Whether it’s football, checkers, business, or anything that involves a winner and a loser, competitors are always looking for an “edge” that puts them over the top. While I am certainly not suggesting cheating. I am suggesting we follow Jack Nicklaus’ advice, “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”
Whether you’re an introvert, an extrovert, or somewhere in the middle-vert, most people enjoy spending time with colleagues and meeting new people under the right circumstances. For example, hosting an open house for your customers and/or prospects is a great way to entertain and educate – the perfect one-two punch. While holding an open house is not a new marketing concept, if done well, it can attract new clients and reward existing ones.
Having worked as a manufacturer’s rep in our industry for a hundred years, I’ve participated in plenty of business open houses and am delighted to share some of those greatest hits with you.
Do open houses work? Absolutely, if done right. But, you can’t whip them together in a day. Successful open houses succeed because of proper planning and exemplary execution. In other words, “If you fail to plan, then plan to fail.” You don’t need all the tactics I am suggesting below, but let’s explore some business open house ideas together and the risk/reward.
Business Open House Ideas and Important Tips
Choose Your Date Carefully.
I was recently chatting with an east coast customer about their upcoming event. They promoted their open house to customers and prospects via email and direct mail. They followed up with phone calls. They did everything right. And judging by the early RSVPs they had received they were on track to exceed their lofty expectations with almost 20 new prospects likely to attend. Everything was set… and then came the big swing and whiff.
The open house was scheduled just days before the July 4th holiday and attendance took a last-minute hit and fell off considerably.
Fortunately, they had one lead that came in needing 25 banner stands while another needed a new 10×20. Best of all, one lead came in with a need for a new booth with a six-figure budget.
All in all, it was a successful event, but it could have been much more successful had a different date been chosen.
Have a Gimmick or a Schtick.
I was at a recent Open House where they hired the local baseball team mascot to appear and entertain the attendees. It was a nice twist that brought a few extra bodies in. Nothing life-changing, but very memorable. I’ve seen Elvis impersonators, magicians, henna tattoo artists, local celebrity chefs, you name it! One of the more successful events was held in mid-winter “up north” with a “Let’s Go to the Islands” theme. They had speakers every hour talking about the pluses and minuses of island over inline displays… They even had a musician playing Jimmy Buffett songs on an acoustic guitar in between sessions. Everyone was engaged, entertained, and informed.
At another Open House, the timing was right for an Oscar theme. So we rolled out the red carpet (literally) and had show tunes playing throughout. They had “paparazzi” taking pictures and team members asking Attendees for their autographs. Everyone was encouraged to dress to the nines. While there were no speakers there was enough going on to keep people focused, entertained, and engaged.
If You Feed Them, They Will Come.
It’s that simple. If you’re holding an all-day Open House, you might want to consider offering pastries and mimosas in the morning and hors d’oeuvres with beer and wine in the afternoon. You don’t need a sit-down meal, but people love leaving their office for a few hours to enjoy a day of education and nosh. Peanuts and chips may be OK for your football buddies, but not for your customers.
Have a Speaker with a Compelling Topic.
Whether it’s the owner, the creative director, a manufacturer’s rep, or a social media expert, choose somebody with a story. Content is key. The attendees are looking for solutions that will make their business or trade shows better. You might even consider featuring several top customers who talk about their experiences with trade show marketing. Nothing speaks louder than customers sharing positive experiences.
Hold your Open House at the same time(s) each year. For example, November/December as a holiday-themed appreciation gathering and ask your Creative Director to review the year’s design trends or an industry association speaker to come in to share the past year’s headlines.
Or maybe you offer quarterly lunch n’ learns. Pick a direction and run with it. If done right Customers will look forward to attending your events to learn a few new marketing tips, get out of the office for a few hours and enjoy a tasty little nosh-a-thon.
By providing these appreciation/education sessions your Team will be seen less as a sales organization and more as marketing experts. You’re not hard selling your clients and prospects during these Open Houses. No need. You are educating them.
