Public Tours & Open Houses / Industry / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

Remember Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? Five lucky children found a Golden Ticket and won a trip inside the secretive candy ...

Remember Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory? Five lucky children found a Golden Ticket and won a trip inside the secretive candy factory. Chocolate bars poured off store shelves as people vied for their chance for an inside view.

Reality? Not exactly. But it’s not pure fantasy either. People have a natural curiosity about how their favorite products get made. At the Crayola Factory in Easton, Pennsylvania, more than 375,000 visitors tour each year. And in Waterbury, Vermont, the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory hosts only slightly less at 300,000 guests.

For some brand loyalists, a factory tour is akin to a pilgrimage (think Harley-Davidson, John Deere, and Ford). For others, it’s an entertaining way to spend an afternoon or beef up the educational value of their vacations. Either way, you get an attentive audience, asking (and in some cases paying) you to sell to them!

Industrial Tourism

Open your doors and they may come. Few people know this better than Karen Axelrod and Bruce Brumberg, authors of Watch It Made in the U.S.A., a directory of factory tours available across the United States. First published in 1994, Watch It Made in the U.S.A. is now in its fourth edition. Similarly, in York, Pennsylvania, tourism officials were so convinced of the value of this so-called 'industrial tourism' they rallied local companies and declared themselves 'Factory Tour Capital of the World.'

You don’t have to be a world-renowned name like Harley Davidson or John Deere to take advantage of public curiosity. Heck, you don’t even have to have a manufacturing facility. You just need a little ingenuity to make it work. (See our case study at the end for how one company turned their warehouse into a popular attraction.) 

Whether it’s a year-round tour of your business or a one-day open house, inviting people into your workspace is a creative way to capture their attention and demonstrate expertise.

Tours & Open Houses - Not So Different

When a member of the general public visits your facility, he or she is engaging in what's called industrial tourism. They are visiting American workplaces as tourists, looking for diversion and personal education. From a company's point of view, however, when it opens its doors to guests, it is conducting experiential marketing-giving customers a first-hand, in-depth experience with the company brand. Company tour formats vary. Some permit viewing from behind a glass wall or elevated walkway. Others provide full escorted tours interpreted by their own staff. A few allow select tour operators to conduct their own tours. Still others open a company museum or visitor center to compliment or substitute for an actual manufacturing-floor experience. Businesses ideal for industrial tourism include food processing facilities, breweries and wineries, farms, utilities, media outlets, mining operations, and of course, manufacturers of all kinds.

If you decide to hold an open house instead of a factory tour, provide a distinct reason for your event by planning it around some sort of special occasion: 

• Grand opening
• Anniversary
• Award win/celebration
• Product launch
• New facility, equipment
• Networking, chamber function
• Annual – holiday, thank you 

If you’re offering year-round tours, publicize it with a press release and advertising. Promote your tour to school and youth groups, contact tour operators, the local chamber and your regional tourism and convention center. Be sure to contact the author’s of Watch It Made in the U.S.A., and get yourself included in edition five.(2)

Reasons To Hold a Tour or Open House

Holding an open house or organizing a facility tour is all about building business and cementing customer relationships. These events give you one-on-one access to a captive audience that has already demonstrated an interest in your business. Here's what you can accomplish: a) Educate attendees b) Create customer connections c) Demonstrate capacity and expertise d) Distribute company literature e) Give a lasting thank you/reminder

Neighbors: When your company serves a local customer base, you want to make your neighbors your customers.
Retailers: Encourage retailers to stock your product by demonstrating capacity and productivity.
Consumers: Get consumers to buy your product by creating customer affinity the way only one-on-one experience can.
Employees: Labor market getting tight? Plan company tours for all interviewees. Create personal bonds by showcasing the intimate qualities that make your company special.
Students: Opening your business to students of all ages marks you as a good corporate citizen. If skilled employees are hard to find in your market, this is a great opportunity to encourage children to pursue further education in science, engineering, or technical skills. If you can take the long view, consider it laying the foundation for future recruitment.
Existing Customer: Like any good thank you campaign, open houses are a way to show appreciation while providing subtle customer education at the same time.wavers. 

At PDQ Manufacturing in Green Bay, a maker of carwash systems, the company provides personal tours to potential customers. Guests are escorted through assembly areas, where the facility is clean, employee-centered, and equipped with the latest technology. The company has dedicated a fair amount of floor space for product demonstrations, so customers can work with the systems hands-on.

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