House Rules: The Soft Opening

For some people a new year can also mean a new business venture. Whether you’re a national bank or restaurant chain buying up properties in a new market or a little guy opening a humble shop on a main street corner, your first instinct might be to hire a PR firm and an ad agency, build a lot of buzz, excitement and goodwill, and pull out every gimmick in the book from free iPads to air dancers and spotlights to midnight madness doorbusters. We say save it.

The Chop fully endorses and approves of the soft opening.

Baltimore is a city of small businesses and corner places in which you are your reputation, and reputations are still made by word of mouth. People in this town tend to be pretty savvy about what works and what doesn’t, even to the point of passing judgment on certain shops, cafes and bars without ever having been inside.

Word of mouth can make a bar legendary. Worked for this place.

This might seem counter-intuitive, but this is also a town of very few surprises. We’ve been just about every place that’s worth going, and the truth is that we’ve seldom been surprised. If someone says a spot has the absolute best bloody marys, they probably do. If the word on the street is that the service is terrible, you can believe that it is. And if a place gets a reputation as a neighborhood’s best kept secret, you’d be much encouraged to get yourself in there as often as possible.

Granted, in this day and age word of mouth is also word of email. It’s word of tweet and word of status update, as the folks at Cafe Hon are finding out. The bottom line remains the same though, if you’ve got the goods you’ve got a good reputation. You can hire all the PR people and social media strategists you want, but none of them can do for your business what a few good words, honestly spoken from a trusted source will do.

So we say skip the big grand opening, no matter what you’re opening. Don’t bother with the 60% off sales and the double-happy happy hours. Forget about the groupons and ad campaigns and luring critics in the door and all of that nonsense.

Just hang out your shingle, open your doors, and offer your offerings as best you can. Baltimore will do the rest for you.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “House Rules: The Soft Opening

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention House Rules: The Soft Opening | The Baltimore Chop -- Topsy.com

  2. sixteen tons

    I have to totally agree with this sentiment. As a new shop owner I could never really figure out the how, when or why of a Grand Opening. Opening at all is a grand thing, every-damn-day.

    And funny, I very nearly sent you a letter not too long ago stating much of what you said below:
    “People in this town tend to be pretty savvy about what works and what doesn’t, even to the point of passing judgment on certain shops, cafes and bars without ever having been inside.”

    Now I’m not completely sure savvy is the exact word I would use to describe those people whom I believe are mostly just jaded or wagon-jumpers or both. It seems that some in Baltimore would rather just bitch and moan about how lame things are here, defend our right to stay/be a shitty little second class city in one breath and then say how ‘cool-n-happening’ Brooklyn, Portland or San Francisco is in the next. We get out of this city what we put into it kids. Word of mouth is an excellent arbiter of good and bad, but for Baltimore in general, and particularly its independent businesses to grow, remain diverse and thrive, those people need to get over their world weary selves and support endeavors to regain some of our urban splendor and make our city a more enjoyable, interesting and maybe even classy place to live.

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