The Elephant In The Room – Opening Hours by @totallylocally #IndieRetail

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

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About Clare Bailey

Clare Bailey, The Retail Champion (formerly Clare Rayner), is one of the most well-known and respected retail experts in the UK. With unrivalled knowledge in retail, high streets and consumer matters, she offers unbiased, independent content – whether engaged as a professional speaker, for broadcast media, or for a written feature. Clare is a business woman, entrepreneur and founder of several small businesses. Having been born into a family of successful business owners, it was inevitable that she’d eventually jump off the corporate treadmill and step out on her own! Today her brand portfolio includes The Retail Champion, The Retail Conference, the Future High Street Summit and the Support for Independent Retail campaign. In addition, she is co-founder of Mobaro Retail UK and a non-exec director of Beed Virtual Assistant Services. Having started her career as a fast-track store management trainee for McDonalds, she went on to work with leading retailers such as M&S, Dixons and Argos. She moved swiftly into management roles before being headhunted into senior consulting roles with global software giant SAP, and international management consulting brand, Accenture. Her corporate background in senior retail, consulting and technology roles, coupled with her experience of creating and running her own business, has enabled her to be equally capable whether consulting to global brands or micro businesses. This unique blend has not only positioned her as a leading expert in all things retail, but has enabled her to add meaningful commentary and insight to the debate around the future of the high street, and, how technology is driving fundamental change in the way consumers, and businesses, interact. Clare has become an influential voice in her field, which has resulted in her becoming a regular media contributor and sought-after conference speaker. Often seen on Good Morning Britain, BBC Breakfast, Sky News, and Chanel 5 (to name a few), Clare speaks on a myriad of retail, high street and consumer issues – but is particular adept when it comes to explaining the context behind retail trading results, newly released data, and government stats, in a palatable and informative manner. In addition to broadcast and conference speaking, Clare is the proud author of two best-selling business books published by Kogan Page - The Retail Champion: 10 Steps to Retail Success, published July 2012 and How to Sell to Retail: The Secrets of Getting Your Product to Market, published February 2013. She has provided contributions to various academic texts, including Retail Marketing Management (published by Pearson). With an engaging, conversational yet informative style, Clare writes for press and content agencies, providing features, articles, blogs and opinion pieces as well as contributions to white papers and reports. However, when the situation demands a more serious style, Clare can deliver - In 2016 she wrote an extensive report for a major insurance and risk law firm, as a retail expert witness, to support a public liability suit. She found that project particularly enjoyable as it played well to her strengths – assimilating large amounts of data and information, identifying the key points and articulating that in an understandable manner. When not on TV or speaking at conferences, Clare’s “day job” sees her supporting consumer-facing businesses through her consultancy services. When asked to describe what she most loves about retail consulting it is typically the opportunity to “dig deep”, getting “under the bonnet”, in order to leverage the business data to uncover the insights that lead to “lightbulb moments”. She also loves working on business change programmes that centre on improving the processes and systems to increase profitability by supporting more rapid, better informed decision making, improving the customer experience, or simply by become more efficient and streamlined. In this respect she considers herself a “business engineer” with a brain that works like a relational database! Due to her years of experience, her logical, objective approach, her quick, rational thinking, she is known for being able to cut through complexity, seeing right through to the crux of issues, finding creative solutions that others may have overlooked. As if all that wasn’t enough, Clare is a working mum, juggling a home life in rural Lincolnshire with her partner, their 5 kids, 4 cats, and geriatric Labrador! For all enquiries, contact Clare directly on 01727 238890 or email champion@retailchampion.co.uk.
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2 Responses to The Elephant In The Room – Opening Hours by @totallylocally #IndieRetail

  1. John says:

    Hi Chris, like the post. I think what you say is on the mark. From my own dealings with small Indies I see how people get into habits – doing what they do because they’ve always done it. And it can be difficult to change things. Because of the “trouble”, that it might not work, just be wasted effort and hopes raised for nothing. Opening hours is certainly one of these issues. I’ve customers who open late every weekday – 9pm – because of passing commuter traffic. I’m also working with one to consider opening early – 7am – to tap into the considerable footfall at an adjacent “builders cafe”. More time yes. New opportunities also yes. But I like your example about people joining forces and making something happen. One of the biggest challenges to independents is their independence. Thinking and acting collectively can clearly make a difference. I hope the Hebden effect can be spread.

    • chris says:

      Cheers for that John. Since writing this, Hebden has been hit by the terrible floods (TWICE!) which has had a tremendous impact on the businesses I mentioned. I walked through yesterday and it was heartbreaking to see so many of these amazing shops closed for business due to having to rip the whole interiors out. It’s had a terrible effect on footfall, and is especially gutting seeing as these people had worked so hard to create something unique and special. BUT what has come through again is that joint effort and supporting of each other that will really see them through. The spirit and determination to get the town back on its feet is incredible. A really special and inspirational set of business owners

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