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a blog by Chris Barrow

Closed for training

During my practice visit with Nick, Sarah and Paige at Woodborough Dental yesterday, it came up that (to quote that Northern phrase):

"when I were a lad........"

Shops used to close, typically on a Wednesday afternoon - and many of them would hang a sign in the door that read "closed for staff training".

"Half-day closing."

I decided to do a little more research on that and came across IanVisits - and a post from 2013 which I reproduce as follows:

"Typically on a Wednesday, the half-day closing was not just a tradition, but was in fact required by law, and regulated by the local council.

The Shop Hours Act 1904 had already given local councils the power to require a single half-day closing, but only when two-thirds of the local retailers agreed to the proposal.

As a result, although a lot of shops were now somewhat haphazardly closing for half a day, the Shops Act 1912 came into force in May of that year, and for the first time, shop staff were entitled to a half-day off work, bringing their average working week down to 5½ days.

Although the local authority could impose the half-day on its area, generally the stores clubbed together to ensure that all of them closed on the same day — in order to preserve their businesses from competition.

What was seen as a move for the benefit of the shop staff, was more probably designed to help shoppers be sure when shops would be closed. Not all shops had to close though – and exemptions applied to those that sold perishable food, medicines or newspapers. And curiously, aircraft supplies.

Each council could also set its own exemptions, and The Times of 3rd May noted that City of London had chosen to exempt umbrella dealers from the half-day closing act. How stereotypical can you get!

The act was modified a few times, but essentially remained in force until repealed in 1994.

The 1912 Act also imposed restrictions on when shops could close late, and it would seem that for many shops, closing at 7pm was commonplace, with a late closing a 8pm one day per week.

I have struggled to find out when the tradition of retail stores closing at 5:30pm, in line with many offices became commonplace, although a 6pm closing time certainly came into effect during WW2 and politicians seem to have struggled to overturn that.

Although repealed as a law in 1994, shops in smaller towns have still continued with the practice of closing for half a day per week, in defiance of modern trends towards ever longer working hours.

But the trend is dying out – just last year the Derbyshire town of Ilkeston decided to stop closing on Wednesday afternoon, although a lot of small towns appear to maintain their half-day closing traditions.

In a world that is becoming more homogenous, with the same services available all the time and the same foods available all year round, there is something curiously charming about the notion of half-day closing in the middle of the week, and the tradition that large shops are still closed on Sunday mornings.

Yes it's a nuisance, as I sometimes remembered after a long walk to the local hardware store only to remember it would be closed.

But I wouldn’t mind that — occasionally.

Incidentally, one of the older shop acts was Shop Hours Regulation Act 1886, which limited the hours worked by children to a mere 74 hours per week. The lazy sods!"

Bad news for Victorian kids there - but apart from that.

This contrasts with the trend I'm noticing in many conversations with dentists, who are contemplating opening for longer hours on more days - in fact, I have some members of The Extreme Business 100 who are already open 7 days week and "eight until eight" on some of their weekdays.

From a commercial perspective I have no issue with this. In a world of ever-increasing Operating Cost Per Surgery Per Day, facility utilisation has become a very important metric. In a recent spreadsheet exercise, I was able to demonstrate that a practice running at 80% occupancy is increasing it's OCPSPD by 25% (and thus significantly reducing profit). It works the other way as well.

However, the 7-day openers also provide that no individual team member works more than a 4-day week, although that could be for more than 35 hours.

Three issues to ponder this morning:

  • I'm all in favour of practices opening very day and for longer hours - it makes absolute commercial sense;

  • But you must not burn out your team and

  • You still have to set aside time for training.

Just a thought here - if you closed your business for a half day every single week (by extending overall opening hours to compensate) - and used that time to implement new systems and protocols, train newcomers and refresh the training for the existing team members - what difference do you think that would make?

Less is more.

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