Own your rummage sale with proven strategies

Throwing a rummage sale is an art.

It’s the art of running your own business for a few days and making decisions that ultimately decide whether the sale becomes a success or a bust.

The objective is simple. Sell as much as you can.

However, rummage sales can go bad very easily, but just a little bit of planning can make the difference.

Mike Van Fossen, an Appleton resident who has thrown a few rummage sales before says the key is to get the people into your driveway.

“You got to get them to come up,” says Van Fossen. “Some people just scan the house from their cars and if it’s not worth their time, they don’t come up.”

To get traffic into your driveway, he says you can’t keep everything inside your garage. Van Fossen placed his big ticket items out on his driveway and it proved to be a successful strategy.

“We sold many large items, including five bikes.” Van Fossen says. “They usually drive by slow the first time and then they turn around and park if they see something they like.”
The presence of irregular items also seemed to draw customers’ attentions.

Lemonade stands are a common rummage sale service and can be a success during hot days. Also, it’s a great way for kids to make a little bit of cash.

One family had bundles of flowers along the sides of the driveway, which drew the attention of many customers. It’s not the item you normally see at rummage sales, but the family had success in the past and usually sells them all.

Items placed on driveways act like store window displays. That display can either draw customers in or make them move on to the next sale.

The appearance of the sale gets customers out of their vehicles, but before worrying about the looks, the initial step is getting traffic into the neighborhood.

Van Fossen was taking part in the annual neighborhood rummage sale on Mary Martin Drive, but sometimes that kind of advertisement is not available.

Jack Achterberg and his family used to take part in their neighborhood rummage sale, but that disappeared years ago. However, his family continues to organize a yearly sale on their own.

Achterberg put up signs at nearby intersections to draw in more traffic.

Once the customers have found a sale, the organization of displays and price become the key to their success. Hanging up clothes seems like a little thing, but it can make a difference in sales. Customers can look at everything in an organized fashion and it prevents a pile of laundry from forming on a table.

Achterberg organized his items into sections, making it easier for shoppers to see what he had to offer.

“We have a lot of clothes that are hanging up inside and the kids’ stuff we put outside so that the kids could see it easily,” says Achterberg. Also outside, was the “check-out tent,” which eliminated any confusion as to where customers should pay for their items.


For determining prices, Achterberg uses an old-fashioned way to research the value of his items.

“I’ll go to some other rummage sales myself and our prices will depend on what other people’s prices are,” says Achterberg.

When it comes to setting prices for used items, more than one philosophy exists. Some people like to price everything at a bargain to avoid bringing items back into their house, while others want to get the most bang for their buck.

Van Fossen wanted to sell as much as he could, and his prices reflected that attitude.

“Most of the things are priced 10 to 15 cents on the dollar,” Van Fossen said. “So something valued at $50, we would sell it for $5. What doesn’t sell will go to a thrift shop.”

That seemed to be the general consensus. Items that didn’t sell would be donated to a charity. In some cases the inventory would be saved until the next sale.

The perfect rummage sale is tricky to organize, but there are many things you can do to make yours successful.

—By Alex Olp

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