How to Throw a Successful Grand Opening

Make a great first impression — then make sure customers come back for more.
Use these tips to celebrate your business's big day the right way. (Photo: Dragon Images/Shutterstock)

The grand opening of your small business is a cause for celebration. It’s also an opportunity to make a grand first impression, according to marketing consultant Scott Kuhn, who has been helping companies with grand openings and “grand remodels” for years. And if you do it right, you can make sure attendees come back for more.

Grand openings aren’t one-size-fits-all propositions, but these tips can help you maximize the return on investment from your big day.

Know your goals

Grand openings “take intense, thoughtful planning,” said Kuhn. It helps to know what the event should accomplish.

Your first goal, after getting people in the door, is giving them a reason to return — in other words, converting them into customers. A great shopping experience, plus incentives such as future discounts or loyalty cards, can do the trick.

To keep your business top of mind, send attendees away with a small branded item, such as a refrigerator magnet, that they’ll see often. If you have the budget, give each person a small goodie bag or gift that relates to your business.

Your second goal should be to collect names and contact information so you can follow up with attendees and start building a customer database, including an SMS list for sending text messages. Raffles, sweepstakes and giveaways can help you accomplish this. And of course your POS system can capture contact info from sales and even jump-start an email marketing campaign.

Give people a reason to attend

To get people in the door, give them a reason to show up. You can do this by offering door prizes (think hats or T-shirts with your business logo) and free or discounted goods or services, or by dangling the prospect of a fun party — think refreshments, music and even a local celebrity people might want to meet.

Make it memorable

What kind of grand opening do you want? A big fancy splash or a small, casual affair?

Decisions about the type and scope of the event should be driven by your budget, your type of store and your market. If you own a bike shop, you probably shouldn’t throw a black tie event for customers who would prefer to show up in bike shorts, ready to take a test ride.

Whatever you decide, “”Make your opening a memorable event,” said Kuhn.

Stick to a budget

Make a budget and include every expense, from advertising to banners to food to paper plates.

Small business adviser Marc Prosser advised dedicating 20 percent of your store’s first-year marketing budget to the grand opening. But don’t overspend, either. Prosser recommends capping your expenditures at $6000. “You don’t want to spend so much on your grand opening that it significantly reduces your ability to advertise during the rest of the year,” he said.

If you decide to offer refreshments, consider teaming up with a local vendor to promote their business as well (and get a break on the price).

Spread the word

If no one shows up to your grand opening, there’s no point in having one.

Use both free and paid methods of promoting the event. Send press releases, and do it at least six weeks ahead of the issue of the print media you want the mention to appear in (several months in advance for monthly city magazines).

Of course you’ll want to blast the event all over social media and on your website if you have one – which you should prior to your opening. “With 91 percent of U.S. consumers using the Internet to look for local goods and services, it is critically important that your business has an online presence prior to your grand opening,” said Kristie Arslan, Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence.

Don’t forget your storefront as a place to promote the opening. “It’s essentially free advertising and a great way to begin to generate word of mouth,” said Kuhn. Poster templates are available on sites such as Canva. Or contact the art department of your local high school or college to ask if students are available to create promotional materials in exchange for academic credit.

Other low-cost marketing opportunities include flyers and postcards, said Kuhn.

If you’re not already a member, consider joining your local chamber of commerce, suggested Arslan. “They can help you spread the word of your event through their network and can reach out to other businesses, officials and local media in your area to increase your visibility.”

On the big day, use balloons, pennants and/or inflatables to let passersby know something is happening.

Make a great first impression

“Ask yourself, “What are customers going to experience in the first 90 seconds?'” said Prosser. “That’s the window you have to leave a great first impression.”

Keep your business neat, clean and attractive, from the parking lot to the sales area to the rest rooms. Smile, and say hello and thank you — and make sure your employees do, too. Staff up adequately so there are enough people to greet customers, answer questions and ring up sales. To whatever extent possible, get to know customers and when they return, greet them by name.

“More than ever, brick-and-mortar businesses need to think long and hard about the kind of shopping experience they’re offering their customers,” said Kuhn. “The grand opening experience should be the epitome of that experience.”

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