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.

Have a Drawing Where Everyone Who Enters, Wins!

In order to get people to frequent your store or your shop, you may want to have a drawing. Make sure it is a nice drawing.

One thing that we did is we put together a beautiful, beautiful autumn basket. This was during one of our slow seasons and we wanted to generate a little bit of interest in the shop and get more people into the store. We put together a gorgeous autumn basket with a number of products from our shop. We had a fall scented candle, a pumpkin scone mix, a spiced tea mix mixed in with a few other very nice products. To decorate it we got a couple of bright golden sunflowers with a few other orange and orange-red flowers that went with it.

We put the basket together, arranging it so that it looked very appealing. Once everything was in place, we put a nice shrink-wrap cover on it and completed it with a beautiful raffia bow. It was a truly lovely presentation, and everyone who walked by the shop was drawn in because of the sign next to the basket that said, “Free Drawing”. We got a few folks who had never come in before signing up for the drawing and then looking around in surprise saying, “I never knew you were here!”

The difference between this drawing and most other drawings is that we expanded our drawing ticket. We had people sign up for the drawing for the basket. You can have a drawing for whatever it is that you sell. We asked for more information than just their name and phone number.

We wanted to know why people wanted to win the basket, so we asked them what they would do with the basket if they were to win it. This would have no bearing on whether or not they won the basket. It just told us what items inside the basket that they were most interested in.

You could put together a drawing of a bunch of seasonal products that you have in your store, and then try to discover what it is in that drawing that people really want. Why would they like to win that basket. Some people will give the typical response, “I never win anything, so it would be nice to win for once.” But you are going to have a few people who respond by saying, “I saw this Product in the basket and I’d really like to try it.”

This goes along with my premise that you must get to know your customer. Use this opportunity to get a new customer’s name and phone number/email address, but also find out what they are interested in. Use a little bit bigger piece of paper and just ask a question. People don’t have to answer it. But, if you ask the question, a lot of times people will surprise you and give you more information than you ever expected.

Sometimes all you have to do is ask for it.

Then based on that information, garnered from all the entries, you need to create an opportunity for everyone to win. Obviously, only one person is going to win that basket, and when you call them up and say “You’ve won the basket,” that one person is going to be thrilled. But what if you have another 50, 100, or 200 more entries. You can throw those entries away.

However, instead of throwing away gold. Call them up and let them know that they won something. You call them up, or you email them and say, “I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that you didn’t win the basket. However, the good news is that I have a 40% coupon off that scone mix you wanted to try, but it is only good for the next ten days.”

Give them a coupon or a discount on whatever product that particular client/customer indicated they were interested in! They may have wanted to try it for free, but if you give them a 30% or 40% discount on one product, they may come in and order it. This might take a little bit of work, but believe me, it will pay off!

This next step is key!

Make it for a limited time only!

You have to give them whatever incentive that works for your business, but make sure you create a sense of urgency. The thing about drawings like this, the thing about making sure they win and that you actually get some benefit from it is that you give them a reason to come in and you make it as soon as possible. We’re all busy, busy people and unless something is right there in front of us with that sense of immediacy, we’re going to forget about it. Suddenly it’s not going to be as important tomorrow as it was today and you’re going to lose out.

So, when you do a drawing so that everybody wins, just make sure that you give it a sense of immediacy. But, also give it a sense of the feeling that you’re talking one-on-one with that customer, which you really can be.

When you give everyone the opportunity to win, then everybody wins.

K Birmingham

Small Shops Join Forces – Unite for a Festival

You’re a small store owner and you want to improve your bottom line. If you’re in a shopping center, look around. Each store in your vicinity has a group of people who regularly frequent their store. In smaller shopping centers, it is far more likely to have a customer park, go into one store, and then return to their car and leave. How can you change that?

Small business owners unite!

Join forces with the other stores in your areal. It doesn’t matter if you are all of differing businesses. If you can present a united front to the public you will all benefit from the joint effort. Even if you work next door to one another, you might have been so busy getting your business going that you really didn’t take the time to introduce yourself to your shop neighbors.

Go in and introduce yourself. Share a little bit about you and what you do. Ask a few questions about what your neighbor does and see if they might be interested in creating a shopping center group where you work together a few times a year on a project designed to bring people into the shopping center for an event that will benefit everyone.

One really great idea is to do an outreach in your neighborhood. Do something that might benefit the people of the neighborhood, or a nearby school. This helps to cement the idea of community and creates a sense of belonging both for your neighborhood as well as for the other shopkeepers in your center.

When you join forces, when you unite, obviously someone is going to have to be in charge. If you’re one who is reading this, it is probably going to be up to you. Or, if you can identify someone who has a really gregarious personality and is engaging and is able to work well with other people, is fairly well organized, that is the person you want to head this kind of a group.

The idea is to make friends with the other businesses. Unless you’re selling exactly the same product, which you probably aren’t, being in the same shopping center, you might actually do better by having a great big event. Something that we used to do is ti have summer Friday Festivals. We would have a small up and coming band who was willing to donate their time, or maybe take up a collection and give them $50 and they’d play for three hours. You set them up outside if the weather is good enough. Inclement weather usually shut down the event.

Some people could provide popcorn, hotdogs, sodas, clowns, face painting. Each participating store needs to be open. What would be a good idea would be for each store to have some kind of a special going on that night only. The idea is, it is advertised as a Friday Fiesta or Friday Festival. You stay open a little bit later on a Friday night and during the summer more and more people are actually able to spend a little bit more time. They aren’t in a rush to get home, get dinner, so they can prepare for school and work the next day.

Many times, Friday evenings are a good time to have this special event in your shopping center. Advertise it. Hire a kid to pass out flyers in the nearby neighborhood. There are a number of ways to get the word out, but by uniting your forces, you expand the event. If only one single store were to have a special on one Friday night, that store would be able to bring in a few of its very best customers and would have a halfway decent night because your very best customers came on one of the Friday Fiestas. But, if you relied only on those really great customers, after awhile, the number of people coming on those Friday nights would diminish.

But, by having a united event in your shopping center, you’re going to tap into everyone else’s good customer list as well. If you have enough going on, if you have a good enough reason for people to come to your event, they’re going to tell their neighbor, their sister.

They’ll say things like, “Hey, do you want to go to a Friday Fiesta at the shopping center tonight? I went last week and got a great deal on this __________.” Fill in the blank. Word of mouth advertising is your very best, so the events have to be good!

Many small shops believe that they have to go it alone and there is strength in numbers and by uniting forces, you can have a really great event and a really successful event.

K Birmingham

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