The cost of a seat

How much money a seat at an event in a game store should generate comes up frequently in game store retail, or at least, how much to charge for a seat at a game. It matters to customers too – how much should you spend? Is a store justified in expecting you to pay a table fee (Hint: They are)? Yet, rarely, if ever, have I seen a dollar amount attached to this evaluation. So today, using my current store as an example, I’d like to set about evaluating a seat. If you’re a customer at an FLGS this might be helpful for you to read if your local store seems reluctant to run your particular game at their store.

In the game industry, $150 / square foot / year is tossed around as the number to shoot for in gross sales. I’ve seen stores report as low as $80, and as high as $275. Our store has 2200 sq ft, of which, 1100 is devoted to retail sales, and the remaining 1100 is devoted to play space, demo games, bathrooms, and other amenities required for seating events. So, if we want to hit $150 / sq ft, our seating area needs to generate $165,000 per year to hit this metric. We can seat about 60 people, so that means each seat must generate $2750 / year, or $229 / month in sales, or $7.63 per day in entry fees, purchases, snack sales, and so on. Of course, all your seats are never full. If you’re at 50% capacity every day of the year, you’re probably doing well. So, realistically, each seat that’s full has to generate more like $20 per day. Clearly, no one is doing this in sodas and candy bars, so how can event space justify itself?

If it’s a weekly event, and isn’t specifically designed to promote a new product line or reach new gamers, each seat filled should generate around $20 in entry fees and sales. This makes Magic and TCGs very easy to evaluate. A players that pays a $15 draft entry fee and buys a drink is pretty much pulling his weight in terms of the business’ survival. Miniatures games are similarly positioned, since they possess a lot of upsell potential (terrain, figures, paint, glue, etc). A single purchase of one mini can justify the player’s seat at a table for months.

Role-playing games which have a table fee of around $5 can also be justified, but it takes more work. One thing to consider here is limiting time at the table, or scheduling RPGs during dead times during your day. This would let you turn the table over faster OR if you’re filling seats you wouldn’t otherwise fill. Those players will buy dice, typically $5-$10 sets, usually once a month or so, and the DM will buy a book or two monthly, and that’s a minimum. Add ons like spell cards, or – gasp – trying a new RPG can justify an entire table to the point that they, like miniatures gamers, justify their seats for the month. The main issue here is when a store runs RPG tables for free – whether they know it or not, they’re killing themselves to do this. That table fee is what makes up for the lower sales per visit on RPGs.

Board game events, by this evaluation, can be hugely problematic or profitable, depending on your crowd, and how you manage it. If your board gamers buy, on average, 1 board game a month, they’re probably paying for their seats. If they don’t buy from you at all, it’s time to institute a table fee for your board gamers. If you notice that your store is generating fewer big, $100+ board game sales, that means you’re better off focusing on selling $10-$20 games like Kittens in a Blender than big games like Rebellion and Silver Tower. Yes, selling one Rebellion can pay for a couple seats for a month, but selling everyone in the room Kittens in a Blender might be significantly easier.

So, takeaways:

  • A player sitting down to play a game in your store should generate about $20 a day
  • A seat should generate $2750 / year
  • Events that have many small, add-on transactions are excellent ways to justify your seating (minis, Magic)

So, I don’t want to say if you’re running a successful store without seats for events, that you should add seats for events. But if you’ve got seating, and it isn’t generating about $20 / event participant per day, you probably need to reevaluate your event structure.

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