#1121: “Helping a small business owner get her Saturdays and her sanity back.”

Hi Captain,

I am a small business owner. This question is about my business, but also about my emotions.

I own a small specialized retail business. I am open 6 days a week (closed on Sunday). The maximum I can do to keep my sanity is 4 days a week, so I hire one employee for Thursdays and Saturdays. I was very lucky with my last employee and it went well for years until she quit a few months ago because she had a new granddaughter and wanted to spend Saturdays with her.

Finding a new one was hard because of those 2 specific days. While looking for an employee, I was working 6 days a week. I finally found one who was excited about the schedule and we began the training which meant I kept working 6 days a week until she could work alone.

I felt completely drained emotionally, physically and mentally but encouraged because I had found someone. She has been able to work alone now for about 3 weeks and I am slowly starting to regain my health.

Yesterday I dropped by the store and then she started chatting about how she was realizing how working on Saturdays would make her miss birthdays and celebrations and fun things. I just froze! ( she was clearly and repeatedly told about the schedule when I hired her). And NOW she realizes how it will disturb her life? I stayed calm and asked her if she wanted me find someone else to work on Saturdays. She said no, not now but she’s not sure. I watched her have a two way conversation with herself about how she likes the job but how it will impact herSsaturdays and how she would like a second job but she is not sure if she would like it. I just felt my self go numb as I realized I have hired a nut bag.

I talk to other business owners and they all say the same. Employees are a nightmare. I cannot work 6 days a week. Being a retail store, I hesitate to close on Saturdays because it is usually a good day. I do not want to work on Saturdays because I want the weekend with my husband who works a regular schedule and this is my only time with him. Having an employee is the best solution, but right now I cannot relax on my days off. I keep thinking she will quit and I will have to start the whole process again, and again with no certainty it is the right employee and that they will stay.

I am completely burned out and I now I hate my business. I hate my time off being dependent on a wishy-washy employee and I cannot relax and I am losing sleep and my health.

There is a lot of articles out there about evil bosses, but I am not one of them. The schedule is always the same and I NEVER ask them to come in at other times. I pay more than minimum wage, I am patient and nice with them even when they make huge mistakes on the cash register ( like 1000000$ short one time!) They get their own products at wholesale price. I don’t micro manage, so they can do things at their own pace. The only real important thing is that they follow the pre-agreed schedule and they can’t even do that. I don’t know what to do…

Having 2 employees might be a solution but won’t that mean double the trouble? Also closing on Saturdays is an option. I would lose some profits ( which I don’t really mind if it gives me back some sanity) but I am also worried it would make the business look bad ( that place is never open!)

Burnt Out Business Owner (she, her)

Hi There Burnt Out Business Owner,

I’m just gonna start off by saying I’m turning off comments* on this post partly because I have some deadlines and partly because I don’t want to create a situation where everyone yells at you about their bad experiences working retail.

However, I’m also going to need you to stop talking about your employees as “nut bags” or “a nightmare.” Especially your current employee is making the exact same calculus that you are: “Would I rather have free time on Saturdays or would I rather have $X amount of dollars?” 

Deal? I can feel your burnout and I want to help you fix it, but I have no time for double standards about this. Under capitalism, human beings trade our precious time that we’ll never get back for money, and everybody gets to decide whether what’s on offer is worth it to them.

Your employee speaking up about how she’s not sure she wants to work on Saturdays isn’t her being “crazy” or unreliable or whatever. She’s giving you information. If she wanted to just quit and do something else, she would. But she’s telling you about this, i.e. giving you information that you could use to hire someone else, adjust her schedule, adjust her pay, ask her “Hey, I know the prospect of never having a Saturday off is a big deal, but Saturdays are the times I most need you, so what would make this work for both of us?” 

With that in mind, here’s some stuff you can do to get more information that will help you make a good decision about your business.

First, go back through your last year or so of sales data. You probably already do this, so forgive me if I’m telling you something you already know, but if you haven’t run your numbers in a while this is a good time and a good reason. You want both financial data and some qualitative information about how your business runs.

