When getting ready to open a business especially one that serves the public directly or instantly, it is important to use a "soft opening".
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What I mean by serving the public directly or instantly is a retail, food, or service that can be provided immediately or is not required to be scheduled for a later date.
The reason it is important to schedule a soft opening is because it can help you work out you areas that are not ready for public service. If you have system malfunctions or equipment problems while there are customers waiting during the grand opening it could deter them from visiting your establishment in the future and may even cause them to leave then.
So what is a soft opening? A soft opening is a partial grand opening that is typically not as highly advertised. The goal of a soft opening is to utilize a small test set of customers in order to create a buzz and to test your product or process. Having everything operational and being able to test it all while not being pressed down under the pressure of waiting customers can be a huge benefit. Testing prior to opening is of course a great idea but that alone can't guess every scenario that may come up in a real world, real time situation.
As a manager of a small pizza franchise I was able to assist in a grand opening and the connected soft opening. This provided me with invaluable field type experience and prepared me to try it on my own years later.
We opened our doors one day with no advertisement and just waited. We only had about twelve customers who were just walking by and saw that we were operational. There were some special requests that we had not previously thought of in the planning process and with the soft opening they were easily conquered. The next day we put a small sign on the street telling the neighborhood that we were open and offering specials for pizza this week only. We then had about twenty customers. This gave us a chance to learn to control a slightly higher volume of orders. This all took place on a Wednesday and Thursday. So on Friday we hung a banner up that read grand opening, the customers increased by twice as much.
Then Saturday we had scheduled a newspaper ad to run and a radio station remote at the new store. We had free pizza, clowns and mascots for the corporation in attendance. We scheduled all of our workers in order to make sure nobody had to wait for anything. With all the festivities, we had approximately 175 people in and out. Most of those folks were there for the free things but about half of them purchased additional items. That still means double the customer base we had earlier in the week.
However, since we were prepared and all the bugs seemed to be worked out of our system, the day went off without a hitch and no doubt created many repeat customers.
I hope this has shown how a soft opening can be beneficial prior to a grand opening.