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Practice makes perfect: How to plan your store’s soft opening

April 18, 2024 | Published by Faire

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Blonde female shopkeeper looks behind her and smiles as she opens the yellow door to her store.

If you’re reading this, congrats. You’ve planned and prepared your store opening for months, and now you’re ready to share your brand with the world. It’s launch time. But don’t fling open your doors to the public just yet. 

A store opening can bring unforeseen complications—maybe your workers need some hands-on training or your point-of-sale software has a steep learning curve. Wouldn’t it be nice to work out all the kinks before having a grand opening? That’s where a soft opening comes in. 

What is a soft opening? 

A soft opening is a trial run that gives you and your team a chance to practice retail operations before the store is open to the public. What if the cash registers are glitchy? What if you run out of inventory? What if too many people show up and the floor staff you hired are overwhelmed? A soft opening relieves some of the pressure of launching your store and allows you to observe and collect feedback from customers about what can be improved. You can prep your staff, fine-tune your operations, and get important feedback from your community.   

Typically an invite-only event, a soft opening is for a small group of close supporters, family, and friends. These trusted people come to shop and mingle at your store, so you can get a feel for what an ordinary day of business might feel like. It’s mostly for a brick-and-mortar store, but an e-commerce-only brand can also hold a soft opening by launching its website with a limited selection of products.

Timing here is important: If you hold your soft opening too early, before you’re actually ready to open, enthusiasm can die down, and it may confuse folks if you don’t open for business shortly afterward. A soft opening is held a week or two, or even a few days, before your grand opening.

What’s the difference between a soft opening and a grand opening?

When a retail store has a grand opening, it makes the store available to the general public instead of just a friends-and-family list. Anyone can enter the store, browse the shelves, and hopefully make a purchase. Unlike a soft opening, a grand opening is widely publicized and marketed to get the maximum number of people in the door. The store might throw a party to mark the occasion, put up a spiffy banner, or offer a special discount to the first 100 people who show up. 

How do you plan for the big day?

Soft openings may be more dialed back than a grand opening, but that doesn’t mean they don’t take serious effort and planning. Keep these steps in mind for a great event: 

1. Set clear goals

What do you want to accomplish with your soft opening? Zeroing in on this will help you strategize a more productive soft opening. If your primary goal is training staff, then maybe you’ll pay closer attention to your employees to see how comfortable they are in their jobs. If your goal is to build hype around your brand, then maybe you spring for the hors d’oeuvres and bubbly to entice those social media influencers on your invite list to show up. 

2. Draft a budget

When you know what your goals are, come up with a budget of what you’d feel comfortable spending. The costs can vary depending on your location or the type of brand reputation you want to build. Your budget can go toward refreshments and entertainment or can be factored into discounts or coupons for attendees to encourage return visits once you’re fully open. Consider giving out a physical coupon that shows off your store’s aesthetic. You could even include a coupon inside an on-brand goody bag that you offer guests on their way in or out.

3. Create a guest list

Consider the type of event you’re planning. Depending on your goals, you may invite different people. For instance, if you want to increase buzz, you might invite lifestyle bloggers in your niche.  If you mainly want to test operations and train staff, you might invite just friends and family.

Inviting the owners and staff of local businesses is a great way to include the community and bolster support. You’ll get to know your neighbors, which can help make your transition into a neighborhood smoother. You might even learn some tips about running a new business from your fellow store owners. Consider how many people will fill the space and make sure your staff can adequately handle the number of attendees. 

4. Collect feedback

A soft opening is the best opportunity you’ll have to figure out what customers and employees think before you open to the public. If the lighting in the store is too dim or the merchandising layout is bewildering, you’ll want to know now rather than find out later. You can collect feedback through casual conversation with guests or formalize it with an email survey after the event. To encourage your attendees to fill out the survey, it’s always helpful to sweeten the pot—consider offering a discount code for people who submit feedback.  

5. Decide on improvements

Simply collecting feedback isn’t enough. You should review what people are saying and decide what improvements you can implement before your full opening. If you can’t do all the changes at once, then prioritize the feedback to decide what you’ll address and when. 

Final thoughts

By soft-opening your store, you can set your business up for success and spot potential pitfalls. Store openings can feel overwhelming, but a soft opening allows you to ease into running your new retail store. 

Are you a new retailer? Read more about Open with Faire and learn how to apply for up to $20,000, with 60-day payment terms, to stock your new shop.

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