In 1981, I started an invitation and favor business working out of the office of a banquet facility. I solicited by phone all the customers and inquiries and offered to come to their home to show them invitations and favors. As little as I knew about the business then, I still sold 9 out of 10. I would bring in about 4-5 invitation albums and big box of favors.

The success inspired me to open a store within 6 months and I struggled with the store for two years. With a higher overhead, many more lookers than buyers and a realization that I had to do something to change my business.

I merged with a partner who had two stores and his concept was to sell every service possible to the bride and not rely on waiting in the store for customers to come to him. The business was based on some store traffic, but developing bridal lead sources, soliciting them, and have commissioned sales people sell in the home. By 1987 I had six salespeople who were doing home visits at least 3 times a week.

The difference in closing ratio was staggering. 60-70% in the home and 30-40% in the store. Invitations were sold at full price and the sales rep would get 20%. From 1983-88, I had a very profitable business that was heavily reliant on the home sale.

Unfortunately, technology effected this winning strategy and with answering machines and voice mail, it became much harder to reach the bride. I took a higher road in retail to maintain the volume, opened more stores with higher overhead and never made as much money as those earlier years.

It is still hard to get people on the phone but I feel that with gas prices and the convenience of buying on the web, exploring the offer of a shop-at-home service can be just what some potential customers would be open to. They can do business with a local company who has a tangible retail presence rather than putting their credit card on an invitation web site, which I am sure in some cases is done with at least a minimal amount of concern about their invitations turning out perfectly.

My idea for a 21st century shop-at-home is that the strategy pulls customers rather than pushes them. Don’t solicit customers and push them, integrate the offering of the service into your advertising and marketing and pull them. If you are concerned about wasting time and money, don’t.

Explain that this a service to help them select an invitation as if they went to a store and see actual samples, receive the personal service only a local retailer can give, but with the convenience of not having to spend time and money getting to and from the store. Seeing a large selection of physical samples is a much better way to select invitations than seeing images on a web site that can either overstate or understate the actual invitation.

Further explain that the invitations are offered at the same price as offered in the store. In the unlikely event you do not select an invitation from the large selection presented, there will be a $50-$100 service fee (you decide). That fee will be credited towards the invitation order if done at later date or waived if the selection is made that evening.

You can ask certain questions that help you determine what albums would be best to take and even ask them if they are aware of certain brands.

Additional sales strategies of developing this service and increasing the chances of making a sale in the home are available in “The Invitation Business Report” which can be ordered on Sell the Bride.