Rethinking Your Store Hours

Today’s jewelry customer can shop seven days a week at the mall and 24 hours a day on the Internet. Many independent jewelers are fighting back by extending their hours of operation.

“I think it’s a great idea for independent jewelers to consider extending their store hours to be more convenient and competitive,” says Jeff Taraschi, president of Interactive Group Ltd./Eurobrands, a St. Petersburg, Fla.–based retail consultant that specializes in the jewelry industry. “One great way of extending your hours is giving customers 24/7 access on your Web site—even if you’re only giving them an opportunity to ask questions on their own time that you answer the next day. You have to consider all the touch points where you can reach them.”

Extending store hours is not without challenges. It takes careful research to determine when sales and traffic are at a peak, and you need to decide whether the additional profit will outweigh the increased costs. You also must resolve staffing and scheduling issues.

Gasser Jewelers, Canton, Ohio, extended its hours to coincide with its 70th anniversary in June 2007. The retailer reopened its newly renovated store with year-round Saturday hours of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. (It previously had been open Saturdays only in November and December.) The store initially extended Monday and Thursday hours until 8 p.m., eventually cutting back to a 7 p.m. closing. Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday closing times remain 5 p.m.

“We had been talking about expanding our hours for a long time,” says Darlene Schuring, a sales associate who has been with Gasser 16 years. “We’re a downtown destination, and we felt we needed to have Saturday hours and extended weekday hours as a convenience for our customers and to compete with the malls, catalogs, and the Internet.”

Schuring says extended hours enabled Gasser to attract additional younger customers, particularly those shopping for engagement rings after work and on weekends. The retailer also draws more downtown evening shoppers who appreciate not having to rush there from work before the store closes.

Gasser’s move was recommended by its advertising agency, Innis Maggiore. To determine optimum hours, the agency called in information specialists to conduct consumer polls and market research, analyze the business, perform feasibility studies, and develop other strategic information to strengthen Gasser’s brand positioning. “The question we had to ask ourselves was, What is the motivating idea that will prompt customers to change their current shopping behavior to seek out Gasser, against all odds?” explains Kelli Hill, the account executive who handles the Gasser account. “The one part of the equation that stood out as highly favorable was changing store hours. We proposed weekend hours, extended evening hours, extended holiday hours, and by appointment.”

Gasser achieved its primary goal of attracting new younger customers within the first year of implementation, Hill notes. Costs related to the change in hours were marginal compared with the gain in sales, enhanced relationship building, and strengthening of the store brand. Attracting younger customers resulted in a broader line with more entry-level price points and fashion-forward jewelry, she adds.

In the mid 1990s, Bill Sustachek, owner and president of Rasmussen Diamonds in Racine, Wis., changed his weekday store hours from 9:30 a.m.–5:30 p.m. to 10 a.m.–7 p.m., with Saturday hours of 9:30 a.m.-4 p.m., after jokingly being told by industry icon Mark Moeller, of R.F. Moeller Jeweler in Minnesota, that he was “catering to the unemployed.”

Sustachek realized that later hours would better serve bridal customers, who represent nearly three-quarters of his business. “When do couples have a chance to look for rings?” he asked. “No matter how much advertising you do, referrals you get, or personal service you offer, if they drive up to your store at 6 p.m. and you’re closed, they’re going to the mall. In fact, if you have a mall anywhere near you and you close at 5:30 p.m., you can count on the fact that your business is going downhill.”

Sustachek says sales increased from about $650,000 to more than $1 million within two years (the company now has sales of $2.6 million). Equally important, Rasmussen drew in more younger bridal customers and evening traffic.

After installing a software system that tracks sales hourly and determines the time each day when sales are highest, Sustachek discovered that his second-busiest period was 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.—after the store closes. (The busiest hour is 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.) He attributed this to a surge in customers during the last hour, which meant that some transactions weren’t completed until after 7 p.m. “Our busiest time of the day is when we used to be closed,” he observes. “Compared to the cost of staying open later, the extra business we do more than makes up for it.”

Retailers should do their homework before tweaking their hours, otherwise the change could cost them in the long run, warns Kate Peterson, president and founder of Performance Concepts, a jewelry industry consultant in Canton, Ohio. “There is a change in the consumer marketplace today. Customers are a lot more flexible and very balanced in their lives,” she says. “Many are far more likely to take an hour out of their workday to shop than do it in the evening or on the weekend when it takes away from their family time.”

Peterson acknowledges that it makes sense for any store “not in the middle of a downtown area” to be open late one night per week. However, she recommends that jewelers first perform a thorough assessment of the cost of extended hours (including staffing, utilities, and security) vs. potential increase in traffic, sales, and profit. Track, by day and time, store traffic and customer activity, and base any new scheduling around that. Adding some extra weeknight hours doesn’t mean that’s when customers will come in, she says.

Jewelers also must consider the psychic cost to employees that comes with extended hours. “One of the few things that independent jewelers can offer their people that bigger companies can’t is quality of life,” Peterson stresses. “If you’re suddenly forcing them to work longer hours, they will become unhappy and disgruntled and may very well leave. Happier employees are more loyal, work harder, and are better producers.”

Gasser handled the staffing issue through split shifts and rotations that have each salesperson working every third Saturday. Rasmussen went to staggered hours, rotating days off, and a four-day work week.

Peterson cautions independent jewelers not to extend hours out of a knee-jerk panic over the Internet. “The world now operates on a 24/7 basis,” she says. “The notion that any jewelry store can be competitive on hours with the Internet is absurd. If people want to shop online, they won’t walk into your store anyway. As a jeweler, you need to be concerned about being competitive with other jewelers in your market.”