Meet Ava Seavey

Location: New York, NY
Age: 56
Marital Status: Married
Education: B.A. in Music, with a minor in Creative Writing, from Columbia University

Ava Seavey might not be able to sell a meat popsicle to a vegan, but we’d put money on the vegan having to think it over. As the ‘Queen Bee’ of Avalanche Creative Services, Ava heads a boutique advertising firm that has created direct response sales campaigns for clients as diverse as Maaco, IDT and Ringling Bros.

But her greatest passion lies in a more “down-home” form of salesmanship. A “Self-taught Master of Garagesaleology,” Ava has turned front-yard tag sales into an art form, with a snazzy website, a book and even a line of garage-sale accoutrement, including a money apron and yard signs.

How did your passion for garage sales begin?

It started with a flea market in Lambertville, New Jersey, when I was in my early twenties. I thought I’d just rent a table and see what happens. I grabbed some things in my house that I didn’t want anymore and went over.

What kinds of items did you sell at first?

Whatever I could pile into my car. Mostly gifts I had received that I was too nice to tell people I didn’t want. Pretty soon I had a passion for flea markets, antique shows, rummage sales…

What attracted you to them?

I was fascinated by the psychological element—the frenzy, the excitement. I started experimenting with different ways of merchandising. I did statistical analysis. I’d keep track of how much I’d sell at a certain time of day, who bought what, who negotiated—who didn’t. Sometimes I’d have an item that wasn’t selling, so I’d experiment by making it more expensive, and it would sell.

Most of the other dealers would kind of just sit there, but I was constantly thinking and working and applying techniques. I’d ask people, ‘Why did you come? How did you hear of it?’

And these ideas translated to garage sales as well?

Yes. When I started doing garage sales, I would do the same thing. I’d try to figure out – how many people came from the ad? How many people came from the sign? Why are they coming? I felt like I couldn’t just sell things—I had to understand the ‘whys’ behind it. It became an obsession.

How did you turn that obsession into a side business?

Cut to the recession. I was doing garage sales periodically, helping friends do garage sales. But as the economy got worse and worse over the past few years, I noticed that people were shopping at garage sales for necessities. It wasn’t just people looking for coins or antiques, it was people coming to buy dishes and bedding. All of a sudden there was a social conscience element to it: I could help people sell their things and help others buy them inexpensively. Everything was clicking when, during the last few sales, several people asked for my card. They said, “Can you help us do a sale?”

And you were running Avalanche this whole time.

Yes. I was advertising for other people. Then Avalanche made the Inc. 5000 list in 2010, and I went to the conference. Several speakers said they had started a business just because it was their passion. I said to myself, ‘I’m doing my garage sale business. I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I’m doing it.’ I thought I could be the Martha Stewart of garage sales.

Now that’s an image.

I sat down and I wrote the book and created the products and started the website. I had some outside investors who believed in the product. And now here I am—the garage sale lady. But to me, it’s so much more than just selling things. It’s about empowering people.

Who inspires you?

Mary Todd Lincoln. She was someone who was way ahead of her time—a free-thinking, intelligent woman whom people didn’t understand. She motivated Abraham Lincoln to become president. Pushed him, trained him, groomed him, hounded him. I’m certain he would not have been president were he not married to her. And she was more firmly a believer in emancipation than he was, believe it or not. I’m obsessed with her.

What book would you recommend to other FOFs?

I love psychological profiles. I loved the book, Behind the Seams, by Elizabeth Keckley. She was an emancipated slave who became one of Mary Todd Lincoln’s best friends and her seamstress. Mary stopped being her friend after the book, because she wrote all this dirt in it, things she shouldn’t have wrote. But it’s beyond fascinating.

Favorite place to shop?

I’m a catalog shopper more than a store shopper. I love Soft Surroundings. I love to get lost in their stuff. To fantasize about having the bedding and the clothing. And the other one is called Wrap. It’s British clothing. Like Soft Surroundings, it’s all about comfortable elegance. Stylish, comfortable, and well-priced. I read those two catalogs like books.

How do you rejuvenate?

I spend time around my animals. I have goats and horses and cats. It’s very rural where I am, in Hunterdon County. Also, I let one of my employees at Avalanche bring her dog in, and when I get stressed out, I go in and hug the dog. I love having animals around.

Website you’d recommend?

Cuteoverload.com.

{Click here to see Ava’s 6 commandments for successful garage sales}

Learn more about garagesaleology at www.garagesalegold.com

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