Saturday, October 10, 2015

Gondolas (Tradecraft)

This is one of those blog posts I'm writing rather than pontificating about store fixtures on Facebook. A gondola is a common "double sided shop shelf" found in many game stores. It's popular because they're modular, usually with casters (wheels), free standing, and hold a lot of product. The gondola fixture is named after Giovanni Montessori, famous Venetian merchant who looked out his window for inspiration. No, I made that up. I have no idea where the name came from, but it is kind of a boat.

You can buy many kinds of gondolas, but the most common in game stores are wood (slatwall) and metal gridwall. I'm rather opinionated on gondolas, having to put them together, repair them, clean them, and stock them for years. So what makes a good gondola? 

Stability is key. Game stores sell a lot of board games that sit up on a short edge, often in shrink wrap, often (because publishers don't care) with the shrink wrap seam on the bottom of the box. You want a fixture where the shelves are always flat, not just when you've got the brackets placed in the right position. 

Good gondolas use pegs, not brackets. Pegs allow for stable shelves, high shelf weight, and removes the bracket obstruction from the shelf below it. 

Strength is important. If your gondola uses brackets, a heavy load can make the shelves sag over time as the wood slats begin to separate from their backing. Sagging shelves mean unstable products. Even worse, it means an entire shelf can collapse or entire sides of a gondola. I've had this cascading catastrophe happen to me, and thankfully nobody was injured. It's enough force to kill a child. Did I mention I bought cheap, shelf bracket gondolas to hold my new toy section? 

Durability is related to strength. Endcaps are the ends of the gondolas, where you can put additional slatwall hooks. If someone comes around the corner and snags themselves on an endcap slatwall hook, a cheap gondola will see that hook ripped out of the endcap, along with part of the cheap wood. A good gondola has stronger construction and the hook will instead move within the endcap slatwall slot. It might seem like a minor point, but almost all my cheap gondolas are moved around to hide this damage.  

I was told when I started in this business that fixtures will last about 3-5 years. My good fixtures have gone 11 years without any replacement. We did an audit of our fixtures a few months ago, in anticipation of an expansion, and all the original, high quality gondolas were fine. My poorer fixtures were damaged within 3 years and I was wishing I hadn't bought them. 

Your Gridwall Buddy
Look and Ease of Cleaning. This is a category that basically says I don't like metal gridwall gondolas because they look industrial and they're hard to clean. If you're going for an industrial look, or your budget is small, it should work for you. I've had them in the past and they don't mix well with wood gondolas, show their dust quickly, and generally don't look as nice unless you hide the fixture with a lot of product.

Cost. You can get a metal gridwall gondola for around $100. A low quality wooden gondola starts at $200. A high quality gondola, like you'll find from Newood, starts at around $300. The size of the gondola will effect the price, obviously.  Don't buy bigger ones than you need, it's easy to do and you'll lose sales space. You should try to find a fixture manufacturer near you. Newood is in Orgeon, which works well for my California store, but freight is still very high.

ROI. If you're planning a small store in a small town and expect $100,000 in sales, the return on investment for $300 fixtures is going to be very long. If I were going low budget, I would happily buy used fixtures and do what I could to spruce them up, repaint them or whatever. The nicer your store, which often means matching, high quality fixtures, the more people from the general public (not just hobbyists) will shop with you. If I were starting a new store, I would figure 10-15% of my non inventory budget for store fixtures.

Before You Buy. Layout your store. Consider buying your fixtures in stages. My first layout had too many fixtures because I didn't understand traffic patterns well enough and didn't budget for additional space needed to navigate the store. By the time I was doing my fourth or fifth layout, I had it down. You also don't need fixtures if you don't have product yet to put on them. 

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