What can small businesses learn from yard sales?

If I have some spare time on Friday or Saturday mornings I’ll hit a few yard sales to find items to sell at auction or for my personal use.  Sometimes one can find some amazing buys at a yard sale.  Occasionally, we’ll hear a story of someone who bought a picture at a yard sale for a few dollars only to find our later it was worth thousands of dollars.  That’s never happened to me, but one can always hope!

My actual experience with yard sales has been rather disappointing because of the way too many people approach them.  I was recently at a sale that was advertised to start at 8:00.  I arrived at 8:05 and they were still carrying things out.  In fact, they hadn’t even set up all the tables yet.  Nothing was priced.  Most items at a yard sale are negotiable, but it’s nice to have some idea of what the people want for them.  I’ve made it a policy that I don’t buy items at a yard sale that are not marked, and I certainly didn’t have time to wait for them to drag everything out of their house they were going to sell.  I left.  The sale lasted three days, and on the last day I drove past their house on my way to a meeting.  It looked like they sold very little.  Like more and more of the yard sales I attend, they did not prepare for their sale.

I usually have one yard sale each summer, and I begin preparing for it a week in advance.  I purchase my newspaper ads, clean out the garage, and begin setting up tables.  By Tuesday I am already unpacking boxes and setting items out on the tables.  By Wednesday everything is priced and clearly marked.  On Thursday I go to the bank and get the money I will use for change and make sure everything is ready.  Large items are sitting next to the garage door ready to pull out the next morning.  At 7:45 I open the garage doors and move all the big items outside, and we are open for business.  There are usually some early birds sitting in their cars ready for the doors to open, and I am ready to serve them.

I find some small businesses operating like each of the yard sales I’ve described.  Some are clearly not prepared for business.  They make it difficult for their customers to do business with them due to their operating hours, their credit policies, or their personnel.  They make people who want to buy from them feel like they are interrupting something the employees feel is more important.  I recently stopped in a restaurant and asked for the lunch special.  It was only 11:30, and they were already out of the special.  Not ready for business.  Such businesses often struggle to be successful and wonder why.

On the other hand there are those small businesses that are ready every day to do business with their customers.  They are prepared when their customers arrive.  Everything is set up to make their customer’s buying experience a great one so they will not only come back but will tell others about their great experience.  What’s the difference between the small business that is ready for business and the one that isn’t?  Preparation.  The successful small business will take the time to make sure everything is ready when the doors open every day.

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