Jonathan Lieberman’s Guide to Guerrilla Garage Sale Selling

October 4, 2005

Yard Sale signI wrote most of this before I left Boston 6 weeks ago. I had intended to write more, but time has gotten away from me and now I feel I must just get it out the door. Please forgive the time warp.

Last week I had a garage sale to sell pretty much everything that was in my apartment. I have several observations on the garage sale experience, so here I present, “Jonathan Lieberman’s Guide to Guerrilla Garage Sale Selling”, with apologies to Jay Conrad Levinson, author of “Guerrilla Trade Show Selling”, which was without a doubt, the single highest yield investment I have ever made.

So before we begin, I need to ask…

I assume there are two basic reasons, which while not mutually exclusive, are less compatible than you might imagine. You either want to get rid of stuff, or you want to make money.

If you want to get rid of stuff with minimal effort. Run an ad in the largest major newspaper (call by Tuesday for the best weekend rate). When someone makes a low ball offer (as the people from the newspaper certainly will) haggle for appearance sake (you might get an extra 20% or so, but generally not much more). Then take what they offer you. These people are professional garage sale shoppers. They tear through mounds of junk and offer you a quarter a piece for things, or they will build their pile high, offer you $5.00 for the whole mound and be gone in a flash, with or without the stuff. After all they have 11 more sales to get to before noon.

If you want to make money. Skip the ad in the paper unless you either have a lot of furniture (because the regulars bring trucks) or you have a thick skin and are a TOUGH negotiator. If you have trouble hanging up on telephone calls at dinner… in fact unless you interrupt them with in 8 seconds and say “No Thanks” or “Please remove from me the list” and then hang up almost without waiting for a response, skip the newspaper. You are no match for these people, and they are mean.

Mean you say? I mean, how mean can they be? REALLY MEAN! That’s how mean. Have I mentioned they are mean? About the nicest thing they will say in response to your price quote is: “You must not go to yard sales much.” Usually it is something more along the lines of “Are you crazy?” or “NO WAY! Paper backs are always a quarter at yard sales.” Another popular line is, “You’ll never sell anything!”. Some like to say they’ll come back at the end of the day, when you have come to your senses. Nope! They’ll never be back. And while you will trim your prices slightly as the day draws on, it will only be slightly. In the 20% range on big stuff, a few bucks on medium stuff and a buck or so on the small things.

Please forgive a brief aside on why the Garage Sale regulars are so mean. In discussing the garage sale my friend Jeff he was dubious that so many people were so mean. After all, his mother goes to these sales all the time. When my wife confirmed that we had at least 25 such mean people, he tried to blame me suggesting that I had some how violated the social moires of garage sale culture by trying to sell things at 60-80% off new Target® prices rather than the 99-99.5% discount that garage sale regulars feel they are entitled to. It seems to me that the meanness is really the result of simple game theory. This is a single round game for all participants. The shoppers need not worry about offending me with their bullying and fear promoting tactics because they’ll never buy from me again. Of course, likewise I don’t care about upsetting them with very reasonable prices (that seem high to them) because I am not looking to build repeat clientele.

Perhaps you are thinking I am crazy now too. Perhaps you are thinking that “anything I don’t sell is lost money.” While that is true, equally true, and less often understood is anything you sell too cheap is lost money. How cheap is too cheap? It depends, but we’ll get to that in a minute. If you decide to skip an ad in the paper or even if you run one, you’ll want to get some additional (better) customers to your sale.

Who do you want at your sale? You want 2 types of people, neither of whom go to yard sales very often. Number 1, you want people who are coming to by a specific item or items. Number 2, you want people who are just walking or driving by and “saw the sign”. Let’s talk about each of these groups individually.

People coming for specific items. Before your yard sale you should put lots of individual items up on If you have some how been living under a rock and don’t know what Craig’s list is it is an online classified system that with a few narrow exceptions (job postings in some cities) is completely free and ad free. It is great, really great. It is local for every city and people generally pick things up rather than shipping, which makes it much better for big stuff than Ebay.