With all the changes because of COVID, it’s quite likely that the person who handled the company’s trade show marketing is no longer there. That responsibility has now fallen to either the top of the company’s food chain (who doesn’t have the time or experience to do it properly) or to the new marketing intern (who doesn’t have a clue about… anything). By default, YOU become their in-house trade show expert.
Ask Your Vendors to Participate.
As suppliers, we look at Open Houses as opportunities to spend time with you and a chance to learn more about your market and Customer needs. We also get to see other vendors and share experiences and insights. At the Open Houses I’ve participated in, I typically see Taylor, Brumark, DS&L, and various freight/labor companies participating. We can bring in new products and review services, which always makes for an educational and entertaining event.
Partner Vendors should be more than happy to serve as guest speakers sharing industry trends and new products/services being offered.
You might want to ask your Partner Vendors to consider sponsoring the Blood Mary Bar or a Coffee Barista. Never hurts to ask.
Provide Swag Bags.
As customers or prospects leave your Open House you might present them with a goodie bag. While we’re not endorsing fancy-schmancy swag bags like they provide to the stars on Oscar Night (this year’s Oscars goodie bag was an extravaganza worth a whopping US $140,000, containing 52 items, experiences, and treatments), a little thank you bag can go a long way.
Invite the Local Press and Government Officials.
If you invite your local newspaper or tv station, it shouldn’t be hard to get your mayor or other local politicians to attend as well and ask them to consider making a short welcoming speech.
The Final Two Tips.
First, if your team is wearing matching corporate apparel and name badges, it will be much easier for your guests to identify their hosts. Second, consider hourly raffles to keep everyone engaged. It doesn’t have to be extravagant. A gift certificate to a local restaurant. A free car wash. Free shipping on a banner stand. Or complimentary design time with your graphic designer.
Business Open House Gift Ideas
- Branded Thermal Cup or Water Bottle
- Trade Show Emergency Bag (Sharpies, Velcro, X-acto knife, Tylenol, Starbucks gift card, etc.)
- Top 10 Trade Show Tips (wallet-sized laminated card)
- Branded Power Bank (for charging phones, etc…)
- Branded Tape Measure
- Upscale Badge Lanyard
- Key Tag with “ReturnMe” Lost & Found Service
- One-Size Fits All Comfort Shoe Insoles
Business Open House Event Ideas to Avoid
- Avoid Slow/Tedious Event Check-In. Have a dedicated team on hand to quickly get attendees badged and into the event.
- Skipping the Post-Event Follow-Up. The event isn’t over just because everyone’s gone home. Solicit feedback and post photos on social media.
- Not Offering Food and Drinks. They’re guests in your business home. Nothing turns attendees off more than an event without refreshments.
- Not Having Enough Staff on Hand. The last thing you want to have is an attendee looking for someone to answer questions and finding nobody is available.
- Forgetting to Check Competing Events. Always, always, always check your calendar for conflicting events and holidays.
Low Cost or Small Business Open House Checklist
- Assign a Team member to continually clean during the open house.
- Have a host at the front door to greet attendees as they come in.
- Make sure there is enough parking.
- Provide accurate directions.
- Consider music or live entertainment.
- Provide name badges for all staff and attendees.
- Have plenty of garbage cans available in food areas.
- Set aside space for people to eat and chat.
- Notify (and even invite) local business neighbors of your event.
- Create a theme for the event and encourage participation.
Partnering with Classic Exhibits for Business Open House Ideas
If you need help with Open House ideas, contact us or your local event agency. A good partner will transform your good idea into a magical event that will be remembered by your guests (and employees) for years.
Classic Exhibits has been in the industry since 1993 and we have been honored as an Exhibitor Magazine Find-It Top 40 Exhibit Producer and an Event Marketer Fab 50 Exhibit Builder multiple times. Reach out to our team to get started on your next exhibit or graphic design project!