the words "Garage Sale," maybe the date and start time, and a big, fat arrow pointing the way to your house.

Don't try to get cute with your signs, Heiska urged. Make the letters big and bold -- no outlined letters filled in with stripes or other artsy but hard-to-read touches. The most noticeable and readable color combination is black letters on a goldenrod background, authors Michael and Pam Williams say in their book Garage Sale Magic!

Don't bother listing what you're offering, Heiska said, because motorists can't read that as they're whizzing past. And don't make the sign so big that it blocks drivers' view.

Signs should be sturdy, so they don't bend in the wind or wrap around the post. One of the simplest, most effective signs Heiska has seen was simply a poster attached to the side of a weighted box.

One more thing: Take the signs down at the end of the sale, please. Promptly.

Remember that the main reason for having a garage sale is to get rid of your stuff. And the best way to get other people to buy that stuff is to price it to sell, said Randy Lyman, who with his sister, Anita Chagaris, wrote the book "Garage Sale Gourmet."

"What's the price of something you don't want anyway?" he asked rhetorically.

If you're emotionally attached to something, or if it's a valuable item such as an antique or collectible, a garage sale isn't the place to unload it, Heiska said. Garage sale shoppers are bargain hunters, and high prices on even a few items might turn them off to your whole sale. Better to sell the pricier items through a classified ad, an auction house or a consignment shop, she said.

Not sure what your stuff is worth? Visit a few garage sales in your area, or browse a thrift shop, Heiska suggested. You'll probably want to price your things a bit lower than the thrift shop does, she said.

Be sure prices are well-marked so shoppers don't have to ask, both Heiska and Lyman said. And expect them to haggle. That's part of the fun.

Take a cue from retail stores to set up your garage sale so things are easy to find and the shopping experience is pleasant, Lyman said. Arrange items by "department" -- toys in one place, electronics in another, and so on. "When things are all jumbled up, you tend to not see things," he said.

"Merchandising" -- displaying items in an enticing manner -- can also boost sales, Lyman said. Display entire outfits together, for example, or set a dining table as you would for an elegant dinner. It helps people visualize, he said.

Some other setup tips:

- Put large items at the curb to catch the eyes of passers-by. "People immediately think, `Oh, garage sale,'" and they're more motivated to stop, Lyman said.

- Display things on tables rather than the ground so people can see and and reach them easily. If you don't have enough tables, Heiska suggested using big boxes, an ironing board with a cloth over it, the coffee table from your living room -- anything sturdy enough to hold merchandise.

- Hang clothes to make it easier for people to look at them. Rent or borrow a rack, or use Lyman's idea for an easy clothes rod: Suspend a PVC pipe between two ladders.

Heiska has seen hooks that attach to garage-door rails and can be used to support a clothing rod, but you need to be careful about the weight of the clothing you hang from it so you don't pull down the rails. You can check them out at www.addahook.com.

- Consider using a shower curtain or sheet to create a changing area, perhaps in the garage. "I personally would not be changing my clothes on someone's front lawn, but other people might," Lyman said with a laugh.

- Display electrical items near an outlet or extension cord so shoppers can test them.

- Display books in boxes with the titles up.

- Make clear where shoppers can go to ask questions, Lyman said. A pay station is an obvious spot, or you could have the helpers wear the same color T-shirts and name tags that say something like "Staff" or "Ask Me."

Most garage sale shoppers are good people, Heiska insisted. Still, it's wise to be cautious.

Have plenty of helpers, so there are lots of eyes, she said. That also reduces the likelihood that someone will rip you off while you're distracted.

Keep valuables where you can keep an eye on them. If you have jewelry, Heiska said, it's a good idea to assign one person just to that table.

A cash box is easy to steal. She suggested having the cashier wear a fanny pack or carpenter's apron instead. That also frees the cashier to walk around and be available to help shoppers, she noted.

Experienced garage sellers usually recommend you never let shoppers into your house, even to use the toilet. Some con artists target garage sales and use distraction methods to clean out their victims. If you do let someone in, make sure that person is escorted.

Lock the doors to your house, and have the cashier keep the key so all your helpers know where to find it.

At even the best garage sale, some things just won't sell. If you're serious about getting rid of your stuff, make arrangements beforehand to donate the leftovers to charity. Some organizations will even come to your house to pick up your stuff.

Remember, your unwanted goods could be a blessing to someone in need.

That just might be the best profit you get from your sale.

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