Want to get rid of clothing that your kids have outgrown, find bargain kids’ stuff, make money, and raise funds for your favorite cause? Participate in a children’s clothing consignment sale or organize your own.

The concept is similar to year-round consignment shops (where sellers/consignors consign their items and receive a percentage of the price if an item sells). A children’s consignment sale is typically a 1- to 3-day event with clothing, toys, books, videos/DVDs, and more. If you are looking for a sale in your area, check out Kids Consignment Sale

If you are interested in creating your own sale, realize that the planning is dizzying; the orchestration more Marine Corps drill than tea party; the precision, much like a space mission. But bargains are legendary and rewards for fund-raising enormous as established sales may generate tens of thousands of dollars for sponsoring organizations.

What groups hold these types of sales? In my town, they are mostly church preschools but may include neighborhood clubs and women’s groups. Mothers of multiples' clubs, families, and businesses run temporary consignment sales in other places.

So, how is it done? Here’s a guide that will take you through nearly all the steps…

Basic Planning

  • Decide if proceeds will benefit the sponsoring organization or a designated charity.
  • Figure out who will be your organizers (example: two people associated with the sponsoring organization who will be contact persons, make decisions, enforce rules, organize and direct volunteers) and select a treasurer (example: treasurer of your sponsoring organization).
  • Find a site suitable for your event, making sure there is enough space and the price is reasonable (examples: church fellowship halls, community centers).

Event Planning

  • Pick a date(s) and time(s) for your sales event (examples: 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday; or Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., and Monday, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.)
  • Set dates and times for the receiving of sale items (examples: 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday before the Saturday sale); pickup of unsold items (9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. on the Monday after the Saturday sale); and donation of unsold/unwanted items to charity (11 a.m. on Tuesday after the Saturday sale).
  • Decide if you will have a discount sale and how discounted items will be presented (example: the third day of a three-day sale will be half-price for marked items; items will be designated for half-price by sellers drawing a line through the price with a pink marker).
  • Specify percentage of sales for a) sellers and b) sponsoring organization (example: 60% to seller and 40% to sponsor).
  • Determine what forms of payment you will accept (examples: cash only, cash and checks with proper identification).
  • Identify a charity that can receive unsold items that sellers choose to donate (sellers may also pick up unsold items and try again at another sale).

Resource Planning

  • Define your equipment needs and sources (examples: fixtures for hanging clothing; tables for displaying items, such as shoes and books; cash boxes and calculators; bins for sorting sellers’ tags; determine if you will buy, build, or rent displays).
  • Figure out your supply needs and sources (examples: bags for shoppers, request donations from the grocery store or ask volunteers to bring in extra bags).

Solidifying Plans

  • Make sure you have the resources to pull off the event; don’t hold the event if it seems overwhelming or just start with a smaller event with several families rather than hundreds.
  • Reserve your space, making sure that you are reserving space for set-up, receiving, selling, storage, and take-down days.
  • Line up your equipment by either making reservations at a rental company or purchasing items that you can store while not in use.

Volunteer Recruitment and Organization

  • Determine volunteer duties (examples: put up directional road signs; set up fixtures, displays, and tables; receive items; create selling kits; display items in proper categories; direct and assist buyers during the sale; take payments; count money and make bank deposits; take down fixtures; distribute unsold items to sellers and/or charities; provide childcare); have at least 2 people for each task, especially those requiring money handling.
  • Determine precisely the number of volunteers you’ll need for each task and the hours that each one will work; decide when childcare will be made available for volunteers.
  • Make a sign-up poster indicating dates, duties, time slots (usually in 2-3 hour increments), duties, and childcare availability with spaces for volunteer names and phone numbers.
  • Devise your volunteer incentive (example: access to a volunteer-only preview sale before the sale is open to the public).
  • Recruit volunteers (examples: members of your sponsoring organization; members’ friends).

Merchandising

  • Set merchandise standards (examples: all clothing should be free of stains and have working zippers; toys must be cleaned; puzzles and games must have all pieces; minimum price must be $1.00 with price increments of 50 cents).
  • Create seller packets with 1) registration forms with a seller number or code (critical to tracking sales) and space for seller’s name, address, and phone number; the form can also indicate preferences for picking up or donating unsold items and picking up or receiving a check via mail; 2) instructions for packaging and presenting items (examples: specify where safety pins should be attached on clothing and how clothing should be placed on hangers; items with multiple pieces, such as shoes and socks are placed in a Ziploc bags and tags are taped to the bag); and 3) instructions on labeling tags with the seller’s code, size, description, and price; instructions for indicating if the item should be ½ off during the half-price sale.

