Albert Arkwright, the melancholy, stuttering shopkeeper of the sitcom Open All Hours would never have agreed, but it seems Ronnie Barker’s comic creation had it easy.
Today’s convenience store owners have given open all hours a whole new meaning, with 25 per cent of them working more than 70 hours per week and one in five taking no annual holiday, according to a new study.
The Local Shop Report, published by the Association of Convenience Stores, found that owners of the UK’s 51,524 convenience stores were having to cope with an increasingly heavy workload. The 25 per cent working 70 hours a week or more compared to 23 per cent doing the same number of hours last year.
“Compared to the modern equivalent, Arkwright had it easy,” said James Lowman, the association’s chief executive. “Back then the reality of open all hours was, for many, shutting at 5pm and on Wednesday afternoon. Today many stores are open 16, 17 hours a day and well over 100 hours a week. Some owners are working every one of those hours, and many are working pretty close to 100 hours.”
Mr Lowman said that the punishing hours were partly due to the need to compete with the supermarkets, which have opened about 1,000 new convenience stores in the past three years. The increased competition left independent owners feeling under pressure to be seen more and more frequently in their stores, said Mr Lowman. “What differentiates the independent operator from the supermarkets is that relationship with the customer. You want to maximise that by being in the shop as often as you can.”
The other factor, he added, was the increase of the minimum wage, which is currently £6.50 an hour and will effectively be increased to £7.20 an hour for the over-25s in April when new National Living Wage regulations are introduced.
The report also found that unlike the middle-aged shopkeeper portrayed by Ronnie Barker, convenience store owners were increasingly drawn from younger age groups, with 15 per cent aged 18-30 compared to 10 per cent in 2012.
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