Holiday Open House, Champagne and Lights

This is an event that you can host with your small business in conjunction with other small businesses in your area. This is specifically for the December holidays. Again, it is a “unite your forces” idea that I expressed in one of my earlier articles.

This event we called Champagne and Lights. It is held on a single Friday or Saturday evening, early in December. This is where all the shops agree to be open late on a Friday or a Saturday evening. In one city, there were two shopping centers that were just a block away from each other. They discovered that if they were to actually unite forces between the two shopping centers and have their Holiday Walk, or their Champagne and Lights, or whatever they wanted to call it on the same night, the were able to maximize the draw from each other’s marketing and advertising efforts.

You want people who are easy to get along with and are savvy business people to help organize this among the shops, and certainly between two separate shopping centers. All too often small business owners feel territorial about these ideas and fail to see that by uniting forces they create a much bigger event, which will gather energy and draw a much bigger crowd.

If you are willing to share ideas and you recognize that rather than feeling as though you’re giving away secrets, you will realize that by joining forces it is actually better for everyone involved. The project will develop a synergistic energy that continues to grow.

In my experience, Champagne and Lights, the idea is that everyone stays open until a specified time that evening. Each store or shop should have a special that night and each store or shop should have a special offering for the customers. One store might have hot cider, another store might have Christmas or Holiday cookies. Another store might invite kids in and have them make Reindeer feed bags, a simple, simple activity for kids that costs very little, but creates a great feeling of holiday spirit and gratitude on the part of the parents who are shopping with their little ones.

Hire a Santa Claus. Get a group of people to stroll through the shopping center and sing Christmas carols. See if one of your local high schools has a choir or chorus who would be willing to put on a musical show for half an hour during the event. Have a group of people play their instruments. It doesn’t matter what it is that you do as long as you make it a festival feeling.

Your event has to feel festive. There has to be a reason for them to come. It would be a good idea to have whatever best sales or best offers that you have but make it available for that night only. Most of the time the event would be held between 5 pm and 9 pm. In December, it is dark by 5pm and it is a good idea to have all kinds of holiday lights lit outside, making the atmosphere as gay and festive as it can be.

This way, each shop obviously will market to their very best customers. However, all of you will benefit from the very best customers of each shop. This is what I mean when an event like this takes on synergistic energy. You will all win when you all put in the effort.

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Hosting a Holiday Open House – Sample Your Wares

Hosting a Holiday Open House at your shop can net you one of your biggest sales days of the year. Consider having one each quarter. Come up with ideas that make sense for your shop. Obviously we have a Holiday Open House as soon as we’ve decorated the shop for Christmas. We have one in the spring near Easter, one for Mother’s Day because 99.9% of our customers are women, and a fourth one late in the summer to celebrate the date we opened. We call that one our Anniversary Open House.

Our customers love, love, love our open houses. We treat them like guests and make them feel special.

During your Holiday Open Houses you have the opportunity for your customers to sample your wares, particularly if you have foods that you sell.

We carry scone mixes, cheeseballs mixes, teas, chocolate, coffee, and cider drink mixes, etc. We sell cookbooks. During our holiday open houses we would make a selection of foods and drinks based on our products, on our cookbooks. A number of things that we would have to nibble on throughout the shop were cheesy, easy things. Pretzels dipped in chocolate, M&M’s, small trays of cookies etc. were things we would use to augment everything, but it was essential to allow customers to sample our wares.

When sampling your wares, make it very obvious what they are tasting. Set up a display of those items in that sampling area. When we had customers come in who we know have never purchased one of these items, we try to get them to just have a taste of it. Many times all they had to do is taste it and they change their mind about what they think about it. Get them to realize that this will make their life so much easier at their next party.

Make sure that your staff has tasted everything that you are serving as well. They need to be able to talk knowledgeably about it and give recommendations for how that can be served and how it would make your customer’s life easier at a specific event. “For holiday entertaining it is really nice to be able to just open this up, add two ingredients and you have the most unique and delicious appetizer or dessert. I don’t have a party without serving these.” These are the kinds of things your staff needs to be able to say.

Above all, your customers need to feel as though they have been invited to something special, and when they come in they need to be greeted that way as well. Make sure you have enough staff on hand to help people find items, talk to them about what you’re serving, and above all make sure you can check them out quickly. Most people are quite willing to wait when they know they’re getting something special.

By treating your customers as honored guests at a Holiday Open House, you guarantee that they will return every single time you host one.

How to Get People to Your Business Open House

When you have an open house, the idea is to get people to come and share whatever it is you have to share.

The problem is getting people to actually come.

The trick is evaluating what you have to offer and matching that with what people expect to get if they take the time to come to your business open house.

Here are a few tips to help you plan an open house that will be more successful than all your previous attempts. Consider what you want from an open house, and then consider what your client/customer wants from an open house.

As A Business: You want people to come to your open house to spend money. Perhaps you have new merchandise that you want to share with your customers. It could be that the holiday season is coming up and you want to get people to consider spending money with you, so you want them to come to your store and get a preview of upcoming attractions. Don’t forget, you must advertise this event.

As A Customer/Client: An open house is a time for you to visit a business and find out what they have to offer that you might be interested in, without a whole lot of pressure to buy. If they can show you how their new product is going to help you, you’ll be interested in making a purchase, otherwise, you just want to have a little fun, enjoy some free food and beverage, and maybe talk to other people who are there for the same reason. A client can’t come if they don’t know about the event.

Ideally, an open house will satisfy the primary concern for both the customer and the business. As a business, you have something to sell, as a customer, you might want to buy it. This is the good part.

How do you let your customer know that you have something new for them to evaluate? Do you call them up? Do you send them an email? Do you send them an announcement through the mail?

How do you communicate with your customers?

The very best way to communicate with your customers is determined by testing. One business I know always sends out postcards for their open house events. They never have more than four a year, so the customers know that when that card comes in the mail, it is special, it is for a limited time, and most of them want to come, otherwise they would not be on the mailing list. They also make sure their postcards always have a “branded” look to them. That way when they arrive in the mail, they don’t look like the rest of the “junk” mail that your customers usually get in their mailbox.

I am assuming you have a mailing list and that it is current. Your list is your business. Never forget that!

Did you see the next part under the customer? They want little to no pressure to buy. They want to be courted. They want to have something to look forward to. Having food and beverage at an open house is a really good idea. A lot of people will just eat and leave, but those who really want to be there will respond to the food in a very positive way. It doesn’t have to be fancy. They just need to be made to feel special.

Finally, deliver on your promise. You promised that your open house was going to be something special. Some businesses give away gifts at an open house. It doesn’t have to be a big thing, but customers/clients like to be made to feel special. You hand it to them personally. You thank them for coming in. You meet their eye. Don’t look at your customers merely as dollar signs. When you do, they’ll sense it and move on to someone who values them as something more.

Getting people to come to your business open house often takes a few tries. You’ll soon figure out what works and what doesn’t. Test, test, test. Keep what works. Discard what doesn’t work. A business open house can be a really good marriage between customer and business.

Kathleen Birmingham