Entrepreneurial Advice: To Turn, or Not to Turn Customers Away



The owners of Red Hook Winery face a dilemma–accommodate customers who arrive at the winery after closing, or kindly ask that they return when they’re open. Photo: Red Hook Winery

Holly Howard is our go-to business consultant. She’s helped countless small businesses in Brooklyn and beyond (including us here at Brooklyn Based) with her expertise and know-how. This summer, in an unprecedented program, 10 small businesses in Red Hook, Brooklyn have come together to work as a community to grow their businesses through Holly’s From Artisan to Entrepreneur® Business Growth Program.  This program was made possible through the generous support from ReStore Red HookNew York Business Development Corporation, and Southwest Brooklyn Industrial Development Corporation.  Over the next 10 weeks, Holly will dedicate her weekly advice column to a specific business in Red Hook that is participating in her in hopes that their journeys will bring enlightenment and inspiration to your business as well. This week, she fields a question from the owners of Red Hook Winery.

Hi Holly!

With Red Hook in general and the winery specifically “off the beaten path,” we face many exploring customers in the area.  While we are closing up shop, we often have customers who show up and approach us about coming inside because they’ve made such a long trek to get here and didn’t realize we were closed.

We feel awful turning them away, as we appreciate both the interest and the trek they’ve made to get here, but we also struggle with reopening the store after we have closed.

What’s the best thing to say/do to have customers leave happy and not frustrated?


Sandra and Mark
Red Hook Winery

Hi Sandra,

This is a great question because a lot of the success in business can be contributed to managing expectations whether that’s with employees, vendors, partners, or customers. As the leader and owner of the business, you have to recognize that when you offer a service or product, you’re constantly in the process of managing everyone’s expectations around it.

First and foremost I would say don’t feel guilty for turning people away when you’re closed. We can’t please everyone all the time so if that’s something that bothers you, you’ll just have to let it go. I know this is easier said than done, but we can’t always make exceptions.  If your staff is involved it will often upset them to have to stay later to accommodate these guests.

Second, I would ask if your hours are clearly marked on your door and if you hang a closed sign. It seems so simple, but simply hanging a sign when you close, often does not keep people from knocking, peaking inside and expecting to come in.  If you don’t provide them with that clarity up front, they subconsciously think the rules can be bent. So I recommend that the hours that the store is open be posted on the front as well as hanging up a closed sign.

Next I would say, create limits for yourself. If it’s a person local to NYC, then there’s always opportunity to return.  The biggest misconception people have about Red Hook is that it’s so far away.  It’s not, and anyone in NYC can return during regular hours! Now, if it’s someone from abroad and maybe their last day in the city, then you might consider making an exception. They may never have the opportunity to return. So I would look at the variety of customers showing up at closing time and make an exception for those customers who cannot easily return during normal business hours.

After that, I would have two sets of dialogue and rehearse them enough to deliver them with confidence. What I mean by that is if you’re turning someone away after closing hours, you should know exactly what to say and the more confident you are in your delivery, the less people will try and haggle with you and the more receptive they’ll be. On the flip side, if you are letting people in after closing hours, you need to keep it super structured.  You shouldn’t be at the mercy of their needs. Maybe you can bring them in, give them a quick two minute speech and let them taste one wine or give them five minutes to shop. Keep it structured and super short. Always be in control.  That comes with being prepared and knowing exactly how you’ll handle the two possible scenarios.

For those you do turn away, maybe there’s something you can offer for their return trip? Again, this is for you to determine, but maybe you give them a card that entitles them to a 5% refund on the price of anything they purchase upon their return. It would also be a good way for you to track how many people actually make the return trip.

Good luck with this! The key is to feel confident in your decision, and that confidence comes with preparation. You know the problem and can certainly create the solution with these steps. Stick to it and the frustration will resolve itself in no time.

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