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updated: 6/16/2020 8:11 AM

Kendall: How’d you do with your reopening? Or are you still doing?

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Whether you celebrated your business' grand opening many years back or just a year ago, chances are you weren't planning on a Reopening in 2020. Whether or not you've reopened under the state's Restore Illinois Plan, received permission from Springfield to do so, or even made up your mind on that next entrepreneurial step, you'll likely find a big difference between a grand opening and a reopening.

Even if you haven't made that final Go decision, small business marketing advisor Sue Kirchner, founder of Palatine-based Brand Strong Marketing Inc., will tell you that "When Springfield says, 'OK,' you should already be working on your reopening plan. When Springfield is ready, you want to be ready to invite customers back."

There's more, however. Staff likely will need training on whatever processes and procedures will be needed for your business will give an aura of safety when even your best customers hesitate a bit to come back in the door, and staff must sign off on the new procedures.

At about the same time, says attorney Aaron Ruswick, shareholder at Huck Bouma, a Wheaton law firm, you'll want to tell both former and new clients how the current legal landscape has changed since before the COVID-19 shutdown -- and how their transactions with your company will be affected.

"Call your client (and prospect) base," Ruswick says. "Get a (positive) conversation going."

Sitting out hasn't easy either financially or emotionally for those businesses barred temporarily from operating. Still, most entrepreneurs are basically confident people.

In a sense, says veteran entrepreneur Russ Riendeau, psychologist and chief behavioral scientist at New Frontier Search Co., Lake Barrington, "What we've been through -- and what many of us are still going through -- are the stages of grieving. But we're starting to get closer to an acceptance of what has happened and what we still must accomplish. As a group, we're making more proactive decisions."

Coming back won't be impossible, but it won't necessarily be easy, either. Here are Kirchner's recommendations on how to market a re-opening:

• Innovate and differentiate. "You should know your customers well -- and what they want from you," Kirchner says. "If not, take time to call and ask, then brainstorm ways to make them feel more comfortable about coming back."

For example, she suggests, "Offer extended evening hours so customers can come when there are less people; seniors-only hours, or bundle common products together, so people can grab and go quickly.

• Announce that you are open. How? Email. Social media. Send a traditional letter or post card. Put up signage or balloons to grab attention. If you have a small, exclusive list of loyal clients, such as Mina Scumaci has at Salon Sapphire in Clarendon Hills, contact them individually.

"I have loyal customers who have been with me for over 20 years," Scumaci says. "So I will reach out personally and say we're open, here's your new appointment time."

• Manage expectations. Tell your customers what will happen when they come back. Communicate what will be different -- hours, masks required, etc. Tell them what they can expect from you and what you expect from them, to keep your staff safe.

But, Kirchner says, "Don't overcommunicate. Tell your customers that you have reviewed, met, or exceeded all safety guidelines and leave it at that. If you overexplain, people will start to question why."

Give customers an incentive. Some people may be wary of going out or spending money. Website video of a clean up in process or of your new on-site layout could be effective.

Kirchner suggests that you may need to provide a special offer to entice even once loyal customers to come back. Think about what you could offer that won't hurt your profit margin too much.

• © 2020 Kendall Communications Inc. Follow Jim Kendall on LinkedIn and Twitter. Write him at Jim@kendallcom.com. Part of both the research and the resulting text was provided by Sue Kirchner.