To begin your marketing take photos of furniture and larger ticket items like air conditioners, rugs, speakers, a TV, the radar detector you never use, etc. Create an account on craigslist, you don’t need one to post ads, but having one makes it easy to keep track of your ads and edit them (which is very important).Now, post ads to Craig’s list for each of the individual items you took photos of above. Craig’s list has free photo hosting for the photos in your ad. If you use their photo hosting instead of your own the ad will indicate that it includes a photo. If you don’t mind getting phone calls, butting your phone number in the ad will increase responses and speed up the process of completing a sale.

You’ll get a good idea about popularity in 24 hours. Expect 60% of you response in the first 24 hours, 15% in the next 24 hours, and then 5% a day for the next 5 days til your ad expires. Once you posted several items (one ad per item) you’ll want to create an ad for the garage sale itself an link to each of the items that you have posted for sale. Additionally you’ll want to update each of those items to mention and link to the sale. This will help you to presell some items. if people want to pick them up at the sale insist that they send a deposit via paypal or that they pick it up in advance. If they can’t do either have them come as early as possible, or explain that because you have been stood up in the past, you can not hold an item until without a deposit, but let them know they can call and check if it is still available on the day of the sale.

These people are good customers, because they are coming to buy. They already know your price and are psychologically (if not fiscally) committed to buying. They’ll bring the appropriate vehicle and labor to get their stuff. They may pick up some other goodies while they are at it. This brings us to another great set of customers.

People who saw the sign. There should be a lot of these people if you have done your signs well. What we are looking for here is neighbors, passersby and people that are NOT looking for a garage sale. People who see a clean, new looking, but slightly dated food processor with manual for sale and are delighted to learn that it is $7.00.

People who shop at target you’d see your items as bargains, but nothing costs a quarter at my yard sale, and if that is the offer you’d make, you aren’t the kind of people I am looking for.

To get lots of people from the signs you’ll need… Lots of signs. But, even more importantly, you need large, high contrast signs that can be read from a car at 25 MPH. If you look closely at the photo above, you’ll see that after my wife made the sign for our front lawn, I went back and added lots of ink to YARD SALE and 9AM. The letters need to be 1/2 - 1 inch thick to be readable from a car. As few words as possible are ideal. In addition to the words “Yard Sale” which has less letters than “Garage Sale” the date and an arrow are useful. Include the address only if you think it is more helpful than an arrow. Ideally people should be able to follow a series of signs to the sale. Hang the signs at busy intersections and at a nearby supermarket (and the appropriate cross streets to guide them all the way) and you should have lots of people. I know it is easier to print signs on your computer, but they just don’t work.


I had indented to write a bit about the various customer types here but I have run out of energy for more than a quick descriptions.

  • Lowballer - Will offer a to pay you 50 cents to a two dollar bill. If he has some haggler in him he’ll come up to a $1.00.
  • Haggler - She enjoys the negotiation and will never expect your initial offer, no matter how reasonable. If you say a box of books is a nickle, she’ll offer 4 cents.
  • Add On - After you have a deal she’ll always try and get you to include one more thing for free.
  • Shy Guy (actually usually a gal) - She is usually quiet and will ask how much something is and then either pay with out question or simply leave. Very much a take it or leave it type. Seems almost afraid of the process.
  • Empty Pockets - This is a variant of the haggler who will plead poor in trying to negotiate a lower price. My preferred type will actually turn his pockets inside out to demonstrate that he has already offered every cent he has.
  • The tortoise- The tortoise will stay for a long time working on you to buy a specific item. Time is of no value to this person, he usually has an interest in only a single specific thing.
  • Drive by shooters - These are usually newspaper people that come by very early and honk leaning out the window to ask if “You got anything old?”

Good luck and may your garage sales all be successful.

I’m leaving on a jet plane…

September 14, 2005

“I’m leaving on a jet plane and I don’t know when I’ll be back again.” I have just changed planes in Miami and these corny lyrics are stuck in my head.

On my flight from Houston to Miami, I tried to get a nap. I am pretty tired since last night, I only got a few hours sleep. I was up late packing and then woke at 4:30 am to catch my flight.

