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Should you pay for table space at your local game shop?

Your friendly local game shop (FLGS) provides much to us nerds. Sure, it’s where we buy our stuff, but it goes much deeper than that. I talk more about that value here. You might want to read that first, because the next 800 words will bore into the most significant value of a FLGS, which is table space.

In order to talk about table space in a FLGS, we need to first talk about perceived value and EXPECTATIONS, both from the customer and from the owner. Let me use an example: I love Five Guys. When I buy a burger there, I expect an available table so I can sit down and eat it. When you buy a board game, do you expect to be offered a table with it?

Then, what of the expectations of the FLGS owner? She pays rent and utilities for her shop, plus she must pay staff to maintain and clean the space, plus hopefully have a little cash left over to repair broken chairs and whatnot. Is it unreasonable for her to expect a patron to pay for the privilege of using that table?

So, you can see how the simple thing of a table in a game shop can generate controversy. Being that a typical FLGS provides table space for nerds to gather and play games, this is an issue important to us, so let’s educate ourselves on the issue.

FLGS Table Space: Space has Value

Space has literal value. As an example, the rental price in a janky strip mall here in Minneapolis will be about $2.25 per square foot. My game table at home is 6 ft X 4ft, equaling 24 square feet.

That’s $54 worth of table. If a FLGS crams 10 in her store, she’s paying $540 in rent on space where she can’t stock merchandise to sell. Sure, like a janky strip mall, this is janky math, but you get the idea: space has value.

In short, every foot of store should generate revenue. If a table is removed, it can be replaced with shelves filled with more miniatures and dice, the sale of which would add to the store’s bottom line. So, why does an FLGS bother with tables?

I’ve talked before about Third Place Theory. In short, sociologists agree that’s it’s important for us humans to have a third place beyond home and work where we can socialize and find community. For some, that’s the Cheers bar, for others it is church. Starbucks turned Third Place Theory into a multi-billion dollar business by making it convenient to gather in their stores. Those joints don’t charge for their customer space, they rely on customer loyalty to generate repeat sales.

Can a FLGS rely on the loyalty of nerds using their tables to increase their revenue? Sadly, no. Not in all cases at least. A lot of shop owners have tales of customers that come in, use the store table space, yet never buy anything in the store.

This puts an FLGS in a position that’s unlike most retail stores. It’s not weird to walk through the DSW at Knollwood Mall and leave without purchasing shoes. It is weird to sit down at the Knollwood Panera and enjoy a rousing game of Gaslands for two hours, yet not purchase a Pick 2. This makes the table space at game stores different.

FLGS Table Space: Perceived Value

So, we’ve shown that table space has value but how do gamers see it? Well, they feel entitled to it most of the time. In the history of game stores, customers have typically had access to at least a couple 8-foot tables for free. And even though many shops have become more professional over the years, the expectation of FREE has lodged itself in the grey matter of gamers.

“Friendly” is the first word of FLGS. But what if they ask for, say, $2 per hour of table usage? Well, even that small a change in policy regarding table space is met by passionate resistance among gamers who shout “cash grab!” Many customers can go from Jekyll to Hyde on a FLGS in seconds. What once was years of enjoying a FLGS as a Third Space can do a 180 into a 1-star Yelp review complete with an on-site hissy fit. All over $2, even though it’s a matter of life and slightly less convenient life.

FLGS Table Space: Indirect Value

Game shop owners are taking rent expenses like a punch to the gut, so it’s tasty irony that gamers’ guts are a possible solution. I’m talking about Doritos and Mountain Dew obviously. While some gamers are coming in to play Magic: The Gathering or Warhammer 40K for hours, only to then buy their product from Amazon, owners can at least direct some sales toward snacks and soda.

Much like Starbucks or Cheers, providing game space allows the store to generate revenue indirectly from the sales. Alas, the retail skills required to sell board games aren’t the same skills used to whip up a latte, so this hybrid cafe model is stretching many owners. Further, unlike $8 movie theatre popcorn, gamers won’t pay premium prices for snacks.

FLGS Table Space: What’s my Fair Share?

As you can see, it’s a pickle of a problem. I’m not your dad, so it’s not my job to tell you how you should support your FLGS. I just wanted to outline an issue you may not have thought much about.

If I was your dad, I’d give you a few bucks so you could go out with your friends and spend a few hours at an FLGS, with clear instructions that it should go to the FLGS and not that dag-gummed goth kid across the street who’ll do nothing but filch it. His mother will be hearing from me, for all the good it will do.

Shops are experimenting. Some charge for events, like a $5 buy-in for a Magic tourney or whatever. Others–like the excellent Fantasy Flight Center here in Mpls–have a full kitchen.

Regardless, an FLGS provides a lot of value to us nerds, table space included. I hope us nerds can find a way to return the favor.

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