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Creating an Open House

Hosting a profitable special holiday event for your business

If you are thinking about having a fall or holiday open house for your business, we have good news for you. First, we want to tell you that it is not too late to begin planning the event. We also want to tell you that it is not too early to begin planning.

As we conducted interviews for this article, we found numerous retailers who expressed a desire to hold an open house, but lacking the necessary information, or having the idea that an open house was such a massive undertaking that they could never attempt it. The retailers we interviewed have all been successful in having one or more open houses each year. And from the stories we share, you will see why these retailers continue to have an open house year after year.

The most popular occasions we found retailers having open houses were the Christmas holidays, fall, spring, and the anniversary of the business. Those that had an anniversary open house usually had the event in the summer. And we found a couple that created an open house after they had remodeled their business or had made an addition to their sales floor. We spoke to businesses that had open houses where their average sales ticket increased more than threefold over the rest of the year. There were also businesses having a three day open house with sales for the event equal to their total sales for the previous month.

What are their secrets? While you do not have to wait until you have a mailing list to have your first open house, each of our retailers stressed the importance of tracking their customers. Those retailers who sold collectibles such as Department 56, were sure to gather the names and addresses while also keeping note of what collection the customer had.

Larry Bird of Gabriala's in Phymouth, Michigan has a very good open house each October for three hours on a Sunday evening. Because of their extensive and detailed mailing list, Gabriala's has been able to determine who their best customers are. So detailed is their information about their customers, that of the 15,000 on their list, they know who the 1200 customers are that give them 80% of their total sales. It is this group that is invited to their open house, a "by invitation only" event.

Most of the businesses we spoke with, go the other direction and invite customers to attend through newspaper advertising and flyers they create and hand out at their register.

In Papillion, Nebraska, Cathy Soklewicz of Through the Garden Gate has an open house the week before Easter and another the first weekend in November. It is held in conjunction with nine other specialty shops, each offering extended hours.

In Fort Smith, Arkansas, Joan Sloat, owner of the Now & Then Shop reports that most of the local specialty shops hold their open houses on the same weekend which like Soklewicz's, is also the first weekend in November.

For the spring open house, the shops in Papillion take "shifts" in wearing the Easter bunny costume and walking about the town giving out candy. For the holiday open house, they employ a group of Dickens Carolers who go from shop to shop singing for the customers.

There were several points of similarity we found with all of the open houses; food, door prizes, and discounts. Food offerings ran the gamut from cola, coffee, and finger snacks, to a fully catered event by a restaurant whose owner was a frequent customer of the shop. One shop which had utilized a gourmet coffee which they had purchased at the Chicago market, received so many compliments from the drink that they added a gourmet coffee and food shop within their store.

Door prizes, while being a hit with customers, were a great way of getting names and addresses for the mailing list. Some merchants gave gift certificates for door prizes as a way of getting the customer to return to their business a second time. Others called on the sales representatives that visit their store to provide them with the items which were given to customers.

Each of the retailers we spoke with were creative in their discount or sale prices. Gabriala's offers a 20% discount on every item during their evening open house. Sue Loden, owner of Apple Barrel in Schobarie, NY, contacts her vendors to ask them to provide her shop with special prices on items so she can pass these savings onto her customers during the open house.

Several of our retailers utilized an open house to introduce customers to new product categories. Loden mentioned with the items which are project sales, her shop has someone on hand to teach customers how to complete the project, and then have special prices on the various items.

We mentioned at the beginning that it was not too late to begin planning your holiday open house; those merchants who had held holiday open houses over the years included the open house as part of their plans as they worked to create the holiday decorations for their store. The same idea works for a fall, anniversary or spring open house.

Several of our retailers also mentioned the need to plan for the additional sales help that would be needed to assist in hosting the event. Other than the person whose job it is to serve the refreshments, all of the others hosts you employ need to be able to assist your customers as if they have been a long time employee. After all, you are inviting people to visit your business and these customers need to see your business at its' best.

You can see from the variety of retailers we spoke to that there is not one formula which works best for creating an open house. In closing, there are several questions you should answer in deciding how to create your open house.

1. Is this open house a reward to current customers or a means of attracting new customers?

2. Is there anything else occurring at the same time I have scheduled my open house? You may want to either tie into the event or reschedule your event.

3. In selecting foods, what is being offered that is not messy or likely to stain my carpet? Customers who are offered too much to eat, or whose fingers are sticky are not likely to take a closer look at your merchandise.

4. As I hold the open house, does my store look different - both inside and out - so that customers know something is going on?

5. Do I want customers to purchase during the event or just get ideas for future visits to our store? If you want them to buy, you will need to have special prices.

Once you have answered these questions, you are ready to begin planning your open house. And if you want your first one to be a fall or holiday event, the time to get started is now.

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This article is copyrighted by Tom Shay and Profits Plus Solutions, who can be reached at: PO Box 1577, St. Petersburg, Fl. 33731. Phone 727-464-2182. It may be printed for an individual to read, but not duplicated or distributed without expressed written consent of the copyright owner.

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PO Box 1577
St. Petersburg, Fl 33731
(727) 464-2182
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