Whether you are just starting your salon business or expanding, a launch party or grand opening is a good way to let people know you exist. You don’t have to have your event on your first day, week, or even month in business. Give yourself a little time to get your business underway. Think of this primarily as a marketing event, not just a celebration.

Here are some factors to consider before the big day:

The guest list. First, draw up an invitation list of everyone you want to know about your business, even if you know they can’t or won’t attend the party. This can include:
> potential clients
> your local media
> suppliers
> friends
> plastic surgeons, cosmetic dentists, podiatrists, and dermatologists
> trade association or community organization leaders
> concierges at nearby hotels that do not have on-site spas or salons
> local trendsetters

Send a nice invitation or announcement and think about issuing a press release too. Make sure to ask people to RSVP by a certain date so you will know the quantity of food and beverages to purchase.

What to serve. Limit your cuisine to bite-size morsels that guests can easily eat with their fingers or a fork. Save money by opting for a few choice hors d’oeuvres in larger quantities rather than a large selection in smaller quantities. Remember to include some interesting vegetarian/kosher selections in your menu.

Drink up. Alcoholic beverages can be limited to wine and/or champagne. Make sure you have enough bartenders and liquor when serving alcohol at your event. When guests walk in you may want to have a tray of filled wine glasses at the ready so that guests will immediately mingle instead of making a beeline for the bar.

Hopefully your guests who are driving will drink responsibly. But if any guests are impaired, assume responsibility for their safety. Consider driving them home yourself, calling a taxi, or encouraging them to get a ride with someone else and leave their car parked at your business. Laws vary from state to state but you do not want to be held liable for drunk driving occurrences.

Barter with caterers: Call several caterers to get price quotes. You can ask the caterer for a discount in exchange for including their marketing materials in your party gift bags or displaying their brochures around your salon or spa. Most likely, your target audience is theirs as well.

If you are not hiring a caterer and you are preparing the food yourself, make sure it is presented attractively; i.e., do not leave salsa in its store-bought container or nacho chips in their original bags, instead put food in attractive serving pieces. Do not serve your guests with paper napkins, paper plates, or plastic utensils.

Gift bags: No matter how affluent your client population is, everyone loves “freebies” and the media is no exception. Bags should be nicely done and good quality with a visible spa/salon logo on the front. Each guest should receive a bag when she leaves, and the bags should include one or more gift certificates for services as well as samples of products sold at your salon. A press kit and a business card should also be included. Providing gift certificates may seem like an overly generous gesture but remember it brings party guests through your doors again and hopefully will build loyalty with a client.

Local calendar listings: Many local and daily newspapers have event listings. If you have the space to open your event to the general public you can list this party in your local newspapers with an RSVP number so you can keep a running guest count.

Don’t bore your guests: It is fine for a spa or salon owner to welcome her guests and thank them for coming. You can also introduce your key operators. Keep your statements about the facility limited to brief highlights. This is not the time for PowerPoint presentations or lengthy mission statements. Instead, the management should be mingling with the crowd and conversing one on one to establish client/media rapport. If a guest does request a tour of your facility, then by all means do oblige them.

Appearances count: Make sure that your facility looks spic and span before the guests arrive. Place scented candles and floral arrangements and ensure that the restrooms are well stocked with paper goods. It may be necessary to move furniture to accommodate a bar area or to ensure a smooth flow of traffic. Be mindful of the temperature. If it is summertime, you may want to crank up the AC a little more to account for the number of people in the room. If your guests are sweating and uncomfortable, they will not stay long. Check to see if there is ample room to hang coats in the winter.

Guest books: Have an attractive guest book set up when people arrive and ask them to sign in and include their e-mail address. This will be useful for future promotions or spa/salon news.

Demos: If you wish you can make things like mini-manicures, chair massage, reflexology, and scalp analysis available to your guests outside of the main party area. Remember most women will not want to try treatments such as facials or masks that entail messing up their clothing or makeup.

Hook up with a charity: As a show of goodwill in your community you may want to provide a raffle or silent auction item and donate the proceeds to a local charity. You can call upon a local retailer for item donations. Not only does it give their business a chance for exposure, it also allows them to be philanthropic.

Local celebrities: If there are celebrities or notable people in your area, you can offer them several gift certificates and products in exchange for attending your launch party. If they agree to this, ask if you have permission to use their name on your invitation. That way the invite can read: “ Salon X and Celebrity X, Y, and Z invite you to…” Having these celebrities attend will give your business instant cachet and increase the chances for media coverage. If you know that you will have celebrities attending, call your local newspaper’s society editors and invite them to the party.

Guest lists: In New York and Los Angeles it is common practice at parties to have someone at the door of an event with a guest list and clipboard in hand. This allows you to check off who actually attended from the RSVP list. More importantly, it gives the event a certain mystique that conveys to guests that they were part of an exclusive group selected for this launch party.

The media: It would be appropriate to invite editors from your local newspapers and magazines who cover beauty or lifestyle beats. To cultivate a list, you can search the Internet for local media contacts or you can use a paid service such as www.bacons.com that can give you online access to media contacts. Any media exposure that does result from the launch party should be used in the ongoing promotion of your business and clips should be displayed on your website and included in your press kit.

Photos: Hire a photographer to take pictures of the event and the guests. You can use this to post on your website and submit it to the news sections of trade magazines.

The cost of a launch party will vary depending on the city in which you live. In order to do it in a manner that appropriately conveys the image of your business, it will cost money. If you are not in a financial position to do it right, it is better to wait than to cut corners in a way that will portray your salon or spa in an unfavorable light. Remember, this is your formal introduction to your community and your referring audience. Lastly, remember to have fun and mingle with your guests. As a spa or salon owner, you are the best representative of your business and your tone and demeanor will create a lasting impression.

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