A few weeks back I attended not one…but two grand openings. (I also get up early to watch women claw each other’s eyes out on Black Friday.) North Durham landed a couple of new establishments: Ollie’s (think Big Lots on crack) and Zaxby’s (Zax Sauce is crack).

Because North Durham doesn’t get new establishments all that often – and because my family and I are morons who have no regard for crowds or long lines – we went. By golly, we went. We were there the first day for both businesses, loving the excitement, the rush, and the fact that we were a part of something new.

One of those openings went off without a hitch. It was smooth, it was well-planned, it was downright fun. The other…well, not so smooth. (Because my general policy here on the blog is not to disparage businesses by calling ’em out, I won’t tell you which was which.)

One business made their opening work. The other needed work. They had one shot to craft a memorable experience, and they both did. Both were experiences. Both were memorable. But not for the same reasons.

So whether you’re launching a store, a restaurant, a church, or a new ministry, you need to do all you can to make your opening grand. And because I spent a few years in the food service industry in high school and after college, as well as a brief stint in the public service sector, I’m obviously qualified to tell you exactly how to do that. (I also had surgery once, so if you need something removed, call me.)

  1. Acknowledge the stress. Not many people enjoy lines, and lines tend to make somewhat sane people turn into crazed, elbow-throwing maniacs. You know opening day will be stressful. People won’t necessarily know where to go, what to do, or how to act. Acknowledge it. Embrace it. Prepare for it. Play off of it.
  2. Have twice the workforce you think you’ll need. At one of our grand openings, the number of employees seemed like it matched the number of customers. They were at every entrance, on every register, holding every door, keeping every item stocked. There wasn’t much of a chance to get stressed, because an answer was just a few feet away.
  3. Keep it fun. If you get the first two right, keeping it fun won’t be a problem. When you walk into the day with a huge team and embrace the insanity of it all, it changes your focus and your filter. One business got that. The other seemed caught off guard that people actually showed up, and it showed in their attitudes.
  4. Give stuff away. Whether it’s a Coke or a car or a coupon for my next visit, you should honor the effort of a first-day customer with a reward. Have a drawing. Give a door prize. But do something to show your gratitude for them giving you some business. (Hint: giveaways also take the sting out of standing in a long line.)
  5. Give me something to talk about. In his great book Tribal Knowledge, John Moore says that “tourists bring home souvenirs, but explorers bring home stories.” In other words, you don’t want to send a valued customer away with a few consumable trinkets. Nope, you want to create a rich experience that they’ll replay to their friends.
Here’s a deep thought for you: nobody can visit your business a second time before they visit it for the first time. But to ensure second-time access, you’ve got to get the first time experience right.

If you’re a church leader, remember that every Sunday is somebody’s first Sunday. What are you doing to make sure their opening is grand?

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