On the plane to Miami I had a very vivid dream. We had arrived in Miami and I discovered that Soyan had brought all sorts of additional cargo (a tarp for a tent — not that we brought a tent, some small oriental rugs — which we put in storage weeks ago, stacks of folder, books and papers, rice, water and countless other items). During the plane ride, she had decided that she didn’t need all this extra cargo. She had deplaned leaving it under the seat and in the overhead bin. I was frantically sorting through the gear cursing her for not having left it in Houston or taken it with her. In my dream I was wearing ear plugs because I had been napping (in reality I was wearing earplugs because I was still napping :) The earplugs had prevented me from realizing that the crew was about to close the airplane door for the next flight and I had not yet deplaned. I woke up trying to get the words out for them to wait for me to get off.

I guess we all have our own stress dreams.

I am not sure why I was having a stress dream though. I am delighted not just to have started our trip, but also to have ended the packing, planning, organizing etc. that has consumed us for weeks. I am now in Panama City and I am going to see a travel agent about a trip to San Blas and Boquete and then look for some famous canal!

Note: I wrote the first half of this on the plane, but despite considerable effort yesterday I was not able to get posting via email working. If any Dreamhost / WordPress user out there can help, I’d appreciate it.

Additional note: I am not sure how it is possible because this is day one of the trip, but I am behind on my blog already. A garage sale post and a travel tech post are still coming!

Photo Credit: Bill Frazzetto

World Unfurled Scoops WSJ

September 13, 2005

On August 23 I wrote about Coinstar and Amazon gift cards. No doubt following my lead, the Wall Street Journal has picked up the story. One interesting note from the article, it seems Amazon that sees this as a way to reach people with out credit cards. Not only can you feed the machine coins, you can feed it paper bills. Take that paypal!

If you haven’t seen it in your city yet it should arrive soon. I looked at the Coin Star machine at a Kroger’s in Houston on Sunday and the option was not yet present.

Backpack turns man into Energizer bunny

September 11, 2005

I saw this last week on Science Blog, but before I could get this message up, my father pointed out its presence on CNN.

We have all seen the bike lights powered by the motion of the tire, well if researches at the Marine Biological Laboratory are successful, backpackers may one day get the same kind of toys. It seems that “Suspended-load Backpack testers were able to generate up to 7.4 Watts–more than enough electricity to simultaneously power an MP3 player, a PDA, night vision goggles (or 3 LED headlamp), a handheld GPS, a CMOS image decoder, a GSM terminal in talk mode, and Bluetooth.”

Researchers describe a backpacker as an inverted pendulum saying that “The Suspended-load Backpack frame sits still on the wearer’s back, and the load is mounted on a load plate that is suspended from the frame by springs. The springs allow the load to slide up and down on bushings constrained to vertical rods, thus allowing the load to move with the same vertical motion as the hip, but lagging it by a fraction of a second, producing differential movement between the frame and load. The pogo-stick-like movement of the load generates mechanical energy that drives a rack-and-pinion device that powers a geared DC motor that acts as a generator mounted on the frame.”

That sounds great, but it can’t be lighter than my batteries.

Photo credit: Timothy K. Hamilton

Starbucks leaves me breathless.

Last night I abused corporate largesse. I entered a Starbucks® Coffee shop and took 2 large green straws and 2 smaller clear straws. I did this not for the consumption of a tasty Starbucks beverage, but instead to experiment with the training technique of breathing through a straw. I don’t think taking Starbucks’ straws for such a purpose was a violation of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DCMA), but as the guy at is learning it could be.

These straws, combined with my $3.78 purchase of 2 Speedo Competition Nose Clips gave me all I needed for not one but a pair of poor man’s hypoxicators. After experimenting with a full-length narrow gauge straw earlier in the day and getting headache, I switched to a large Starbucks’ straw cut in half. In the picture above you can see Soyan (very graciously) modeling the get up. Now you can see why we only use it at night.

We walked 1.2 miles (yeah for gmaps pedometer) and discovered that it was, indeed, more strenuous than normal walking. As a side effect of breathing only through the straw, there was a simultaneous saliva build up in the front of my mouth and dry mouth in the back.

It was an interesting experience, but I’m not sure if I’ll continue it. Aside from looking like a dork, it is hard to chat while we walk. Additionally, despite lots of poking around on the web I can’t really find any additional intelligent discussion of the technique, but I did however stumble across another odd piece of equipment: Power Breathe a $50 pump system that purports to strengthen lung muscles. It looks ridiculous, but clearly I am ok with that already.

