Nayan Patel is flummoxed. Frankly, he can’t think why any convenience store retailer wouldn’t open on Christmas Day. “If you’re a convenience store, you’ve got to be convenient all year round. It’s good for your local community as you’re providing an extra service, and it’s good for you.”
Nayan, who has opened 365 days a year for the past 25 years, says that retailers who don’t open are missing out on a lucrative opportunity: “If the store takes £1,000 on the average day, it takes £3,000 on Christmas Day. If people come in for one thing, they’ll buy three. And if Christmas is on a weekend, which it is this year, they’ll spend more because the multiples are closed for the next few days.”
This year he’s hoping to do even better than usual, having expanded his thriving independent newsagent and off licence into grocery in October through Budgens. Nayan is not new to taking chances, he also owns a coffee shop, bakery and Thai restaurant in London and three grilled chicken franchises in New York. He even tried his hand at telecoms in Australia before deciding it wasn’t for him.
He says that while Christmas is a key period for his store, it has to be traded carefully. “The key hours are 9am-3pm or 4pm - any longer than that and it’s not really worth opening. People are more likely to go out on Christmas Day before lunch.”
He points out that far from being reluctant to come out to shop, many people can’t wait to escape for a few minutes peace and quiet away from the family and will make any excuse to get out. In fact, boredom - or the anticipation of it - is probably why he sells so many magazines on Christmas Day. “I wish they’d start printing newspapers on Christmas Day, they would sell really well.”
Other reasons to shop are forgotten food items and last-minute presents. Nayan says that grocery staples such as milk and bread sell well, as do Christmas specials such as cranberry sauce and batteries which sell “very, very well”. He’s also ordered Christmas trees for the first time this year and 100 turkeys, and is confident he’ll sell the lot in the run up and on the day itself. His last delivery of produce is on Christmas Eve.
A lot of his business, he says, comes from people on their way to relatives who are looking for cards, gifts, Christmas crackers, drink and sweets as well as forgotten food items that they’ve been asked to bring over. It’s also a time when husbands are dispatched by panicking wives to look for missing items anywhere they can find them - meaning that some people will drive a good distance to find an open store. “Never underestimate passing trade,” he says. “There are a lot of cars going round the streets on Christmas Day, looking for a place that’s open, so it’s important to look open - even simply by putting a balloon outside.
“I’d say 50% of our trade is passing on that day, and there are always people we haven’t seen before.” While they may be strangers when they first arrive, Nayan says that each one is a potential regular. “Once they step into your door and know what you have to offer they will step in again once or twice a week.”
He advertises the fact that he is open to passing trade via a large banner outside the store in the weeks prior to Christmas, and puts ads in local newspapers.
Custom also comes in the rather unexpected form of other businesses who are open on the day. “If the store is near a restaurant you can get as much as 10% of your sales from them as they always run out of things like port, sherry, brandy and Christmas crackers. Pubs are good, too. I’ve got 17 in the area and every Christmas Day they run out of spirits.”
Other big sellers are, unsurprisingly, OTC medicines - “headache pills, things for upset stomachs, they sell well on both Christmas and Boxing Day”.
Nayan says staff are always willing to work Christmas Day as they earn triple time and a day off in lieu. They also abandon uniforms for the day and wear what they want. “I often ask them to put on Christmas hats, too.”
And, when the doors finally shut, staff are invited to join Nayan and his family at home for a huge party. “Everyone and their families come over at four and the party goes on until midnight. One year there were more than 100 people.”
To retailers who don’t open, he says: “It’s a missed opportunity. I promise you will take at least 50% more money than usual over just a few hours. Why not take that money. I’m expecting to take about £40,000 between Christmas Eve and Boxing Day compared with £15,000 over a similar period. That’s why it’s so important to get it right.”
Tommy McIntyre, Spar, Ballymena, Northern Ireland.
Spar retailer Tommy McIntyre says he never has any problems finding staff to work for him on Christmas Day - “extra pay, a great atmosphere, it all adds up to a great day”.
He opens his rural Ballymena store between 9.30am and 1.30pm on Christmas Day and pulls out all
the stops to create a real party atmosphere. “We open up a tin of sweets and, if we’ve got time, crackers, too, and all with party hats so everyone who comes into the store gets something. If we’ve got too much stock of something we’ll open that up and maybe encourage an extra purchase or two.”
He says most customers are looking for the usual panic buys such as vegetables, fresh cream, cranberry sauce and batteries, “always batteries”. But, Tommy adds, he can still be surprised at what customers want on the day. “One year a woman came in, got a trolley and did her entire Christmas shopping.”
The opening hours coincide with the local churches’ two Christmas Day services at 9am and 11am, when he sees lots of passing traffic as people make their way back home.
He spends the first part of the morning with his wife and kids as his three staff open up, and he goes to the shop at about 11am. Half-an- hour before closing he and two of the staff start to go round the shop to make sure everything is shipshape.
“You have to start doing it at that time and make sure you close on time, otherwise customers will keep coming in and you’ll never get away, and I’ll be sitting down to a burnt Christmas dinner.”
The period between closing on Christmas Day and opening at 10am on Boxing Day is the longest the shop is closed all year, he says. He finally gets to sit down to dinner with the family about 3pm: “They’re usually sitting there waiting for me.”
He draws the line at opening later, though. “Customers ask if we will open later on that day, but the rest of the day is my time.”
Tommy says he would never consider closing on Christmas Day, having opened for 12 years. “If we were to close on Christmas Day it would be a serious step back because everybody forgets something and you don’t want to let the kids down just because you don’t have batteries do you?”.
Another reason for staying open is that he enjoys seeing his customers: “It’s a different day from any other day. Everyone says ‘Happy Christmas’ and it’s a great atmosphere.”