Event Promotion

  • Before you put up a sign, banner, or flyer, make sure that you have permission and are complying with sign regulations (example: temporary signs must not be attached to telephone poles and must appear for 3 days only).
  • Get directional signs made and set up signs at key intersections pointing shoppers to the sales event; directional signs should be readable by drivers and should list the event name, location, dates, and times.
  • Get a banner made and install it in a prominent location so that arriving shoppers are sure that they are in the right place.
  • Make and distribute flyers at churches, schools, community centers, and businesses.
  • Consider free and/or paid promotions (examples: newspaper ads, free listings in community pages on websites and/or newspapers; announcements in newsletters, word of mouth referrals).
  • During the sale, ask shoppers to sign up for notices of future sales; send postcards to shoppers prior to each sale.

Getting Ready

  • Set up the facility for displaying items; have locations designated for all categories (examples: sections for girls’ and boys’ clothing with subsections for varying size ranges similar to a department store; sections for books, toys, shoes, and large items such as playpens and car seats).
  • Register sellers and make sure that each seller has completed a registration form and followed procedures for cleaning, packaging, and placing seller tags on items.
  • Receive items by inspecting items for cleanliness, proper packaging, and proper tagging; reject items not meeting standards and ask sellers to make changes to improper packaging/tagging.
  • Place items in designated locations.
  • Get currency and coins to provide change for shoppers (example: get $250 from the bank on the day before the sale -- five $10s, ten $5s, one hundred $1s, and two hundred quarters; you’ll see that having a minimum price and standard pricing increments makes it easier to make change)

Holding the Sale

  • Make sure that shoppers can find the shopping area (examples: have directional signs from parking lot to shopping areas; have greeters directing shoppers).
  • Help shoppers and monitor the shopping area.
  • Provide an efficient check-out for shoppers (examples: assign 2 people to each register or calculator; person #1 takes items from shoppers, clips tags, counts items, and hands tags to cashier; person #2 calculates totals, verifies item count, and takes payment from shoppers.
  • Monitor and control receipts carefully (example: have the treasurer count money, reconcile sales tags with receipts at the end of each shift or day in the presence of a trusted volunteer or organizer); make bank deposits as soon as possible, either the same day of the sale or immediately the next day.

Sorting Out Payments and More

  • Sort and store tags for use in calculating amounts due to sellers; keep tags on items sold during regular sale days separate from tags sold on half-price days.
  • Calculate sales for each seller by adding amounts from tags; determine amounts owed to sellers and amounts due to sponsoring organization.
  • Sort unsold items by seller and/or by items to be donated; stage unsold items for seller pick-up, realizing that sorting items from 100+ sellers requires a lot of floor space; return unsold but still-wanted items to sellers and donate unwanted items to charity.
  • Have the treasurer write and/or approve checks to sellers; distribute checks.
  • Determine profits: total receipts less all event expenses (such as facility and fixture rentals, sign purchases, cash and currency) and payments to sellers.
  • Conduct a lessons-learned session to identify problems and discuss changes for future events.

Mission Critical:

  • Find a space that will accommodate all of your needs, which typically will include overnight storage.
  • Create an incentive that will encourage volunteer participation.
  • Count money and reconcile receipts with at least two people present.
  • Make bank deposits as quickly as practically possible.
  • Make sure that seller information is tracked accurately throughout the event.

Most groups will hold spring and fall sales, specifying that items be appropriate for upcoming seasons. Your group can decide the strictness or leniency of your quality standards: if you are too strict (forbidding mass merchant brands such as Kmart’s Basic Editions), you may discourage sellers; but if you are not strict enough (buttons are missing or clothing has stains), then buyers may not return. For safety reasons, you may decide not to allow car seats, cribs, or even toys. And depending on the crowd you are trying to attract, you may want to include maternity clothing and teen apparel.

Pricing can vary by seller and is usually left to the discretion of the seller. Most buyers are looking for inexpensive clothing ($1-2 for pants and shirts) though some are hoping to find a decent price on boys’ suits or girls’ designer dresses ($10-15).

Volunteers can be anyone from the community though most are associated with the sponsoring organization. To make the event family-friendly and accessible, it is nice to offer childcare during some volunteer times and offer activities in the morning and evening.

If you need more information, ask me or visit Kids Consignment Sales, go to seasonal sales, click on the state of your choice, and then visit websites of advertisers; these websites often have incredibly detailed information on products accepted, tagging requirements, volunteer schedules, rules, and more. And, if you’d like to see what might be in store for you at a consignment sale, see Carrie’s post on bargain shopping for high-end children’s clothes.