  • How much money do you actually make on Saturdays?
  • Are there certain times on Saturdays where business peaks? (Like, you’re open 9-6 but really all the sales happen between roughly 10 am and noon).
  • Are there certain times of year that you do more Saturday business? Like the way nail salons do major business starting 2-3 days before holidays where people are gonna see their relatives and want a fresh manicure, so a lot of them will have longer hours or specials then, and the beginning of sandal season will be their “let’s help you with those Hobbit feet” time. What time of year is your busy season?
  • Look around the neighborhood. Are there certain events that draw a lot of foot traffic to where your business is? For example, in my ‘hood a lot of businesses run specials around the weekly farmer’s markets over the summer. Are there certain nearby businesses that feed into or amplify your business? (The coffee shop or bar that’s across from the movie theater, the pet supply store that’s next to the doggie daycare, the toy store next to the preschool, the taco & agua fresca vendor next to the park). Are they open on Saturdays and driving traffic to you and vice versa on Saturdays?
  • Another way to think about it: When & why do you think people come looking for your business instead of buying whatever it is online? How is your customer typically spending his or her Saturday? Where do you fall in their “Saturday errands” plans?
  • How much is the customer’s relationship with you and trust in you a factor in choosing to come in? For example, the owner of my & Commander Logic’s favorite hot dog stand stayed open limited hours and closed the store during his vacations (paying his employees for that vacation time) because he was part of what made the place great. His former employees have opened a spinoff shop and it is delicious, but it isn’t the destination that it was without him. Are you undervaluing yourself and how much you are part of the magic?

With this data in hand, you can figure out whether it’s really worth it to be open on Saturdays year-round. Maybe you open for a shorter time window on Saturdays. Maybe you partner with some of the businesses nearby on promotions to drive traffic to each other’s shops. Maybe you’re closed Saturdays except for the holiday season. Maybe “summer hours” are a thing. Maybe you’ll find out that, oh crap, Saturdays are your busiest days of the week and it’s better to be closed on Tuesdays instead.

Ok, second, let’s talk about what you are paying and how you are paying it. Your employee only works two days a week right now. Working part-time can be awesome for people who need flexible schedules, but working retail two days/week is not going to be her entire livelihood. She won’t get health benefits working for you, so she’s gotta be working at something else (or going to school, or raising kids, etc.) to make all of her ends meet. I know that when my life gets overwhelming, my lowest-paid/least time commitment thing is the one that has to go. We know from Econ 101 that when labor is in high demand and short supply, wages need to rise.

  • You pay above minimum wage. Great! Keep doing that!
  • Do you pay enough to make working on Saturday a can’t-miss thing for your employee? It sounds like…maybe not? If she’s still calculating that her Saturday time is worth more than what you’re paying, then you’re not paying enough for that time.
  • You mentioned hiring a second employee to trade off Saturdays with her, and that’s a great idea. Another intense training period is daunting, but having a backup plan that isn’t just you might work wonders for your stress. You can have your current employee do some of the training and start them on the floor together at the beginning.
  • Do you have an employee manual? If not, could you and the employee who left you to be with her granddaughter and the new employee collaborate on making one? Could the longtime employee come back for a few weeks and train new people? That might take some future training off of you, or at least simplify it.

Possible solutions:

  • Give your employee the option of trading one Saturday each month or each quarter with you, scheduled in advance. She gets to go to the odd graduation, wedding, or baby shower, you work that Saturday but have another day off that week. You’re a little more stressed than you’d like to be, but you don’t lose a good employee.
  • Pay more for Saturday time. Thursday hours are $wage/hour, Saturdays are $wage x 1.5/hour. Saturday time is worth more to you, so make working that time worth more to her.
  • Or, pay what you do now, but add a quarterly bonus based on working every Saturday as agreed.

If you can’t afford to pay more for Saturday work, then maybe you can’t afford to be open on Saturdays.

What if it is that simple?  I have a lot of small business owners in my family and I see them grouse a lot about pushes to raise the minimum wage and how they can’t afford to ever raise wages even though people definitely also cannot keep working for that little and it’s like, okay, I’m sorry, I don’t want you to be stressed or suffer or struggle but also maybe you can’t afford to have a business, since you can’t run it without workers? And maybe nobody has to subsidize your fantasy of being a business owner with their underpaid labor? I mention this to you because maybe talking to other business owners about how demanding and awful employees are isn’t the way to solve this. Everyone who is not already well-off is being squeezed by this economy, so, when you go looking for solutions, maybe don’t dump on the people with the least power?

Final questions: When was the last time you had a real vacation or a break for more than a day? I think you need time away and you need it badly. Could you do a hiring push, train up some new employees, and then have your spouse carry more of the household expenses for a little while so you could go away together or alone? Is your business making enough to compensate you for the time and stress and work?

I wish you luck, and relief, and sustainable solutions.

*Update: FYI, kind readers, “I’m turning off comments” or “Comments are closed” does not mean “Email me your comments instead.” I know you want to be helpful, but have mercy!