Ceramic Studio Promotions Part One

Promotion: “The act of furthering the growth and development of the sale and acceptance of merchandise through advertising, publicity or discounting.”  Webster’s Dictionary.

Your ceramic studio’s best low-cost promotion – an Open House (OH)

We live in a society of continuous bombardment with arguments why we should buy, accept or rent, well, something. This comes as no news to viewers of TV, listeners to Radio, users of the Internet, receivers of letters and fliers – all sorts of propaganda. Can we as owners of a ceramic studio stand outside all this? Yes, we can, but no we should not. We have to find a way of promoting our small business with small but effective means.

I recommend you to study written material about promoting, like this chapter, books and articles. Also, analyze what you see, hear and experience daily. Can it be applied successfully to you? Does it give you good ideas that you can apply to your business?

Promotions come is many forms. This makes selecting the most effective ones challenging. Let’s concentrate in this chapter on what I consider one of the most cost-effective ways to develop your ceramic business – Open Houses. As a studio owner you already possess the main resources needed: A studio space where your customers can gather, an offering of fascinating products and services and – most importantly – an in-depth knowledge of your business.

Whether you have a teaching studio, a pottery or other type of ceramic studio you have lots of things and services of interest to both your existing and future customers.

Here are some reasons for an open house:

Achieve increased product sales

Sign up customers for classes or seminars

Find new customers

Connect with existing customers, exposing them to new products and services

Sell yourself as a person customers will trust and want to befriend

Expose your business to a broader public

Establish a quality reputation amongst your customers

Create an atmosphere of anticipation, expectation and excitement

Give your local papers and radio stations a reason to come and interview you

The cost/income effectiveness of an open house can make it the best of all promotions

How to organize a successful open house

What follows in this first part is an ambitious listing of actions before an Open House. Many of these suggestions might not suit you right now, but perhaps in the future. Pick and choose which actions you like to include with your open house, or carry out on a more modest level. Then dive right in! All promotions give you experience for life. In the follwoing chapters we will cover how to handle the open house when it takes place and then how to best follow up. It’s a whole process. Every step is important, but the preparation is the most time consuming and important.

Let’s divide an open house into the three main components of all activities:

Preparation

Execution

Follow-up

If you follow the guidelines below, your business will grow and prosper along with your feeling of pride and of being in control.

Part one: Preparation

An open house should be part of the life of your business. It is up to you to decide whether you want to have one or more a year. My recommendation is one, for many reasons.

  1. It should be held at a time of the year when it yields the highest return and which fits your business.
  2. It requires a lot of work but not a lot of up-front money, since some costs can be spread over time. It also requires a chunk of your time – an asset you probable have little of. But successfully carried out, it is worth your efforts.
  3. Planning it is key. You will learn from one year to the next how to get better results, what your customers want and like and, most importantly how much assistance you need from your present staff and – perhaps extra staff during the Open House itself. This latter part is crucial.

The first and most important decision is holding your open house at the right time of year for your business. The best time to hold your open house. – or any promotion - is when business is good.  It is a temptation to schedule an open house when business is slow in order to generate additional revenue. Forget about that. Professionals will tell you that the best time is when business is hot. Business is probably slow for reasons you have little control over, being personal (children starting school or graduating), financial (after the holiday shopping, for instance), bad weather (reluctance to leave home), and other. So why make an effort against headwinds? Instead, use those periods to prepare for your Open House and schedule it when you know that season is favorable to your business.

If you already have a successful annual Open House, then you know the approximate date. Do not deviate too much from it. Your customers will expect it.

 Your Open House Calendar

Example of Calendar for your open house (OH)
Your date of the Open House will vary. Back up suggested time span from date of the OH.
See "Successful Ceramics" website for details under category "Marketing"
Date Prior   Activity   Comments    
 Step 1
6 months Start planning.Set date Choose time when business is hot
Invite VIPs, (lecturers, suppliers, etc.) Get commitments
Start select needed staff to help you Think through assignments
Sit down with staff to decide on activities
Announce date to your mailing list recipients
 Step 2
3 months Update your entire mailing list
 Step 3
2 months Send out invitation to all parties Including those on your mailing list
Invitation to include program for the OH
Create a program flier To post in your studio
Disribute a small stack to public and semi-public places
Send to VIP invitees
Contact local newpaper to schedule ad(s)
Invite reporter(s) to the OH. Confirm with program flier
Write up short description of your studio for reporter(s)
Call suppliers to remind and get update on new merchandise
 Step 4 Ask suppliers for OH small gifts,  special pricing
6 weeks Clean up your studio
 Step 5
4 weeks Post signs For each room and shelf
 Step 6 Final reminder to your mailing list
2 weeks Mark merchandise with prices Indicate what's on sale
Get Guest book
 Step 7
3 days Set up your check-out area If needed get assistance from your computer store
                       Borrow or rent baskets and/or carts for the customer's purchased merchandise

 

The steps in the table above are more extensively explained below.

Step 1. Start planning your open house six months before it will happen. Once the date is set, start inviting special participants such as teachers, artists, lecturers, suppliers and other potential contributors of interest to your customers.  You might be surprised to see how much advance notice they need to even consider being part of it. Try to get commitments at this time.

At the same time, start to assemble the staff or temporary helpers which you will need to bring this ambitious endeavor – on whatever level you decide to be -  to successful fruition. Sit down with everybody and decide on the various activities you wish to have at that time. Ask for volunteers to handle a particular part, ask each one to think through the assignment and get back to you with their plans, for approval.

