The Ultimate Guide to Grand Openings For Bricks & Mortar Locations

grand opening feature

A grand opening or re-opening is important for every business. It’s a time to have some fun and get involved with your community, as well as a critical part of your long term success for many small businesses.

But there’s more that goes into having a grand (re-)opening event than just deciding you want one and picking a date. Grand openings require extensive planning to ensure a smooth and successful event. Below is a comprehensive guide to all of the necessary to-dos and steps before you hold your business’ grand opening.

From this point on we’re going to call it a “grand opening” but for all intents and purposes almost all of this can be applied to a “grand re-opening”. So whether it’s a brand new store, one that has undergone extensive remodeling or renovations, or even under new management this guide is the one for you and your big day.

 Before we get to the actual planning of the event itself, there are a number of things that are assumed.

  • It is assumed you already have a building.

  • It is assumed your store is fully functional and completely finished in terms of advertising and branding. Meaning you have your branded signage installed (such as window decals) as well as your store hours, your interior directional and functional signage in place. etc.

  • It is also assumed you are properly staffed to run your store and are licensed in every way needed to operate wherever you might be located. Check out this cool tool from the SBA that lets you put in your business zip code and type to figure out what licenses you might need.

With some of these foundational elements in place you are ready to start planning your grand opening. We’ve outlined below all the different components that you should consider for your grand opening. Read this guide from beginning to end or use the list below to jump directly to the areas that will be a part of your grand opening.

Quick Guide

Event Budget + Initial Plan

Schedule Intelligently

Permits & Licenses

Parking

Pre or Post Open?

Photograhper(s)

Staffing

Security

Signage

Live Entertainment

Food & Catering

Co-Opt Local Groups

Invite The Right People

Make It An Easy Event To Attend

Tours

Lead Generation

Appreciation Items

Offline Marketing

Online Marketing

List of Activities & Ideas For Your Grand Opening

Event Budget + Initial Plan

Budgets are essential (link includes some sample budgets that could be altered for your grand opening event) because they help keep you from spending every penny you have. Some people may start planning their grand opening event and then set a budget, but it’s best if you set your budget and then start your plan. This way if you or someone else suggests doing something, you can quickly rule it out if the cost won’t fit into your budget.

Once your budget is set, roughly plan out the day’s events. Set times of when you’re opening, when entertainment or games will be going on and when the event will end. Sticking to a budget and plan helps your event run more smoothly. Remember to build flexible time into your day’s schedule. Without a doubt something will go wrong or someone will show up late so while you want to plan your day far in advance make sure to keep it flexible to a certain degree. It’s best to have a rough outline of what you want to happen on the big day to point you towards things that must be done far in advance. The actual minute to minute schedule can be solidified closer to the date when the big to dos are long since crossed off the list.

The other aspect of planning is the actual preparation for the big day. While a budget and plan of the day’s event are great, these will be useless to you if you wait until a week before your chosen date to put them on paper. Many times grand openings are planned months if not a year in advance. We would recommend that you start the planning process at least 6 months in advance. Set your budget and plan the day in a way that lets you chart out all the important milestones and checkpoints that will lead to a successful day. Of course, while we recommend 6 months, the lead time of planning such an event will vary from situation to situation. A small mom and pop shop in a local community may only need a few months while a national chain franchise may need more. Just remember that there will always be things out of your control that you have to build time into your schedule for. Advertising buys, corporate sign off on events or signage, meshing schedules of event day participants, and much more will all play into this lead time.

Just remember that often times the most successful grand openings are the simple ones!

Outlined below are a number of different elements or considerations to keep in mind after preparing your initial budget and plan.

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Schedule Intelligently

The first and possibly the most important thing to keep in mind is the date of your grand opening. Nothing will lead to a disappointing grand opening faster than a scheduling conflict with a holiday, another major local event or even poor weather. While the weather is going to be variable right up until event time it takes just a little common sense to avoid major holidays, or travel days leading up to the holiday, and other major local events that happen annually. While in some cases you might be able to piggy back or benefit from such events usually it is best to schedule your event so that you are literally the only show in town.

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Permits & Licenses

In many cases your business license won’t be the only license that you’ll need. Permits for grand openings might be required depending on the size of crowd that is expected, noise levels, the time that it may run until, height and aesthetic considerations around signage and event elements such as inflatable toys, etc. Just make sure to check with your local City Council or city office to ascertain what types of ordinances might be in place that may conflict with your event’s activities and plan. Not only will appropriate permits and licenses need to be obtained but built into the budget as well.

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Parking

In many cases parking may be an afterthought. After all you have your normal parking lot and assume that will be sufficient. But more often than not those putting on grand opening events find that parking becomes a nightmare. Not only can this lead to potential fines or violations for those attending, it can deter others from even trying to come in and potentially sour relationships with neighboring businesses.

