As I was walking around Macclesfield at 5.30pm last night, I became fascinated by the vast difference in shops that had either already closed, were closing, or were still open.
These days, a massive offensive is being made against the supermarket chains and we are being encouraged to shop on our local high street, but I feel a review of the opening hours needs to happen.
When I came home, I searched a number of stores online for their opening hours on a typical Monday. This is what I found ...
WH Smith 8.30 - 5.30
The Works 9.00 - 5.00
Millets 9.00 - 6.00
Burton 9.00 - 5.30
Carphone Warehouse 10.00 - 5.00
Elspeth Mills 9.30 - 5.30
Ryman 8.30 - 6.00
M&S 8.00 - 6.00
Eight big Macclesfield retailers with eight different sets of opening hours.
So why is there such a variance of opening hours ?
The main reason is that the decision on opening hours for most companies is made by their Head Office.
It makes sense for every shop in a chain to have the same opening hours as the company can then advertise national opening hours. Point of sale material can also be ordered and printed in bulk.
Also, staff hours are based on a set amount of working hours and they normally fall in neatly with the opening hours of the business.
The only issue with this, is that the general public start to assume that because they see a lot of shops shutting at 5pm, that everybody shuts at 5pm. I would be very interested to see the sales figures for M&S and Ryman to see how much trade they do between 5pm and 6pm compared to the rest of the day. My guess would be that it would be a lot less.
But these days, are opening hours set to suit the company, or the customer ?
In modern times, most couples both have job and usually work full time, normally until 5pm or 6pm. But if somebody works until 6pm and gets to Macclesfield at 6.15pm, their only option for shopping would be the Tesco Metro in the centre of town.
Independents have the greatest flexibility to change their opening hours and to throw in the odd late night. Now I am not saying one business should decide to stay open late, but if every independent business in Macclesfield decided that on a Thursday they would open until 8pm, it wouldn't take long for the customers to start using this night to their advantage.
It wouldn't only help the retailers, but also the bars and restaurants in the town as well. The Trafford Centre is a prime example of this. On any busy shopping evening in the centre, the restaurants are always trading well.
There is also the benefit of free parking of an evening !
Now I understand the pressures an independent business is under with staff and hours, but there is always an option to open late during their quieter spells to enable them to incorporate a late night. I am not saying work longer hours, I am purely saying work smarter hours.
The national retailers are very fixed on their opening hours. The independents should be taking advantage of those hours when they could be open and their competitors are closed.
As one person, there isn't a lot I can do about changing the retail landscape of the town. But with enough support from local councils and organisations, we can slowly turn the ship around.
Macclesfield is a fantastic place that has all the ingredients it needs to be a leading market town, we just need to make sure we are doing everything we can to help the town thrive.