So here we are going to discuss the one thing that no one really seems to want to discuss when it comes to keeping our towns and independent shops alive… Opening Hours.

It’s a fact that times have changed. People very rarely live near to where they work. I’m very lucky, as after commuting 3 hours a day for 10 year I now have a 2 mile journey to work, which has allowed me to look a little deeper into what makes me use the shops around my work and my home. When I was commuting I didn’t use any!

The very fact that most people work at least 9 to 5, and many a lot longer, then adds a commute on top of that, means that the majority of working people have no access to their local shops, except on a weekend. And then most places choose to close on a Sunday! So we are down to a small window on Saturday when you can get to visit your local shops, actually talk to your butcher, visit your local market (if you’re lucky enough to have one) etc. But if you’ve been out on the Friday night, or you’ve got kids who invariably have a football match, ballet, karate etc…. you get the picture. Most people can’t get to their local shops when they are actually open!

It’s not that they don’t want to support the shops in their town, it’s that a lot of people can’t. We get so many emails from people saying the main reason they don’t shop locally is that their towns are always closed when they are around.

So what to do?

My theory is most of Totally Locally is based around critical mass – by that I mean if there are enough good shops worth visiting in one place, people will come. If those shops are unique more people will come. If you add to this opening when people are around…. well you get the picture.

A great example near us is Hebden Bridge. Long hailed as one of Britain’s most independent towns, Hebden dances to its’ own tune. It’s full of great little shops and cafes with most of the trade being done on Saturdays and Sundays. A lot of walkers, cyclists and day-trippers go there, particularly on a Sunday, because they know they can get something to eat or buy what they want. Some Sundays the place can be heaving with people. Compare this to some of the other towns only a few miles down the road, and you’ll find them to be almost deserted, but it had to start somewhere.

It wasn’t always like that. An interesting development in Hebden is a street called Market Street. It was the quietest part of the town where there were some empty shops and not much going on compared to the rest of the town. A few key shops moved in and opened on Sundays, now it is one of the busiest parts of the town. Critical mass. Also Sunday is a day when people are actively looking for something to do or somewhere to go. If there are interesting shops and somewhere to get a breakfast or a coffee, it suddenly becomes very attractive.

When I was recently in Spain, I saw the shops close between 2 and 5pm, then re open until 8pm, so that families could visit, and all the shops were bustling. We have a different culture in the UK which doesn’t really allow for this closing, but it’s an example of how shops have made it easy for people to use them, and some lessons can be drawn from it.

When we were in West Bridgford for the launch of Totally Locally, we were stood outside a fish & chip shop. Karina (our Champion there) said, “You should see the queue outside here on a Thursday and Friday evening”. Bearing in mind that there is a greengrocers, a fishmongers, a butchers, a deli and a cafe all within 10 meters of this fish and chip shop. It got me thinking… An opportunity to try to re-invent how people view their little shops could start with something like this. One night a week, maybe a few shops get together and open until 7.30 p.m. They advertise between themselves and after a while (it wouldn’t happen straight away) people would come to know they were open, they could buy their fish, their veg, and maybe have a coffee and all of a sudden there is an alternative to Tesco after 5pm. It’s all about working together and that critical mass again.

Don’t get me wrong, I know the long hours that many shop keepers work, and to do more would be a strain, but the rent, the rates, the electricity are all paid, so a few extra hours opening could only cost the wage of a part time member of staff for a few hours a week. After a while it should end up in more profit.

I realise it isn’t going to be easy for people, but if we are going to make a difference to business and our high street something radical has to happen. It may only be one or 2 evenings a week at the start.

A final and great example of this in action is a friend of mine. She opened a high-end shop selling jewellery, clothing and gifts in a town, which had nothing like it at all (i.e. the wrong town!). A lot of people said that it wouldn’t last. But it was unique and special, and the service was superb. So people travelled to go to it. Then my friend decided to open Sundays, in a town that was completely shut on that day. For a month they opened with hardly anyone setting foot through the door. Then gradually people got to know, and more people came, and after a while it became one of their busiest days. But here’s the great thing. The cafe across the road decided to open on a Sunday too. At first no one came, then gradually they got to know that the cafe was open and now it’s one of his busiest days! And that’s how it starts. Two places worth visiting, close together.

A few of the shops on one street in Leek are trying this at the moment, so we’ll keep updating how they are getting on.

So it’s all about re-thinking things, how our High Street can survive in a time when most people are working long hours and away from the place they live. It’s taking a leaf out of the Supermarket’s book (people shop in supermarkets primarily for convenience not many people actually enjoy the trip!) It takes brave steps, but if no one tries Britain will look a very different place in a few years time.

I hope this doesn’t come across as preachy; it’s just that so many people have told us “Get shops to open later and I’ll use them!” And if enough people say it, it must have some bearing on things.

If you want to talk to us about this drop us a line on our contact page, and if you want to try and get a few shops together to try something like this we can help you with some ideas for marketing the concept. And as always, if you disagree with what we’ve said here, please say so. It’s all about throwing ideas around.

Totally Locally Chris