What does it take to succeed in retail these days? That’s a complex issue but you’ll often hear discussion around opening hours and whether staying open later in the evening could be part of the answer.
When I visit London to deliver media training courses, I often stay in the Haverstock Hill area of Belsize Park. It’s a great place to stay and if I get the chance I always enjoy a wander around and a browse of some of the independent shops.
Daunt Books is a firm favourite and on my last visit I popped in to buy something for my eldest son who’s just turned 12, and my wife Emma, a former English teacher. That should give you some idea of the extensive range Daunt stocks!
I noticed that particular branch of the bookshop is open from 9am-9pm Monday to Saturday and 11am-7pm on a Sunday. That’s a tremendous set of opening hours and I can only imagine must be a considerable undertaking. Alongside the convenience for the customer, it’s good for the whole area. Especially now as the winter months are coming in, it was very reassuring and pleasant to sit enjoying a meal at the restaurant across the road and to be able to look out and see light and life at the bookshop before popping in shortly after 8pm.
I’m sure anyone in retail operating such long hours sometimes questions whether it’s the right thing to do. But from my own experience, had Daunt Books on Haverstock Hill closed at 5pm or 6pm I simply wouldn’t have been able to buy those books. I didn’t arrive until after 6pm and was up and away by 8am the next morning for a 9am start for the media training I was running. While was there, another customer was picking the staff member’s brains regarding some recommendations for a tricky-to-buy-for family member. He was able to provide a level of insight and a personal touch you just don’t get online.
Experts often talk about ‘the retail experience’ and that often seems to mean fancy lights and visuals, huge displays, and either lots of empty space or complete sensory overload. I’d like to remind those experts that sometimes, that ‘retail experience’ is as simple as being open when customers need you, stocking a good range of products and above all – employing good staff.
Closer to home; another good example, this time the Ginger Cat Bookshop in Bridge of Weir, Renfrewshire. Despite having family in the area I hadn’t known of its existence until I saw an event they were running: the launch of the new book by music journalist (and a former colleague of mine from my radio days), Billy Sloan. This event took place at 7pm on a Friday evening (again, ideal for those of us that work all day) and actually had to be moved to Bernie’s Cafe Deli further along the road due to demand. So, not only convenient scheduling but a nice example of 2 businesses, rooted in their community, working together. Ginger Cat’s community involvement goes further, through links with the local schools and creative writing classes for children in the area.
So, 12 hours, 6 days a week for Daunt Books on Haverstock Hill and 7 on a Sunday. What interests me, as a trainer and consultant that often works with businesses who are looking for better results, is why aren’t they all doing that? I’m not suggesting they should, I’m genuinely interested in why they don’t.
Survival doesn’t happen by accident. You have to put absolutely everything into it. Whether that’s extended opening hours, a bigger range, running events, collaborating with others, making tough decisions about location and personnel – it’s going to take over a huge chunk of your life.
The days of opening up and enjoying the footfall are long gone. It’s a fight. And it’s very encouraging to see these two businesses, hundreds of miles apart, giving it everything they’ve got, and from what I’ve seen, doing pretty well. I wish them both – and any other independent retailer – continued success.