Step by step: How to host a successful grand opening event for your small business

Friday, August 05, 2022

Congratulations! If you’re reading this, you’re likely already quite a few steps into your entrepreneurial journey. We’re guessing you’ve checked the big ticket items off your list – like business plan, name, location, permits, inventory and services (depending on your industry) – and now are looking ahead to opening day.

Not there yet? Back up and check out our Start-Up Path for Entrepreneurs course. We cover everything from writing a business plan to securing funding to help you get started.

Or maybe you’ve been in business for years already, and are preparing to open your second (or third or fourth) location — one just as deserving of a ribbon cutting and just as much in need of a grand opening event plan.

We designed this guide to help small business owners get to and through a successful grand opening day. Feel free to jump ahead to wherever you are in the process.

Keep in mind these are fairly universal to-do’s: Depending on your industry and offerings, you’ll have additional items to check off your list — like menu design for coffee shops, uniforms for restaurants, inventory for retail stores, equipment for salons and so on.

3 month

3+ months before opening day

Claim your name

Don’t sleep on trademarking your business name. If you don’t register it, someone else – at some point – likely will. Once that’s set, purchase your web domain and secure your social media handles. Even if you don’t plan on using all of them right away (or at all – maybe TikTok just isn’t where your target audience is), you’ll still want to claim the accounts before any other business or individual does. Nothing puts a wrench in a marketing strategy like finding out someone else is using your name.

Don’t make technology an afterthought

Your technology needs depend on the nature of your small business, but generally, you can count on needing:

  • Payment solution — a provider and potentially device(s)

  • Payroll software, likely with time tracking features

  • Accounting software

  • A point of sale system if you’re selling food or physical goods

You may also need:

  • An ecommerce or website platform

  • Email marketing software

  • Appointment booking platform

  • Customer relationship management (CRM) software

If you’ve already secured all of your small business financial technology, that’s great — go ahead and skip this section. If not, let’s back up and help you do so, because these are not always easy decisions, may take time to set up and simply cannot be left until the last minute.

What small business fintech do I need?

If you accept payments, you need some sort of small business payments solution. That could be billing and invoicing software, but more likely – especially as a brick-and-mortar business – you’re looking for a payment processor: A system that authorizes transactions, serving as a sort of facilitator between you and the credit card company, bank or other financial institutions involved.

Our Start-Up Path for Entrepreneurs course does a deep dive into things to consider and questions to ask regarding payment processing. It’s also a good idea to compare payment processors before making a decision.

Payroll software is for – you guessed it – processing payroll. It automates the process of paying your employees, so you don’t waste hard-earned time doing it by hand. As you shop around, don’t skimp on these payroll software features.

Accounting (or bookkeeping) software manages the payments coming in and out of your business. It tracks revenue, expenses, invoices and a number of other financial activities. Consider accounting software that integrates with your payments, payroll and point of sale solutions to cut back on manual work of cross-system reconciliation.

Point of sale (POS) most commonly refers to the software and/or hardware that small businesses use to ring up transactions, track sales data, manage inventory and sometimes even customers. Here are 10 things to look for in a retail POS and the benefits of a cloud-based restaurant POS.

2 month

2 months before opening day

  • Hire staff. Put a sign in your window, post open positions to local publications, social media and job boards, set up and conduct interviews and make your offers. Recruiting and onboarding software automates and simplifies much of this, so you can spend more time getting to know your applicants and less time on tedious, manual admin tasks.

  • Order store signage, keeping in mind that many towns and/or shopping centers have guidelines for these.

  • While you’re at it, order any “grand opening” signage you want for your windows or sidewalk.

  • Build your website. Create a pop-up window that invites visitors to sign up for your newsletter, so they’ll be the first to know when your opening date is announced.

  • Register with the Chamber of Commerce and schedule your ribbon cutting ceremony.

  • Start teasing your new business on your social media accounts to build brand awareness.

We know staffing is easier said than done right now — check out these tips for combatting the hiring crisis.

1 month before

1 month before opening day

  • Book any ad slots you plan on using, like newspaper, radio or local influencers.

  • Plan your soft launch, usually a night or two before the grand opening. Soft openings are a great way to test things like your technology and staff in front of family and friends before the big day.

  • If you plan on serving alcohol at your soft launch or grand opening party and do not already have a liquor permit, apply for a one-day license. You also may need to hire a state-certified bartender, depending on your town rules.

  • If your business is not already one that serves food, book a caterer or create some other plan for light refreshments.

  • Book a photographer and/or photo booth company. Suggest a hashtag for customers.

  • Order any custom party supplies, promotional products or other freebies you plan on giving out.

