The secret to a successful store opening is to make sure the activity suits your would-be customers. Face-painters wouldn't appeal to affluent, young adults in a trendy London suburb, for instance, no more than the sound of a jazz band would excite young, single mums. You need to do your homework and then budget accordingly.
Pete Cheema says he made a substantial investment in the opening of his store in Meigle, near Dundee, but he's sure it was worth it. "We created a great atmosphere and had tremendous feedback from customers. We also saw a lot of faces we hadn't seen before, so hopefully they will become regular shoppers."
Pete took over the store in May. It was trading as a Spar, but he says it was from "the dinosaur age". The place was gutted and everything replaced. "It was a huge investment and we wanted to tell everyone in the village about it," says Pete. So they were told - via an all-singing, all-dancing opening day held on August 3.
Leaflets were distributed beforehand to invite locals to sample the new Spar experience of 'more choice, more fresh foods and greater value'. And when they got there, they found even more on offer. First, The Beano cartoon character Dennis the Menace was on hand - Pete had convinced someone from Dundee-based DC Thomson (creators of The Beano) to don the costume. There was also a Scottish piper, a children's face-painter and balloon modellers.
Suppliers had also gone out of their way to help. "We had several demonstrations including malt whisky tastings, cheese and wine, and fruit from Fyffes," says Pete. "We also had someone from the Scottish Executive come to talk about its healthy eating initiative. CJ Lang was an integral part of the opening - it helped us a lot. We invested a substantial amount but there was a lot of goodwill from suppliers, too."
Shoppers were also able to enter free prize draws
to win an Irn
Bru mini chiller, a TV/DVD combi, plus a year's supply of Cadbury chocolate and a year's supply of Tennent's lager.
Pete isn't a novice at organising a store opening as his other outlet in Stirling, which he's been running for 18 years, had a refit and re-opening last year. "The Stirling re-opening was totally different to the Meigle one. It was much more low key and that's because we trade close to a Sainsbury's and Tesco. For Stirling, we did some deep price-cuts, giveaways and a raffle, and it all went well."
Getting kids involved is usually a foolproof formula for an opening. When Budgens opened its Belsize Park store, the manager invited the local primary school to design a celebration cake. One of Budgens' suppliers then baked the cake for the opening day. All the kids came along with their mums on opening day and it was the start of a really strong relationship with the school - and no doubt the neighbourhood.
Attracting a big name is another crowd-pleaser, but unfortunately the likes of Madonna and David Beckham are just too busy to fit openings into their schedules. However, if you know a celebrity who lives nearby, it might be worth chatting them up. Budgens did just that when it opened a store in Belsize Park, London. Wine writer Malcolm Gluck lives nearby and was persuaded to go along because the store had sampled some of the wines he'd recommended in his book, Superplonk.
But if you can't get the real thing, how about a lookalike? When Mair Evans re-opened her Llanrug Londis store in Caernarfon, a host of 'stars' was on hand to join in. "We had Billy Connolly, Madonna, Marilyn Monroe and Pavarotti. They caused quite a stir and were the talk of the village for a while after. They cost quite a lot, but it was worth it because we'd been closed for two weeks and wanted to come back with a bang."
An Audrey Hepburn lookalike was used for a Breakfast at Tiffany's- themed opening at the first-ever Café Nisa at the Nisa Local in Isleworth, Middlesex. Julianne Osbourne, Londis' local marketing manager, says she often gets asked about lookalikes for store openings, but when she tells the retailers the costs involved they usually opt for something less expensive.
At Billy and Margaret Kay's Spar store re-opening in Greenock, instead of a lookalike they went for the real thing. Local actress Carmen Pieraccini (aka Kelly Marie Adams from TV's River City) put in an appearance. For those of you not in Scotland, River City is a popular BBC soap set in Glasgow. Pieraccini officially opened the Spar in front of crowds of spectators, signed hundreds of autographs for more an hour and posed for photographs. Even the actress was amazed at the response and said she'd never signed so many autographs in such a short space of time.
