To open or not to open, that is the question.
By Gordon Hecht and Rich Lindblom
“Well, I woke up Sunday morning
With no way to hold my head that didn’t hurt…”
—Kris Kristofferson, “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down”
After butting heads over commissioned sales and the merits of mattresses vs. appliances, YSN columnists Rich Lindblom and Gordon Hecht are going at it again. This time, the two take it outside in a Round 3 debate over Sunday and evening store hours. Let’s listen in…
Gordon Hecht: Closing the store on Sundays and most evenings gives retailers many advantages. First, they can retain more of their best employees who might otherwise leave over the longer hours and lost and irreplaceable family time. And since there are fewer total hours to staff, retailers can have more people work each shift, resulting in better customer service, greater shopper satisfaction, and less rush time on the sales floor. This leads to greater closing rates and more time to add accessories to each sale.
Rich Lindblom: Don’t get me wrong Gordon, I can see the reasons why a dealer wouldn’t want to be open nights or weekends and I get it. We all have lives and so do our employees.
Now I know that some BrandSource members are closed on Sundays as a matter of faith and there is no arguing that point with you. If you cannot in good conscience be open on Sundays, I get it. But our customers have lives too, and we should consider their needs as well. Research has shown that the overwhelming majority of major in-store purchases are made at night and on weekends.
Hecht: Rich, you and I have both been around long enough to remember when big-ticket retail stores were closed on Sunday. In fact, most were only open “late” one or two nights during the week, and by late they meant locking the doors at 8 p.m.
The first time I remember seeing a furniture, appliance and mattress store open every evening and Sundays was in 1973 when I got my first job at Jay’s Furniture in Las Vegas. When I asked the owner why the store was open on Sunday his reply was “We’re open seven days a week because I pay rent seven days a week.”
It made perfect sense to me then, but 49 years later it doesn’t play out.
Sure, retailers pay rent seven days a week for their location, but they also pay for staffing that location. And for now and the foreseeable future, that staff is simply not available.
Lindblom: I look at it from a totally different perspective. True, your rent, mortgage payments, property taxes, and utilities don’t get reduced for the hours you’re not open. But the fact of the matter is, by opening your business more hours every week, your overhead cost per hour of business goes down. That’s right, it actually costs you less money to be open more hours of the week.
And if you can sell just one piece of merchandise during those late nights (per salesperson) or a couple of pieces (again per salesperson) on those extra weekend days you’ve added, you are quite simply making more money. This is plus business — business you might not have gotten otherwise. By opening nights and weekends, it’s not inconceivable for you to grow your sales by an additional 5 to 20 percent. And that is without increasing your advertising or fixed expenses.
Hecht: Listen, for the past five years I have preached that the biggest crisis facing retailers is recruiting and staffing. Even before this crazy COVID thing, many stores did not have enough great sales, office, and management people to properly staff stores. In fact, many retailers kept substandard and underperforming people on their team just to “fill the gap.”
In the game of human resources, we have learned that this resource is finite. And since the turn of the current century less people are willing to work a retail schedule. That means it’s time to change that schedule.
Lindblom: Just because an owner doesn’t want to work nights or weekends doesn’t mean their employees or potential new employees don’t want to. There are plenty of people out there looking for a flexible work schedule. Maybe it’s a second job for them or perhaps there’s a childcare consideration. As a business owner or manager, you need to realize that not everyone feels the same way you do about working what you might think are odd hours.
In my opinion, retailers should be open late five nights a week and on Saturdays and Sundays too. As I noted, that’s when the overwhelming majority of business is done. Yet many dealers steadfastly refuse to be opened every night of the week, and in some instances they refuse to be open any nights of the week. And I’d be willing to bet that less than half of all BrandSource members are open on Sundays.
The cold, hard, fact of the matter is that you don’t get to choose when a customer is going to walk through your door. And if you aren’t open when they are ready to buy, the dealer down the street who is open is going to get that sale instead of you.
Hecht: True, many retailers are concerned about the sales they may lose by not being open 72 to 80 hours a week. But properly executed, you can reduce your schedule by closing on Sundays and only staying open late two nights a week without it costing you a thing.
Lindblom: On this we almost agree. If a dealer is reluctant to add extra payroll or increase their overall store hours, there are some ways to work around that. If you don’t want to be open seven days a week, how about opening on Sundays and closing on Wednesdays instead, since that is historically the slowest sales day of the week? And if you don’t want to increase your daily store hours, how about opening later in the morning and shifting those hours into the evening? Instead of being open 9 to 5, how about being open 11 to 7? Same number of payroll hours, just distributed differently. Or what about shifting some of the hours from slow days when you are overstaffed to nights and weekends?
Hecht: I still say look at the recruiting advantage of being closed on Sundays. While retailers may not be able to match wages with other employers, having Sundays and some evenings off is meaningful to many prospective candidates. It means lower childcare costs, less commuting costs, one less meal out of the house, and one less day of wearing dress clothes for work. More social time, more family time, more fun time.
Lindblom: It’s not fun time for customers. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment: They just got in the car and drove to your store during what they clearly believed were normal business hours, fully intending to hand over their hard-earned money to purchase that expensive piece of merchandise they wanted. Only one problem — they showed up at your store and it was closed. How would that make you feel? Are you willing to risk losing a customer for life simply because your store wasn’t open when everyone else was?
We all know the adage, “Strike while the iron is hot.” Well, that saying applies perfectly in this situation. I truly believe that your store needs to be open when the customers are shopping. You should be open when it’s convenient for them, not when it’s convenient for you. Your number one goal in today’s retail climate is to do everything within your power to make it easy for them to make their next purchase at your store, because the last thing you want to do is give them a reason to go to the big-box store down the street.
Hecht: The shoppers will come when you are open, and they will receive more attention and caring service because there’s no revolving door of staffing and no one is burned out. Check out the happy faces at any Chick-fil-A or Hobby Lobby and compare that experience to any other fast-food joint or big-box retailer. For an example closer to home, BrandSource member Roby’s Furniture & Appliance in Lincoln City, Ore., declared Sunday a family day several years ago and has since expanded with new locations and a rock-solid staff.
Say what you will Rich, but in today’s marketplace, closing on Sundays means opening new possibilities for growth, success, and gratification.
Rich Lindblom was a longtime BrandSource member and Maytag Leadership Council officer who sold his family business after more than four decades in independent retail. His debate partner Gordon Hecht is a business growth and development consultant to the retail home furnishings industry. Write them at firstname.lastname@example.org and Gordon.Hecht@aol.com.