Is annual garage sale result an economic indicator?

The Kaleden Volunteer Fire Department’s 30th annual garage sale took place this past weekend.

This event had been growing in size and revenue for most of the past three decades, to the point that last year the four hour event had generated sales in excess of $5,500.

The annual increase in revenue came to a halt last Saturday, however, as fewer customers over the morning generated sales in the order of $4,300, down significantly from the 2010 all time high.

Naturally, the change of fortune has left the department’s members asking questions about the future viability of the event, something that one could argue has become an annual rite of spring for the South Okanagan Similkameen. While still a successful enterprise, many department members see clouds on the horizon – and after this year’s sale, it appears that some changes will need to be made if the sale is going to continue with the enthusiam and commitment of years past.

It’s anyone’s guess as to why the numbers were down this year; perhaps one could make a comment on the local economy based on the reversal in trend. Either things are recovering to the point where people aren’t interested in shopping for bargains, or consumers are so stretched these days that they don’t even have the disposable income to warrant such “point of sale” purchases.

In terms of weather, Saturday’s conditions were pretty typical of past years, even though this year’s sale date was later in May than usual. More attention was  paid to marketing the sale this year than in past years; all indications are that the message got out.

Whatever the reason, the fewer sales meant that at the end of the morning, many useful items were left over that the department had no alternative but to toss them in the dumpster, an action that many volunteers found unpalatable.

It also meant that with more items left over, the clean up was more lengthy, and onerous, with more heavy lifting.

The fire department also noticed that certain items defied resale, no matter what the condition. These included certain electronic items (especially tube style television sets) furniture items like entertainment centres, and home electrical items such as table, ceiling and floor lamps.

There was palpable disappointment amongst many sale volunteers on Saturday afternoon, following the major clean up and rough count of the day’s proceeds. It would certainly appear that there will be many things to discuss, and some procedural changes made, if the department is to be successful in future years.

Operating procedures that are bound to be reviewed by department members will likely include the following:

– Stricter controls on pick up (or refusal) of items the department feels it cannot sell during the pre sale collections in the community.

– The development of a workable mechanism by which the remaining useful items can be redistributed for sale at other non profit garage sales or storefront outlets. At this year’s sale, for example, a volunteer group of Okanagan Falls Girl Guide  took several pick up loads of remaining items for their sale on the following Sunday.

Perhaps the Kaleden department could make arrangements with non profits or Okanagan – Similkameen charities to have them show up at noon with the resources necessary to haul away any useful items. (The problem is time based – the KVFD must get its operations back to operating normals as quickly as possible, and have no other avenue under present operating conditions, to redistribute the leftovers – so into the bin they go).

If enough interested parties could show up with trucks at noon sharp, many useable items would be saved from the landfill.

The number of positive reasons still outweigh the negative when it comes to holding the sale, but this year’s result has indicated to  the department that some fine tuning will be necessary if the members hope to maximize any future success.