Want to engage readers? Throw a garage sale.
In just its third year, the April 2 Tulsa World Ultimate Indoor Garage Sale drew more than 8,000 people to an expo center at the state fairgrounds.
They lined up before the doors opened, some paying $10 to get in an hour early. While their mission was bargain hunting, they also had the opportunity to interact with Tulsa World employees about how to use the paper's free apps, classified and digital products, and to discuss issues regarding the newspaper.
"Our readership really looks forward to it," said Samantha Extance, the paper's event coordinator. "We're not only able to have a great garage sale, but we're able to meet some of our readers who have been subscribing with us for 20-plus years, 50 years or more. It's kind of a customer appreciation event, is how we look at it."
The Ultimate Indoor Garage Sale was the brainchild of Publisher Bill Masterson, who brought the idea to Tulsa from a paper in northwest Indiana, Extance said.
Garage sales are a mainstay of the classified section, but classified advertising in general has dropped dramatically with the introduction of online services such as Craig's List. The garage sale "is a great way to brand and promote your classifieds," said Extance. "It's also a really great way to talk about the difference between your classifieds and other online classifieds."
The employees on site can show-and-tell in person about the benefits of Tulsa World classified advertising and how to benefit from it. The chance to promote Tulsa World products, interact with readers and vendors, and build goodwill in the community are all more important goals than just making money off the event, Extance said.
"The sale itself does make money, but it isn't our biggest revenue generator," she said. The paper rents the site and charges $75 for the first booth and $55 for the second booth. In addition to individuals substituting a booth for their garages, church organizations, schools and other nonprofits will hold what would have been their own events at this larger venue.
Attendees are charged $2 unless they want early-bird access. VIP tickets are sold on the Tulsa World website, www.tulsaworld.com/ultimategaragesale. (View a video at this link, too.)
Extance said having enough volunteers on hand to help with such a sale is crucial, so the paper recruits Boy Scouts who have a volunteer hours requirement to fulfill. In return, the World makes a donation to the Boy Scouts and offers them tours of the newspaper after the event. "It's a nice community building relationship," she said.
The Tulsa World is also building email lists. People want to be pre-registered and get information about the next sale, Extance said. As a result, when the World purchased seven community weekly papers about a year ago, it retained and expanded the group's garage-sale e-newsletter.
"The trickiest part of this event is coordinating sales tax," Extance said. "At least in the state of Oklahoma, garage sales are taxable, even if you have one in your garage. Not a lot of people know that."
She recommends making vendors responsible for their own sales tax rather than trying to handle collections. The World, as holder of the event permit, gives each vendor a reporting form and provides a list of all vendors to the Oklahoma Tax Commission.
Extance said one of the benefits of the garage sale market is that it's never oversaturated. "You're always going to have a healthy supply of vendors. You're always going to have a healthy supply of people who want to buy stuff that's used or cheap."
Another benefit is that any size paper – daily or weekly – can hold an ultimate garage sale. It need not draw 8,000 people to fulfill the goals of reader and community engagement or making people more aware of what the paper has to offer.
Finally, said Extance, "It's really fun, for our attendees, for our vendors and for our employees."
For more information, contact Samantha Extance at Samantha.Extance@TulsaWorld.com.
Jane Nicholes, a regular contributor to the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association's eBulletin, is a freelance writer and editor based in coastal Alabama. She is an award-winning veteran of more than 30 years in the newspaper business. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Suggestions for future stories and comments on this piece are welcomed.