When the Lousiest Salesperson Participates in a Garage Sale

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Taking a Break, Ottawa, June 2013

Taking a Break, Ottawa, June 2013

It’s June, and it’s garage sale season. I wrote about this very popular Canadian activity before but until last weekend, I had never participated in a garage sale.

Oh, and did I mention I am the lousiest salesperson on earth?

Last weekend, Feng, Mark and I went to the Glebe garage sale, one of the most sought-after opportunities for treasure hunters who seem to favour this trendy neighborhood. We bought a copy of Nirvana’s In Utero (my CDs are still in France) for $1 and a Pink Floyd Live DVD for $3 before calling it a day. We already have too much junk at home—no need to buy other people’s.

But it gave me an idea: why not sell Mark’s old winter clothes? I have a diaper box full of newborn and 0-3 month pants, onesies, pyjamas, etc. and it’s not like he is going to shrink and fit in them ever again.

Our community’s annual garage sale is held on the first Saturday of June. That day, I woke up earlier than usual, excited like a kid on Christmas Day.

I don’t even know why I was excited. I mean, I have various life and work skills, but sales skills aren’t on my resume.

Let me rephrase that—I am a lousy salesperson. You wouldn’t buy a bottle of water from me even if you were thirsty and if I was the only seller around.

I can “sell” myself, I am not a shy person, I am usually confident and I have normal social skills. But for some reason, I can’t sell anything.

I accidentally took up several sales positions in my early twenties and I was a disaster. As a student in France, I once worked at selling magazine subscriptions. I don’t even know why I applied for the job—I do actually, I was desperate—and most importantly, how and why I was hired. But I quit after a week of working my butt off and selling a grand total of six subscriptions. And yes, the job was commission-based.

In Canada, when I was still new and inexperienced (and barely spoke legible English), I was hired by a local flower shops to sell bouquets close to LCBOs (liquor stores, for non-Ontarians) and on holidays such as Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day. Although I was somehow slightly better at selling flowers than magazine subscriptions, I was still a lousy salesperson. I felt the flower price was too high, that people were wasting money and I certainly didn’t know how to upsale.

“I don’t have anything to lose,” I thought, carrying Mark’s outfits to the driveway.

As I was arranging a red jacket on a coat hanger, a car slowed down and the driver hailed me. “Hey, how much for that jacket?”

“Five bucks. Brand new!”

I walked to the car and she inspected the jacket carefully as if making a million-dollar investment. The lousy salesperson in me already felt like saying “take it now, bye bye!” and running home.

“I’ll take it.”

She rummaged through her handbag and handed me a five-dollar bill before driving away.

I felt like a kid after receiving a vaccination shot. That was it? Meh, didn’t even hurt!

I bragged to Feng for a minute and returned to arranging the rest of the clothes on the driveway, and brought Mark outside with me. I put a blanket on the ground, arranged a few toys for Mark, got my Kindle (eh, who knows? I may be able to read if Mark gives me a minute!) and gave the baby his first bottle of the day.

“How much?”

I was about to say something along the lines of “the baby? The rate is per hour!” when I remembered these kinds of witty replies may be the reason why I can’t sell shit.

“$3 for the outfits, $2 for the pyjamas and $1 for the rest.”

Yes, I totally made these prices up. Sounded about right for second-hand baby clothes.

To my amazement, the lady actually handed me some change and bought newborn outfits.

The following hours went by fast. Mid-morning, I took a Canadian break—I walked to the Tim Hortons at the end of the street with Mark for a cup of coffee. The rest of the time was spent smiling at people who invariably commented on Mark’s cuteness; giving pricing info; congratulating mothers-to-be who bought clothes; preventing Mark from chewing on the tree leaves; and retrieving Mark’s toys he constantly threw away.

I made $20.

Trust me, I valued these twenty bucks. It’s not about the money—it’s about actually getting over my selling phobia.

The garage sale turned out to be an interesting social experience as well. It was hot and humid and people were relaxed and enjoyed chatting. I got to know some of my neighbours and Mark got to play outside (and then we had to deal with an overexcited baby for the rest of the day, but never mind…).

Midday, I packed the rest of the clothes I hadn’t sold in a diaper box and gave it away to the local community centre though the “Neighbours Helping Neighbours” program.

I suck at selling… anything but baby clothes!

(That, or Mark is good luck!)


