It’s been a while since my last entry in the Retailer’s Perspective series, and I wanted to talk about an issue which has been on my mind lately. Despite being in business for over three years now, we still struggle with determining what are the best times and days for the shop to open. Much to the chagrin of retailers everywhere, there is no magic formula for determining the optimal hours of business, but there are certainly variables worth considering. Today, I want to discuss those variables in relation to our personal quest to attain the mythical “idea business hours.”
It makes intuitive sense to pick hours where you see the most customers, but customer traffic is not consistent. We have experienced Wednesdays where customers filter in from opening until closing, but we have seen Saturdays where hardly anybody shows up. As a retailer, it leaves you in a perpetual balancing act of gauging long term traffic while also preserving your bottom line. To open a store for the day costs money, both in terms of utilities as well as payroll. Anyone who has ever worked/managed retail knows about the dreaded phrase “blowing payroll.” The gist is you actually spent more money to be open than you actually made—a strategy which does not bode well for the long term success of your business. Financially, you need to find the optimal mix of sales to justify the added expense of opening for that time period, and it’s significantly more difficult than expected simply because you can not account for (or please) everyone.
Boutiques with employees may be able to swing longer hours or opening everyday of the week, but for smaller shops like ours, it may not be feasible. The downside of fewer hours during the week is customers visit when you are closed. Some are understanding, and some are not. On more than one occasion, I fielded criticism for not being open on Sunday or Monday. While our primary goal is to satisfy the needs of the customer, we also have to consider whether it works to our advantage as well.
To this effect,we surveyed our customers earlier this summer about what their ideal hours would be for our shop. Presently, we are open Tuesday-Friday 10a.m. to 6p.m. and Saturdays 10a.m. to 5p.m. However, we often leave after 6p.m. on Saturdays because we are busy helping customers, and I usually arrive closer to 10:15 most mornings because of my daily post office run. I have been toying with the idea of changing our hours to 10:30a.m. everyday save Saturday to avoid any potential confusion if I run late, but I am usually there earlier.
A comment we received this year on the survey mentioned how frustrating the changes to store hours can be, and I completely appreciate this sentiment. When we opened in 2011, our hours were nearly identical to what they are now. Months of never seeing a single customers before 11a.m. resulted in a shift to an 11a.m. opening time. We also heard from customers coming from Greensboro or Chapel Hill that closing at 6p.m. kept them from being able to visit during the week. Thus, we stayed open until 7p.m. Soon complaints filtered in that 11a.m. was too late to open, and sales plummeted after 5:30p.m. As a result, we shifted back to these hours last year, and for the most part, they work fine.
Our personal experience with customers as well as the responses to the survey seems to indicate we have a mix of early birds and evening . . . whatever animal is associated most with evenings. Consequently, we have some customers who want us there closer to the 10a.m. mark while others prefer us to stay open nearer to 7p.m.
A corollary question to store hours was the days of the week customers prefer to visit the shop. I expected a strong showing for Monday since I hear often how customers visited only to see we were closed. Unsurprisingly, Saturday was by far the best day for people to visit, but I was shocked to see Sunday was the second most popular day. Again, when we first opened, we had Sunday hours, and we never saw any traffic. The discussion of our changing store hours over the last three years raises another point of discussion: Ideal hours can evolve or change over time. Since a store hour shift is not something businesses enter into lightly, we tend to ensure the shift is permanent and not temporary.
Given the strong showing for Sunday, I had consider opening for limited hours on Sundays as a trial. In fact, I had planned on testing the extended hours this month, but as I was typing out the message to announce my decision, I paused. As it is, I only have two days off a week to take care of my house and personal affairs. My last sick day proved I am not able to take those because of all of our non-local customers, and vacations are constantly called off for appointments. I am only human, and I am not ashamed to admit that working six days a week every week is not going to work for me. I usually take a couple hours over the weekend to write purchase orders or catch up on tasks which did not get completed at the shop, and if I take away my extra day, I know I will end up working, at least for a couple hours, every single day. Now, I love my job, but I don’t want to totally miss out on life because of it. Until we are financially able to hire an employee, I do not see our hours changing significantly, and I do apologize for the inconvenience.
However, I want to remind everyone that you can make appointments outside of store hours or call and request we stay open later. Given enough notice, I can usually accommodate although there will obviously be times when I cannot. Along this line of discussion, I unplug from my computer totally on Sundays, and I only infrequently check email on Mondays (if I do at all). So, if you want to set up a time for those days, please email me before 5p.m. Saturday. I am willing to work with people to help them visit the shop, but I hope our customers can work with us too and understand we are doing the best we can.