by Lisa Coen, Exclusively for Fire Mountain Gems and Beads®

Beading Happy Hour What happens when Happy Hour includes beads and jewelry-making?

Magic, that's what.

Happy hour is a time when friends gather together, usually after work, to unwind from a busy day. A popular concept at neighborhood restaurants and bars, happy hour actually takes place over the course of a few hours usually in the late afternoon and early evening. Take this tradition to a new level by hosting a get-together for your favorite beading or jewelry-making customers at your retail store or home studio. Throw a fun party--complete with appetizers, drinks, music and a ton of discounted and sale-priced beads and components or finished designs for your customers to drool over.

Pick a Date and Time

First, determine the number of guests to invite and if your location can accommodate the attendees. If your event will be more on the casual side, customers may come and go throughout the event, so it is possible you may not need as large a space as you think.

Decide how often you'd like to hold your happy hour event. If you're thinking a memorable gala event, perhaps you'd like to schedule just one or two a year and go all out for your customers. If you'd like to have regular happy hours to keep in touch with your customers--and to offer special sale items on a regular basis--then go for monthly, or weekly, happy hour events.

Make an annual event worthwhile by planning a date that will bring in the most customers. The holiday season is a great time, but keep in mind that many people are stretched thin with other seasonal festivities. Follow local show dates to bring in your favorite customers and designers if a jewelry or art show will be in the area.

Choose a time that works for you and your customers. A traditional happy hour would fall between the hours of 4 and 7 p.m. If you don't usually stay open after 5:00 p.m., consider keeping your doors open later so that work-force customers will have the opportunity to drop by. You may want to close your doors to the general public and keep the event exclusive to your best customers--offer them a preview of the latest beads or your newest designs before offering the items to everyone.

Choose a Theme

It's always fun to design your event with a common theme. It can be as simple as a color scheme or as elaborate as a Black Tie New Year's Eve party. Base your theme on a favorite holiday, the season, a favorite product (such as crystals) or a traditional community event.

Announce It

Send out personalized invitations to your best customers and others you would like to add to that group. Evites (electronic invitations) and Facebook requests are fine, but old-fashioned snail mail invitations are much more personal and enticing. If you're hosting a casual happy hour event or plan to host an event regularly throughout the year, go ahead and send emails, distribute flyers and announce your happy hour in newsletters, local newspapers, blogs and community online sites such as

Make a Lasting Impression:

  • Food - Everyone looks forward to great party food, so spare no expense (or effort) on this happy hour feature. Offer a display of tantalizing appetizers, platters of cruditĂ©s and displays of different meats, cheeses, fruits and crackers. Dessert trays are always a crowd favorite. It's thoughtful to have offerings that exclude common allergens such as peanuts, seafood or wheat.
  • Drinks - Offer coffee, tea, water and soft drinks. If you determine that alcohol is appropriate for your event, spoil your customers with sparkling or boutique wines. You might be able to partner with a local vineyard, meadery or brewery for extra marketing punch.
  • Fruit Platter
  • Music - Background music is essential to help set the mood for your event. Play music that reflects your style and store. Or gear tunes towards your theme. When in doubt, you can never go wrong with soft jazz or classical.
  • Decorations - It's not crucial to decorate your space, but it definitely establishes a festive atmosphere. If you've planned your event around a specific theme or holiday, play up those elements. For an event during the fall season, cover tables and counters with linens in brown, green, rust or gold. Adorn food tables and displays with vibrant maple leaves and acorns. If your event occurs in the spring, embellish furniture and displays with pastel coverings and vases of daffodils and tulips. If you're recreating a luau, make sure to have plenty of flower leis to offer guests. For a Mardi Gras theme, be sure to pass out plenty of colorful beaded necklaces!
  • Product Offerings - Stock up on affordable beads and jewelry-making components and supplies. Items like Smart Bargains and Promotional Beads make it easy to offer a large selection to customers and enable you to pass on the savings. Highlight new sale items and products specifically for the Happy Hour event.
  • Information - Hand out a program or brochure telling your customers about the festivities for the evening, special sales, new and exclusive items and include a special message to them from you. Make sure your inventory is marked properly--especially specials and sale items. Set out extra brochures and pamphlets about interesting gemstrands, designs and jewelry-making tools and products.
  • Fun and Entertainment - Make sure your customers have a great time. As each customer enters your store, give them a raffle ticket or ask them to pre-address an envelope or label and use it for a raffle drawing. This way you have a raffle ''ticket,'' an address to add to your mailing list--and an addressed envelope or label ready for the thank you card you'll send! Hold raffles for great prizes such as a few of your handcrafted designs, cool jewelry-making tools or a variety of bead mixes. Have a simple game set up for customers to participate in that follows the theme of your party. Demonstrate a technique customers are always asking about or give jewelry-making tips and have the items and tools available at the table for customers to try (and buy).

Be the Life of the Party!

You'll need to be mingling with your customers during the party--networking, making new friends and reconnecting with the familiar. If you're short on staff, hire a few temporary employees or ask friends and family members to maintain displays, help with the cash register and monitor food and drinks for the evening.
  • Offer a parting gift or party favor to customers. Every jewelry-maker appreciates a take-away ''goodie bag.'' Fill a small gift bag with a few choice gemstone beads, assortments or findings. Be sure to add your business card or note with your contact information.
  • Thank your customers for attending the event. If email is your thing, send them a personal electronic thank-you. However, a handwritten note dropped in the mail box never goes out of style and shows your customers that you care enough to go that extra mile. And if your customers pre-address envelopes or labels for the raffle, they've already done half the work for you!
For an extraordinary annual or bi-annual happy hour event, take the time to plan ahead for a successful affair. Again, if you think a small happy hour event is more appealing, just pick out your favorite ideas above and scale them down. A happy hour event is a mutually beneficial idea--your customers get to enjoy great food, drinks and fun (and some great deals) and you benefit from the camaraderie and extra sales!