Facing your customers

If running a rental business is anything like publishing a magazine, then I'll bet there are days when you feel like it's all you can do just to maintain the status quo. Anything extra is out of the question. In reality, however, you wouldn't have a business to run if it weren't for your customers. And you won't have any customers if you don't find time to actively try to reach them.

Finding ways to attract new customers and cultivate existing ones requires time and energy - two things that are always in short supply for those running a business - but the results can be well worth it. And since we're in the thick of the winter months, you might have a little more time on your hands than you would in the busy season. So take advantage of the situation and use the opportunity to promote yourself.

But how, you ask? In his column on page 88, Paul Schubert extolls the virtues of holding an open house at your business. If your immediate reaction is that hosting an event like this will take up too much of your all-too-scarce time and evergy, think again. As Schubert points out, with a little planning and preparation, an open house will not only improve customer relations and drum up new business, it's also a very easy and economical means of going about it.

Skeptical? Consider how much you spend on advertising. A simple ad in the Yellow Pages can cost hundreds, even thousands of dollars. Add any other promotional media, such as radio, TV, direct mail, etc. and your budget for advertising is sizable. Unfortunately, after you've spent that money, it can be difficult to quantify whether or not your investment brought you any results.

Now consider an open house. Sure, you'll have to put some money into invitations and refreshments, and you'll have to invest some time into sprucing up your premises, but in the big picture, the overall cost is negligible when compared to your entire budget for advertising and promotion. What's more, an open house provides you with a unique opportunity to meet your customers face to face and talk with them about what you have to offer them, not to mention what they want, need and expect from you. After a four-hour event, you should be able to walk away with real and immediate feedback from your customers that can help you make meaningful changes to the way you do business.

So if things are a little slow this time of year, take Paul Schubert's advice and use the time productively. Try hosting an open house at your business and see what happens. The public will learn something about what you have to offer and you'll take away some insight into what your customers need and want from you.