Bedfordshire Nisa Local retailer Kishor Patel claims that forward planning is vital for a successful opening day. "You should start planning your store opening three months in advance," he says. "As soon as you have decided on an opening date invite the key people you want to attend straight away."
He claims that the person you choose to open your store sends out a strong message to customers about the business. "You need to have a strategic angle on it you need to make sure that local councillors are there, as well as an MP," says Kishor.
Conservative MP Mike Penning was chosen to cut the ribbon at Kishor's most recent store opening in Hemel Hempstead, which took place in April. An MP well-known within the c-store sector for speaking out against the tobacco ban, Penning proved to be an influential speaker, giving a powerful speech, urging people to support their local store in favour of the multiples.
And it's not just their powers of persuasion that make MPs good guests for a store opening. According to Costcutter-affiliated Sunstar Group, MPs are also good crowd-pullers because many people will attend simply to meet them.
"I've had [former Respect MP for Bethnal Green & Bow] George Galloway and Lib Dem MP Simon Hughes at store events," says operations manager Syed Husain. "It creates a good atmosphere. Many customers come to the opening to speak to the MP, as well as to see the store."
Manchett's Budgens of Burwell was keen to steer clear of MPs and instead hand the spotlight over to a local hero when the store opened last March. "We wanted a local person to open our store to give the sense that it's the community's shop," says marketing manager Mandy Manchett.
She claims that the local paper is a good place to start looking for special guests. "We flicked through the Burwell Bulletin and made a shortlist of people who we could ask. There was an article on a young man who'd won an award for his go-karting, and another piece about a local school choir."
While a go-karting champion would have given the opening an edge, it was deemed that the choir would be ideal as they could entertain the crowd.
"About 20 kids aged between eight and nine stood in the doorway," says Mandy. "They sang three songs, which the locals loved and, on a more practical note, stopped people from entering the store before the official ribbon cutting."
Husain also believes that entertainment is an important part of the day. "In the past I've had a Caribbean band and I've got a local folk music group in mind for my next store opening. I always want to do something different to show that we're not just any old store."
In terms of timings, he advises that bands are booked at least six weeks in advance if possible.
In addition, Husain likes to involve other members of the convenience sector. "I invite my main suppliers it's good to make everyone feel that they are part of something," he says. "It's good to invite other members of your symbol group, too, and also the local authorities," he adds. "Not only does it heighten the importance of the event, but by keeping up good communications with them, it means that they will keep you informed of anything that might help the business, such as new training courses."
With his eight-store empire, Kishor is an old hand at store openings and has developed a formula for getting it right. "One must allow between 5% to 10% of the refit or development cost for store launch marketing and PR," he claims. "I made sure everyone knew what was happening at my latest store opening by advertising on the local radio station and sending out leaflets with special opening day deals, such as £2 for a tin of Roses."
Sunstar group takes a similar approach. "We sent out about 1,000 leaflets with special offers for our last opening day," says Husain.
When James Brundle reopened his Walthamstow store under the Spar fascia back in October, he also used leaflets to entice customers. "On one side were Spar offers on fast-selling grocery lines, and on the other we listed all of our store's unique selling points for example, its organic bakery and beers from around the world. These were delivered to about 800 households."
However, if you don't have the resources to go on a leaflet frenzy, it is possible to work with a smaller budget and still see good results. Instead of focusing efforts on leaflets, Mandy put up newsletters in community hubs such as the post office and the bakery, alerting people to the new store opening. She also put up a notice on her business' Facebook page, telling people what was happening. "We only spent about £200 on the opening," says Mandy. "I got a photographer to take photos, but he was a local and only charged £50, and then I spent £60 on helium balloons to decorate the shop.
"We didn't have special offers, but we did give some jute bags away, and we offered free tea and coffee to make people feel welcome."
Another way of gaining publicity without breaking the bank is to involve the media. Kishor advises retailers to give the press a fortnight's warning in order to guarantee maximum coverage.
James also finds this approach to be effective. "We managed to get some press coverage at Spar Walthamstow as we had contacted the local papers a couple of weeks beforehand."
Mandy got in touch with the press, too. "I emailed all the local publications about the opening and gave them my contact details. They all got in touch and we were covered in the evening news and the Burwell Bulletin."
Engaging with your local radio station is another good move. Both Kishor and Mandy invited Heart radio to come and support their launches. While the sound system drew in additional spectators, the presenters were able to keep people entertained before and after the official ribbon cutting. "Heart radio bought some promotional mugs and badges to give out, which helped add to the positive atmosphere," says Mandy.
Efficient staff management is another important factor. James ensured that he had more than enough staff on duty when Spar Walthamstow opened its doors. "We knew that the store would be busier than usual so we had three staff on the tills; two on bakery; four on the shop floor to answer customer queries; and two outside the front of the store offering samples to get people interested."
As well as ensuring that you have enough staff, it is also crucial to fully brief them on what to expect.
"It's very important to maintain good health and safety when the store is busy," says Husain. "Staff have to be particularly vigilant when there are crowds."
The Manchett's team was tested when about 100 people entered the store at once. "A bottle of soy sauce and a cup of coffee got spilt, but you have to be prepared for things like that when you have so many people in," Mandy says.
After all the hard work that goes into an opening there are various ways of gauging whether your efforts have paid off. "I judge the success of the day on two factors: the first being how many people showed up, and the second being in terms of sales," says Kishor. "I also chat to customers to get feedback and to hear how they found out about the opening."
Mandy has a similar take on measuring an event's success: "We definitely deemed our launch a success. Sales were high on the day and we had at least 100 people show up for the opening."
While it's encouraging to achieve high sales and a good turnout, Husain believes that raising awareness and creating a feel-good vibe is the best result any retailer can hope for. "If you open a store without an event then it takes quite a while for locals to catch on, whereas a big opening really helps increase visibility," he says.
"You can't rely on opening day sales to show how successful the store will be in the long run, so it's the reactions of the people that are most important. If you put on a really good event then people will remember it and keep coming back."