About Author

French woman in English Canada. World citizen, new mom, traveler, translator, writer and photographer. Looking for comrades to start a new revolution.


  1. Well done you! Amazing to get money for nothing, no after ow small e amount! There were loads of yard sales round here this weekend, I love them! I got rid of most of my stuff inEngland, so I have nothing left to sell, but I can’t wait to start doing them in a few years! In England I used to go to car boot sales all the time!

  2. Few people like selling, it’s all “fake it ’til you make it!”

    Baby clothes kind of sell themselves, they’re used so briefly. But at least it helped you get over your phobia of selling stuff.

    I loved buying used stuff, it really doesn’t make sense to buy most things new.

  3. Oh, I have participated in a garage sale once. I didn’t sell my junk, just my friends’, but it was fun still. I find it so amazing to see how people can accumulate junk to the point that it’s still in a very nice condition, and that other people are willing to buy them!

      • Yeah, there is this guy living in my parents’ street who’s garage is so full of “stuff” that he can’t shut it! If you walk down my street, you’ll know who I’m talking about.

        He has been hoarding stuff ever since we moved there in 1993. He spends his days trolling around town looking for stuff he could fix to sell. He even finds pieces and parts and assembles them to create something “new”.

        On the days he has his garage sales, there are so many people that everyone has to line up and wait to see his “goods”.

        Sometimes I have even noticed a big dumpster in front of his house full of stuff as well. I suspect that maybe the City is forcing him to clear out his yard (or his house – I wonder what the inside of his house is like…) or maybe he even asked for the dumpster to despose of the garbage of his garbage, ha!

        I think hoarding is a very Canadian thing because a lot of people have big basements and garage sales are so popular.

        • Oh, trust me, French can be hoarders too! They hoard in their attics though, hence the fact that “garage sale” is “vide-grenier” I guess! I can never understand people who accumulate junk though. I like my life to be “clean” and I love getting rid of what I don’t use regularly.

  4. I think the main reason for being a lousy salesperson is the socialist attitude. People like you and me would probably be happy to see that someone can actually use the items. It’s ok to get some money for them (after all they weren’t free when you bought them either), but it really isn’t all about the money, is it? Personally I’d be glad to see parents who are happy to have found something affordable for their little ones. Having $50 at the end of the day is nowhere near that feeling when you see happy and grateful people. And let me tell you, if my neighbor made fun of me because he made more money, I would still feel richer than him.

  5. I worked at Zellers for 2 years and I really disliked my time there. They forced me to sell their credit card which I hated doing with every fibre of my being. As the “customer is always right” in Canada, I had to grin and bear it all the time.

    I also sold flowers in front of the Beer Store! I didn’t last long, but I lasted long enough to realise that the girls that made the most money were the prettiest ones.

    I’m just too introverted to work in sales. I am so glad that I got away. When I arrived in Europe I worked as a cleaner to get through university. It suited me a lot more.

    A garage sale is a different thing, though. There is no pressure to perform and no boss hanging over you all the time. With prices like the ones you were selling for, buyers know that you are not there to rip them off. Canadians love coming across good deals!

    • I didn’t know you worked at Zellers! Okay, maybe you will be able to explain me why this store (doesn’t matter which one actually, any of the locations across the city) sucked so much. They had the worst customer service I have ever had in Canada. Employees didn’t seem to give a damn, and the check out process was ridiculously slow. I worked by the one on Sparks St and often had to get bus tickets there. It was so damn slow! Two people in front of me meant waiting for at least 20 minutes. It was a joke with my coworkers.

      They really did customer service the French way…!

      I wonder if we worked for the same flower business now!

  6. I had some good and bad experience of selling too :
    Once, at 12, my sister and I had to sell roses to each apartment on the building we were living in…and knocking on every door (50 in total) hopefully it was for one day… Then, at 18 at worked at the huge Sports Experts in Quebec city to sell shoes of all kinds and it last 3 months. The first day, my manager asked me to go home after only 2 hours (it was 11 am) because I was too stiff and looked lost. But, after 2 weeks I became one of the 3 best sellers (out of 10) and “caring and listening” was the reason why I could sell more. And it’s right you sell more if you are attractive… Some clients treated me like I was garbage and it was hard to keep smiling at them, but some people where so pleased for the service I gave them even if I knew little about shoes (the manager told me briefly what was the best or no good and why for the running shoes but the rest was all about comfort)… But well, I am happy not to sell anymore…

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