To create a guide to the REI Garage Sale, I took about 4 hours stalking the store, talking with Denverites who were pros at this, took notes, and got some gear myself. This guide is based on how things work at the downtown Denver , Colorado REI location.
It sounds like most stores have a first-come-first-served policy–not Denver. Because of the high volume of gear and high number of members who come through their garage sales they have had to develope some unique the protocols. I’ll explain that in the next section on how the whole things works. If the Denver Flagship store is not your home store, then give yours a call for the details on how they run their garage sales. Here’s a link to REI’s store locator. Let’s get into it
How the REI Garage Sale Works
Here are the basics: You have to be an REI member. If you’re not, don’t let that stop you; you’ll still be admitted to the garage sale and you can purchase your membership when you checkout (not sure if all stores work this way). Another option is to buy your membership online, print out your receipt, and bring it with you. The Denver store uses a ticket system and they move groups through in 20 minute segments that they call “color waves.” So an hour before the sale starts (get the sale start times on the store’s event page) a guy comes out with a box full of tickets: blue, pink, orange, etc. Because it’s luck-of-the-draw, it doesn’t really matter if you are in the front, middle, or the back of the line. It also means that you can draw an orange ticket, and your wife might draw a blue ticket–so you may have to go in at separate waves, unless you find some nice person to trade tickets with you (I saw this happen a couple times). Each color wave is made up of 100 people and you get 20 minutes in the garage sale room. Each person is allowed 5 items.
How Do You Know When Your Wave Can Go?
Fifteen minutes before the garage sale officially starts they announce the color wave times and post them by the front door. On this particular day, the pink ticket holders got to go first. I was an orange, which went last– get-there-early strategy didn’t play out like I thought it would. Everyone then lined up according to their color waves and a line of people snaked into the building, and up the stairs to stand outside the garage sale doors. After all the waves are done crashing upon the garage sale gear, REI then has an open door policy until the room hits capacity.
When your twenty minutes are up, you can take your gear down to the cashiers and check out. But wait, don’t do that until you’ve read the tips below.
10 Tips for Getting the Most out of REI’s Garage Sale
1. Because of the color wave protocol, I wouldn’t worry about getting there uber-early. In fact, I would just pull in about 15 minutes before ticket time. You can grab a coffee at Starbucks and hang out. By the way, you may be required to get a parking pass when you pull in. I’ve never had to do this before, so it must be new. However, when I pulled out, I just told them I was a customer and I was not charged. Driving away, I heard the attendant say something about the first hour or two being free.
2. Know what you are looking for, and prioritize it. Jackets, downs, and sleeping bags disappear fast; so, if that’s what you are hoping for, go to that area first (clothing and jackets were straight in and on the right). Also, know about how much you are wanting to pay for the gear you hope toe find (see #7 on pricing).
3. Set aside any sense of hurry. I found my best gear after all of the waves had gone through. The REI members at the sale were amazing: they were patient, even fun, and the REI employees who ran the sale had a real relaxed demeanor. So, just be patient, kind, and enjoy it.
4. They typically refresh the gear for each wave. I didn’t see them do this today; I guess some things got thrown off, but I hear that it’s pretty normal for REI employess to wheel in new bins of stuff and to put it out on the tables. This might happen throughout the day after the color waves have finished. It all just depends on how much gear they have to get rid of.
5. Go for a walk with your gear. Of the ten tips, I think this is the best one. Something funny happens to us emotionally when we go to sales like this. For example, I saw some guy pick up a pair of ugly sandals–all of a sudden I was interested in them. We end up picking up stuff we don’t really need, or in our hurry we forget to inspect the gear for damage. Here’s what happened with me. I looked over several courier bags in the garage sale but couldn’t find one I liked, then I picked up some patagonia slippers that were 80% off, and some trekking poles. One of the trekking poles wouldn’t lock correctly, but it looked fixable. Then I went for my walk.
Down on the main floor, I found a courier bag on clearance that I liked and added it to my hoard. I also spent about 15 minutes educating myself on the pricing and the features of different commuter/courier bags. An awesome REI employee looked over the trekking poles with me and told me how to fix them for a few bucks. I tried on the patagonia slippers and decided that they were just flat-out ugly. So, I set them aside.
I also found some easter eggs on my walk. People had jettisoned garage sale gear in the various departments of the store, stuff they thought they wanted–like my ugly slippers–and later realized they didn’t. I found a really nice Marmot down jacket just tossed to the side. With my emotions cooled, I was ready to go back in.
6. Go Back. After exploring the store and visiting the clearance areas (you may find some deals in clearance on par with the garage sale prices), go back up to the garage sale when it has been opened up to everyone. This is when I found the bomber courier/commuter bag I was hoping for. It was buried under a bunch of backpacks and was far superior to the one I picked up on the clearance rack. There were tons of boots, shoes, and sandals left. I found a really nice pair of Merrel dress shoes that I had not seen during my orange color wave. Clothing and sleeping bags were the main thing that were picked over, but there was still a lot of good gear to look through.
7. The baseline for pricing appears to be 50%. It can be higher for stuff that is as-new, and lower for damaged gear. On your way out of the garage sale doors you can ask for reduced pricing. Don’t do this with all your gear though. Have one or two things in mind, and let them know exactly why you think it should be marked down. If something is damaged or worn and is not 50% off, then I would definitely ask for a price reduction. Every once in a while you’ll find crazy deals, but I’d say it’s better to go in with the expectation that it’s a 50% off sale with the occasional 80% off item.
8. I wouldn’t recommend getting stuff requested by friends. Here’s why: you’re stuck with the gear you buy (or they are), there are no returns on this stuff. So, if you are looking for requested gear, make sure your friend knows there are no returns on garage sale items. I’d also ask them, “What if it’s not exactly what you are looking for?” I was looking for boots for my wife and found some promising ones. But boots have to fit really well, so I passed on them. For clothing, you really have to know people’s sizes well. Plus, that REI 100% guarantee is important for some purchases (boots, a well-fitted multi0day pack), so weigh that into your decisions, too.
9. Wear Socks. There is a TON of footwear. If you are looking to buy shoes or boots, you’ll need to be wearing a solid pair of hiking socks.
10. There is more winter gear at the Spring garage sale and more summer gear at the winter garage sale. This summer garage sale seemed to be a mixed bag, and my impression was that it was a bit smaller than the other two.
After the garage sale,I talked with Mara and Scott, who were celebrating their finds. The couple recently moved to Denver from Chicago and have been doing a lot of trail running and camping. Because their last camping experience had been a cold one, they were looking for sleeping pads. They found some great ones and were able to pick up a double sleeping bag as well.
What did I walk out with? Well, I put the Merrel dress shoes back–I remembered that I don’t like shoes that don’t have laces. I ended up with an STM Courier bag and those REI/Komperdell trekking poles.
If you’re an experienced REI garage saler, we would love to hear your tips as well.
PS: The REI garage sale continues this Sunday, August 4th 2013 from 10am to 7am. Here’s a link to the REI Denver events page for details.
Disclosure: Dayhikes Near Denver has an affiliate relationship with REI. Basically, that means if you click on one of their ads on here and buy something, we get a percentage of the sale.