Set The Date
When considering the calendar, plan your sale for early in the month. Right after payday, potential customers have extra cash in their pockets, so plan accordingly. Holiday weekends in summer can see lighter traffic, as families head for the mountains or the beach instead of the yard sale circuit. Be mindful of special events, like high school graduations, that could put a crimp on the flow of shoppers as you schedule your sale.
Choose your day, and plan a one-day sale, maximum. Holding a two-day sale doubles the time invested and can deter customers; experienced yard sale shoppers know that the best items sell on the first day, so won't bother visiting a second-day sale.
Which day of the week? Friday sales attract mothers of young children, who have time during the workweek to visit your sale, so if your inventory is heavy on children's clothing and toys, consider a Friday sale. Saturday sales attract more shoppers, so choose a Saturday if you have a wider variety of goods for sale.
Finally, set a time frame for your sale. In many areas, an 8 a.m. start is considered standard; even if you're a night owl, start your sale early to catch the most shopping traffic.
Do plan an end time for your sale, sometime in early to mid-afternoon. In yard sales, as in life, there is a point of diminishing returns. Sitting around at 4:00 p.m. watching mismatched food storage containers stare down the '70's era macramé hanging isn't worth the few pennies that may--or may not--come your way.
Form an Exit Strategy
To avoid having to re-house unsold items, have a strategy for sale's end. Many charities will pick up all unsold items. Call and schedule a 3 p.m. pickup for sale day, or be prepared to box the leftovers for delivery to a thrift store donation site.
Consider a sale's end clearance event: post a sign advising that all merchandise will be half-price after 2 p.m. Alternately, stock up on grocery sacks and announce a "dollar a bag" special for the last hour of the sale. Buyers pay a dollar or two for each full bag--and you avoid the need to trek the unsold items to a charity site. Whatever you do, don't let the survivors back in the house! If you can't sell this stuff at a garage sale, what do you want with it, anyway?
Make Like The Mad Men: Advertise!
You've sorted your stuff and scoped out the field. Now it's time to play retailer. First rule: advertise, advertise, advertise.
The secret to a successful yard sale is foot traffic. The more folks who walk through your sale, the more you'll sell. Lots of cars parked on your street signal the location of your sale and show yard-sale cruisers where to find you. If business is brisk, buyers won't leave your premises without that lighted beer sign, for fear that someone else will snatch it right up. The more, the merrier; your muffin-tin change sorter will overflow.
Craigslist is the gold standard for online yard sale advertising. With a section devoted exclusively to garage sale listings, it's the place to publicize your sale. As a bonus benefit, a Craigslist listing will show up on the online Yard Sale Treasure Map, a real-time service for yard sale shoppers. Make it easy for them to find your sale by including date, time and address in title of your listing.
If you're selling a lot of items, or have big-ticket items to sell, spring a few dollars for a newspaper ad. Many local papers offer special garage sale rates, or free signs to yard sale advertisers.
When writing your yard sale ads, watch your wording! Mention furniture, baby items, garden tools or other desirable items you have to offer, but don't waste ad dollars on "miscellaneous". "Miscellaneous" is every yard sale's middle name.
If you want to keep pre-dawn bargain hunters from banging on your door at 5 a.m., include the phrase "No earlybirds!" in your ad listings. A creative use of "Earlybirds pay double!" will discourage all but the most fanatic yard salers--and make them pay for the privilege.
Use your computer (or your kids) to make signs, lots of signs. We've got some printable yard sale signs for you at the end of this article, which will direct yard sale traffic right, left or ahead. Crank them out in multiple to guide shoppers to your door!
If you make your own garage sale signs, use neon posterboard and deep-black markers. Make the directions BIG. If you can't see your signs from a block away, neither can your customers.
Use weighted cardboard boxes to place your yard sale signs at intersections and corners. They'll be easy to spot, won't flap in the wind, and allow you to point signs in several directions.
If you live tucked deep in a twisted spiral of subdivision streets, place signs at each and every corner between your house and the nearest main road. If roads twist, or extend too far, add another sign to reassure shoppers that they're on the right path.