Ask Eartha: Were you raised in a barn? Shut the door (column) | SummitDaily.com

Ask Eartha: Were you raised in a barn? Shut the door (column)

Eartha Steward
Special to the Daily

Attractive window displays and an open sign can be a more cost-effective way to bring customers into a business, rather than leaving the door open.

Dear Eartha,

I'm a new business owner, and I've noticed that a lot of shops and restaurants leave their doors wide open in winter. What are your thoughts on keeping the door open to attract customers? — Brittany from Breckenridge

Thanks for the great question, Brittany. This is difficult because I always hate to criticize local businesses that are usually the culprits of keeping their doors open during the winter. With online businesses and big box chain stores taking a good chunk out of retail sales, local businesses struggle just to get people in the door, and they will do whatever it takes. According to Museum 2.0, "An open door generates 35 percent more business than a closed door." There is also the mentality that if the neighboring store is doing it, then you should, too, in order to compete. This makes it very difficult to convince local shop and restaurant owners to close their doors. There are some significant benefits, though, for a small business to keep their doors closed during the colder months.

The amount of money and energy wasted from shops keeping their doors open is huge. The nonprofit group Close the Door encourages businesses to close their doors when heating or air-conditioning. According to their research, the average shop emits 91 kg of CO2 each week by leaving its door open. Conversely, they discovered that businesses can save up to 50 percent on their energy usage by keeping their doors closed!

There are additional benefits to a store keeping their door shut, such as better indoor air quality by keeping noxious fumes outside, more comfortable and happy employees who are not subjected to the cold air from the open front door and a decrease in shoplifting.

Some businesses utilize air curtains, which is a device used to prevent air or contaminants from moving inside the business. It usually consists of a downward-facing blower fan mounted over an entrance to a building or an opening between two spaces conditioned at different temperatures. They are often used where doors are required to stay open for operational purposes, such as loading docks and vehicle entrances — minimizing the exchange of air between inside and outside. There are different schools of thought on air curtains. Some claim that they save energy while others are convinced they are wasteful. I think it depends on the air curtain and how they are used. Air curtains that turn on only when a door is open is what I would advocate for. A typical air curtain uses 24 kilowatt hours per day, so if you can minimize its use, you will save your business a lot in utility costs.

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Of course, there are concerns with disabled patrons, specifically those in a wheelchair, who have an easier time entering an establishment when the door is open. I would argue for door bells instead or make sure your door has a handle at wheelchair height. Getting a new door is much cheaper than heating the atmosphere.

Consider other ways to attract customers in lieu of keeping your door wide open:

• Good signage — Signage goes a long way to attract patrons. Not only does it tell your customers what kind of business you are, but it can also set you apart from other businesses. A visible "Open" sign can go a long way.

• An inviting and welcoming store front — Creative window displays tell your customers what kind of merchandise or food you serve and can often be the deciding factor for getting people in the door.

• Good lighting, preferably LED — Make sure your storefront is well-lit with ample LED high-efficiency lighting.

• Boards advertising daily specials — This is highly recommended for businesses in high foot traffic areas.

• Art walks and community events — Many small communities have art walks, and this gets locals as well as tourists to come out and see various art displays, get a hot beverage and buy merchandise from the local shops.

If you are a business that has a policy of keeping their door shut during the winter, consider joining HC3's free sustainable business program. You will receive 10 points right off the bat toward certification for enacting this policy.

A town ordinance that requires all stores to keep their doors closed would be helpful. This would save money for many local businesses with the added bonus of being much better for the environment. If this is an issue that you feel strongly about, bring up the issue with your town council. At the very least, it will get people to start thinking about it. We want to encourage local businesses to attract customers, but not at the cost of the environment or their utility bills.

Ask Eartha Steward is written by the staff at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation. Submit questions to Eartha at eartha@highcountryconservation.org.

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