The remedy to parking problems are two fold. First, ensure that additional parking is available for your guests. Whether this is on the street, overflow parking, or nearby options make sure you have permission to have your attendees park in these locations. In some cases you’ll need to pay for this and others its a simple request to be asked of neighboring businesses.

The other thing you’ll need to do is to make sure that parking arrangements and options are clearly visible and communicated to attendees. Banners, yard signs and temporary signage will all work for the actual location. Including parking details, if complicated, in pre-marketing materials will also help avoid this problem. Just don’t let it be a hassle for your guests to have to try and find parking when they arrive!

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Pre or Post Open?

Another thing to consider is whether the grand opening should literally kick off the opening of the store or if the event should be planned after the actual opening. While the latter seems counter-intuitive it is actually strongly suggested as the best choice for business owners. Having the “grand opening” a week or two after opening your store allows your business to ensure that the day-to-day operations are running smoothly before you have an influx of customers and potential customers in your store. In particular operating normally for a short period before opening will help you estimate an average amount of supplies or stock that you need to run the store. This average can then be used to estimate what a grand opening might need with a much higher number of people buying from or eating at your store or restaurant.

Nothing is worse than throwing a grand opening party and leaving a sour taste in the mouth of all those who attend. As they say, you only get one chance to make a first impression. So make sure that first impression is a stunning one by hosting your event a week or two after the actual open date and things are running just how you want them to!

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Photographer(s)

Whether you hire a professional photographer or have a staff member take pictures, documenting the day is a must. These pictures can be used in future marketing material, provide assets to be shared on social media and give staff members a way to interact with attendees both at the event and on social media.

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Staffing

Do not risk being understaffed. Period. Customers who have a bad experience at the grand opening event may never fully trust nor patronize the business in the future. Make sure you have enough staff on hand to easily cover the best case scenario. If the event turns out to be less successful than desired or planned then staff can always be sent home. It is much easier to send people home than try and call in help when customers and attendees are waiting.

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Security

Not only is security an important element of the day’s events for your facility and employee’s valuables but also for attendees. Most corporate events such as a grand openings should avoid alcohol that often leads to disturbances and problems but even without alcohol there can be issues that need to be dealt with. Hiring temporary security resources will help make sure the event goes off without any major problems. For those companies that may be on a tight budget a simple request to the local police department may fill the need for some kind of security or crowd control presence.

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Signage

Signage has been mentioned in several of the other sections within this guide but is worth mentioning in its own section as well. Signage for your event will play a critical role in advertising the date your location opens, the date of the actual grand opening event, directional signage for parking and your building and its premises, promotional signage for deals specific to the event and much more.

Whether you decide to use a local print shop or an online sign company you’ll need to plan for at least a week or two in advance to make sure your signage is taken care of. Ideally the lead time is closer to roughly a month to ensure that designs are approved and the signage is printed and delivered in time for the event. This lead time will be even greater for signage promoting the actual event or location as you’ll want to put that up well in advance of these dates to properly promote your store or business.

Grand opening banners and yard signs are great options for affordable signage that may only be used once. Banners are also durable enough that assuming the sign is designed for the long term (i.e. your brand and logo without a date) it can be used for years to come. Likewise window decals, metal and plastic signs work well for more permanent signage options that can double for event purposes as well as long term signage needs. Below are a few specific examples that you can easily customize here on Signs.com.

coming soon banner

coming soon sign with stars

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Live Entertainment

A very common element of many grand openings is some kind of live entertainment. While this can be a huge hit and attract many attendees the decision shouldn’t be made hastily. This is because having live entertainment can add a huge cost to your event. In particular one should consider any additional equipment and set up costs, the actual fee for the live entertainment, space requirements, noise ordinances, and more. The cost of having live entertainment should be offset by an increased number of attendees or some kind of long term return. Asking other store owners who have used the entertainment option, what kind of turnout there was and if they felt the added cost was worth it is a great place to start. While live entertainment of some sort is always an added draw if it takes up too much of your budget with no guarantee of a return it should be something that is left out of the plan.

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Food & Catering

If there is an element of a grand opening that is a must it would definitely be food. Almost every grand opening has some kind of food or light refreshments. There are two main options when it comes to food – do it yourself or have it catered. In most cases taking care of your own food is not only feasible but significantly cheaper. Buying bulk food, having employees chip in, or negotiating deals with neighboring businesses that can help are all ways to avoid the catering route.

Catering on the other hand will remove a lot of hassle and details when it comes to ensuring your guests enjoy the refreshments. With that help often comes a hefty price that just isn’t in the budget for many small businesses or stores with all the other costs associated with a grand opening.  The obvious advantage of having catered food is in all likelihood the food will be amazing.

