Are you in a tourism-based town where people stay in town overnight, but head out touring all day long? Ever complain that the tourists stay, but they don’t spend?
Here’s a suggestion, inspired by something Peggy Sanders said in her guest post last week, Which town is yours?
“Instead of complaining that the hordes are gone touring all day and how sad that you are not getting their business, how about opening by 8 am and staying open later, as a welcoming gesture?”
That struck a chord with me. I’ve been the tourist out early walking through downtown before heading out, and I’ve been the late arrival getting into town after 5pm. Mostly, I’ve seen closed stores downtown. So let’s try some practical experiments and see if we can help you capture more business.
Practical Steps to Try
Open up really early, before folks head out on their daily excursions. That’s 8 a.m. at the latest. Maybe dawn, because it depends on where you are and the habits of your visitors. You’ll have to experiment. Go downtown at dawn and count people on the sidewalk. Count every 15 minutes until your regular opening time. Try this 5 different times to see what you learn about early risers in your town. Then move your opening time up to meet people’s needs.
Make it obvious you’re open.
Make it so obvious that you’re open that you don’t even need an open sign. Open the door wide. (It’s early. The weather is nice. Try it.) Put out sidewalk displays that prove you’re open. Set out a sidewalk sign that reinforces that you’re open early. Get out and sweep your sidewalk first thing. Be seen cleaning your windows at dawn.
Find out who else opens early. The coffee shop? The fitness center? Partner up with them to draw more customers early.
Come back later.
If visitors are leaving town in the early hours, they’re also arriving or returning in the evenings. Extend your closing time by several hours.
Stay after your closing time by several hours and count people on the sidewalk every 15 minutes until sundown, and then for at least one more hour. Use what you learn to adjust your closing time.
Take a siesta.
Maybe it’s time for a return of the siesta: the afternoon rest time when businesses are closed. Test that, too. Maybe it’s a good match for your town.
Adjust to the changing seasons.
The sun doesn’t stay out the same length of time in summer as winter. Your visitors follow different patterns in different seasons. When did you last adjust your business hours to better suit the differing habits of your tourists?
Who are you in business to serve?
Before you tell me how inconvenient it will be to do early and late hours, let me remind you who you are in business to serve. It’s not you. It’s not your staff. It’s the customer. It’s the visitor and the local alike who want to buy the goods and services they want and need in their lives.
Yes, you’ll have to get around earlier and stay later, or you’ll have to arrange for staff to cover the early and late hours. Part of your job as a retailer is finding the staff to cover the hours you need to be open to serve customers. It doesn’t have to always be you.
Pop-up an Answer to Staffing Problems
Can’t face the prospect of opening up early or staying late, but also can’t afford to hire staff to cover it? Why not try out a pop-up store inside your store during those extra hours?
Actively search for someone who has products to sell but no location downtown. Approach them about a cooperative project. You’ll provide the location for them to do a temporary shop, in exchange for them also operating your store during some of the extra hours you’re trying to cover. During the hours you’re already open, you can sell their merchandise from their pop-up.
What do you think? Could that work for you?
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Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.