Sell Like a ProfessionalSpringtime means spring cleaning, and if you're so inclined you can turn your junk into cash by throwing a yard sale (or, depending on your home situation and geographic location, a garage sale, rummage sale or stoop sale). While that might mean parting ways with some beloved items, the end result is a cleaner house and a fatter wallet.
But holding a yard sale also requires the homeowner to become a salesperson for the day, and that's a role with which you might be unfamiliar. How do you set prices and negotiate? How should you advertise? How do you turn passers-by into paying customers? Here are a few ways to apply real-world business principles to turn your pile of junk into a well-run retail operation.
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Price to HaggleWhen you go into a typical retail store, you expect to pay the price on the tag. But yard sales, much like car dealerships, operate a bit differently: customers go in expecting to be able to haggle down the price. As such, it's wise to price more expensive items a bit higher than you're actually willing to sell for.
"Everybody knows there's give on all these prices," says negotiation expert Herb Cohen, author of You Can Negotiate Anything "Everyone knows you don't pay the sticker price."
If you want $70 for an item, for instance, he suggests pricing it at $98.
"Three figures seems outlandish to people, and $99 seems a little phony," he explains. "List it for $98, it seems more authentic."
If you're unsure how much you should be asking in the first place, garage sale directory site GarageSaleSource.com has a pricing guide.
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Drop the Price CarefullyWith the asking price established, you can be amenable to dropping the price for hagglers. Cohen explains that your price drops must be calculated so that you arrive at or near your target price. In the case of the hypothetical $98 items, he says your first price drop should be significant - say, an $18 price cut to $80. If the customer still wants to haggle, drop the price in lower increments.
"Make another drop to $75, and then, after telling him you really can't do this, you squirm, you perspire and take it down to $72," he explains. "The first drop was $18, the second was $5 and the last was $3. By your concession rate you're signaling the end."
When all is said and done, you've received a price close to what you were looking to sell for, and the customer feels a sense of accomplishment for talking you down on price.
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Appeal to a Higher AuthorityOftentimes a negotiation at an electronics store or car dealership will end with an employee going to his or boss to get "permission" to sell at a certain price point.
Doing so lends an air of authority to the store's final offer, leaving the customer with the impression that they've successfully snagged the best possible price by going to the top.
Cohen suggests having a similar ace in the hole in the form of a printed price list ostensibly prepared by your spouse; that way, when you insist that $70 is your final offer, you can pull out the price sheet that shows that you're forbidden from going lower than that. And if you're so inclined, you can also head into the house to ask for "permission" from your spouse, lending your final offer an imprimatur of authority and putting an end to the negotiation.
Photo Credit: EvelynGiggles
...But Don't Spend Too Much Time HagglingA car salesman has all the time in the world to go back and forth on price if he or she knows that the end result is a $20,000 sale. But if you're spending 20 minutes fighting over the price of a $10 toaster, you could be neglecting other customers, says Mark Ryski of the HeadCount Corporation, which specializes in retail analytics and customer conversion.
"When a store gets too busy, people might not tolerate a long line," he says. "As much as you want to chat it up, you also want to try to get to as many people as you can and take their money quickly. Get through the negotiation quickly and get to the next person."
If you have the luxury of having friends or family helping you sell, you might be able to afford to make nice with the neighbors or negotiate extensively. Otherwise, you'll need to keep conversation to a minimum lest neglected shoppers get annoyed and wander off.
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Put Out RefreshmentsOne of the common sales tricks we looked at last month was to offer free food and drink to would-be customers; the idea is to create a sense of obligation in the customer in the hopes that they'll reciprocate by making a purchase. While putting out a plate of cookies is obviously a negligible expense for a car dealer, even someone selling junk in their front yard can benefit from spending $10 or $15 on some lemonade and cookies.
"Anything that gets people to stop and spend extra time is a good thing, and the cost of refreshments is nominal," Ryski suggests. "You get a mild sort of obligation edge - if I stopped and had some lemonade, I'm more inclined to buy."
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Advertise HeavilyYou should also emulate traditional retail businesses by advertising your presence. While you won't have the marketing budget of a retailer or car dealer, advertising is arguably even more important for you.
After all, a store can depend on word of mouth to gradually build up a customer base; you're probably only going to be in operation for one weekend at most, so you need to make sure as many people as possible are aware that it's happening.
"Getting the word out, whether for a yard sale or major chain, is an important thing," says Ryski, who recommends going above and beyond the traditional telephone pole signs by using word of mouth and social networks to spread news of your sale. You can also advertise for free on sites like Craigslist and YardSaleSearch.com.
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Offer Payment OptionsCommon sense dictates that you should have plenty of cash on hand so as to make change for customers - think small bills, as many people may need you to break twenties. But you can also expand your potential customer base by adding the ability to take non-cash payments. In January we looked at a number of options for person-to-person payments, and found that the best bet for in-person transactions is Square.
Sign up for an account and the company will send you a tiny device that turns your iPhone, iPad or Android into a credit card reader, complete with the ability to email receipts. The reader and app are free, though there is a 2.75% transaction fee on every swipe.
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Coordinate With Your NeighborsEver notice how similar businesses tend to group together in the same geographic location? In New York, for instance, hundreds of jewelers have set up shop on 47th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, a block that's become known as the "Diamond District." Meanwhile, most areas will have some variation on the "auto mile" - a stretch of road with several auto dealerships. While that means more competition for each retailer, it also means that the area becomes known as a destination for shoppers seeking a particular kind of ware, and that's good for business.
The same holds true for yard sales - if you don't believe us, just look at the Highway 127 Corridor Sale, an annual four-day yard sale stretching nearly 700 miles. While yours probably won't be that long, consider banding together with some neighbors to throw your sales on the same day. If a solitary yard sale isn't enough to get the locals to make the trip, perhaps the promise of three or four sales on one block will be enough to get them to show up.
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Don't Get DesperateThe fact that most yard sales only last a day means that you'll likely find yourself lowering prices later in the day just so you can get rid of the junk - after all, it's not like you can keep it on the shelves until someone comes along willing to pay the asking price.
Some savvy hagglers may try to use this against you in a negotiation by threatening to walk away and come back later in the day, when they have more leverage. Keep in mind, though, that you still have power here.
"The incentive that people have for paying more is that the item may not be around at the end of the day," says Cohen. "You can say, 'Well, maybe it won't be there in two hours.'"
And if they do come back at the end of the day? How much you're willing to deviate from your asking price is up to you, but you shouldn't let on that you're desperate: Make it clear that you're willing to put the item back in storage or sell it on Craigslist if you don't get the price you're seeking.
Photo Credit: Bree Bailey
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