For the Love of Free Food! Do grand opening promotions work?

August 1st, 2012

By Metra Farrari

The grand opening of a business is like a first date with the public: impress them and they will schedule that second date. Fail to woo them and they’re likely to forget your name.

Forever Yogurt opening in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago, IL on April 14, 2012.

For many businesses, grand openings are a chance to plan an event that the community can get involved in. For instance, Forever Yogurt, Chicago’s first self-serve frozen yogurt franchise, recently began a tradition for their grand openings called the “50/50” promotion. The first 50 people to come through the Forever Yogurt doors will receive free frozen yogurt for a year, and all purchases on grand opening day are 50 percent off.

“The reason we decided to make this a tradition for all of our grand openings is we found it to be really effective,” says Mandy Calara, founder and CEO of Forever Yogurt. “It generated more buzz and provided a visual opportunity for media outlets to cover the opening. And although every customer that comes through the door gets 50 percent off, the promotion still manages to generate revenue because the promotion is bringing more people through our doors.”

Chick-fil-A may be the innovator who first offered free food for a year to those that would wait for it. When a Chick-fil-A restaurant opens, fans often camp out 24 hours early in the restaurant’s parking lot for a chance to be one of 100 to win free chick-fil-a for a year. Now in its ninth year of the promotion, it turns out that customers aren’t just camping out purely for the product but also for the experience itself.

Brands that stay true to their culture and fan following have extremely successful grand openings. Catering to their 18-34 year-old demographic, Toppers Pizza also rewards the first 50 guests in line free food for a year and creates a party-like atmosphere where their customers would want to spend their time.

“Toppers is not your cookie-cutter pizza shop – our brand is fun and irreverent, and our grand opening events reflect that,” said Mac Malchow, marketing coordinator at Toppers. “When we open a location, it is truly a celebration. We throw a party for our customers to celebrate another store opening and reward our fans for their brand loyalty, unlike the average pizza chain.”

Toppers launched their ‘free pizza for a year’ promotion on New Years’ Eve of 2005 at their Wauwatosa, WI location, and since then have followed suit, throwing a party for locals, giving out prizes, feeding the line and entertaining those who choose to wait over 24 hours in line, all in the name of free pizza.

Toppers opening in Downer’s Grove, IL on April 21, 2012

“The grand opening event for Toppers certainly helps with brand awareness, as local media and the social media atmosphere blow up when a Toppers is coming to town,” said Malchow. “The event creates more of an immediacy for the community to try Toppers sooner than later, just to see what all the buzz is about. Not only do the stores see a strong grand opening day, but sales afterwards are strong in the aftermath of the grand opening event.”

Calara says that alerting new customers that the business is open is not the only purpose for a big grand opening event.

“Not only do we want to introduce ourselves to potential customers who are unfamiliar with our brand, but we want to alert our solid fan base where each of our new locations is located. Those fans will bring in business while we’re waiting for new fans to convert over to Forever Yogurt fro-yo fanatics.”

Eric Dinger is the founder of Thought District, a creative strategy agency that builds and revitalizes brands across more than 20 industries, including expertise in manufacturing, franchise and financial services. Dinger stresses the importance of creating a lasting impression of the brand during a grand opening event.

“It’s key for franchisees and franchisors to embrace the fact that everything communicates. Each and every time a customer sees a person, a promotion, a piece or a place, they’re subconsciously forming an opinion. Grand openings often include each of those and thus must help a brand deliver its promise. Our parents taught us first impressions last a lifetime. It’s no different for a brand,” says Dinger.

Dinger brings up the point that the way brands start is often the way they stay. That means if they get a slow start, they often remain slow. If they start fast, they often build on that momentum.

“Thought District builds what we call GO! Campaigns for our clients to combat this challenge. Creating awareness often includes finding large groups of your audience and engaging them. For example, a nutrition concept might do a special pre-opening event for members of a neighboring gym.”

After the promotion is over, it’s vital to continue involving the community and enticing the public to come back. “Teach your franchisees that pre-opening effort is just as important as post-opening effort,” said Dinger.