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Plan an Event that Boosts Your Business

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Jeanne Silver was new to the Mundelein, Illinois, area more than a decade ago when she held the first open house for her collision repair business. “People didn’t know who I was,” she recalls. Enlisting the aid of the Chamber of Commerce, she launched a plan for the event and drew a healthy crowd, spreading her name and reputation throughout the business community where she would continue to fix cars for years.

But is an open house the right marketing strategy for a body shop? Yes, experts say. An open house is for doctors, photographers and candy makers, so why not autobody repairers? It might be especially important for a body shop to open its doors to customers, vendors and friends because, while crash repairs are a vital service, few get to see how they work or watch as their car gets a fresh coat of paint.

Body shops across the country have played host to successful open houses, and the occasions are myriad: new business, old business, anniversaries, honors and recognitions, or as part of a community celebration. A free guide from the National Auto Body Council (NABC) offers “Everything you wanted to know about hosting an amazing Open House in the collision industry, but were afraid to ask.”

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For a collision shop, the purpose of an open house — as it is with any industry — is to help promote strong and ethical businesses, which in turn promotes strong neighborhoods where those businesses are located. “We want our customers to not only see our businesses, but our behaviors as well,” the NABC guide says. “And through strong ethical business practices, we can help make that happen. We can make the industry better.”

Silver has since hosted three more open houses at her Butterfield Bodyworks CARSTAR shop. Typically, between 200 and 300 people have attended.

“I’ve done good ones, and I’ve done bad ones,” Silver says. She’s also done her research on the ups, downs and dozens of details that go into planning an open house. Along with Marco Grossi, owner of a chain of Collision Craftsmen shops in Michigan, Silver is co-author of the NABC’s “How To” on hosting open houses. To download a free copy of the thorough, 15-page document, visit autobodycouncil.org. Click on “Membership” and then on “Benefits.”

An open house can be aimed toward the general community or put on as a business-to-business event, each of which might require a different approach in execution and the type of events that are planned. At the same time, an open house that’s well organized can also successfully combine both audiences.

Either way, it’s wise to plan on a budget of around $3,000 or more, depending upon how elaborately the food and beverages are catered and how costly the entertainment expenses are. It’s also imperative to start planning at least 120 days before the event.

“You can even do one every year, and have it scaled back as much or as little as you like,” she explains. An annual event might mark the business’s anniversary or it might showcase local talents, honorees or related businesses.

Whatever the occasion, each situation should be looked at differently from a planning and invitation standpoint, Silver says. She has been the host of open houses for businesses and for the public, and, for the latter, she’s invited a local radio DJ to do a live broadcast on-site and brought in a special tow truck and racing dragster, which attracted lots of attention.

In a business-to-business open house, Silver says, “You’re really showcasing the professionalism of your business. It should have a slightly different flavor.”

For this kind of event, garnering the participation and support of the local chamber of commerce and the local or regional chapters of an association is extremely helpful in drawing people and lending credibility to the event. Chamber members who don’t know who you will often come to your event to meet and greet, and perhaps even to strike up a working relationship.

“People who are in business network with so many others in different businesses,” Silver says. “A business-oriented open house has a lot of networking potential.”

Another opportunity arises when another business in your community conducts an open house. “My recommendation is to participate in them,” Silver says. This gives you the chance to meet new vendors, connect with the chamber of commerce and pick up ideas for your next open house.

“This gives you an opportunity to really clean up your place,” Silver adds, noting that dirty windowsills and cobwebs in the corners of your shop can otherwise go unnoticed for months at a time. “It’s an opportunity for a real facelift and to take stock of what your business really looks like.”

No matter who the audience for your open house is, Silver says a lack of planning — with plenty of lead-time built in — may be the demise of an otherwise successful event.

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