Part 6 – Prepare to Open Your Business
Time to reap the benefits of this long-awaited journey
As our series comes to an end, it can only mean one thing for your business – it’s time to open your doors! If you have missed any of the series’ articles, let’s quickly review the steps that have gotten us to this point:
Writing a Business Plan
Selecting a Location
Product Line Development
Setting Up Shop: Design, Licenses & Permits, Equipment
Prepare for Grand Opening
As the countdown to your store opening begins, there are still a few important details that need to be executed for a successful first day. While your overall business checklist might be getting smaller, these last few items are fairly large, yet integral, tasks that can be both tedious and time-consuming.
Inspections, Permits & Licensing
While this is a big component in the location and setting-up-shop phases of business, the final step is making sure you have passed all your inspections and have all your licensing. Without these big-ticket items, you could be closed down the minute you open. Double- and triple-check your federal, state and local government business requirements and any outstanding compliance issues, and make sure you have all of the documents you need to post. Critical documents needed generally include occupancy, electrical and fire safety permits.
Employees & Training
Your business is only as good as the people that represent it! One of the major steps to business success is hiring the right people and training them. First, go back to your business plan and determine if your initial hiring needs still stand and fit the budget. Determine what positions you are ready to hire, and develop detailed descriptions for the positions so expectations are automatically set. Allocate enough time to search for good applicants and interview them thoroughly. Also, understand local and state labor laws, and employee classifications, especially if you plan to hire minors.
Once you have identified potential candidates and begun hiring, outline a training plan. You should allow employees a 30–60 day trial period so they have time to learn their job and company policies, and so you can evaluate if they are a good fit for your business. Education is critical since your employee should have a complete knowledge of your business, product and any processes or production for which they are responsible. PreGel’s Training Center offers low-cost classes to assist clients in their training endeavors, so be sure to fully utilize all of your resources. A trained and well-guided employee will ultimately help your business thrive and keep customers coming back.
The ability to multitask is a must in the food business, and testing products and recipes can be easily accomplished at the same time as employee training. For optimal performance, your staff needs to be well-acclimated with the machines and comfortable producing your product. This takes practice and time, and it also offers you the chance to test and adjust recipes. Formalizing your recipes is extremely important in order to streamline operations and offer your customers consistent products. It is also important to record all your tests so you always have a record of what works and what has failed. Food is a science, and many variables can affect the outcome of the finished product including the machine, the ingredients, amounts used, etc. – having a handle on the issues and looking back at historical data can help you troubleshoot relatively quickly.
Product testing doesn’t stop at the initial production phase, but you should get practice troubleshooting products throughout the day and over a few days’ time. For example, if you are a frozen yogurt shop, you will need to test your product throughout the day to make sure the machine is not too cold, making the product hard and icy. In the case of gelato, while fresh is always best, knowing how to refresh your product or when it’s time to remove it from the case and instead use it for gelato cakes is critical and will help keep the best product in front of your customers at all times.
A soft opening is a partial opening that is great for testing out the kinks of your day-to-day operations and building hype for your official grand opening. For a soft opening, you generally utilize a small test group of customers such as vendors, friends, family and others who have assisted in the setup of your business. Not only does the soft launch serve as a thank you to those who have helped along the way, but it also provides the opportunity for your staff to practice serving customers and have a true test run. Additionally, it allows the test group to provide you with feedback on the whole experience so you can tweak any areas before the opening.
Another option is to do a week-long soft opening. Basically, you open your doors to the public with little to no advertisement and serve those that happen to come into your shop. The crowds may or may not be substantial, but it allows you to serve real customers with real scenarios and further prepare you and your staff for the official opening. For those customers that do come in, you can provide them with information on the grand opening and any coupons to encourage them to come back.
Additionally, the longer soft opening can provide information on how customers found out about your store before you initiate your marketing plan and help you assess how to attract others to your store.
Perhaps one of the most exciting days for a new business, and one of the most nerve-wracking as well, is the grand opening! Every business should have a grand opening to introduce their business to the community. The grand opening is basically an in-store event marketing tactic that requires preplanning. The first step in planning the opening is the prepromotion of the event. From press releases to invitations to local dignitaries, reporters and VIPs, to media advisories for radio, television and online media and calendars, you need to alert the communicators and decision-makers in the area of the opening as they can dramatically increase traffic and interest. Prepare all of your collateral well in advance so it is available for the opening. This includes your grand opening sign, handouts, menus, nutritionals and coupons. Depending on the printing vendor you use, keep in mind that printing can take up to 10 days. Additionally, determine what promotion you will push for the opening. While free may mean less profit, it gets folks in the door to test your products and will often result in some purchases. Many have found promotions such as BOGO (buy one, get one), a free cup per person till a certain time, coupons for a return visit and giveaways can all bring in potential customers. The point is not to lose money on the first day, but to invest in your customers by enticing them to come in and hopefully become a loyal patron. It is also always helpful to have additional entertainment at the grand opening – a clown, a band, radio broadcast, etc. – as it serves as another way to entertain and keep guests at the event. Large crowds create curiosity and can bring in passersby who may not have known about the opening.
Another great tip for the grand opening is to start collecting contacts! All too often, businesses wait to build their customer base, but the time to start is day one. Offer an email sign-up list for promotions or a business card drop for a prize, as having your customers’ information helps you market directly to them.
Last, take it all in. If you do everything right and get a good crowd, you and your team will learn so much in that one day. Debrief at the end and discover what you didn’t know so you can be prepared in the future. Assess items like the best- selling products and flavors, how the flow of traffic went, how efficient the cleaning throughout the day was, and more. Give both positive and constructive feedback to your team so from the beginning you are improving performance and managing expectations. Then, pat yourself on the back, go home and rest – tomorrow will be another day for your new business. Congratulations!
Beaudoin, Lauren. “Preparing for a Restaurant Grand Opening.” Retrieved February 23, 2010, from http://www.missionrs.com/blog/industry-guide/preparing-for-a-restaurant-grand-opening/.
Lynn, Jacquelyn. “Opening Ceremonies.” Retrieved February 23, 2010, from http://www.entrepreneur.com/magazine/entrepreneur/2000/may/26604.html.
Miller, Rodney. “The Soft Opening.” Retrieved February 23, 2010, from www.gaebler.com/The-Soft-Opening.htm.