Running an independent business comes with an abundance of perks – you get to make all the critical decisions, determine the direction of your company, develop your unique brand voice and persona. Perhaps most importantly, you get to decide your work hours.
While it may seem like choosing your retail work hours is an inconsequential decision, it can have an immense impact on your business’s performance, customer acquisition and retention, operational costs, and profit margins.
Let’s see why consistent business hours are so important and take a look at what you need to do to set them right.
Why do work hours matter?
Since the onset of the pandemic in 2020 and the rise of remote work, “flexibility” has become one of the key buzzwords in the business community. Working from home offers better flexibility; flexible work hours promote employee engagement and productivity; flexible schedules enable a better work-life balance.
While there’s undoubtedly some truth to this, there’s a fine line between flexibility and inconsistency, especially when it comes to your working hours.
Flexible retail work hours such as Mon-Wed-Fri: 8:00 AM ∼ 4:00 PM, Tue-Thu-Sat: 10:00 ∼ 3:00 PM will do nothing more than confuse you, your employees, and your customers.
There’s nothing worse for a customer than coming to your business’s front doors only to find that you’re closed when just yesterday you were open during those same hours. You’ll lose a valuable customer without a legitimate reason.
Of course, consistency isn’t the only issue.
Retail work hours impact virtually every aspect of your business – how many sales you make in a day, how many new and returning customers you serve, and how efficient your employees are. Moreover, they impact payroll and even your operating costs. If your business is open and staffed when your target market cannot reach you, you’ll notice diminished profits and increased expenses.
To ensure that your business hours work for you, you’ll need to learn how to set them.
Gather key metrics
Determining retail work hours based on your gut feeling or personal preferences can be the fastest way to lose customers before they have even gotten acquainted with your company. Instead, you should determine the hours based on data.
A reliable Point of Sale (POS) system can automatically generate reports that give you a clearer insight into your peak hours by looking into sale and transaction data.
Total sales data will give you a better understanding of the quality of transactions per hour, aka how much money you’ve earned within a set time frame. However, while it can be a great indicator of your peak hours, there’s a large margin of error – a single big sale can give you the wrong impression of the best work hours.
Instead, you’ll need to focus more on the transaction data – how many transactions (read “customers”) you have by the hour. You should notice patterns that will point you in the right direction regarding your peak hours.
Keep in mind the current season
The POS data might differ depending on the time of year when you pull the sales and transaction reports. For example, many businesses will see a notable difference in their peak hours during the holiday season in November and December. Depending on your niche, even the summer season could show different peak hours than usual.
To get the baseline, it’s in your best interest to look into the reports for your typical months when you don’t have any special sales, discounts, or unique offers. Only after you have the baseline should you look into the data for the holidays then act accordingly.
Take into account your operating costs
Considering only the payroll when determining whether to extend retail work hours is one of the small business owners’ biggest mistakes. While payroll is often the most significant expense when your business works longer, it’s not the only one. You’ll need to consider your total operating costs, including utilities and other expenses.
You’ll need to examine your profit and loss statements, calculate your operating costs and compare them against your sales data. If your losses outweigh your gains, extending work hours is not in your best interest.
You can’t be open to all customers
Many retail store owners are worried about missing that one customer who likes to come in earlier than everyone else or that patron who might pop by at the break of dawn on a Sunday. While securing their loyalty by opening early or closing late could seem like it’s in your business’s best interests, that’s usually not the case.
If your operating costs per hour are higher than your sales on Sunday morning, then opening early for that single potential customer is not worth it.
You can’t please everyone, and you can’t be open to every single customer who might want to do business with you.
Make it simple on your customers
Your POS data will most likely show different peak hours for other days of the week. That doesn’t mean that you should be open at random times throughout the month. As mentioned, inconsistency with your retail work hours will cause you to lose valuable customers since it’s confusing.
Why would anyone bother memorizing your seemingly random hours when they could just go to your competitors’ who seem to know what they’re doing?
Instead, look for the patterns in your POS data. If you get the most transactions on a weekly basis between 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM, make sure that you’re open at those times. Weekends are usually the only exception as customers are accustomed to businesses having different hours on Saturdays and Sundays.
Consistency will help you improve your brand reputation and customer relations, so make sure that your schedule remains as uniform as possible.
Consider the location of your store
Finally, your retail work hours depend heavily on your location and the hours of the surrounding businesses. Suppose that you have a bakery by the bus stop that gets most of its customers in the early morning hours. Opening around 7:00 AM would make sense as you’d attract dozens of commuters on their way to work.
However, if your bakery is located right next to a nightclub that sees its last customer leave at 5:00 AM, you might want to consider opening around 5:00 AM to attract the nightclub’s patrons.
Whether you like it or not, surrounding businesses will impact your retail store, so you’ll want to devote some time to researching your store’s neighborhood to find the best work hours.
Determining your retail work hours is more important than it first appears. It impacts your operating costs, transaction volume, sales figures, and profit margins. Consider your hours carefully, and make a data-driven decision that will minimize your losses and maximize your gains.