Limited Business Hours: Small Town Weakness #1… & Possible Solutions

Lewistown, Montana, is known for its historic stone buildings, friendly people, the strength of its community and the old fashioned charm of its Main Street. But like all small towns, Lewistown has its weaknesses. As I mentioned in this post, our local businesses face competition from neighboring cities, as well as the Internet, and there is a constant struggle to convince locals to “shop local.”

Becky McCray of Small Biz Survival has identified seven common weaknesses of small town shops, with plans to highlight one each week for the next several weeks, along with possible solutions. Her hope? That by focusing on areas of possible improvement, small businesses can earn the loyalty of the local customer base rather than simply expecting folks to shop locally just because … just in time for the holiday shopping season.

Makes sense to me, so each week as Becky shares a new weakness and suggested solutions, I will pass those ideas along to you, along with a few thoughts of my own as they pertain to Central Montana.

Weakness #1: Limited Business Hours

Studies such as the one shared in this report by Robert Brooks suggest that 70% of consumer spending occurs after 6 p.m. Contrast that information with a glance down Lewistown’s Main Street during just about any evening and it would be tough not to claim this weakness in our own town. With the exception of restaurants, bars and the local movie theater, it’s rare to find a local business operating after 6 or 7 p.m.

Shop Local at Beans N Things - Open 7 Days a WeekOne notable exception is one of our newest coffee shops. Kudos to Beans ‘n Things and its posted 7 days a week hours of operation including weekday hours until 8 p.m. Though it could be argued the business falls under the “restaurants” category, it is the only one of our three Main Street coffee shops offering this level of accessibility.

In her post this week, Becky offers four solutions to combat the “limited business hours” weakness. Here they are, along with my own thoughts about their application in Central Montana:

1) Be open during the best retail times. Becky’s sources point to weekend hours as the prime shopping times. Lewistown seems to have a fair number of shops offering Saturday hours… but Sunday? That’s still limited to just a handful of stores, and only a couple of those are downtown. If it’s too expensive to add hours to the existing schedule, how about shifting open hours so they begin and end later each day? Doing so even just a few days a week might better accommodate those of us who are stuck in an office or dealing with kiddos and their crazy schedules during the more traditional daytime store hours.

2) Be open during evening sales, strolls or art walks. Lewistown’s Christmas Stroll enjoys extended Main Street hours, but are there other opportunities that are being missed?

3) Tie in with businesses that already do evening hours. I’ve already mentioned Beans ‘n Things and I believe that, at least on occasion, the team of A Few Of My Favorite Things and Butterfly Papercrafts is offering evening hours. This is in addition to the bars and restaurants that are typically open. Perhaps a few other downtown merchants could join in and agree to be open later on the same nights, perhaps in conjunction with local sporting or special events?

4) Share the cost of adding staff. The local manufacturing alliance has been known to share employees between its members when one business is busy and another is less so. Perhaps a similar concept could be utilized by downtown merchants?

I’d also like to suggest a fifth possibility. There is a way to keep business doors open 24/7 without extending business hours or necessarily adding staff …

5) Offer products and services online. This doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing approach. If putting your entire inventory online is unrealistic, consider offering your most sought after, unique or particularly interesting products via an easy to navigate, up-to-date website. Include information about what you have to offer, as well as pricing and availability. Even if you don’t provide an actual online shopping cart, just being able to investigate whether a product is available locally would make it easier for those interested in supporting local businesses to do so. If I know I can run downtown during my lunch hour or break to get what I need, I’m much more likely to make that purchase locally than if I’m not sure and decide to order online in the evening while I’m thinking about it just to be sure I can get what I want.

Do you have additional suggestions for how to combat the weakness of limited business hours in a small town? Would improvement in this area increase the likelihood that you’d support local shops?


Prior Posts in this Series…

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