Top 10 Marketing Tips to Learn from Yard Sales

by Greg Glynn, Marshall Communications Account Executive

When I was studying at Quinnipiac University, I remember learning the four Ps of marketing (product, price, promotion and place), but since then the marketing mix has evolved to include three more Ps—process, physical evidence and people. Having studied and worked in marketing for more than 10 years, I’ve seen a lot of good and bad marketing ideas from both huge brands and small businesses but I believe we can all learn from each other.

One of my favorite things to do in Maine is go to yard sales. Not so much to buy things, but to see how people are marketing their “small business.” On most Saturday mornings during yard sale season I can get a lot of chuckles about how people try to market their sale—the good, the bad and the really bad.

This summer, as my wife and I prepare to host our fourth annual yard sale on Saturday, June 30 and Sunday, July 1 in Augusta, I thought it would be the perfect time to unveil my list of the top 10 marketing tips that I think small businesses and non-profits can learn from yard sales.

10. Appearance.

When someone drives up to the house, what will be their first impression? Are there broken fences in the yard, is the person’s mailbox intact or is paint falling off the house?

Lesson: This example is from the “marketing P” for physical evidence: if your storefront or business appears poorly maintained it will affect how the customer feels about your attention to detail for your product or service.

9. Advertising is not the only answer.

Yes, advertising a yard sale in the newspaper is important and one of the oldest tools in the book, but it’s not the only thing that matters. By telling friends and family well enough in advance you can use word of mouth to spread the news about your sale and people might even be willing to give you some items to sell.

Lesson: Do you tell your friends and family about your job on a regular basis? You never know if someone you know might need your service or know someone that could benefit from what you sell or the services you offer.

8. Honesty with your customers.

Yard Sale ShoppersAt yard sales most people aren’t expecting brand new items and we’ve all probably heard “what’s one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” but no matter what you’re selling people expect you to be honest. At our yard sale, I always make sure to have an extension cord handy so that when people ask “does it still work?” they can plug it in and see that it does. This way I can quickly gain their trust (keeping in mind in most cases I’ve never met this person before in my life). And, if an item is broken or missing a part, I make sure to tell people before they plug it in or try it.

Lesson: Trust is very important for your brand or organization and not being honest or upfront with people will eventually come back to haunt you.

7. Pricing.

At a yard sale people expect a deal, so coming up with realistic pricing is very important. In most cases, people want to pay about half of the original retail price. Overpriced items can be a huge turn off for potential customers and they might even leave after just seeing a few poorly priced items.

Lesson: It is important to know the value of what you are selling or the services you offer. It is also important to know your target audience and what they are going to be willing or able to pay for it.

6. Develop a process.

As one of the newer Ps in the marketing mix, the process is an important part of whether businesses and organizations succeed. When my wife and I prepare for our sale, we both have our responsibilities. We have each developed certain systems and efficient ways of doing certain tasks. For example, I work on creating our signage and the implementation of our strategic marketing plan, while she handles the inventory of items and everything from pricing to packaging.

Lesson: Create a plan and systems for your business. Creating checklists or standard operating procedures can be a great way to save time and money. In addition, it is important to provide your staff with jobs they enjoy and are passionate about.

5. The importance of a greeting.

This tip is from the “marketing P” for people. When someone comes to our yard sale, I always enjoy saying hello and welcoming them to our sale. I try to talk with them about their kids that just jumped out of the car, the weather or perhaps the sports team that is on the shirt or hat they are wearing. This interaction creates a connection and comfort level for the customer that makes them feel welcome. It also lets them to know who they can go to if they do have a question about an item. I think it is safe to say many of us have had the experience of not being able to find a person to ask for help. Not at our yard sale!

Lesson: How are people greeted when they enter your store or lobby? Interacting with people with a friendly smile and hello can go a long way.

4. Place.

As one of the Ps in the marketing mix, the place where the yard sale is being held is a critical element in the marketing mix. My wife and I are lucky to live in a great neighborhood that is close to downtown Augusta, but if you live somewhere on a back road buried deep in the woods, chances are you probably won’t have too many customers.

Lesson: Especially for a retail store or restaurant, place sometimes makes the difference between success and failure. And, if you are selling a product in today’s world, you should give people a place online where they can buy it or ask for more information.

3. Social media.

That’s right, social media for a yard sale. Why not? It’s free! As I like to say you have to fish where the fish are. Keep in mind, there are almost 400 million people on Facebook (not that I’d want them all to come to the sale at once) and making a public event for the yard sale on Facebook lets me see what items people are looking for and lets me tell them if we have those types of items or not. Creating an event also allows us to promote the event with our status updates and allows others to share the event with their friends.

Lesson: Every small business or non-profit can benefit from social media. Creating an event on Facebook for your next 40% off sale or an upcoming fundraiser for your organization are just two of the many ways you can use social media. The possibilities are endless!

2. Promotion.

Yard Sale SignageThis is one of my favorite Ps in the marketing mix and one of my favorite parts about having a yard sale. This tip would be number one, other than the fact that you have to plan before you promote.

Promoting a yard sale is going to be the difference between a $200 sale and a $2,000 sale. Just one example of promotion is creating quality signs to tell people where to go. This is so important and you have to do it right. The sign, at the very least, should be big enough to read while traveling at 30 mph and include the dates, time and address of your sale. A sign with the words “yard sale” and an arrow isn’t enough because someone else might be having a yard sale in the same neighborhood and the potential customer might never even make it to yours.

For our yard sale, I have made over 30 signs that will be strategically placed at high traffic areas in the three surrounding towns. The more people that see you’re having a sale, the more people will come—the more people that come, the more people will buy. Simple, more people, more sales, more money made!

Lesson: Find the time to promote what you sell or the services you provide. It is important to think about where your target audience is and how to reach them.

1. Planning.

My wife and I started planning for our yard sale this year about 300 days ago (shortly after our sale last year). My point is you have to think ahead and commit yourself. By starting the planning early, we have been able to better prepare for how to take advantage of the seven Ps for this year’s sale. For example, I waited to see when the city was going to schedule the Whatever Festival in Capitol Park so that our sale could capitalize on the high volume of traffic that will already be coming to the area for the carnival. By planning our sale the same weekend, we not only benefit from the traffic in the area, but the amount of money and effort the city will spend to promote the festival.

I’ve also created a spreadsheet of tasks that need to get done leading up the date of our sale and we just keep checking them off. For example, we know that we have to price all the items (over 1,000) and have been storing some items for more than 9 months, but because we planned ahead we already have them priced and ready. Everything has to be ready prior to the day of the sale because “early birds” will start coming at 6 a.m. This year we’ve already planned to wake up at 3:30 a.m. because we know it will take that long to set up the tables outside and properly display all the items.

Lesson: Planning ahead can put you ahead. Spending the time to itemize what needs to get done and who is going to do it is so important. It helps to reduce stress and provides a charted course for the road ahead. I like to think of it this way—behind every good organization or business there is even a better plan.

In presenting this list, I hope I have shared some ideas and knowledge that you can apply to your business organization to become more successful (or at least never look at a yard sale in the same way ever again).

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