For most store owners it comes down to price and the quality of food that is needed for the event. If the grand opening is on a tight budget and only need light refreshments then go the DIY route. If the food is the main part of the day’s events and is a more formal grand opening than catering is the way to go.

Of course none of this applies if the grand opening is for a restaurant. But if your store is a restaurant it is highly recommended that the food is sold at a discount or includes some kind of promotional offer. Because who wants to come to a grand opening and pay full price for the food?

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Co-Opt Local Groups

One great way to ensure a successful grand opening is to co-opt local groups and organizations. These can be community groups, for profit organizations or even non-profits. The principle remains the same regardless of the type of organization or group you decide to co-opt. The purpose in doing so is to tap into a local group that has a well known brand and can not only help promote the event but also draw people to the grand opening. Whether this is because locals want to contribute to a fundraising element or there is some incentive offered by a company that they both already know and trust will bring more guests to your event.

Co-opting local groups can be a great way to generate or guarantee media coverage as well. Philanthropic reasons or just a bigger or more well known brand may make it more likely that local media covers your event. These digital impressions can go a long way in helping online visibility and driving offline traffic to your store in the future.

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Invite The Right People

You want your grand opening event to be big, and you want everyone in your community in attendance. A good way to ensure that happens is inviting some prominent people in your community. The mayor, city council members and the press are good places to start. Don’t forget to also invite neighboring businesses, your employees and their guests, people who helped get your business going, and your friends and family. Be sure to send some kind of grand opening invitations to all these people with plenty of advanced notice. Invitations are easy enough to make on your own. Here is an example of wording for grand opening invitations. With a little bit of effort in a word processor or editor invitations can be printed at local sign shops or even use online companies to help design and print your invitations.

More important than inviting the local VIP is to work backwards from your target audience. Ultimately you want to attract future customers to your business. Thus, if your business is a women’s sporting good store a famous or well known female athlete is going to be your best bet. Why? Because the people who know who she is, have followed her career and most likely have similar interests as her are most likely the people who make up your customer base.

In situations where the “perfect” guest doesn’t exist or isn’t feasible than using children or a family angle is a great way to reach your target audience. For example, if Bob Villa won’t come to your Home Improvement grand opening then set up booths or workshops to appeal to not only dads but for kids. Parents love doing things for their kids and will bring them to kid-centric events and themselves to your grand opening!

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Make It An Easy Event To Attend

While this goes without saying it is worth nothing that planning your day around keeping kids and families happy will help tremendously. For any grand opening that may be longer or out of the way there better be something to keep the kids occupied and happy. Any grand opening that involves families attending is not going to have a high number attend if it’s a hassle or the kids get bored and cranky. Parents will either not come or pack up early. So include games, food, and events that keep the little ones entertained so you have enough time to connect with your target audience and those who have the ability to buy your products.

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Tours

If your facility is a big one and something that might interest attendees to see make sure that tours are part of your day’s events. Along with this comes the need to lock valuables, avoid rooms that shouldn’t be part of the tour and make pre-event assignments to staff members who are best suited and capable of giving tours and answering questions. Tours will obviously be dictated by the type of business but where possible they are a great way to engage your customers and show them your world class facilities.

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Lead Generation

Everyone knows that a grand opening has an ulterior motive of generating future business. If it is done very carefully then grand openings can be used as a more direct effort to generate leads and customers. For example, a giveaway that requires a like on Facebook can ensure future engagement is possible through digital platforms. Another example is offering discounts beyond the free food that are tied to the customer’s willingness to give an email address. This email address can be used for future marketing messages and efforts. Similarly a coupon for “x” percentage off for any purchase within 15 days can prompt customers to return in the near future.

There are many ways to generate leads and to integrate an offline activity with online marketing. The most important thing to remember is that attendees will not only be turned off by in-your-face and aggressive marketing tactics at the event itself but may choose to not do business with your store in the future if the event becomes about dollars rather than people. Carefully plan how to strike the balance between providing a good experience and generating leads and you’ll benefit in the short and long-term.

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Appreciation Items

One of the most valuable things a business can do as part of their grand opening event is to thank those for attending. While verbally expressing gratitude is a given, some kind of future discount for attendance is a great way to accomplish two things at the same time. Build a relationship with those who come and incentivize them for future purchases. A simple “5%” off any purchase type coupon for any person who attends the event can be very effective. Just make sure that whatever you offer doesn’t require too much effort on the part of the attendees and that the offer is sufficient enough to really drive future action.

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Spread The Word

Arguably the most important part of your grand opening will be the promotion and advertising behind it. This can be done both through online and offline marketing. A few of these options are outlined below.

