Do Your Store Hours Make Sense?

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

What are your store hours and how were they determined? You may have given some serious thought to what hours make the most sense for your specific location and customer base. Then again, a “they are what they’ve always been” mentality may have crept in, as it often does. Do you open at 9 a.m. just to drink coffee and surf the web for two hours until traffic picks up, and then find yourself having to push people out at the end of the day because it’s closing time? There are a number of factors to consider when determining the most profitable and sensible hours for your location. It’s important to keep in mind, however, that store hours can be very specific to a given store and location. What makes sense for a music store in one area may not make sense for a music store in the neighbouring community. Nonetheless, here are some things to consider.

Michael Leblanc Tracy LeenmanWhat Is Mandatory?
Before you can get into what are, quite frankly, the more interesting considerations, you first must ensure you’re meeting the regulatory and lease obligations for your location. “So when we think of regulatory, you’re thinking of both the province that you’re in and the municipality within which you operate. You have different operating rules, like Sunday openings on the east coast, for example,” begins Michael LeBlanc, senior VP of marketing and digital retail at the Retail Council of Canada, who has over 20 years’ experience working with both large and small retail companies and also serves at the publisher of the organization’s publication, Canadian Retailer. “There’s different legislation around when you can open your store. Even in the GTA, for example, most places cannot open on certain holidays, but there is exception within that. So you just need to know and understand that
and there are some guidelines about that on our website.”
Secondly, LeBlanc advises, especially for those that are part of a mall or strip mall, is to understand the conditions of your lease as they pertain to hours.

What Makes Sense?
Here are the factors that require more consideration and discretion, but are also more interesting to think about. First, ask yourself, “Are my current hours working for me?” To determine this, you need to analyze sales for individual hours for multiple days of multiple weeks.
Tracy Leenman, owner of Musical Innovations in South Carolina, spoke
and wrote about store hours as part of a broader NAMM U article and
presentation on money saving tips. She says what got her thinking about
store hours was, when working for a different music company, she would
see employees arrive every day at 8:30 a.m. and then drink coffee and
do crosswords for an hour or two until customers arrived. “I said, ‘You know, I don’t want to pay for that,’” recalls Leenman. “Then the second thing was that I was open until five because I wanted to get home in time to make dinner and all that. Then my husband said, ‘No, you need to be open until six so that people who get off work at five and 5:30 can come in.’ I said, ‘Yeah, you’re right about that.’”
With her eyes opened, Leenman says she did a staff-versus-sales analysis
for each hour the store was open and, when also considering factors such as lights and heat or whether the studios were being used, found that the store was actually losing money up to four hours per day.
As well, speaking about her current location at Musical Innovations,
Leenman says, “I looked at where we are here. We’re in a strip centre and I think it’s very important that people look for what’s around them. In our strip centre, everybody closes at five or six except for one restaurant
and people who come to eat dinner, they never come here. We looked and said, ‘Well, if everybody else closes at five or six, it’s almost creepy to be here after six. People don’t feel comfortable.’ So I would say look at the stores around you.”
On this, LeBlanc notes it is important to assess whether or not you’re a destination location. Do the bulk of your customers seek out your store specifically? If so, you’re less affected by the hours of the stores around you. If, on the other hand, you get a lot of walk-in traffic off the street,
then it doesn’t make sense to be open when no one else is because there
will be few people walking by on off hours.
As well, have a clear understanding of the demographics of your core customer base. Are they high school students? University students? Working parents? With that, what is their schedule and when do they have time to shop? “So students, of course, that is going to depend on a cycle. In other words, they’re available differently in the summer than
they are during the school year. So that’s going to matter fairly significantly,” says LeBlanc. “If lessons are a part of your store’s offerings, then you want to maybe stay open later and you want to be sure to be open when school is out and during the day. Maybe you don’t need to open until 11 or 12 o’clock. So get to balance what your requirements are based on your customer patterns and where you see them fitting.”
Other factors to consider can get very specific to your location. For example, if you’re located near a large office building, there are likely musicians or parents of musicians in that building. You would want to be open when those folks are on their lunch break and when they are leaving work at the end of the day. If you’ve observed an exodus of office  employees leaving the building at 5 p.m. every day, stay open until at least six.
As well, there is seasonality. If business in your area drops on Fridays during the summer because everyone is heading to the cottage, then institute summer hours where you’re closed on Fridays but open later on Sundays to get those folks returning from the cottage. Related to this, Leenman says her store stays open until 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays from Aug. 20 to Sept. 20 because it is rental season. “No other rental place in town was open past six, so that worked well for us.”

What Works For Your Employees?
There is a balancing act when it comes to your store hours and your employees. Obviously, a great potential employee whose availability does not match the store’s desired hours is not very helpful. If you need all hands on deck every Saturday during the Christmas shopping season, it’s not good to hire someone who can’t work Saturdays in December. That said, LeBlanc cautions, there has to be some give and take, especially in a
specialized retail environment such as MI. You need employees with a passion and knowledge for musical instruments, which limits your talent pool.
“Your accessibility to people, particularly in the part-time pool and in specialty retail where you need people with a certain perspective, skill, or passion, it may be easier on weekends and evenings. It may not, but those are some of the thoughts that you would want to put in this simple framework and say, ‘When do I want to work, personally?’ if you’re an
independent.”

Offset Fewer Hours With Appointments
If you determine that it makes sense to cut back on operating hours, potential lost sales can be offset. In fact, it’s possible to have fewer hours and better customer service, but you have to be flexible.
Something that has worked well for Music Innovations is personal appointments. If a customer wants to, say, purchase a flute, but isn’t available to come in between 11:30 a.m. and 6 p.m., Leenman offers her cell phone number as the store’s “24/7 hotline.” Leenman or the store’s relevant product specialist will arrange an offhours appointment with the customer to ensure they’re served and get what they need. “The people always have a way, 24/7, that they can get a hold of us. I think that means that they don’t care that we’re not open as long,” she states.
For his part, LeBlanc thinks this is a great solution with an added benefit. “In fact, you could position that as a VIP service. So not only does it help you plan your day and say, ‘I’m not going to miss a sale,’ but also you can say, ‘We offer VIP service,’” he says. “It is hard to imagine someone not appreciating that kind of service. To the degree that independents need to differentiate themselves from large retailers, from the products they carry
and the skills they have to the services they offer, that’s quite useful.”
This is far from an exhaustive overview of all considerations regarding
store hours. The hours you should be open is very specific your circumstances. The point here is to make sure you’re giving it well-reasoned thought through a combination of hard data and observation. Flexibility is key, as is a willingness to work when it’s convenient for your customer base, not necessarily for yourself. But who knows? You may notice you can decrease costs and increase traffic by working less.
And if you are changing your hours, let people know well in advance.
Post signs at the cash register, on the store’s windows, update all online properties, and even announce it on your cash receipts. You can even email and call your regular customers. As LeBlanc notes, any news is a reason to establish communication with your customers.