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Editor's View: Editor offers advice to small business owners

By: Don Chaddock, Managing Editor
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Wreaths around the lights on Lake Natoma Crossing and scattered about Town Center in El Dorado Hills, decorations along Sutter Street and Christmas trees in the historic district public plaza, Palladio and in front of the movie theater at Town Center can only mean one thing — booming business for local retailers.

At least, that’s what we all hope to read when the dust settles. I can almost write the headline now, “Small businesses report record sales in final quarter.” If attendance at the Folsom tree lighting last week was any indication, we’re off to a strong start.

Strolling by Snook’s, the place was packed Friday night (as it usually is during big street events). I poked my head in and saw shoppers at most of the other places opting to stay open later than usual.

I’ve always believed in order for small businesses to compete, they need to make themselves available to shoppers. When will potential customers be at a shopkeeper’s door? When it’s convenient for the customer, usually before or after work.

Small business owners who close up shop at 5:30 p.m. are doing themselves a disservice. And those who have tried to stay open later are up against something monumental — their previous behaviors and their neighbors.

If a shop has typically been closed at 5:30 p.m. for a decade, trying to stay open later for a few weeks isn’t going to do much for the bottom line. Why? They’ve already trained their core customers they are closed. The customer has adapated their own shopping behaviors around this information. A switch in store hours, for a brief period, achieves nothing. Consistency is the key. If a business owner hopes to attract customers, they must be open later on a regular basis.

The customer, seeking services or products, will adapt to the new schedule over time.

Why does Snook’s do so well? They’ve kept consistent hours (well, and they offer chocolate).

I’ve worked in many towns in which a business district wants to have shops stay open later. Typically, there are a few who keep their doors open late and encourage their neighbors to do the same. The problem arises when it is only a handful of businesses open later. The customer knows they have a better chance of making a purchase if they hit the larger retail areas (like Palladio or Broadstone), bypassing mom-and-pop shops.

In order for a new customer to walk in the doors of a business, those doors need to be unlocked.

Don Chaddock is the managing editor of the Telegraph. He can be reached at donc@goldcountrymedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @anewsguy.