Unique grand opening ideas for small businesses

  • Host a press preview breakfast. Invite local influencers and other media to join you for a special event before officially opening.

  • Add a fundraiser or charitable element. Partner with a local charity, and either pledge to donate a portion of your opening day’s profits, or reward customers who bring a physical donation.

  • Involve neighboring local businesses in the party. You’ll both benefit by getting in front of the other’s customer bases.

  • Hire a local celebrity, impersonator or entertainer (team mascots count), and if you can, put them to “work” — like scooping ice cream or guest bartending!

  • Create urgency with a doorbuster: First 25 guests to make a purchase or book a service receive free stuff or a coupon to apply to their next visit.

  • Set up a photo booth, and hire a local artist or florist to create its backdrop. Ask customers to post their photo on social media with your business’ hashtag for an extra entry into the raffle.

  • Host a ribbon tying – instead of or in addition to ribbon cutting – ceremony. The tying represents your new business joining the local community.

  • Invite a local band to perform or a local radio station to DJ from the grand opening event.

For more event planning fun, take a look at our guide to planning a profitable in-store event.

3 weeks before opening day

3 weeks before opening day

  • Assuming you aren’t waiting on any outstanding permits or approvals, officially announce your grand opening day on your website and social accounts, and via email to anyone who has signed up for your mailing list (including those who may be on it from another location).

  • Send a press release to local media announcing your business, and invite them to the grand opening event. Some people will also invite media to their soft launch, or hold an additional press preview event.

  • Write your employee handbook, sharing your business’ policies and procedures.

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2 weeks before opening day

  • Create a Facebook event for the grand opening party.

  • Host an Instagram giveaway to gain followers: Ask participants to follow you, comment on the post and tag a friend for an entry (the more people they tag, the more entries they get).

  • Plan a team training session. From working the technology to interacting with customers, it’s so important to ensure that they have the knowledge and confidence to create positive, memorable experiences for everyone who comes through your doors.

Team training agenda

  • Distribute the employee handbook. You don’t have to read through it word for word; instead offer the highlights and ask staff to read in depth on their own.

  • Educate employees on your products, services or menu.

  • Train them on your POS system and other necessary equipment.

  • Talk through what they should do when they encounter a problem customer.

  • Show them what to do when lines back up.

  • Conduct mock sales interactions.

If you do put your team to the test during a soft launch, get feedback from your patrons and employees. Quickly identify areas for improvement or clarification and address them with your team to ensure that everyone involved is ready for the real day one.

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1 week before opening day

  • Order balloons, drinks and food if you aren’t working with a caterer.

  • Create staff profiles in your POS and set their permissions.

  • Start posting sneak-peeks on your Instagram account, and use local hashtags to boost exposure. Behind-the-scenes content humanizes your brand, so don’t stress over perfectly curated shots.

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3-4 days before opening day

  • Create a music playlist.

  • Order balloons.

  • Send an email reminder to all newsletter subscribers and other invited guests.

  • Prepare your grand opening raffle. This is a key way to start collecting potential customer data before transactions even take place: Anyone who signs up for your newsletter gets an entry. If you have enough staff, plan to have a team member walk around with a tablet and input addresses directly to your email marketing platform (or POS, if they are integrated).

  • Host a team kickoff. Make sure everyone knows their schedule and assignment for the day, what time to arrive and what to wear. And above all, make sure that you and your employees are all on the same page about how to create a great customer experience. Things will go wrong on the first day, but that’s OK as long as everyone feels equipped and inspired to quickly overcome challenges with a positive attitude

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Day before

  • Test all technology and charge everything:

    • Bluetooth scanners

    • Card readers

    • Tablets or other mobile POS devices

    • Receipt printers

    • Wireless speakers

    • Wi-Fi

  • Pick up balloons and decorate — keep in mind that an enticing storefront exterior can do wonders for attracting passerby traffic!

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Morning of

  • Check in on your employees — it shows that you value them and builds loyalty. Plus, customers can pick up on tension. If you or your team members are visibly stressed, that can harm a new customer’s experience more than you might realize.

  • Take a deep breath and ENJOY yourself! You’re about to watch months – maybe even years – of hard work come to life. Savor what you see in front of you.

Your passion for your business got you to this day, so enjoy it, entrepreneur!

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The big event

In a perfect world, you’ll be staffed securely enough that you can spend the day mingling with customers. Don’t crowd them – it is a party, after all – but do what you can to get feedback in the moment. Your customers see your business through a different lens, so ask!

Things can and will go wrong, but that doesn’t mean your business is starting out on the wrong foot. Mistakes turn into opportunities for growth, so welcome whatever day one brings with open arms.

Bonus:

Free grand opening checklist