PEMBROKE, Mass. — For every child, and even some adults, birthdays are one of the “big deal” events of the year. We all know a grown-up who starts hinting weeks in advance that his birthday is coming up, and wants everyone to make a big deal of the occasion, possibly even throwing him a birthday party.
Your business has a “birthday” every year, so why not celebrate it? Why not throw a party on that day, whenever the actual event occurs?
“Too much trouble,” says one dry cleaner. “No one cares about our birthday.”
“Businesses don’t celebrate birthdays” is another reason commonly given. But do we have to go along with the conventional wisdom? Do things the way they’ve always been done in the past? I hope not.
Sure, putting on an event involves extra effort and expense. But you will be rewarded:
Your first birthday event will most likely be a tame affair, with little extra patronage. But by year 10, if done right, it will be a major event during which you’ll need to employ a policeman to handle the traffic, bring in your entire family to deal with the customer flow, and hire extra staff to push out the extra work. Talk about a win-win situation.
You begin your enterprise on June 1, 2012. It has taken guts, determination, focus and willpower—all good things. Be proud of your achievement. Happy Birthday.
On June 1, 2015, you celebrate your third birthday. You’ve survived the most difficult period for new businesses. Happy Birthday.
On June 1, 2018, you celebrate your sixth birthday. Several years have gone by since you opened up in that little place up the street. You’ve doubled the space, tripled the equipment, and employ a half-dozen people who earn their livelihood from your enterprise. Happy Birthday.
On June 1, 2022, you’re starting your second decade of existence. Just last year, you opened a drop store. This year, you began home valet service. You spend more on overtime than you did your first month’s payroll. Happy Birthday.
So, have a party. Order a large birthday cake. Give slices to your customers. Let staffers take home extra for their families. Give generous servings to vendors who show up. Hang streamers across your storefront. Drape a huge sign that reads, It’s Our 10th Birthday. Outside, place a giant sandwich board, visible to passer-by traffic: Come Celebrate with Us.
Hire a person to dress up in a clown suit and stand out front, wave to passing traffic and play Happy Birthday on a kazoo. If you know someone who owns an antique vehicle, borrow it for the day and park it out front. Attach banners festooned to the front and back of the vehicle that read, “We’re Not Getting Older — We’re Getting Better.”
Wear birthday hats. Create a party atmosphere. Give away a token of appreciation—perhaps a laundry bag, a package containing a half dozen wooden clothespins, or a refrigerator magnet adorned with your business name—to every customer who comes in.
Have a raffle. Every customer fills out an entry. At closing time, you pull out first-, second- and third-prize winners and call to tell them they are a winner. Maybe, first prize is $100 of free dry cleaning. Second and third prizes might be restaurant gift cards.
Run specials: one-third off an order of $40 or more; shirts two for the price of one; 10% off all orders brought in on your birthday; half off on cleaning of winter coats.
Of course, you must alert customers of your deals prior to your event. Use the Internet to get the word out about your upcoming “Birthday Celebration Specials.” Hang an announcement tag on all orders during the month leading up to the event. On your front street sign, announce the celebration specials. Place a birthday celebration ad in the local newspapers.
You might team up with a charity, such as the American Cancer Society or the United Way, to really pump up the event. Announcing that 10% of all proceeds on your birthday will go to this good cause might encourage a huge turnout. Perhaps the charity would contribute to the event, giving out freebies or paying for advertising, for example.
Seek out free publicity. Contact local media to come down and write a story about a local success story. Come up with a hook: the dry cleaner who services 2,000 homes in town; the dry cleaner who is the oldest cleaner in the region; the dry cleaning business whose immigrant owners came to the United States penniless 10 years ago and now run a thriving enterprise; the dry cleaner who boosts the local economy by employing many community residents.
You must decide if the party is to be on your actual birthday, or on the Saturday that falls closest to your birthday. My advice is to stage the first few annual events on your actual birthday (to commemorate the day) and then shift it to the nearest Saturday as the event picks up momentum and more people can attend.
Events like these take planning and preparation. Start thinking about the event six months out. If you have a good second-in-command, put that person in charge and see how it turns out. It just could be that your key manager is a marketing genius.
Don’t just pass over your next birthday. Make it a marketing tour de force.