High Altitude Meets Low Tech

September 7, 2005

Portable HypoxicatorI have been spending lots of time thinking about how I’ll get some more altitude to be better prepared for Kilimanjaro. When we get to Panama (just one week away!) we are going to hike the Baru Volcano (3,478 meters / 11,410 feet). But if you can’t take Mohammed to the mountain, you can get Mohammed a portable hypoxicator. A hypoxicator is a fancy machine that simulates high altitude (low oxygen) conditions. This is a fine solution for anybody wishing to spend $1,299 and carry around 15.5 lbs. I am willing to do neither, but what if there was a way to do the same thing with a tool found for free at many restaurants, which weighs less than a gram?

Sean Burch, an adventure racer, ran from the base of Mt Kilimanjaro to the summit, a climb that will if I am lucky take me six days, in less than 5 and a half hours. What was the high tech equipment that he used to train? A straw! From the Ithaca Journal:

He trained for the North Pole Marathon solely on a treadmill, and he must have looked downright peculiar during his training sessions for Kilimanjaro: 30-minute stints on a Stairmaster with his nose pinched while breathing through a straw in his mouth.

Thanks to for the story.

A penny saved is not quite a penny earned.

August 23, 2005

Coinstar Logo A penny saved is 91.1% of a penny if you use the coinstar machine in my local super market. For the past 8 years I have been collecting my change and sticking it in a glass jar. Then I have been dumping the glass jar in to a gallon milk jug as the jar got full. As part of the final push to reduce clutter and save on moving and storage fees before my trip, I finally took the cash to a coinstar machine. I was dreading the fee. 8.9% seemed outrageous. When I got there I discovered that I could avoid the fee if I agreed to be paid in script, rather than cash. I had my choice of Starbucks, Linens and Things, and Amazon. I took my $708.06 payment as Amazon credit.

I got a printed receipt with a code number. I want to and typed in the code, and *POOF* a 708.06 gift certificate was added to my account.

Thanks, Coinstar!

A gamble too big for Las Vegas

August 18, 2005

The prospect of climbing Kilimanjaro has left me scared. Really scared. I read this great story about some other people taking the same climb and it did nothing to sooth my worry. I have lost 15 lbs. but I have a bunch more to go. While it is rewarding to have hit my first milestone, I still have a lot of work to do. I have been hiking frequently seeking out opportunities everywhere I can. I want to be sure to give Kilimanjaro my best.

Recently, I went to Colorado and climbed from 8500 feet to 10,000 feet past Ouzel Falls to Lake Ouzel (see our photos). I climbed Mt. Cardigan in New Hampshire. I took a hike outside Santa Barbara in California. I hiked the 9 miles of rolling hills in blue hills here in MA. Last weekend I even went camping, hiking 21 miles over 2 days with a 35 pound pack in the White Mountains! However, most amazing of all is that on my last trip to Las Vegas I went hiking.

Prior to this trip, I thought Las Vegas consisted solely of “The Strip” and its lesser sister the strip tease, err I mean “Fremont St.” I was amazed to learn that just 45 Minutes from Las Vegas there were real live mountains. My friend Dan, his friend Sandra and I climbed from 7,700 feet to 10,700 seeking the Griffith Peak Summit before the thunder made us turn around. We were all a little dissapointed not to have made the summit, but it was a great hike.

We went along the South Loop trail around the base of Echo Cliffs. We followed the base of one wall than up the other of a “side canyon” with Echo Cliffs on our right and the Harris Saddle trail running up the ridge on our left.

Eventually, we got to Echo Overlook, where we met a charming 79 year old and his wife just enjoying a pleasant walk (at a pace at least 20% faster than our own). They were a nice couple and told us how last year they had walked this route every week just for a little exercise. Later it came out that he had recently qualified for and run the Boston marathon. I hope I am doing half as well at 79.

Then we headed up to the saddle between Griffith Peak, our intended destination and Mt. Charleston (another 1000 feet above Griffith and several miles further). That’s where the thunderstorms forced us to turn tail and run down the mountain as fast as we could without slipping off the edge. If we doubted that lightening could hit the trail we needed only look at the still smoldering tree from the previous night’s storm that we passed on the way up. Lighting is a not a gamble I am interested in taking, even inVegas.

