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Ribbon Cutting

Considerations for a grand opening at your new location

Drawing customers to a new retail location may not be as easy as coaxing them into a hot tub. It’s not as simple as cutting a ribbon and instant sales. But you can host a celebration at your new location that will leave you and your team at ease rather than sulking on the showroom floor.

Set Up Measurable Success

Austin Wright, senior vice president of strategy at the data-driven national marketing firm Ansira, suggests new store locations should first define what success means for their grand opening and how that success will be measured, while being cautious.

“People get hung up on only measuring the success of the grand opening initiatives by how many sales they get,” Wright says. “And ultimately, that’s what we’re in the business of doing: making the cash register ring. But there are a lot of factors. You can’t blame marketing if the sales force can’t close the deal … or if the inventory doesn’t meet the needs.”

Rather than focusing solely on sales for a grand opening, Wright suggests also measuring foot traffic, which goes beyond counting people who cross the threshold. He suggests using paid search ads, such as Google Adwords and sponsored Facebook posts — specifically those posts designed to encourage location/store visits rather than post engagement — to drive online traffic to your event. “You can track that very easily through your Adwords account,” Wright says. “You can’t directly connect [the ad] with the sales, but you can connect it to traffic.”

Marketing

When it comes to how you spend your marketing budget for an opening event, Wright advises caution.

“A lot of times [retail owners] want to see, feel and taste certain marketing dollars at work, which is why they get food, a band and a billboard,” Wright says. “Just because you can see it, taste it and hear it doesn’t mean it’s working.”

Instead, Wright suggests leveraging a marketing campaign that drives traffic to a soft opening before a grand opening event — tactics like saturation mailing, Google AdWords and social media advertising.

“I’m not talking about carpet bombing and doing direct-mail pieces around the [store’s location]. That definitely doesn’t work,” Wright says. Instead, he advises to look at all the carrier routes around the retail location and target mail delivery along certain carrier routes that include your target customers’ household demographics. “We have seen that 20% of the sales that come from a grand opening weekend actually come from that type of direct mail, which to me is very surprising.”

Wright advises timing the delivery of these mailings for the day of the soft opening, rather than sending it one to two weeks ahead and expecting recipients to remember. A postcard sent in advance to an invite-only celebration event can work, just as Flint Hills Spas in Wichita, Kansas, did in its August 2018 opening for its second location.

“[An invite-only event] is great because it connects us better with a key local agency [or chamber] and gives all those who worked hard to get the store open — like staff, suppliers, contractors — a chance to relax and celebrate,” says Jamil Toubassi, owner of Flint Hills Spas.

Soft and Grand Openings

And a soft opening, according to Wright, is the preferred way to work out any kinks that arise before a grand opening event.

Garrett Loverin, general manager of Southern Leisure Spas and Patios’ three stores in the Dallas area, has seen success with two previous soft openings. After attending national dealer meetings and observing other stores, Loverin says the company changed the approach for its third location. It hosted a soft opening in March with minimum inventory, followed by a grand opening event around Memorial Day once the shelves were fully stocked.

“That grand opening is where all the effort goes to really generate some high-ticket sales,” Loverin says. For the grand opening event, “Everything [was] perfect in the showroom; it [looked] top notch to the customer.” At Leisure Spas and Patios’ grand opening event in May, Loverin says they had a ribbon cutting and invited the local Chamber
of Commerce.

To drive traffic to both the soft and grand opening, Loverin considered taking advantage of nearby, high-end retail establishments that have similar target customers and inviting those employees to one of the events. Wright advises the same, suggesting retailers partner with home improvement stores, landscapers or architects that can tap into the outdoor living experience customers are looking for.

This can also extend a grand opening by having a second event at the partner location to promote it.

“If they’re going to put a hot tub in the backyard, they’re going to have to do home improvements, so there is a yin and yang to it there,” Wright says, “A nice synergy.” He also advises making a wet or dry test part of any grand opening for a spa retailer.

To extend the life of the grand opening, Wright suggests a sweepstakes for simple data capture so the retailer can market to that prospective customer specifically. Loverin says Leisure Spas had a giveaway at its grand opening in May. Flint Hills Spas held a grand opening sale that lasted approximately two weeks after the event, which Toubassi promoted using a variety of traditional and digital media.

“The store is not going to live and die by this grand opening,” Wright says. “You have to have other marketing plans in place.”

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