Offline Marketing

Radio – Believe it or not people still advertise on the radio. And it can be effective! For a grand opening in a small locale a local radio station might be a great way to reach your target audience at a low cost. Just remember that advertising on the radio is purely an audible medium. Taking away the visual component of the advertising means that you’ll need many touch points for people to remember the details of your ads. This means you need to put enough money into it that it runs often or integrate it with the rest of your advertising efforts. The latter is usually cheaper and can be done effectively by pointing your customers to an online platform such as social media or your website.

Newspaper – Similar to radio if your target audience falls into the rapidly diminishing group that reads physical newspapers than this medium can still be effective. Plan on running ads more than once leading up to your event. Several weeks out and sometime in the week leading up to the event is ideal. For target audiences who are more digitally included look to advertise digitally on the newspapers website if the local newspaper is the medium in your city.

Direct Mail – Direct mail lists can be purchased from a wide variety of sources, sometimes even including a local Chamber of Commerce or state business advocacy groups such as small business development centers. Direct mailers shouldn’t be your only source of advertising and like radio and newspaper should be integrated with an online element.

Signage – Discussed above, traditional signage both on and off-site will be a great help in promoting your event and store.

Press Release & Media Kit – Perhaps the most important of the traditional advertising is ensuring that a press release and media kit are available for your grand opening event. There are many good resources on how to write a press release and make a press kit. Doing so will give your event a better chance of being picked up by local media. This will not only help the event itself but the future efforts of your store to drive customers through the doors.

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Online Marketing

Social Media – A cheap and effective way to promote your event and engage users is to use social media. Social media marketing can be used prior to the event, as part of the day’s activities and after it has come to a close. This is a great way to build an audience that is receptive to your future marketing efforts.

Paid Search Marketing – Another great way to advertise on a short term basis is online banner ads. As alluded to above if there are local mediums that have a digital presence then it makes sense to run ads on their site to ensure your target audience is aware of your upcoming events. The major advantage of online marketing like this is that it tends to be very cost effective. Direct those who see your ads to your website or social media platforms for more information and engagement.

The best marketing plan will be one tailored to your target market and location. Make sure to integrate your online and offline efforts and strive to not only get people to your event but increase awareness that will lead to future sales.

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List of Activities & Ideas For Your Grand Opening

The part of planning your grand opening that can be the most stressful is deciding what exactly is going to happen during the day’s events. There are many different things you can do or offer during your grand opening, you just have to decide what’s going to be best based on your business and its location.

Below is a list of grand opening ideas and activities that could help make your event a success. No matter what you decide to do make sure that your marquee events and activities keep your target market in mind! Choose activities that not only entice them to come to the event but stay at the event for as long as possible.

  • On Site Signage and Props

    • Giant banners

    • Yard signs

    • Balloons

    • Searchlights

    • Directional sandwich boards

    • Inflatable bounce house

    • Vehicles with company name, logo and information

    • Race car or helicopter

  • Community Advertising

    • Billboards

    • Flyers

    • Postcards

    • Bumper stickers on cars of your family and friends

  • Give Away Items

    • Apparel with your business name and logo: shirts, hats, beanies, etc.

    • Bounce-back coupons

    • Loyalty cards

    • Gift cards

    • Souvenirs

  • Food & Drinks

    • Have a barbeque

    • Provide finger or snack foods

    • Offer a variety of drinks: water, lemonade, juice, punch, pop

  • Live Entertainment, Guest Appearance & People To Hire

    • Local celebrities or athletes

    • Photographer

    • Videographer

    • Circus entertainers

    • Balloon benders

    • Face painter

    • Magician

    • Comedian

    • Cover band

    • Local band

    • Local high school marching band

    • Local dance group

    • DJ

  • Fun Activities

    • Raffles

    • Door prizes

    • Hourly giveaways

    • Ribbon cutting

    • Games

    • Tours of your business

    • Themed party

    • Short program that introduces your business

    • Charity event (can co-opt a local organization)

    • Fireworks (Be safe and get them approved.)

  • Special Actions

    • Opener sooner and stay open later than normal business hours

    • Offer free, half-off or buy one get one free on certain products

    • Have a local VFW present the United States flag during the grand opening ceremony

    • Official Ground Breaking Ceremony

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Don’t feel obligated to try and fit all of these into your day’s events — that’s not possible nor budget-friendly. But it would be smart to choose more than one of these to ensure your grand opening event is a hit for your business and your community.

Happy planning and good luck with your grand opening!

Dustin Heap

Before Signs.com, Dustin had several jobs after graduating from Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada. These included positions in two different SEO agencies and Everyday Health, a leading online health brand. He’s worked with both big and small businesses and lived in New York City, Toronto, and Salt Lake City. He currently does the marketing for Signs.com and has experience in a variety of areas under the digital marketing umbrella. Outside of work he loves spending time with his family, sports, books, wood fired-pizza, grilling and smoking meat, and the geopolitics of the Middle East.