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2/4/2018 12:27:00 PM
New businesses taking it slow: Soft openings offer chance to get it right
Jackrabbit Coffee opened December 28, 2017, with a soft opening in the former Hot Dog Circus building at John and 11th Streets. Staff photo by John P. Cleary
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Jackrabbit Coffee opened December 28, 2017, with a soft opening in the former Hot Dog Circus building at John and 11th Streets. Staff photo by John P. Cleary

Christopher Stephens, Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON – Increasingly, new customer-service businesses in Anderson are opting to open quietly and then, when, the time is right, make a splash with an official grand opening.

Such “soft openings” enable owners and managers to deal with a trickle of customers before the onslaught of a big crowd at the grand opening. Or, in some cases, there’s no traditional grand opening at all.

When Jack Rabbit Coffee moved from a small bike-pulled cart to a full brick-and-mortar location in December, the built-in customer base and decision to open as quickly as possible made for a soft opening.

“Our staff was pretty well ready to go, so of course when we got the final approval from the health inspector, we just decided to open immediately,” coowner Joshua Stafford said. “We were ... limiting the hours in the beginning.”

Shops like Jackrabbit Coffee and recently opened Kettle Top Brewhouse have found that soft openings provide space to iron out service or equipment kinks, tweak store hours and adjust workflow while getting feedback from the first handful of customers.

For Jackrabbit Coffee, 525 W 11th St., a social media driven soft launch made sense.

The shop already had a customer base from its time inside Buckskin Bikes and at local farmers markets and events. Opening early was a way of rewarding die-hard customers who were in the know about the coffee shop plans.

“Some of them had been waiting for quite a while. There was some anticipation for it because they had been waiting for so long,” Stafford said. “But we didn’t even have an open sign up until about a week ago.”

The National Restaurant Association urges new restaurants to try a soft opening as a way to test out the kitchen’s workflow and new equipment without inconveniencing a full dining room of patrons.

“A soft opening can differ from one restaurant to another,” wrote New York-based restaurant consultant Clark Wolf. “For some businesses, it means quietly opening their doors without any advertisements or fanfare; for others, it’s hosting a Friends and Family Night or a charity event that provides valuable practice before opening to the general public.”

Restaurants can also look at implementing a slow roll-out, offering a limited range of options each day for a week, as a way to nail down staff procedures and respond to customer feedback on just a few items.

A quick look at news articles about openings of Madison County retail and customer-service businesses over the past year shows that nearly all of them are opting for a slow or soft opening before a more official grand opening.

When Stafford opened the doors for Jack Rabbit Coffee, a quick Facebook post and word of mouth were all he needed to get customers in the door.

“You know, it’s pretty much all been driven by social media,” he said.

The city’s burgeoning entrepreneurial attitude and system of support also helped to get the word out, versus paying for ads and hosting a grand opening.

“And the other thing that is exciting in a time like right now in Anderson is that there is a lot of support from other local entrepreneurs,” Stafford noted. “The community that is developing between local entrepreneurs, they use their platform to say: ‘Check out what our friends are doing here, too.’”

2018 Community Newspaper Holdings, Inc.

Editor, John C. DePrez Jr.; Executive Editor, Carol Rogers; Publishers: IBRC and IAR

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