By Bob Nieman | Oct 05, 2011
Seemingly forever, businesses have held grand openings to draw in that precious initial customer base. A grand opening can be as elaborate or as simple as you want – and can afford. The main objective of a grand opening is to draw your competitors’ customers to your store. While they may only be patronizing your laundry because of a pricing incentive, a grand opening gives you a chance to win them over for good. That’s why preparation is the key to a grand opening. You are welcoming customers to your laundry for the first time – and first impressions make all the difference in an industry as competitive as coin laundry.
Grand openings also give a new (or newly remodeled) store that much-needed “kick start.” Simply opening your doors on a set date doesn’t create the exposure that a new laundry needs to draw customers. Holding a grand opening allows you to showcase your store in a spectacular and festive setting.
Once the construction of your laundry is underway and you have an idea of when it will be ready for customers, start planning for your grand opening. The best place to start is with your equipment distributor. His years of experience opening stores will help you immensely. Often, full-service distributors offer not only advice on holding a grand opening, but also the signage and other materials necessary to bring customers through your store.
Signage is a key component of a successful grand opening, so don’t hold back on those signs and banners. Print and hang a banner across the store announcing the scheduled grand opening dates. Stick with plain, block letters on a white background for maximum visibility. Smaller window signs can advertise your pricing specials and any giveaways or prizes. Send out a direct mail piece announcing the upcoming opening and the pricing specials, or pass out fliers if mailings aren’t in your budget. If there are other retail businesses nearby, ask to place your fliers in their windows for increased publicity.
“Door hangers are a great way to get to all potential coin laundry users in a given area surround a new store,” explained Ralph Daniels of Daniels Equipment in Auburn, N.H. “I say surrounding, because the store should be in the center of a circle with two or three rings from the center, where the door hangers should be distributed. The best way is to get a Boy Scout troop to do it; make a donation to their troop, and you will have confidence knowing that the door hangers will be placed at every location.”
Most importantly, make sure that your store is clean and in working order well ahead of time.
Remember that you will be hosting a larger crowd than normal during a grand opening, so don’t waste all of those first impressions with floors covered in cement dust or grimy windows.
While a grand opening usually lasts several weeks, you should choose one weekend to hold major festivities. Advertise this grand opening weekend in the newspaper, on billboards, or with outdoor signage. Prepare for the big day by decorating the laundry’s interior with streamers and balloons.
Schedule all of your attendants for that weekend, even if you aren’t expecting a huge crowd. Instruct them to personally greet each customer and welcome him or her to the party.
Giveaways are a must at any grand opening. Hold a cookout with free hot dogs and soda. Hand out helium balloons to the kids, or trinkets emblazoned with your store’s name. Hold a raffle, or hand out prizes to customers who fill out a card with their name, address and contact information. Use the cards to develop a preliminary mailing list for future direct mail or coupon campaigns, and to track your customer base.
Local radio stations, especially in smaller cities and towns, will be happy to hold remote broadcasts at your location – especially if you plan to advertise with them. Often, the station will hold its own contests and games during the broadcast, which will bring even more foot traffic to your store.
Pricing specials are far and away the most popular and effective way to draw in customers during a grand opening.
“‘Free’ is the word that captures every American’s attention,” Daniels said. “So, whether it is a new store or the addition of high-speed/high-extract washers or large-capacity washers and dryers, the best way to get a customer into your business to use the new product is by offering one free wash or free washes for a certain period of time. The old saying, ‘the proof of the pudding is in the eating’ applies here. For example, once the customer uses a high-extract washer and ‘feels’ the almost-dry clothes at the end of the wash cycle, they’re hooked. Any variety of ‘free’ should be a winner.”
Offering a discount on washing or drying for a set amount of time is an excellent idea, but stick to the time allotted. Remember that the idea is to draw in customers who will stay with you after having a pleasant experience in your store. If your regular pricing is fair for the services that you offer, you shouldn’t be afraid to end your grand opening pricing specials.
“We’ve had customers open their doors with a 50-cent wash on the 20-pound washers or even a $1 wash on the largest machines,” said Bill Gilbert of SLM Corp. in Belton, S.C. “This promotion can lure even the competition’s most loyal customers. But we’ve always stressed the need to openly advertise that it is only a 30-day grand opening special and that prices will increase after the promotion is over.”
The Grand Re-Opening
If you purchased an existing coin laundry, there is still no reason why you shouldn’t hold some kind of grand opening – especially if you made improvements to the store. Installing more or larger equipment, adding wash-dry-fold services or even sprucing up a drab interior are all reasons why your existing customer base would leave a competitor’s laundry for yours. Let them know about your improvements by advertising a grand re-opening.
You can utilize many of the same promotions as a brand new store, simply emphasizing the “all new” look and feel of the laundry.
When you purchased your existing laundry, what were the major changes you wanted to make? Was the equipment too small? Was the service poor? You can be certain that whatever negative aspects of the store you saw, the customers saw as well. Concentrate your advertising on those changes.
Something as simple as hanging a banner in the window, stating “Brand New Equipment,” will catch the eye of that former customer who lost his last dollar in one of the old toploaders. If you found the previous ownership lacking in customer service, advertise the store as “Under New Management” and focus on attendant/customer relations during (and after) the grand opening.
When to Start… And When to Stop
Despite the name, a grand opening should usually be held after the laundry has been open for business for several days, especially if the equipment is newly installed. Imagine the chaos of a store full of customers on that first day, when you discover that a drain line wasn’t installed properly and an entire bank of washers goes down.
Try opening the store on an “off” day such as Tuesday or Wednesday, with little fanfare. Schedule the grand opening festivities for that weekend or the following week, to give yourself time to make any necessary repairs and minor improvements.
Give all of your potential customers a chance to visit your store before ending your grand opening. One month is a good rule of thumb – many regular customers use a coin laundry once a month, for large items. Give them the time to take advantage of your special pricing. Even if your numbers are higher than you anticipated, end the grand opening on its scheduled date.
“After the grand opening is over – to keep your newly found customers – you might follow up the initial hoopla with a few monthly drawings for bicycles, TVs, iPods and so on,” Gilbert suggested. “The bottom line is to find a way to get a potential customer in your door, impress them with the condition and operation of your store, and then keep them. A first impression is a lasting impression, so your new or renovated store better be in a condition to make a good impression. If not, it doesn’t matter how many free or low-pricing promotions you have.”