Blog > How to Qualify a Common Area Fixture Fabricator. Part I; Wood, or Metal
2 Aug 2016
How to Qualify a Common Area Fixture Fabricator. Part I; Wood, or Metal

If you are a manager whose responsibilities include asset management, specialty retail programs, or ancillary income, then it’s likely that you will be involved sourcing retail fixtures for your company’s portfolio. More than likely, you will be held responsible for the income that these fixtures are required to generate. Consequently, understanding how to qualify a fixture fabricator is an invaluable skill.


This series of Blog posts will discuss the selection process for a fabricator that will deliver quality fixtures, on-time, within budget, and well suited to their task. Regardless of whether you are buying a million dollars’ worth of RMUs and kiosks, or a half dozen pedestals and risers for holiday merchants, the mindset is similar.


The first determination is the construction material; wood, or metal. Each has important advantages and disadvantages. There are a number of ways to score the pros and cons of wood versus metal for a given job. But to begin, it’s important to understand each material’s strengths and weaknesses. Here are some of the important ones.


Wood Pros

  • Wood is generally more forgiving to work with; it doesn’t require the precision tolerances that sheet metal does.
  • The wood fabrication process does not require as much high dollar direct labor (such as welding and grinding) as sheet metal does. This allows wood fabricators to compete on price.
  • Repair and replacement of wood components is sometimes more straightforward since metal structures are typically welded together and may not allow for disassembly.


Wood Cons

  • Wood fixtures are far more sensitive to environmental factors particularly in outdoor uses. In coastal areas, expensive marine grade plywood is essential for exterior wood fixtures. Even then, wood will never outlast stainless steel construction.
  • Dollar for dollar, wood structures will never provide equivalent service life as metal. Load bearing structures that support drawer guides and hinges inevitably wear out with repeated use when they are made of wood. Repair and replacement incurs maintenance cost and takes the fixture out of service. It’s a fact that wood fixtures always incur higher maintenance expenses over their service life (see figure 1 below).
  • Permitting for wood fixtures can be problematic, and in some cases impossible. It is essential to know in advance the municipal and state code requirements on retail fixtures for flammability. In some cases, class B material is acceptable, others class A, and in states such as New York, wood fixtures are prohibited in the common area.


Failure mode for wood RMU

A display shelf loaded with merchandise accelerates the failure of the drawer slides and mounting holes on a wood RMU


Metal Pros

  • Well-constructed metal fixtures will provide the longest service life available; load bearing components will not wear out after thousands of opening-closing cycles.
  • Metal fixtures incur the lowest maintenance expense over their service life.
  • Properly designed metal fixtures provide the highest strength and support the heaviest loads without bending, or warping.
  • Exterior metal fixtures have the highest resistance to environmental factors such as humidity, salt spray and airborne corrosives, ultra-violet light, and temperature changes,
  • Permitting for metal fixtures is almost always simpler than their wood counterparts.


Metal Cons

  • Custom designed fixtures, ordered in low volume may be more expensive than their wood counterparts.

In addition to the above considerations that weigh capital expenditures against service life, one must choose the materials that best realize the desired design aesthetics. Often, both materials can provide the same look and feel, but at different price points. At this point, the cost of ownership must be taken into consideration against the anticipated revenue from the fixture over its lifetime.


The next post in this series explores how to score a fabricator’s vertical integration and project management resources.