In a tight economy, retailers must decide whether to abandon the traditional day of rest.
About a year and a half ago, Roberts Pool & Spa took up residence in Village Pointe, an upscale outdoor shopping mall in Omaha, Neb.
Though business initially thrived, sales in recent months have
begun to dip.
“With the way business is going now, it makes no sense to
stay open seven days a week,” says Mary Greise, vice
president at Roberts.
But the real questions are: When can she afford to take time
off? And what’s the best day?
Sunday has traditionally been reserved for rest, faith and
family, and many retailers treat it as sacrosanct. Additionally, it
may make more fiscal sense to stay closed than depend on store
location and traffic patterns.
But in today’s marketplace every sale is precious, and who
can justify shutting their doors if the competition remains open
Here, experts make the case for why Sunday may or may not be a
good time to keep the lights on.
Closed on Sunday
In the five years prior to opening the store in Village Pointe,
Roberts Pool & Spa shared a shopping center with one of the
region’s largest furniture stores.
At that time, Greise followed a straightforward formula to
establish her store hours.
“Basically we took on the hours of Nebraska Furniture Mart
— 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. seven days a week,” she recalls.
“But, we were wrong.”
After 6 months, Greise realized the plan was flawed. For one,
business was slow. She examined Sundays first, and discovered that
store traffic seemed to drop off around 5 p.m., about the time
darkness descends in the Omaha winter. They were lucky to see more
than two customers between 6 and 9 p.m.
Add to that electricity costs, as well as the expense of paying
hourly employees, and Sunday was proving more trouble than
treasure. “It just wasn’t profitable,” Greise
Other retailers have experimented with the Sunday model only to
reach similar conclusions.
Pool & Spa in North Carolina kept its Cornelius store open
seven days a week from April to August 2007. A skeleton crew of two
or three employees (about half the weekday staff) ran the Sunday
show from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Management promoted the expanded hours ahead-of-time through
targeted mailers, as well as advertising in newspapers and online.
But according to assistant manager Nick Blazek, the program failed
to gain traction. There simply weren’t enough shoppers to
justify the cost of operating.
Meantime, in central Florida, at least one retailer has
concluded the area lacks the customer base to support a seven-day
“We just don’t get the traffic — Winter Haven
is dead on Sundays,” says Elaine Allen, retail representative
at Paradise Place Outdoor Living.
However, a new Lakeland location is scheduled to open in
February/March 2009, she reports. It will be situated in a strip
mall anchored by a large regional supermarket chain. And, Allen
says, “the ZIP code we’re moving to has a very high
ratio of pools per capita, and no pool stores relatively close
“We expect higher Sunday traffic there,” she
continues. “So keeping the store open is definitely something
“But I don’t want to be the one working!” she
adds with a laugh.
Open on Sunday
Tim Kelly wouldn’t dream of giving his competition an
advantage. The owner of Colony Pool Service Inc. in Wilmington, Del., is
surrounded by pool and spa stores — at least four within a
mile radius. And they’re all open on Sundays.
“It’s a necessary evil,” Kelly says.
“You have to do it because everyone else is.”
Beginning in mid-April and continuing through October,
Colony’s three part-time employees mind the shop Sundays from
10 a.m. to 3 p.m. A store manager is always available, though
typically not on-site.
In-season, it’s one of Kelly’s two busiest
“People like to come in after church, or before heading
out for a round of golf,” he says of his Sunday shoppers.
“They usually want to have their water tested or to pick up a
bucket of chlorine. You might get an impulsive buy like a pool
cleaner or toys, but mostly it’s the staples, which is really
our bread and butter.”
For Greise, Sundays run the gamut, from the browser to the
big-ticket buyer. It’s when couples and families shop
together, and often when large decisions are made, she
But it isn’t the competition that keeps Greise open. In
fact, of the seven hot tub retailers in Omaha, not one stays open
Sundays, she reports.
So while Greise still desires a day off, the solution
isn’t so clear-cut. Currently she’s leaning toward
“There’s no way I would be closed on a Sunday during
the summer,” she says. “You have to ask yourself,
‘What’s the best decision for the business?’
Sunday is one of our three busiest days, and it’s a
big-ticket item day. You just never know the opportunity
that’s going to come through the door.”
Kathy Jurgens, co-owner of WCI Pools and
Spas, manages two stores, in Ames and Urbandale, Iowa. Both
stay open Sundays during swim season from noon to 4 p.m.
The Ames store, however, closes Sunday in winter.
“It’s too cold in the Midwest,” Jurgens says.
“People just aren’t out and about as much as they are
in summer. So it gives us a little break.”
In Urbandale, just outside Des Moines, it’s a different
story. Starting in December, the store closes one day a week for
two months. But this time, it’s a Monday.
“We’re open all weekend in Urbandale because the
competition demands it – everyone [here] is open
Sundays,” Jurgens explains.
In November, retail sales nationwide posted their biggest monthly
decline in five years, according to economic data released the
following month. This includes shopping over the critical
“Black Friday” weekend, which often makes up the
majority of annual retail business.
The numbers, in a nutshell, foretell a difficult 2009.
So what does this mean for retailers bent on boosting their
bottom lines? Does it make sense to save the overhead — and
give yourself a breather — by closing shop on
Excluding special circumstances, the experts generally
“Why give your customer a reason to go somewhere
else?” says Doug Fleener, president and managing partner at
retail consulting firm Dynamic
Experiences Group, Lexington, Mass. “You need to drive
traffic to your store, especially in today’s economic
Fleener says some retailers test out Sundays in the hopes that,
oddly, they won’t succeed. They may try it only for a short
period. And with little promotion, most are doomed to
One of the keys, Fleener says, is to ask yourself: “What
are the customer’s expectations? And then, can I align the
customer’s expectations with my need to be
It may only require a short staff, or truncated hours, but
overall, you must be an available resource for your clients,
“The customer who desperately needs you will be forever
grateful if you’re open on Sunday,” he says.
Recently, distribution giant PoolCorp celebrated its 100th Backyard Place.
The retail branding program, launched in 2007, provides
participating partners with broad-based sales and marketing
support. Within that model lies an important stipulation: Retailers
must keep their stores open for 20 hours from 5 p.m. Friday to 5
“If you’re serious about retailing, there’s
really no other option — you must stay open on Sunday,”
says Manuel J. Perez de la Mesa, CEO of the Covington, La.-based
company. “Fundamentally speaking, if you have that retail
space you’ve got to utilize it. There are just certain times
when a retailer should always be open.”
According to Perez de la Mesa, the peak sales periods generally
take place on weekends from 7 a.m. to noon. So closing the store at
2 or 4 p.m. on a Sunday is no big deal, he says, but “you
have to be open during those peak hours.”
As evidence, he cites the fact that nearly 70 percent of sales
for Home Depot and Lowe’s take place between Friday evening
and Sunday afternoon.
“It’s the most important 48 hours of the week for
those two,” he says.
And the shopper that frequents a Home Depot also buys chemicals
at a pool store. So, he maintains, if you’re closed anytime
in that peak selling period, “you’re essentially giving
business to Home Depot.”
Ultimately, it may just come down to priorities, says George
Whalin, president and CEO of Retail Management
Consultants in Carlsbad, Calif. Does staying open on Sunday
accommodate your life, or your customers’?
“Customers are busy people — they lead busy
lives,” Whalin says. “You’ve got to give them
every opportunity to see your wares.
“But we all tend to look at things that are in our best
interest,” he adds. “If you’re not there to serve
their needs, they’ll probably dismiss you, and they might
never come back.”