How important are first impressions? Everyone from your mom to your professors in business school told you that they’ll make or break you. If you’re getting ready to open the doors of your brand new business and introduce yourself to the public, you should be thinking about the first impression you’ll make. It’s difficult to offer perfect service during the first days of your fledgling business. But customers will give you a break that first week, right? Surely they’ll understand that you have new employees and that you’re still figuring out how to run your business. It will all work out – even if they have to wait a little longer for service or stand there while you try to figure out how to operate your cash register. Right? Um… nope.
Sadly, Joe customer doesn’t have warm, fuzzy feelings in his heart for your earnest (and failing) attempts at becoming a paragon of retail perfection. He just wants to buy a widget and be on his way. You opened yesterday? That’s nice. Now fork over the widget, ring it up and put it in a bag. Oh, and do it with a smile on your face. Or he won’t be back.
I know, it sounds harsh. But it’s reality and as a new business owner you’d better be living in the real world. Opening week is crucial to your success; you absolutely must do it right. Here are some reasons to delay your big grand opening event:
1. Your Employees Aren’t Thoroughly Trained
Your employees are the ambassadors of your business. Customers will expect them to know where product can be located and be able to extol the many features of the product. Customers want to be able to complete their transactions quickly and be on their way, so employees should be thoroughly trained on how to use the cash register.
I took my family to an amusement park during spring break. It had opened for the season just two days before we visited, so most of the employees were new. When we stopped for snacks, only two people were in line at the snack kiosk, so we figured we’d be able to grab some goodies fast. After ten minutes, the guy at the front still hadn’t received his order; the clerk was holding his $5 bill in her hand and frantically punching buttons on the register, which kept making a beeping noise. Apparently, the customer had tried to add an item onto his order after she had pushed the “Total” button. The cash register was having none of it. The guy finally told her, “Never mind. Don’t worry about the extra soda.” But it was too late. The register was hopelessly screwed up.
In the meantime, the line had backed up to about 10 people, all of whom were starting to get irritated. The customer at the front of the line requested that his order be cancelled, and the clerk gave him his money back. But the register couldn’t complete any transactions until a manager showed up. After another five minutes, everyone gave up, griping and complaining as they walked away, sans sugar and caffeine.
2. Your Signage is Insufficient
Customers can’t find your business unless you have plenty of signage to point the way; especially when your store is brand new. Make sure you have several signs placed right next to the road, pointing the way to your shop. A large banner on the exterior of the building will call attention to your business, too. Without some noticeable signage, it can be particularly difficult to find a new business—you won’t show up on GPS mapping programs for a few months, so your customers will need to know your exact address to find you. And if your shop is tucked away from the main street, it will still be hard to locate it in time to turn into the parking lot. Make it easy for customers to find you.
3.Your Store Isn’t Fully Stocked
You won’t make a very good first impression if customers show up to find your shelves half empty. If you don’t have anything to sell, it’s a given that your customers won’t be buying. Make sure that your product will arrive well before opening day, and get it stocked on the shelves before you open the door. You’d think this would be common knowledge, but I’ve visited several new stores that are unprepared.
At one store, the grand opening had been well-advertised and there were several coupons on the flyer that encouraged customers to stop in during the first four hours of business. A line at the door testified that the marketing campaign had been successful. Unfortunately, the product had arrived late. When the doors opened, employees were frantically trying to put product on the shelves and were telling customers, “Hang on a minute… I know we have that… Let me just look through this stack of boxes.” Needless to say, customers quickly became frustrated and many left without buying anything.
4. You Haven’t Figured Out Best Practices Yet
It can take awhile to figure out how best to run your business. But some general policies and procedures should be in place well before you open your doors. Set regular hours right from the beginning—having special Grand Opening hours will only confuse your customers when they try to return later. Make sure that all employees are aware of your policies regarding returns, price matching and rain checks.