It's 9am, where are your customers?

I live in a small college town, and a lot of the folks who aren't professors commute by train into the city for work.  We have a petite commercial center of town, with the usual assortment of dry cleaners, restaurants, gift shops, and a hardware store.  A new coffee shop recently opened (with a latte machine!), right by the train station.  So, a friend and I agreed to meet there for coffee the other morning, at 7:30.

But a funny thing happened; we arrived at the coffee shop at 7:30, and it wasn't open!  It doesn't open until 8, long after the departure by train of a significant number of the daily  prospects.  Being a business-oriented person, I found this to be a stunning and unexplainable situation.  That is, until I went back at lunchtime for the latte of which I'd been earlier deprived.

The place was more than half-full of mostly young people, slurping coffee and surfing the internet on the free wifi.  The folks behind the counter were an array of tattooed and funkily dressed young people.  I procured my latte and headed out, when the realization hit me; what I thought was an freshman mistake in business planning was nothing of the sort.  My middle-aged friends and I are NOT the intended audience of this coffee shop.  Their target market is the local college student population, who are not frequenting the local merchants at 7:30am.  No need to open at (what feels like) dawn, when most of your customers won't be around til lunchtime.

The whole thing got me thinking about the patterns we've established in the spa and salon business, and how amazed I am when I see spas that close at 4 or even 3pm on Saturdays, or are not open past 6 on any weeknights.  The spa in my local healthclub (which I helped to open) is completely booked on Saturdays, but when I asked them when they would open on Sundays they looked at me like I had two heads.  Work on Sundays???

Not every spa or salon has a niche market as clearly defined as a college population, but I hope that you have at minimum a strong sense of the demographic makeup of your clients.  You can't always predict what services or retail products they want, but you should at least plan your operating days and hours around when it's convenient for them to utilize your services.  Especially in suburban communities, nights and weekends are when you will likely do more than half of your weekly business.  If you have been consolidating hours of operation to match demand, you may find yourself increasing revenue in the same allotment of hours by shifting opening times from 9-6 to 11-8.  There are always exceptions, but it's worth a look to align supply with demand.  Add a self-service latte machine, and now I've got two reasons to stop by!

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