Great Business Ideas: Host an Open House

Great Ideas for your Small Business: Host an Open House

One of the best ways to acquaint customers and clients with your business is to arrange a visit. An open house combines a social event with the ability to do some serious one-to-one marketing. Of course, if you deal with toxic chemicals or dangerous machinery, you’ll have to decide whether or not an open house is the best way to boost awareness of your business.

One of my strongest and fondest memories is touring the Pepperidge Farm bakery on a third-grade field trip. I’ll never forget the sweet, yeasty smell of the bakery and the freshly baked loaf of white bread they gave each of us to take home. Since that tour, I’ve been a loyal Pepperidge Farm customer.

Hershey Foods is another big company that invites thou- sands of visitors into their factories each year. That open- door policy has turned Hershey, Pennsylvania, into a major American tourist mecca.

Even if you rarely have visitors, think of the things people would like to learn about your business. Few people ever have the opportunity to see how things are made and packaged.

You may not have a glitzy office, but even a small-scale open house can draw people to your door. Derek Selbo, pro- gram manager of The Knowledge Shop in Casselberry, Florida, decided to host just such an event to introduce people to the vast array of personal enrichment and professional classes they offered.

“When the Internet was new we had a free ‘Try the Inter- net Day,’” said Selbo. Visitors were encouraged to ask questions and surf the Net. They sent electronic-mail messages to friends and learned how to find and navigate websites. “This event brought us a surge of enrollment in our computer and social classes,” said Selbo.

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No matter how boring you think your business is, re- member that people love to have a behind-the-scenes look at anything. Consider the incredible popularity of Universal Studios tours that visitors line up for.

Here are some tips for planning an open house:

  • Create a small committee to make the preparations, but involve everyone you can in the planning process.
  • Figure out whether you’ll give organized tours or let people wander around on their own.
  • Plan a menu of easy-to-eat finger foods and simple beverages. Restrict eating to the lunchroom or other suitable area.
  • Pick a time of year when your business looks its best, and weather won’t jeopardize attendance.
  • Send out invitations at least a month in advance. Ask people to RSVP via telephone, fax, or e-mail. Schedule the event to last two or three hours—no more.
  • Ask all your employees to tidy up their areas and find places to lock up any valuables before the open house.
  • Hand out a flyer with basic information about your company.
  • Assign plenty of staffers to act as hosts and guides.
  • Buy flowers or plants to decorate the reception area.
  • Rest up the night before so you are ready to meet and greet people.
  • Try to have fun.