Why I Designed a Third Place

October 12, 2016 | 5 min to read

Six years ago, Phil Chalker and his wife Genie opened Fanatix in a tiny Alabama storefront. Since then, they’ve moved the shop three times, most recently to a five thousand square foot space, while opening two additional locations in nearby cities. After Phil sent us a video walkthrough of the newly built-out shop, we asked him to share the story behind the store’s design. Here’s what he had to say:

My new location is walking distance from my previous spot, and I’ve done no new marketing this year. Yet I’m seeing an 80 percent increase in gross sales since we moved.

What gives?

All signs point to more space for different groups to hang around, resulting in longer play times. Customers can move freely while shopping and our retail space doesn’t compete with event space.

Everyone feels like they have somewhere they belong, and therefore they keep coming back.

In short, I turned the new location of Fanatix into a "Third Place."

What’s a Third Place?

According to "Third Place Theory," every society needs communal venues that are neither domestic (home—the "first place") nor productive (work—the "second place"). The theory holds that those communal venues (the "third place") are indispensable, but woefully scarce.

Why I Designed My Store as a Third Place

As gaming grows and keeps reaching larger audiences, I’ve quickly learned that not only are we in the retail business, but we’re also in the hospitality business.

Gaming exposure is growing with stores like Target now carrying products and Barnes and Nobles offering game nights.

When a new customer walks in, we want them to see a familiar, clean space where they feel like they belong.

My plan to achieve this goal in my new location was to offer distinctly different play areas. I wanted to have a coffee-shop style café, as well as a dedicated shopping space away from the hustle and bustle that new customers may find distracting.

Here’s a closer look:

The Card Room

Our Card Room holds the bulk of our events with dedicated seating for 36 to 54. This space is available at all times for TCGs and no other scheduled event conflicts with its availability. I think of this space as our community’s "proving ground," or gym if you will, where our loyal regulars can play whenever they have the time.

Wizards of the Coast supplies us with some of the best promotional materials and banners and we used them to create a themed experience with decorations changing with each release.

The Café

The café area doesn’t seat as many customers but it allows for a comfortable place to host demo games, board games, and introduce new players to the TCG hobby before jumping right into a large community.

This alone has changed attendance for demo games and social gaming from almost non-existent to having customers daily in the café enjoying board games or other casual events.

The Lounge

We took this idea a step further with our lounge. The lounge offers comfortable chairs and seating, lower lighting, and a TV that streams Magic events or other game-related media.

While extremely popular between rounds at our Magic events, our lounge also reminds walk-in customers that game shops can be just as hospitable as any other social space.

RPG & Video Game Room

In addition to these spaces are our RPG room and Video Game room. While both of these spaces are considered a "bonus" for most shops, they have proven valuable in attracting regularly scheduled groups of five or more to choose us as a destination, as opposed to staying at home.

Phil’s Store Design Tips

Keep Signage & Shelving Neat. Use signs to display product locations. Keep shelving and racking uniform and inviting while adding maybe a poster or two explaining some of the items.

Continually Improve Your Layout. A retail store’s layout is like comic book lettering: you only notice it when it’s bad. Try to create an accessible pattern. Test out the flow of new arrangements by walking through the space as a customer, not as a retailer. Sometimes just a simple rearrangement can spark a few extra minutes of shopping. You may find that some items will do better behind your POS area, while other items definitely need to be out front where they’re easily noticed. The possibilities are as endless as your opportunity.

Keep Trying New Things. Growth is not passive in the game store industry. We must be active community leaders and designers to move forward in the current and future environment. As our stores begin to age, we have to keep putting on that fresh coat of paint somehow.

What If You Don’t Have the Space?

As a shop owner I know that designing a retail space is not a "one-size-fits-all" process, especially if you are in a large metro area where retail space comes at a premium. Some of us only have so much space to work with.

But even in a small location, you may find ways to create dedicated areas and a "Third Place" atmosphere.

The results I’ve seen have been more than enough to tell other game owners to go for it, especially if they feel they aren’t reaching their potential market.

After multiple locations, layouts, trials and errors, we’ve discovered what works best for us and I hope that it will inspire you to look at your space with a fresh eye or reconsider shopping for a new location for your business.

Store Stats: Fanatix

  • Location: Dothan, Alabama (Population; 68,000)
  • WPN Level: Advanced Plus Level
  • Age: 6 years
  • Size: 5000 sq. ft.
  • Website: www.dothanfanatix.com

By Phil Chalker, co-owner of Fanatix