Announce the date to everybody on your mailing list.

Step 2. Three months ahead of the OH, update your entire mailing list. Keep it updated daily from there on.

Step 3.8 weeks in advance, send out the general invitation to your customers. The number one reason for an unsuccessful Open House is that the invitation was received too late. This invitation could just be a post card. Also, send it out via e-mailt.

3 a. Start working on a program flier/brochure – in most cases just an approximatel sized 8 ½ x 11” two pager (front and back) - with most of your exciting information to draw your customers in. When the program is set, the flier should be updated and posted at your place of business and circulated in your community. Try to get a stack out to as many public and semi-public places as possible (banks, libraries, hospitals, super- markets, friendly associations, colleges, stores, post office, chamber of commerce, doctors and dentists offices, Rotary and Kiwani clubs, etc.). E-mail it as a PDF to your mailing list.

3 b. At this time, eight weeks before the day of the Open House and depending on the type of ceramic studio you own, is the right – and perhaps only – time each year to place one or two ads in your local newspaper. The main reason is to alert the public through the newspaper about the event and peak new people’s curiosity, making them decide to come and check it out. Decide what might make them read the ad, act on that and on what would be new and exciting to them.

And – do not forgetat the time of placing your ads, invite a reporter from the newspaper (or more than one reporter if you have two newspaper in your area), to the OH. Send them a special personal invitation – not just an impersonal press release (= your poster). Include your business card. Ask them to bring a camera or a photographer.  It does not matter if you have been around as a business for one month or thirty years. It does not matter if that newspaper was invited and maybe even attended before. There are always new reporters to reach and a next issue to fill. If and when they come, you will get a nice post-event coverage. Free advertising, in fact, of the best kind.

Call the reporter again closer to the Open House date. Mark your calendar. Try to get the reporter to show up 2-3 days before the open house. The ideal is to get the visit from the representative of the newspaper so early that a report about your OH and your business will appear before the day of the OH.

Before you meet with the reporter, write a short description of your business – this makes the reporter’s job easier. Explain about ceramics – write about the basics of clay, glaze and heat. Any article resulting from the visit will that way be more accurate.  You may find your own words in the paper next morning. Especially so if you e-mail your write-up. Make it simple, concise and interesting. When your meet the press, make sure to save the reporter’s business card with their e-mail address on it.

During the tour, encourage the reporter(s) to take pictures of your studio and – if it happens on the day of the OH, interview your customers

3 c. Send the poster to your VIPs.

3 d. If your OH is a Grand Opening, invite the Mayor and the Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce.

3 e. Call (and e-mail) your suppliers and find out if they will support your Open House, by

- selling you at reduced prices what they think would help your open house, allowing you to run a “special”.

- update you on what is going to be “hot new merchandise” or service – in short, bring   your and your customers’ attention to new merchandise.

- ask the representative for that supplier if he/she would like to make a short (10 minutes) presentation of their line of products and services.

That phone call is important. It shows your suppliers that you care about their new products and that you want to stay current in regards to new merchandize and new techniques. It will help your attending volunteers to promote that supplier’s part of your inventory. Make the call as early as you judge prudent.

Step 4. Now, at 6 weeks to go before your OH, it’s time to clean up your studio. Sell off non-moving products and item you do not intend to display.

Step 5. There are only 4 weeks left to your OH. Time to set up signs all through your studio - signs for each room, and every shelf. Good signage will save you and your staff a lot of time and is a tremendous help for the customers – and will bring extra sales.

If your Open House is a Grand Opening, invite the Mayor and the Executive Director of the Chamber of Commerce.

Step 6. One week to go. Mark merchandise with prices. Also set up signs with prices for lessons, classes, birthday celebrations – the more complete the merrier. During the OH, there is precious little time to “be everywhere” and answer all questions. So make it easy for the customers.

Get a Guest Book where one of your staff members will see to that each visitor signs in. Do not forget to get both their physical and e-mail addresses. Place the Guest book near the entrance with a  poster to sign up.

Make sure your employees have badges with their name. For a friendlier atmosphere, have each one carry an “Ask Me” label.

Buy labels to attach to the visitors lapels. You know from experience how much it helps to be able to read everybody’s name in the buzz of a gathering.

Reprogram you computer at the check out station if you will have special pricing on all merchandise, for instance. You might have to ask for help from your computer store to come and help with this.

Borrow or rent baskets or carts for the customers to accumulate purchased merchandise.

Step 7. Three days to go. Set up your check-out counter to handle payments in an effective way. This is of extreme importance since standing in line is annoying to your customers and runs counter to what you want them to do – spending time finding more to buy.

Step 7a. Borrow or rent baskets and/or carts for the customer to put purchased merchandise in.

7 b. Prepare your staff to stay longer on the day before the OH. There are always last minute complications, it seems, and you need to have your staff around you up to the point of letting the customers in early next morning.

At the day of the OH, make sure every staff member arrives early

A final advice

Make sure you get enough sleep the nights before the OH. Plan your work days prior to the event, so that you don’t have to stay up late. Nobody is happy to see the host or hostess worked out and tired on this important day for customer relations.

Next time we will cover the execution of and the follow-up to the open house.

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© 2011 by Rolf E. Ericson, Oneonta, New York, publisher. All rights reserved. Photocopying, reproduction , copying, or redistribution of any kind in printed or electronic form is strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher.