Holiday open house success revealed

By Carlie Kollath Wells/NEMS Daily Journal

AREA OPEN HOUSES


Many retailers kick off the holiday season with an open house. Downtowns around Northeast Mississippi also throw parties to welcome shoppers. Here are some of the open houses scheduled for this year:
Aberdeen, today
Amory, Nov. 10 & 11 and Dec. 7 & 8
Fulton, today & Dec. 3
Holly Springs, Nov. 30 – Dec. 2
Houston, Nov. 10
New Albany, Nov. 11 and Dec. 7 Sippin’ Cider event
Oxford, Nov. 23
Pontotoc, Nov. 18
Ripley, Nov. 11
Saltillo (DB’s Floral Design), Nov. 16-17
Starkville, Nov. 18
Tupelo, Nov. 18
West Point, Dec. 3
• Corinth and Okolona already have had their open houses. More regional open houses are scheduled throughout the month. Call your favorite retailers for their dates

TUPELO – Don’t be surprised if your favorite store has swapped its Halloween decorations for twinkling Christmas baubles.
Several retailers and downtowns held their holiday open houses Saturday. More are scheduled today and throughout the rest of the month.
“The open house is really the beginning of the season,” said Byron Fellows, one of the owners of Mid-South Nursery, which has its 35th open house today.
For shops known for their open houses, such as Mid-South, The Main Attraction and Amory Flowers and Gifts, the process takes all year. They buy their merchandise in January and it comes in during the summer.
Decorating begins weeks before Halloween.
Fellows said Mid-South creates a floor plan to show where everything will go inside the store.
“About this time, we’re looking for a shoehorn to expand the store,” he said. It’s important to think about customer flow and walking space when decorating for the holidays, the retailers said.
Barbara Fleishhacker, owner of The Main Attraction, puts up twinkle lights inside her store but saves room for customers by focusing on decorations for her store windows and exterior.
At Mid-South, the workers made trees that are narrow at the bottom and wide at the top to make more space for walking.
Items are displayed from the floor to the ceiling and then over people’s heads.
Jere Duke, a co-owner of Amory Flowers and Gifts, shoots for a wow factor every year.
“We always try to be better than the year before,” she said. “We always try to change it completely.”
For the store’s 29th open house next weekend, its theme is a gingerbread Christmas.
“We decorate every room,” she said, in addition to decorating the store’s exterior.
Fleishhacker said it’s important to focus on a fun, festive party atmosphere, along with decorations. “I like a party and I like holidays,” she said. “I try to get into the spirit because when you have a retail store, it’s easy to skip the holiday because you are
helping everyone else.”
And the veteran retailers said a shop owner shouldn’t judge the event by the amount of sales that day.
“They may come in and look and make purchases afterward,” Fellows said. “A lot of people will come in here and you can’t see it all at once.”
Fleishhacker said people also use the open house to get ideas for their wishlists. They can then tip off a potential gift-giver to the item they want.
The veteran open house hosts also offered the following tips for having a successful event.
FREE FOOD
Feed customers for free. “I always try to serve what I sell so they can taste what we sell,” Duke said. If it is a night event, consider serving adult beverages and snacks. If it is during the day, offer food that will appeal to kids and adults.
And think about Christmas food.
The retailers also said they serve hot cider. And in the years when the weather has been too warm for piping hot cider, Fellows serves his cider over ice or he makes lemonade. Fleishhacker recommends retailers simplify food offerings by using serving pieces and dishes already in their shops.
TIME OF DAY
Some open houses are at night after regular store hours. Some are during the day. And others, such as Tupelo and New Albany, have theirs on Sunday when the stores typically are closed.
“What works for us is having a daytime event that’s not a normal shopping day,” said Vickie Duke, manager of New Albany’s Main Street Association. “It creates a lot of interest.” She also is proactive about inviting customers.
MainStreet gathers addresses at each open house and sends a postcard reminder a week before the next holiday open house. Duke also works with retailers to collect addresses of new customers and sends them cards, too.
Retailers also should help spread the word about their party. “Invite your customers and always invite some of your friends to come down,” Fleishhacker said. “That way it becomes more of a social.”
AMBIANCE
Remember to sell to the senses. “It needs to smell like Christmas,” Jere Duke said.
At her store, they use candles they sell with names like Cinnamon Cider, Eggnog and The Smell of Christmas.
It also needs to sound like Christmas.
Mid-South alternates its tunes, playing instrumentals, classic carols and more modern Christmas songs.
“Know your customer and fit your music to your customer,” advised Fellows.
Over the years, Main Attraction has had live music from guitarists, bagpipers and other musicians.
Fleishhacker also embraces her Jewish heritage and plays the dreidel game in the store. The game includes a lively song that interacts with customers. And it’s smart to get on Santa’s schedule so he can swing by to take pictures with the kids. He’ll be at Mid-South today and at Amory Flowers and Gifts on Nov. 10 and 11.
EXTRA HELP
Make sure you are fully staffed for the open house. Focus on staffing areas that back up, like gift-wrapping. Fleishhacker said she has two high school seniors to help with gift wrapping during the open house.
At Mid-South, Fellows has employees assigned to various areas to make sure every nook in the shop is covered.
DISCOUNTS AND GIFTS
Have a financial incentive for people to visit during your open house.
Duke at Amory Flowers offers 20 percent off a $25 purchase.
Mid-South promotes three to four specially priced items, such as a Christopher Radko ornament for $20. And Main Attraction does a combination of both, offering discounts throughout the store during the open house along with open-house-only prices on certain items.
In New Albany, the Main Street Association helps by offering door prizes. Vickie Duke said she has tested various door prizes, but the most successful ones have been gift certificates for downtown stores.
“The money is spent downtown and it gets customers in the door,” she said.

carlie.wells@journalinc.com