After helping to host a subdivision-wide yard sale on Saturday, I can finally say I get the attraction of the wheel and the deal.
This is a belated realization as I come from a long line of bargain shoppers. First off, my little brother Matthew has never paid full price for anything — whether it’s on sale or not. Whatever he’s buying, he has no qualms about turning on the charm and asking for the manager.
Then, to their automatic question of “What can I do for you today?” he’ll smile broadly and say, all cheerful and light, “What can’t you do for me?”
This is not even a kind of funny joke and, actually, veers on this side of smarmy. Yet it works for the little twerp almost every time. Ten percent, 15 percent, 30 percent, he’s had it all. He’s had a leather couch replaced twice because it got scratched. He got it for 50 percent off to begin with.
My stepdad Peter is the same way, though he’s more Internet based, so will spend hours researching the price of, say, printer cartridges before locating a dealer out of a little store down in Texas that sells them for $2.
But my uncle Aurèle is probably king. It’s possible he’s never paid for a coffee in his life since he knows all the car dealerships that offer a cup for free. He’s also a regular at Costco and knows exactly what time the most free samples are on offer. Usually, he’s stuffed by the time he gets out of the store.
While the expression “If you don’t ask, you don’t get” has been drilled into me since I was a kid, doing the asking has never come naturally to me. I’m essentially shy, born without the full-sun charm my brother has. If I notice I’m buying a dress that, say, has deodorant on it, I’ll never ask for 10 percent off like my mom would. Paying full price is worth it to me to avoid the discomfort of possibly being told no.
But at the yard sale on Saturday, we were there to make some coin. We live in a country club, which has recently been saved from bankruptcy thanks to a few dozen homeowners who chipped in and bought it. But there are still lots of renovations to make and lots of money needed to get them done. Hence, the yard sale, which we were hoping would bring in a few thousand bucks to offset costs.
I got there about 7:30 a.m. and quietly started working on sorting clothes. What was my state of mind? I didn’t know the women running the show well, so I just wanted to be helpful, keep my mouth shut and stay busy. The clothes seemed like a logical place to bury myself since they were a mess.
But then the customers started pouring in — even before the doors opened at 8 — and piling up with armloads of stuff. One big guy came in and hauled off about 30 t-shirts from the men’s department in the corner of the tennis courts. I saw a woman dragging a box of finds to the cashier. “Sold!” I heard from the furniture department on the other side of the bathrooms.
I looked at my table of t-shirts and suddenly felt an urge to market. Wouldn’t these clothes be more appealing if I placed enviable brands on the top of each pile, making people think the clothes underneath them were likewise Gap and Banana Republic natives? I felt this need to sell. I started approaching customers if they needed anything. I wanted their 50 cents.
Then I moved over to the kids’ section and started arranging there. People are pretty focused while shopping for clothes because they’re concentrating on sizes. But when it comes to debating whether they want to buy a caterpillar piano thing, they’re more vocal. And I, in turn, was too.
“Only $3 for that strappy thing you carry a baby around in? What a steal!” I said to them.
They’d reconsider, nod and tuck it under their arm. The first time that happened, I felt a tremendous rush. I alone had made that sale. I alone had been responsible for putting that $3 in the till.
Then I moved over to the Christmas décor section, now only ostensibly there to spiff up the display. People are downright festive in this section, nuzzling the pastel bunny rabbit wreath, caressing the Mrs. Claus who has some cotton batting coming out of her neck.
“How much if I buy all four of these scarecrows that are falling apart,” a woman asked me, slightly concerned over the $2 they would cost her.
“How about $1.50?” I told her.
“Sold,” she said.
By now, it was 11 o’clock, and there was a scant hour before the yard sale would be over.
I went over to the lady manning the till.
“Is it time to slash prices yet?” I asked and I saw an ounce of shock register on her face.
“Go for it,” she said.
By the time the morning was over, customers knew I was the go-to girl, the one whose attention they needed because they knew I’d wheel and deal with them.
“How much you want for these see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil monkey figurines,” a man asked me.
“How much you going to give me?” I countered, sounding exactly like Matthew Kaprowy.
By the time the yard sale was over, we’d made close to $2,100. It makes me glad to think I’m responsible for about $150 of that. I’m even happier to think that I’m finally settling into my heritage.