If connecting with current customers and getting exposure to new ones is a high priority for your small business, it might be time to host an event.
Doug Wiens, owner of Orange Coast Winery in Newport Beach, California shared with us what he’s learned using public and private events to grow and fund his business.
1. Connect with Customers
In 2011, Doug and Debbie Wiens opened Orange Coast Winery, an urban micro-winery where they see their vintages through every step of the wine-making process. After five years in business, they built an engaged membership base, feel confident in the wine they are making, and have found their niche in a crowded marketplace — a tasting room that serves wine from “dirt to glass.”
One of the secrets to Doug and Debbie’s success is their willingness to invest in getting customers in the door. They realized early on that running a tasting room takes more than exceptional wine. Staying connected to the customers that make their business viable takes a lot of creativity.
To keep customers loyal and engaged, Orange Coast Winery uses a combination of unique public and private events like Reggae Sundays and fun-themed Wine Pick Up Clubs (Luau, 80s, and Paint the Town Red have been a few popular themes). A quick look at their Facebook and Instagram accounts, and you’ll see announcements for fun events that keep their customers informed and engaged with their business.
2. Keep What You’re Selling at the Center
“The ultimate goal of every event is to sell wine,” Doug shared. “We use events to showcase our space and our food and to educate people about the wine-making process, but at the end of the day, it’s all about the wine. We need to make sure that with every event, we’re adding members and selling cases to keep our business growing.”
Hosting events is not about throwing the best party ever. It’s about connecting your customers to your brand in a new and unique way that will allow you to increase funding for your business while also raising brand awareness. Before you start investing in events, think about what makes your business special and how you can share that in an event format that your customers will love.
Not sure what your customers would like? Ask them. (Here are 7 tips for getting customer feedback and insight.) Whether you take an informal poll or send out a survey, building an event around your customers’ interests will help ensure that any event you hold is contributing directly to your business goals.
3. Get People in the Door
While it’s important to keep what you’re selling at the center of your event, you will need a fun hook to get people in the door whether it’s a musical performance, a fun theme, or a special discount. “Giving people a reason to check us out was our goal. We’re offering something different and fun, and building a community by offering a unique experience,” said Doug.
Orange Coast has learned that ticketing, even for free events, gives them a more accurate idea of how many people to expect. With experience, they’ve also found that about 20 percent of people who RSVP or reserve a ticket don’t show up. This helps them to better manage food and staffing expenses associated with each event.
To get the word out, Orange Coast continually puts effort into building their email list (list building tips here), and sends subscribers regular invitations, reminders, and newsletters. They are also active on social media, posting regularly to stay top of mind with their followers (tip for managing events on Facebook here).
4. Manage Event Expenses
By carefully managing expenses and income, you can create an event that generates additional funding for your business. “With events, you have to be careful about costs. Events have multiple benefits, but events cost money,” Doug noted. For Orange Coast, this means managing food costs. “Food is always something we watch closely. If you’re too cheap, people will gripe. If you spend too much, you lose too much money.” They recommend always having a back-up plan for food in case it starts to run low.
Other event expenses to watch out for:
• Staff: Longer hours for set up and clean up, administration and management of event
• Rentals: Tables, chairs, linens, glassware
• Entertainment: Music, performer, guest appearance
• Catering: Food, drink, staff
• Décor: Flowers, decorations
• Prizes & Giveaways: Door prizes, giveaways, promotional items
• Printed materials: Invitations, signage, business cards, coupons
• Advertising: Print and online ads, social media design and outreach
To ensure an event is not simply a drain on cash but also an opportunity to fund your business, start with a budget and measurable goals about what a successful event looks like. Here’s an event budget template to get you started.
5. Jump on a Trend
According to the Wine Institute, in 2015, 913 million gallons of wine were consumed in the United States. Wine is popular, and Orange Coast is able to capitalize on that trend tapping into an already existing wine phenomenon.
At Orange Coast, they’ve created an active and engaged community based on a shared love of wine. Their members-only “Pick-up Parties” are some of their most popular and regularly attended events.
When planning and event, look at what trends your business could align with. It’s not easy to start a trend from scratch, but as a small business owner, you can use jump on board big trends like Pokémon Go or national sporting events like the Super Bowl to fund your business. Want to keep your eye on trends? Here are 5 ways to find trending topics.
6. Take Advantage of Untapped Networks
Private events put your business in front of a whole new audience and can be an effective way for a business to grow their network and customer base. “Once a customer gets to know us and what we’re about, it’s easy to bring them in. The trick is to wow them while they’re here and then turn them into members,” Doug noted.
Orange Coast has hosted birthday parties, engagement parties, and corporate meet and greets. The host invites guests who may have never been there before giving Orange Coast exposure to a whole new group of people.
Whether it’s a personal event or a fundraiser for a non-profit, hosting an event at your business gets you exposure, but it’s up to you to capitalize on your new connections and turn them into customers that in the future can help you fund your business. It might be that a nice “Thank You for Coming” note is the perfect place to start.
Take a page from Orange Coast Winery and hold an event to engage your customers and bring new traffic to your business. Not just for restaurants and retail, an event can be an opportunity for any type of business.
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