Here at Totally Locally we often have to tackle the very thing that no one wants to discuss when it comes to keeping our towns and shops alive… Opening Hours. It’s the elephant in the room for independent retail.
People don’t shop locally because their towns are closed when they are around
It’s a fact that times have changed. People rarely live near to where they work. I’m lucky, as after commuting three hours a day for 10 years I now have a two mile journey to work. This has let me look a little deeper into what makes me use the shops around my work and my home. When I was commuting I didn’t use any!
Most people work at least 9 to 5, and many a lot longer. Add a commute on top of that and it means that the majority of working people have no access to their local shops, except on a weekend. And then most places choose to close on a Sunday! So we are down to a small window on Saturday when you can get to visit your local shops, actually talk to your butcher, visit your local market (if you’re lucky enough to have one). But if you’ve been out on the Friday night, or you’ve got kids who invariably have a football match, ballet, karate… you get the picture. Most people can’t get to their local shops when they are actually open!
It’s not that they don’t want to support the shops in their town, it’s that they can’t. At Totally Locally we get many emails from people explaining that the reason they don’t shop locally is that their towns are closed when they are around. So what to do?
One great example – Hebden Bridge, Britain’s most independent town
Near us is Hebden Bridge. Long hailed as one of Britain’s most independent towns, Hebden dances to its own tune. It’s full of great little shops and cafes with most of the trade being done on Saturdays and Sundays. A lot of walkers, cyclists and day-trippers go there, particularly on a Sunday, because they know they can get something to eat or buy what they want. Some Sundays the place can be heaving with people. Compare this to some of the other towns only a few miles down the road, and you’ll find them to be almost deserted, but it had to start somewhere.
A different model – One night a week late opening
It wasn’t always like that. An interesting development in Hebden Bridge is a street called Market Street. It was the quietest part of the town where there were some empty shops and not much going on compared to the rest of the town. A few key shops moved in and opened on Sundays, now it is one of the busiest parts of the town. It gained critical mass. Sunday is the day when people are actively looking for something to do or somewhere to go. If there are interesting shops and somewhere to get a breakfast or a coffee, the town suddenly becomes very attractive.
When I was recently in Spain, I saw the shops close between 2 and 5pm, then re open until 8pm, so that families could visit, and all the shops were bustling. We have a different culture in the UK that doesn’t allow for this closing pattern, but it’s an example of how local shops have made it easy for people to use them.
When we were in West Bridgford for the launch of Totally Locally, we stood outside a fish and chip shop. Karina, the town’s Totally Locally Champion said, “You should see the queue outside here on a Thursday and Friday evening!” There is a greengrocers, a fishmongers, a butchers, a deli and a cafe all within ten meters of the fish and chip shop. This got me thinking. One way to re-invent how people view their little shops could start with something like this… One night a week, a few shops get together and open until 7.30 p.m. They advertise between themselves and after a while people would come to know they were open. They could buy their fish, their veg, and maybe have a coffee and all of a sudden there is an alternative to Tesco after 5pm. It’s all about working together and that critical mass again.
Don’t get me wrong. I know the long hours that many shopkeepers work. To do more would be a strain, but the rent, the rates, the electricity are all paid, so a few extra hours opening could only cost the wage of a part time member of staff for a few hours a week. Once established, these few hours should add up to a great deal more profit.
I realise it isn’t going to be easy for people, but if we are going to make a difference to business and our high street something radical has to happen. It may only be one or two evenings a week at the start.
Finally… re-thinking things
So it’s all about re-thinking things. How our High Street can survive in a time when most people are working long hours and away from the place they live. It’s taking a leaf out of the supermarkets’ book – people shop in supermarkets primarily for convenience and opening hours. Not many actually enjoy the trip! It takes brave steps, but if no one tries Britain will look a very different place in a few years time.
I hope this doesn’t come across as preachy. It’s just that so many people have told us “Get shops to open later and I’ll use them!”
This blog was written by Chris Sands, A.K.A. Totally Locally Chris