Opening Hours of a Great Bookstore – Is Less More ?

What Store Hours Say about You
Shane Gottwals
www.gottwalsbooks.com

24hoursThere is nothing more frustrating than that locally-owned business who chooses to close right before or right after you arrive, correct?  It’s almost like the indie shops should do everything like the larger chain stores, including hold early and late hours.
Why should customers expect this out of privately-owned business?  Well, when you think about it, we often tout that we deserve their business in order to “keep it local.”  Don’t the customers deserve extended hours?  Don’t they deserve everything that the chain stores can give?
This is just the thing.  Indie bookshops are not corporate giants.  Oftentimes, even these giants will keep late hours while not making large profits during those hours simply so that they are known as an all-hour joint.  Confusing?  I call it the “Wal-Mart Effect.”  Anyone will shop at Wal-Mart because of their lack of exclusivity.  In other words, they have, literally, an open door policy.  They never shut!  Psychologically, this gives the consumer confidence, knowing that this particular business does not and will not shut down.
Should the indie booksellers stay open late and arrive early?  Interestingly enough, the “Wal-Mart Effect” has an antonym.  All are accepted into Wal-Mart’s doors.  This has hurt them in some regards, driving away elitists.  It is not exclusive enough.  Why do the liquidation outlets keep 3-4 day work schedules, opening only for a few hours on each of those days?  They are giving off the appearance of exclusivity.  The local bookshop succeeds in the same way.
My wife and I began our first store with hours that topped out at 9:30-9:00.  This wore us out and we weren’t seeing great results.  Customers were coming through the doors, however, so we kept the hours for quite a while.  When we did finally change to closing at 6:00, our sales were honestly unaffected.  Not only do people expect their friendly bookseller to go home to their family, they seem to understand that their used bookshop is worth stopping in earlier.  Gottwals Books is an exclusive shop to its customers, in many ways, because of our store hours.
We are closed on Sundays not because it is a “day for family” but because it is God’s day.  If we own one thousand stores, we will never be open on Sundays, even though Sunday sales are expectedly good.  Worshiping Jesus Christ is far too important for us to be open.  We also close early on Wednesdays so that any of our employees, including ourselves, can make it to their respective Wednesday night church services and prayer meetings.  So, in our case, we hope that our hours don’t scream “Exclusive!” as much as they do “Christian!”
What are your hours?
Have you changed them as time has passed?
Do you think my analysis is hogwash?
Do you still get angry whenever you drive past the big chain stores at 10 o’clock at night?  (Why can’t I have that many cars after 6:00, right?)

image is courtesy of Sally M at Flickr.com

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  • Shane – Although I have very different views on how to spend a Sunday, I do think that you are right on the money with your post on Bookstore Hours. We did that same think, worked like dogs keeping the place open as many hours as possible. Over time we shrank the hours down and books sales were never really affected. We started closing Mondays and going home early on Fridays and Saturdays. It’s one of those things that I wish I knew when we first opened. The stress of the long hours was hard on my family and in my opinion completely unnecessary. Thanks for the post and Best Wishes.

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  • We have a little “96¢ Store” (what ever happened to the “Five and Dime”) around the corner from our house that is always good for various items and they stay open from 9 to 9 most nights. 10 to 6 on Sunday. Locals know their hours and that is when they shop there. Get there too early or wait to long and none but oneself is to blame.

    More than once I have walked there, turned the corner, seen the doors closed, turned around to walk back home. Had they kept the doors open later just for me they would only have gotten an extra dollar or two and that is not profit, just extra bills to count. The electricity they would use to remain open, not to mention wages, would chew up the bit of profit real quick.

    There has to be a dividing point between staying open and being profitable.

    The “corporate giants” and “big box stores” have one advantage to staying open. They can use those hours for restocking shelves and going about correcting items customers have moved from one shelf to another and of course the never ending baskets of items customers leave abandoned in the middle of the store and restock items left at the checkout counters. Also there is the mopping and buffing the floors along with other maintenance duties. Their employees are not sitting around, reading a book and waiting for the next customer to wander in. They are kept working (perhaps at a slower pace without management looking over their shoulders) and therefore still (somewhat) productive.

    That your stores are closed on Sunday and early on Wednesdays to allow employees the opportunity (whether they go or not) to attend church will go a long way to influencing some prospective employees to seek work at your stores. The same kind of employees you want. Those hours are important to them and your customer base will of course learn your schedule. Store owners do have both customers and employees to satisfy.

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  • Our sense that it is the customers’ store took many years to develop.

