How not to throw an opening event

I was recently invited to a party at a clothing and lifestyle shop. It was billed as a “New Year’s Resolution Party,” featuring special jewelry and an author who was a life coach. It sounded fun, and I wanted to help promote this store, so I passed along the e-vite to some friends. (It’s not my intention to embarrass anyone, so I am not using photographs or identifying the store in this post.)

When I arrived, I found some nice tables of food outside the shop door, and a girl who seemed like a server asked me what I wanted to drink. So far, so good. Two women I had invited were there, so I chatted with them. My other friend arrived. The server had disappeared, so I showed my friend her drink and food options. We wandered into the store, which is pretty small. A few people were there, who all seemed to know each other. No one said hello to us. We looked at the merchandise. We wandered back outside. After a few minutes, we decided to leave.

My friend told me later that she had felt very unwelcome, like she’d “crashed a party.” So I asked the other friend what her impression was.

She wrote:
“I didn’t get a great first impression. Here’s why:

1.) We were there when the party was supposed to start and they weren’t ready. They seemed disorganized. So we went for a walk and came back 40 minutes later.

2.) One of the items they promoted in their invitation was New Year’s Resolution jewelry. When I asked to see it, it was literally hidden behind the counter in a baggie. One of the shop keepers had to dig around in the baggie to show me some samples. This didn’t entice me to buy any jewelry.

3.) Since they billed this event as a party, I expected activity, like some of the stores at the South Park Walk-About. The food was nice, but it was hardly a party. No music, no games, no authors, no demonstrations.

I’m sure you know that what people remember most are first and last impressions. I probably won’t go back and am unlikely to tell my friends to rush over there.”

Tips of the day: What can we learn from this event? This shop owner didn’t intend to throw a party where people felt unwelcome, or one that would make a bad impression.

1) If you aren’t used to throwing events, hire an event planner. There are a million details that make up a good party, and an event planner can make those details sing. Begin setting up early, so you can start on time.

2) Nice food and drink are great; but a warm welcome is even more important. (The Welcome is Step 2 in my 8-steps to better customer experiences.) Make sure you personally greet everyone who attends. Smile at them, shake hands, ask them how they heard about your event, and introduce them to others. [This all seems like common sense, right? But they didn’t do this.] Ask an outgoing friend to work as your greeter if you are shy.

3) If you are offering special items (like the jewelry) or an author appearance (like the lifestyle coach), have some signs made for the event. If there had been a set time for each of these items, clearly communicated to us, it would have felt like an event instead of a party we’d crashed. (Communication is Step 5 in my 8-step process.) We would have been more inclined to wait around if we’d known what was planned.

4) If you notice people are getting ready to leave, make a point of thanking them for coming, and give them a reason to come back. (For example, a 10% off coupon, a referral reward, or new merchandise arriving. If the customer just told you they like black pants, you can tell them that you’re getting in a new shipment of black pants in two weeks, and ask if you can email them when it arrives.)

It’s easier to stand and talk with people you already know, but the point of having an event like this is to make strangers feel welcome, so they want to come back.

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