Photos from the hike are available here.

Take a trip and get laid too…

August 17, 2005

Jacqueline Passey is the women that I’d be shagging and traveling around the world with if I wasn’t already so happily married and taking my wife on my trip.

That is good news for you because Jacqui is “Seeking a travel companion and lover”. If you two team up you can save money and have lots of sex.

You’ll have to be: “intelligent, ethical, healthy and fit, monogamous, kind, generous, very affectionate and sexual… pro-choice and pro-gay rights.” Also if it is going to last long term you’ll want to be a libertarian with an interest in economics and online gambling.

Apply today and enjoy the ride (no pun intended) but hurry she is already working on a short list.

Poker is Meritocracy

Barge 2005
Meritocracy is rare!

  • Short people routinely get passed over for jobs.
  • Handicapped customers are considered a hassle by most restaurants.
  • Ugly girls get smaller tips even if they are better waitresses.
  • Blacks pay more for mortgages.

One of the joys of poker is that it is a meritocracy. You can be short, fat, and old with bad teeth and an eye patch. You may roll up to the table in your wheel chair speaking broken English but it just doesn’t matter. Not that you won’t get some looks, but at the end of the day, everybody gets 2 cards. How you play them is all that matters. Cash and respect flows to the winners and just as pity takes the place of a loser’s bankroll.

As I walked in to the poker room, the crowd was overwhelmingly male. Most people looked like they spent too much time at a computer (or a card table). They had big bellies, wore sweat pants and needed haircuts. They didn’t look even a little like Matt Damon or Ed Norton. No sir, these were the not the jet set high rollers and hotties you might image rolling in to Vegas. This was B.A.R.G.E.

For more than a dozen years I have been meaning to go to Las Vegas in August for BARGE, the big August Rec.Gambling Excursion. Long before the web became a synonym, for the Internet, I played in an annual poker tournament by email with a bunch of people from the Usenet newsgroup rec.gambling. Once a year these folks get together in Vegas to play cards, drink and meet face to face. I finally made it this year thanks to Dan, a friend of mine from my local poker game.

The seen was just what I expected, paunchy middle-aged nerds who love cards as much as I do. It was awesome! In fairness, not everybody was a paunchy nerd, but there were a lot of information technology folks that had been using the Internet before the web existed and it showed. The contingent from Alt.Drunken.Bastards (another newsgroup) proudly wore ADB baseball caps, but it would not have been hard to pick them out. They were the loud drunk ones making lots of noise at the tables. Go figure. Normally people play badly when they are drunk, but the ADB crowd had clearly never played sober. Hard drinking and hard thinking, they were on top of their game even as the cocktail waitress brought round after round of Rumplemintz shots.

Despite the nerdish tendencies in the group most people had well developed social skills and I felt at home right away. I met all sorts of nice people that I won’t embarrass by name. There was constant analysis of hands well played and misplayed. Dan was still obsessing over the hand that busted him out of the tournament the year before! While endless poker chat is the norm here, and I had to sit through the usually “bad beat” stories, the level of discourse was very high and I was immediately aware of how much I still have to learn about poker. I am told that the average level of play in the annual BARGE tournament is higher than in the world series of poker.

I met some poker celebs too, like Lee Jones (author of Winning Low Limit Hold ‘em.) and I had a really nice lunch with Andy Bloch and his fiance Jen, who runs Later Jen and I played at the same table in the BARGE NL Hold’em tournament, but after Andy busted out, she dumped her chips in a hurry and I didn’t get a shot at the WPT “play like the pros on your TV game” that she had brought to give to whomever busted her out of the tournament.

I finished 7th in the tournament which made me embarrassingly proud (but dubious that I could repeat the performance in the WSOP, average level of play not withstanding). I played a ton of poker and it wasn’t enough and I had a great time! Even more surprisingly I did something I never thought I’d do in Vegas. I went for a hike (more on that shortly)! I’m sorry that I’ll be traveling when next year’s BARGE rolls around, but I’ll be back as soon as I can.

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