I’m poking around my house again. About every two years, I hear the call of the Garage Sale Sirens. I begin to pull out various items I rarely or have literally never used and set up shop in my garage for a few hours on a Saturday morning. On average, I would guess that 40% of the items sell. I like to think that means that I’ve cleaned out 40% of stuff I don’t really need. It’s something.
According to Visually.com, the quintessential American yard sale is assumed to have started in the 40’s and 50’s, during the post WWII period of rapid urban expansion when many people were moving to suburban houses with garages and yards. And if one researches further back, in the early 1800’s, “shipping yards would sell unclaimed cargo and leftover warehouse items at a discounted price. These dock sales were then known as “rommage sales.” Later, “rommage” would evolve to rummage.
As I began that rummaging process, I found myself standing face-to-face with my Florida Santa. Should he stay or go? He is a 12-inch tall Dept. 56 collectible figurine wearing a tropical shirt, sandals and is surrounded by large pink flamingoes. He was given to me six years ago by my customer service team at Legacy.com when I left the company to move south. They knew I loved Dept. 56, so it was a logical choice.
In fact, I’ve been collecting pieces and displaying a Christmas village scene for over twenty years now. It includes lots of snow-covered roofs on the homes and businesses and people bundled up as they trudge through the snow. It’s another way to tell a story.
My new Santa happened to be a part of an entirely different brand under Dept. 56 called “Possible Dreams” which focuses on Santas enjoying outdoor hobbies such as gardening or fishing. They are stand-alone pieces.
Unfortunately, it ended up that he needed to stand alone away from my traditional Christmas scene. When I placed him near it, he looked like a giant, towering over the homes and the tiny townspeople like Gulliver in Gulliver’s Travels. I quickly moved him to a spot under our Christmas tree where he shined bright for a couple of seasons. He got kind of buried after that.
Garage sales do have a reputation for customers expecting low pricing and high bargaining. Dept. 56 collectibles have a pretty good resale value, so I hesitated including him. But I knew where I could probably turn to sell him to another collectible enthusiast.
EBay. Craig’s List. Facebook Marketplace. If I’m going to highlight the history of the garage sale, it’s important to include its biggest evolutionary twist: the advent of the internet. Today there are virtual “garage sales” everywhere, 24-7. In most cases, it’s free to advertise a listing. You only pay a small percentage if it sells. Or, for an upfront fee, you can choose to “boost” the exposure of your listing to have more potential buyers see it.
So, I decided to sell him in a virtual garage sale. I chose Facebook Marketplace. I have already sold a few items there and I always select “Local Pick-Up Only” which eliminates the packaging and shipping component on EBay. I took photos and tried to write my most convincing copy.
“This Dept. 56 collectible titled “Holiday Flocking” is 6 years-old, but I have only displayed this fun beach Santa once. He’s in perfect shape and a great addition to any collection. He’s perfect for Christmas in Florida. Includes original box.” I priced him at $38.00.
Within 15 minutes, my phone “dinged.”
“Hi Melanie. Is this still available?” Facebook Messenger shared.
“Yes, it is available” I typed in.
Seconds later, Joe replied “I’m very interested.”
“Great! What would you like to know?” I asked.
He wanted to know where and when we could meet. He also wanted to know whether I would accept $30. I countered at $33.00 (more out of principle that I didn’t want to appear too eager and $35 felt like too little a drop from $38.) He accepted. He then asked if we could meet shortly at a public location so we agreed on the nearby Target.
I arrived first. He had told me the make and model of his car, so I was scanning the east end of the parking lot. And suddenly there he was. As my husband and I got out of our car and walked over, I realized that this was no ordinary Joe. I was looking at Santa. Well, almost. Joe had a full, short white beard, and a big jovial smile. He was shorter than a traditional Santa, but definitely a little round. And just like my Santa, he was wearing a tropical shirt.
He removed the Santa from the box, did a fast inspection and declared him “perfect.” Staring at Joe, this did not surprise me. He then told us that my Santa would be joining a collection of 200 (!) other Santas, and he was so pleased because he didn’t have one with flamingoes. He added that they would start their set-up the day after Thanksgiving.
“This is crazy” I thought. In just one hour, I have been able to match the perfect buyer to my Santa. Not only does he literally resemble his 12-inch tall counterpart, but he is a passionate collector who clearly loves the holiday and will take care of my old friend. What are the chances that a person who owns 200 other Santas just happened to not have one with flamingoes – the very one I was selling? That’s some kind of magic marketing. It was also magical when he handed me $35.00; more than our agreement.
I do still feel, however, that there is a place for the traditional garage sale. This is the opportunity to put out multiple items simultaneously instead of taking individual photos and writing advertising copy for 30-100 items. It has its own efficiency. And in an ironic twist, about 95,000 “old school” garage sales are listed on Craig’s List each week.
I will never get wealthy from garage or online sales, but I get a certain joy from people walking away with something that makes them happy. Joe actually sent me a post-sale comment after I got home. “Thanks again, love my new Santa!” It doesn’t get any better than that.
Has anyone else sold items on Facebook Marketplace or in a garage sale? What was the experience (s) like?