How to decide when you should be open for business

Figuring out when your business should be open is part art, part science. 

Figuring out when your business should be open is part art, part science. 

There’s a serious “entrepreneurial adjustment” when you go from employee to business owner, especially when it comes to hours. According to a Gallup poll, 62% of U.S. small business owners work over 50 hours a week. As any founder or owner will tell you, the hours can be long, chaotic, and irregular.

So where do you draw the line? What hours should you work? How do you draw boundaries for yourself? You need time with family, time to unwind, get away, and focus on other good things outside of your “baby.”

Let’s break it down to this: when should your business be open? In other words, is 9 am to 5 pm enough? Or is it too much?

What about your customers who work 9 to 5? They might not have time to squeeze in a shopping stop on their lunch break or after work. If your store is only open during business hours, are you forcing people to take precious vacation hours to shop at your store?

There’s gotta be a better way.

No, it’s not just increasing your open hours. And, for Pete’s sake, we’re not saying to be open 24/7. Don’t take away from your freedom like that. (But, if you can make it work, and it makes financial sense to be open 24/7, go for it!)

We’re saying you can be strategic about when to retract the deadbolt and when to arm the alarm. To help you decide, here are six ways to know when your small business’s open sign should be glowing red.

6 ways to determine when your small business should be open

1. Check your sales data to understand your best days and times of the week for sales

Look at all your sales in the last quarter or year. Look at the days of the week. Any noticeable increases on say, Monday over Wednesday? Is Sunday afternoon dead? Take a look at what time your customers are buying. Notice any patterns? Is there a rush at the end of the day? Or the beginning of the day?

If you see a concentration of traffic butting up against a closing time or opening time, you might want to think about expanding the hour. On the other hand, if you see a repeatedly dead zone with no sales over the year(s), maybe you can afford to shave a few hours off the workweek for you and your staff.

Pro tip: You can see all this data in Womply Insights.

2. Survey your most loyal customers and collect feedback

If you didn’t see anything useful in your sales data, it’s time to get more direct. Go right to your customers and ask them. Use these as sample questions:

  • What hours would you like us to be open that we’re currently not?
  • What day(s) of the week are you most likely to stop by our store?
  • What time of day are you most likely to come in and shop at our store?
  • What other stops do you make on the day when you visit our shop?

Gathering the answers could provide actionable data for your decision-making framework. You might discover a significant opportunity to help more customers and generate more sales.

3. Look at Google to see when your competitors are open… and when they’re busiest

This is more than just looking at the open hours of your competitors. Google is useful for much more than that. Here’s how.

  • Open a web browser (recommend Chrome) and google your competitor
  • On the righthand side, there’s a box with photos and information like phone number, address, website, etc.
  • Scroll down and find “Popular times”
google-hours-of-operation-small-business
  • This chart will show you a bar graph of your competitor’s busiest hours.
  • It will also tell you how much time people typically spend there.

Now, compare this to your business. Are you open during these hours? Why or why not? Should you be?

4. Look at seasonalities like events and weather to stay ahead of consumer behavior

If local events occur every year and cause an influx of traffic, or an outflux of residents, take advantage of these annual trends. Research the results of the years before and see which streets and areas experienced a surge of event-goers. Are they close to your shop? It might be worth it to stay open and attract the late-night concert crowd or open early to catch the hungry 5k runners in the morning.

Also, ask the other small business owners around you what their plan is for the event. The last thing you want is to be the only store closed on a popular street while every other shop is brimming with new tourists and passers-by.

Lastly, do you know if weather has an impact on foot traffic to your business? What's the effect of snow, rain, and sunshine? You can use brute force to figure this out with tools like Weather.org's weather history tool, or you can let Womply Insights do the analysis for you. 

5. Holidays: there’s no right answer, just make sure you clearly communicate your hours

Based on our research, holiday hours are tricky. There are pros and cons any way you look at it. You could choose to be open during the holidays, and potentially keep your employees away from their families. Or you could decide to be closed and miss out on the increased foot traffic. How do you decide?

The factors that should inform your decision to stay open on say, Christmas Day, are too many to list for this single blog post. The best thing to do is make sure your customers aren’t upset by being overtly clear and communicative about when you are open and closed.

  • Share your holiday hours on Facebook. Pin a tweet on Twitter.
  • Add a banner to the homepage of your website saying when you’ll be open and closed.
  • Change the voice message on your answering machine.
  • If you have email subscribers, dispatch a holiday reminder email with your store hours.
  • Post a legible notice on your store’s doors a week in advance of your holiday hours.

By clearly communicating your hours, you could be saving a desperate family member a dangerous drive through inclement weather only to find a locked door and dark storefront. Share the holiday cheer… and your holiday hours.

6. Experiment. It might surprise you and pay off

Perhaps the most effective way to determine when your small business should be open is trying different hours and measuring the return on investment.

You could try setting up two types of experiments like this:

  1. When are the slowest times of the week? Or of the season? Close the store and put a note with instructions for the turned-away customer to let you know they tried to shop but couldn’t.
  2. When are you busiest? Try staying open later, or opening sooner, and see what happens. Does new business come in and make it worth it?

You might learn valuable lessons that help you attract more customers and optimize staff hours, like Barbara Criswell (owner of Aquarius Books in Kansas City, Missouri) did when she learned which days of the week were busiest at her shop.

In the end, how many hours you work is up to you. By using these 6 methodologies to help determine when your local small business should be open or closed, you’ll find what works best for you and spend your time in the most economical and enjoyable way.