How to choose the best opening hours for your small business

There are multiple factors which small business must consider when they are deciding their opening hours. Obviously, stores will want to be open when the majority of their customers want them to be. But that doesn’t mean catering to every single time that a given customer might want to pop in. Staffing a store 24 hours a day, seven days a week would mean a lot of costs incurred through wages and utilities in return for low (or even zero) sales during quiet times.

Instead, there’s a balance to be struck, where small businesses can maximise their sales by being available during peak times, while mitigating the costs of being open when customers aren’t around (or using this time for other tasks, as we’ll cover below!).

Whether you’re setting your opening hours for a new business or thinking of adjusting your existing opening times to better meet demand, here are some considerations that may help inform your decision.

Consider your competition, area, and customers

As stated above, you of course want to be open when your customers want you to be. If you aren’t open when they come calling, they will not only be disappointed, but you may lose sales and loyalty. What’s more, if they’re in need of a product, they may go elsewhere to buy it. Your competitors’ opening hours can thus be valuable information. If they’re doing a busy trade in the hours after you’ve shut up shop, you’re missing out on some serious earning potential.

Conversely, if their opening hours present a gap in the market, take the chance to catch customer while they’re still closed. This guideline can be especially true for competitors that are nearby, as is often the case due to a variety of social and business phenomena. Whether it’s to be centrally located close to as many customers as possible or to take advantage of the distances that customers are willing to travel for certain products, businesses often end up in close proximity to their rivals. You can use this to your advantage my winning a simple comparison which customers will make upon arriving in the area: which of these two businesses is open?

It also pays to consider what else is in your area. If you’re located in a business district far from any residential areas, your customer base might consist solely of after-work patrons, so bars are more likely to flourish, while more “domestic” stores won’t see the same traffic. If your business is in a neighbourhood whose inhabitants commute to and from the city, you may find that later hours will work better for you.

For all the insights you can glean from what’s around you, communication with your customers is the most straightforward way to find out what they want and expect of you. Don’t be afraid to ask! Given you’re doing so for their benefit, they’re likely to help if they can. Take the time to question regular customers and clients on how you could improve your business hours to suit them. Not only do you stand to learn something new, but they will appreciate the time you’ve taken to consider them by reaching out.

Be consistent and reliable with your opening hours

While crunching the numbers of different days and times could in theory produce the “optimal” times to be open, no one wants your business to be trading for three hours spread across one day, four the next, with a morning slot and evening one, and so on. If a customer buys something at a given time on a Tuesday and returns at the same time on Thursday, they will expect you to be open.

Failing to meet these expectations can have a bad effect on their perception of your business. If they don’t feel they can rely on you to be open, they won’t risk making the journey there. The argument that “our times our listed on Google Maps” will mean little if someone turns up ready to buy only to be greeted with a locked door.

Reliability is equally important, if not more so. If you should be open, you better be! It requires a very good reason (and perhaps even poor contingency planning on your part) for your business not to be open when you’re meant to be. A sign on the door explaining that you’re closed for lunch, when a customer has used their own lunch break to come out to you, is often the recipe for that visit being their final one.

Make use of innovations for a flexible approach

There are plenty of new tools in a modern manager’s toolkit. Measuring foot traffic is easier than ever before thanks to an increasing number of simple systems that can count customers at store entrances or even using GPS and Bluetooth. See when you’re busy and make sure you’re not shutting anywhere near a peak time so that you catch the build up to, and tail off from, these key periods.

Extending your opening hours at certain times can also reap dividends. Holidays mean increased family time and increased spending, while customers may be out shopping later in the day than at other times of year. Using a flexible scheduling tool like Findmyshift allows you to adjust shifts with ease to meet the increased demand at times like these.

And what if customer numbers are just on the decline? Many businesses must face up to the fact that retail foot traffic is steadily declining in the UK, but this trend does open up new opportunities. Expanding, improving, and promoting your online presence will allow after-hours sales on products that can be shipped or picked up another time, giving you a chance to boost your takings without anyone on the tills.

Don’t be afraid to stay open at slower times

It’s easy to forget that sales are not the only concern for retails businesses. Having employees around when customers are scarce need not mean that they’re wasting their time. Quiet periods are great opportunities to focus on other tasks, like cleaning, restocking, or even improving the store experience. And if a customer or two happens to wander in as well, even better!

About the author

Jake Waller is a wordsmith who plies his trade here at Findmyshift. He uses his background in engineering to simplify complex topics for a variety of tech firms. When not writing for Findmyshift he blogs under a pseudonym at My Name is Skylance and has a passion for creative writing and editing, about which he's always talking on Twitter.