Hosting an Open House

Customer gatherings help build a family atmosphere.

This article originally appeared in the November 2023 issue of THE SHOP magazine.

Open house, grand opening, launch, debut, introduction, festivity, ceremony or celebration—the ability to draw attention to your shop is more important today than ever.

Why? Because there is so much more competition locally, regionally and nationally, attempting to reach your customers and steal your sales.

Look at the lengths to which these challengers will go to get in front of your audience. They often employ influencers and utilize social media to appear more informed about the latest products and trends. You may have the same knowledge and experience, but their ability to spread the word farther, wider and faster makes them appear to be the authority.

Without their seemingly infinite resources and staffing, how can you possibly compete and win?

The answer is to be a better promoter than they can possibly be in your area, in the community or among your devotees. Your advantage is the knowledge and insight you have, and your ability to leverage this to your benefit.

Hosting one of the gatherings mentioned above offers a chance to share your know-how and experience with local businesses and enthusiasts. But it takes some effort.

When you decide to host an event, realize that even if you’ve announced your date well in advance, it may still end up conflicting with some other show or community event.

Specialization and intelligence will win the day. While you may not get the numbers of spectators and attendees you initially hoped for, what you will get are more inspired and engaged participants who know your store and the products you carry.


Live events have worked well for retailers in and around Portland, Oregon, where there are members of PDX Overlanders, a group that can easily number in the hundreds if not thousands on a given day.

Flyers, email blasts, social media and word of mouth all combine to attract a crowd to auto-relayed gatherings in this area.

What’s necessary is to start spreading the news as soon as you’ve decided on a date for your event, to be consistent with the messaging as to what’s taking place, and to be determined to reach as many enthusiasts as you can in the time you have before your event.

Recently, attending three very different openings in less than a month provided me with a chance to not only compare them, but to also take note of their distinctions. Here, I’ll share my observations in hopes of helping your next event be a success.

First was Outside Van’s grand opening of its adventure van assembly line and headquarters, located in Portland. Next up was a visit to Medford, Oregon’s Toms Offroad, a Bronco specialist with an impressive new showroom and warehouse. The final stop was at GEN-Y Hitch’s unveiling of a state-of-the art manufacturing facility and center of operations in Nappanee, Indiana.

All three companies did an outstanding job of introducing their establishments to their guests and visitors while imparting a sense of community to everyone who attended.

  1. Outside Van

With an Adventure Van Expo event scheduled to take place two days later and about an hour away in Hood River, Oregon, Outside Van took advantage of its proximity to conduct a grand opening celebration at its new production van assembly line and headquarters building.

Rather than limiting participation, the company invited suppliers, the media and other van builders. The result was a party-like atmosphere complete with plenty of food and refreshments, a DJ and lots of giveaways.

Casual and informative, it was a great way for locals and Expo attendees to get to know more about Outside Van.

Being an Adventure Van Expo supporter, Outside Van (outsidevan.com) was able to piggyback on the email blasts the event promoter sent out to attendees, sponsors, vendors and the media. It also utilized social media and let its suppliers know about the open house well in advance.

Participation from other companies helped immensely. Dometic, BFGoodrich, JL Audio, Backwoods Adventure Mods, Flarespace, Garmin, Lithionics Battery, Breadwinner Cycles and Rigid were among the suppliers with displays at Outside Van’s open house.

Rigid display at Outside Van's customer event
Rigid’s Ritchie Schatz, left, was among the vendors supporting Outside Van at its grand opening celebration.
  1. Toms Offroad

Toms Offroad took a different approach when the time came to dedicate its new storefront and warehouse. It started two days earlier with trail rides and followed it with a Saturday show and shine highlighting its signature Bronco connection at a nearby park.

Separating the Bronco show from sales at the store made the event at the end of the week more of a family affair. Toms did not disappoint, with plenty of ice-cold water, a misting tent, a great food truck, beer garden and huge area in which to sit, visit and enjoy live music.

Some of Toms’ vendors such as Painless Performance Products, Red Line Oil, Rock Slide Engineering and PSC Performance Steering Components joined the shop’s staff in answering questions and receiving product feedback.

Holding its Bronco show on the weekend following the unveiling of the new store gave attendees a reason to stay in Medford for a few days—some traveling for as long as a week to and from the location. It separated the business from the fun and camaraderie of Bronco ownership, so there was no pressure whatsoever to purchase parts and accessories.

Most patrons visited the new store and bought before going on one or both of the trail rides, or participating in or attending the Saturday show.

While unseasonably warm weather may have discouraged some, it did little to dampen the spirits of those who showed up. Most customers came early and stayed for the duration.

There’s something about listening to live music all day long that makes for a livelier gathering—a plus you may want to consider when holding your own event.

One other detail was event-specific apparel. T-shirts with an array of different designs were offered for sale, and most guests purchased more than one. It’s a tribute to Toms’ marketing department and group of talented designers—it’s great when you have a creative team in-house.

The well-lit interior of Toms Offroad
A bright, brand-new shop welcomes visitors to Toms Offroad. (Photo courtesy Toms Offroad)
  1. GEN-Y Hitch

GEN-Y Hitch rolled out the red carpet for visitors, suppliers and city officials, kicking things off with a full breakfast, followed by tours of its modern production facility and headquarters building.

Utilizing a ventilation system that filters particulates out of the air coupled with a unique vacuum that collects metal shavings from each machine and workstation, the comfort and safety of everyone in the production area is a top priority. Air conditioning—something of a rarity in many production settings throughout Elkhart County—cools the entire structure.

A luncheon at GEN-Y preceded a golf tournament, followed in the evening with a riverboat cruise featuring a catered dinner and drinks.

Among the manufacturers, suppliers and distributors participating in the festivities were U-Haul, BOLT Locks, Turn 14 Distribution, AllPro Distributing, Meyer Distributing, R&R Marketing and a gaggle of city, county and state officials.

The purpose was to introduce GEN-Y to an audience that may have been familiar with its products, but not necessarily the company itself. By opening its new building to visitors, it became apparent that the company is more than the materials and machinery used to manufacture its hitch and towing products, or the structure where it all comes together. The people making it happen in a made-in-the-USA setting truly resonated.


As diverse as these three events were, they all centered on reaching core supporters, whether they were retail consumers, suppliers, government officials, distributors or rep groups. Their approaches may have differed, but not the results.

Budgets for the events varied, although it’s important to keep in mind that each had slightly different objectives.

Regardless, there were at least three important takeaways you can consider prior to hosting your own event:

  1. Planning is essential. Do as much in advance as you can.
  2. Involve your entire staff. Collecting ideas and insights will improve your outcome.
  3. Know your audience. Look for ways to get them involved and ensure they find it worthwhile.
A glass wall showing two floors of the GEN-Y hitch headquarters facility.
A supplier’s headquarters with a shop feel, GEN-Y’s modern open concept fosters communication and transparency.

Jason R. Sakurai

Jason R. Sakurai heads up Roadhouse Marketing, a marketing, advertising and sales solutions firm dedicated to the automotive aftermarket. A frequent contributor to THE SHOP, Jason’s byline appears in many enthusiast and trade publications, in print and online.

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