October 2000
Everyone loves a party
Open houses can be the perfect marketing tool for promoting you business
While all printers produce beautiful marketing pieces for their clients, only a few of the printers I know on the West Coast are doing anything notable with their own marketing materials. I don’t say this because I feel that our company is an exception. On the contrary, we should also do much more to promote our company and its uniqueness.
But it’s easier said than done. We get busy. We’re waiting for the latest installation to take place, so that an expensive brochure is not going to be outdated in the immediate future. Meetings with creatives, interviews with the copy writers, and photo shoots with photographers are not our idea of a productive and rewarding day. But after the umpteenth proof is signed off, and we enter the familiar territory of seeing it all imaged on aluminum plates and going through our presses, the true excitement sets in. At the same time, we develop a healthy appreciation for what our clients go through before we get to print those beautiful pieces for them.

Our company has, in its 33-year history, published and promoted an interesting list of corporate brochures, newsletters, announcements, educational seminars, information pamphlets, design contests, and sponsorships of art exhibitions, environmental initiatives and sports events. The proof is in the pudding and I feel that we did fine with all of these. But, without a doubt, the most outstanding results have come from our series of about six open- house events that we have staged over the past 20 years or so.

Our open houses have always given us a terrific return

It is our experience that the setting of an open house has all the right ingredients for promoting your company. You can demonstrate the benefits of your equipment live with all the associated noise and excitement. Your clients and prospects will meet each other and talk about all the positive experiences they have had with your company. They meet your staff and, vice versa, your staff gets to meet your clients. At our open-house events, that alone has proven to be very beneficial.

Without exception, our open houses have always given us a terrific return on investment. All of our guests had an enjoyable time, they gained a better understanding of our capabilities and our style, and most went away with an even deeper appreciation of the company’s staff. Buying decisions, too, were positively influenced.

A successful open house requires careful and detailed planning. A small committee and an external resource to help with the catering is all that is required. We always dreamed up a theme for each event, and all included client participation in a fun contest. We had a highly successful contest for carving miniature wooden shoes in 1982, and a ’60s dress-up during our flower-power-focused 25th anniversary open house in 1993, to name a few. It’s quite amazing how long people remember these events. I still get reminded by clients how much they enjoyed themselves years ago at one of our open houses. Just yesterday, I was asked when our next one’s scheduled. That’s hard to ignore.

The design of the invitations going out is of the utmost importance. Several of our invitations involved two mailings, the first one just to raise awareness, leaving a few weeks to let the event become the talk of the town even before the details were known. The second mailing become the clincher, revealing all the important aspects of the evening. Elements required for the contest were included, and the rules were stipulated, with a lot of humour of course.
Our sales staff followed up with clients to make sure that those who forgot to RSVP were added to the list of expected guests. Our sales offices in Victoria and Seattle, Wash., each filled a bus with guests. Apparently the festivities began as soon as the bus drivers put their vehicles in gear.

Opening your doors to a big group (we had more than 800 one time) requires some thought and organization. Parking needs attendants. Admission needs to be reasonably controlled. Name badges need to be arranged and made available quickly upon arrival of the guests. We always had a small group of our management team greet the visitors. If it’s in the winter, do not forget plenty of coat racks.
Self-guided tours, with all workstations functioning and attended by staff, are the best way to make sure that guests get to see it all. At our last open house we showed one job being worked on in various departments, so that the less initiated could also go home with a better understanding of our workflows.

The plant needs to look festive and inviting. Our pressroom has been converted into a sidewalk café reminiscent of Montmartre, a psychedelic ’60s happening, and a Star Wars movie set. And the food needs to be memorable and portable. Refreshments are usually limited to soft drinks, wine and beer, since we’re very aware as a host that we need to ensure no one drives impaired.

Most of our open houses produce an opportunity for a follow-up—from a small poster showing the judge agonizing over the entries for the wooden-shoe-carving contest, and announcing that every submission was a winner, to a large poster of a group photo taken at the event and hand delivered on the next business day. I believe that the follow-up is a great opportunity to thank the guests for attending and to make the fun linger a bit.

Consider including an open house event in your arsenal of marketing initiatives. Do it for fun, and you’ll discover that it brings in profits. In fact, writing this article reminds me that it’s time for Hemlock to do one again.
Dick Kouwenhoven is the CEO and founder of Vancouver-based Hemlock Printers Ltd., a sheetfed printing company, with sales offices in Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle and San Francisco. He can be reached via e-mail at, or by telephone at (604) 439-5001.
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