Billy paid £1,800 for Pieraccini's presence but says it was well worth it. "We spent £1.3m on the redevelopment and it caused major disruption to customers. For instance, we had to have the ATMs taken out for a time so customers went elsewhere. When we fully re-opened we needed to do something special to win customers back. As a result we attracted hundreds of people and won customers back."
Billy admits that Pieraccini wasn't his first choice: "We tried to get comedienne Karen Dunbar but she wanted £6,500 and we couldn't afford that, so someone suggested an actor or actress from River City. It worked very well because she has universal appeal - to kids, teenagers and adults.
"We could have had a footballer appear but he would have appealed to guys and young boys but not our shoppers - the mums and the housewives."
Also present at the opening were Derek the Cuckoo from the Irn Bru 32 TV ad campaign, a face-painter and a children's entertainer. Billy's wholesaler, CJ Lang, helped with the organisation of the event. Marketing co-ordinator Caroline McLelland says leaflets were distributed to tell people about the event and advertorials (a cross between editorial articles written by the newspaper's journalists and paid-for advertising) were placed in the local press. A competition each day leading up to the opening offered readers the chance to win an iPod.
McLelland says she sometimes sends out press releases in the hope they will get picked up by journalists, but any publicity depends on the paper and the space available. "Paying for an advertorial guarantees coverage on any set day," she says.
She agrees with Pete Cheema that retailers need to do their research to make sure an event appeals to the locals. "We used an Elvis impersonator at our Stonehaven opening because there were a lot of older customers there; it all depends on the area. If it's a weekend opening and there will be a lot of families about, then we would do something like face-painting."
McLelland adds that communication is the key: "Any retailer planning an opening day needs to keep their customers well informed by sending out leaflets, putting up posters and by mentioning the activity to shoppers to generate interest."
Londis' Osbourne agrees: "Retailers want to shout about the fact that the community has a new store, services and an extended range. We get requests all the time for leaflets and posters - the retailers just tell us what they want and we organise printing and delivery to the store.
"They usually organise delivery from there. They can have them delivered with the local free paper, but we find most like to cherry pick who they are delivered to so they do it themselves, often asking friends and family to help out."
She adds that when it comes to the day itself, Londis relies on the retailer to know his or her customer base and what sort of thing they'd like. She says: "My job is to give retailers suggestions about things to do and often that sparks off their own ideas, but usually it's a case of being as economical as possible. We have loads of Londis merchandise available as giveaways; there's a menu of items that are available, everything from pens to kids' packs.
"Some retailers approach suppliers but they are asked all the time so it can be hard to get things to give away. However, if a retailer wants to do some sampling, we can arrange it."
Osbourne says Londis is in the throes of launching a local marketing toolkit to give retailers more ideas about openings and tips on how to run everything from cake-making competitions to prize draws.
Prize draws are always popular and one lucky customer won Sunday lunch for a year in a competition to mark the conversion of a store in Alphington, Exeter. The Spar store is owned by Gilletts of Callington, and operations manager Mike Williams believes the opening celebrations were successful thanks to the close community spirit in the area. "The staff are mainly locals and some are involved in local community activities," says Mike. "The Sunday Roast competition was not something we'd done before, but it worked well."
Alphington store manager Ross Newham explains how the winner, Patrick Heard, gets his prize: "All he has to do is come in each week and tell us what meat and vegetables he fancies for his Sunday lunch and we supply the ingredients."
Customers also had the chance to win free DVD rental for a year and a free Saturday newspaper for a year. Williams said they had a lot of entries for all the competitions. "We've never done an opening like this before but it was well attended and went well, so we might repeat the formula in the future. We had a lot of support from suppliers, both in product donated and in help on the day."
In addition, competitions, raffles, a barbecue and collection tins raised £600 on the day for village charities. This gesture of goodwill also worked as a great bit of PR.
Whatever you decide for your opening, create that in-store theatre and you'll have a successful event on your hands.