    So it is another chicken and egg question – you will have the business you deserve no matter what hours you set – as long as you observe those hours religiously. The same applies to staff.

    As the “decision makers” we get to operate a business any way we, or our outside influences, like. But, in the beginning when we are first starting in business, every moment of everyday we are engaged in operating a business, and at the end when we close the doors for the last time, customers’ perceptions of everything we do will matter the most.

    And my guess is – they would prefer we are always working our a**es off – to be ready for them when they drop by.

    Two years ago we decided to stop working from 6PM to 10PM Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays and saw our sales fall an average of about 7% a week even though our Saturday business increased an average of over 20%. The next year we went back to opening six evenings a week but only until 9PM and our sales figures held steady at the increased level on Saturdays and quickly leapt back to normal on all week nights.

    A one year test doesn’t prove a lot (and we only did it in the one of our four stores that was always open late) but all of us noticed that closing at 9PM instead of 10PM had a positive psychological effect on us workers.

    But working less hours cut down on the amount of books we were able to process and I think the customers and the sales noticed it.

    We are free to do whatever we want – living with the consequences seems to be the hard part.

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  • I used to go to bookstores in the middle of the night when I was a teenager. There’d be a coffee shop and all so it made for a cute date walking around. But there were hardly ever any visitors and I wondered why they kept the store open.

  • […] How Many Hours should your bookstore be open? […]

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  • Shane – Although I have very different views on how to spend a Sunday, I do think that you are right on the money with your post on Bookstore Hours. We did that same think, worked like dogs keeping the place open as many hours as possible. Over time we shrank the hours down and books sales were never really affected. We started closing Mondays and going home early on Fridays and Saturdays. It’s one of those things that I wish I knew when we first opened. The stress of the long hours was hard on my family and in my opinion completely unnecessary. Thanks for the post and Best Wishes.

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  • I understand your problem and to be honest, there are no clear cut solutions. Small bookstore can never compete with large book stores. The only way a book shop like yours can thrive by having a group of loyal customers who will prefer your store over any big store because you can understand their taste and give them what they are looking for. In a way, it is a good thing I believe. The big stores thrive on numbers- how many books they have? How many hours they remain open? It is all quantity.Small book stores focus on quality of their services. You are on the right track, don’t worry.

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  • I think you’re 100% on the right track.

    Especially when you’re dealing with a product that can be commoditized (books) on the mass-market level, there are a couple of approaches that are automatically losing – competition on price, and competition on convenience. The first can’t succeed because the industry leader can usually dominate based on economies of scale + leverage. The second usually can’t succeed either because of superior infrastructure and logistics network of supply chain management.

    That pretty much leaves small business to differentiate through client building / loyalty and a value-added service via selection, recommendation, customer service, and environment.

    I don’t think 24h (or even extended hours) is expected of this. However, customers will look for areas where you’re willing to go above and beyond the minimum to satisfy them – trying to find that rare book they’re looking for, etc.

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  • It is interesting people in the book business think customer loyalty is gained through special treatment rather than proving your worth to them by regularly having the book they need when they want it.

    That also means being open when they would normally expect a merchant to be open so they don’t have to guess what hours this particular eccentric book dealer might find it convenient to go to work and deign to serve customers.

    Oh well, when a bookstore that puts the customers’ needs in mind comes along and sets up in your area there will be less need for some book dealers to inconvenience themselves and somehow still maintain customer loyalty they somehow believe they have earned.

    Sorry – but I have seen how dealers who believe customers will follow them around do in this business – they don’t last long!

    Good luck to all – we could sure use some great bookstores in North America.

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  • As the “decision makers” we get to operate a business any way we, or our outside influences, like. But, in the beginning when we are first starting in business, every moment of everyday we are engaged in operating a business, and at the end when we close the doors for the last time, customers’ perceptions of everything we do will matter the most. The “corporate giants” and “big box stores” have one advantage to staying open. They can use those hours for restocking shelves and going about correcting items customers have moved from one shelf to another and of course the never ending baskets of items customers leave abandoned in the middle of the store and restock items left at the checkout counters. Also there is the mopping and buffing the floors along with other maintenance duties.

  • […] have also changed my hours.  I read a blog on here a while back regarding hours and closing on Sundays.  The authors name eludes me [Shane Gottwals] but I understand the article more now than I did […]

  • […] if you want to give off the appearance of operating an exclusive boutique. We’ve already discussed opening hours in another post. You also need to ‘look the part’ and a plexiglass rectangular sign […]

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