Displaying Mugs at Thrift Stores

Mugs & Coffee Cups

I love shopping for mugs and coffee cups at thrift stores. Sometimes I buy mugs for personal use, other times I buy mugs I will resale on Etsy or eBay. I often will find mugs for people I know and use the mug as part of a gift. One of my favorite things is to fill the mug with something they like, home baked goods, candy treats, or art pencils, something that fits the theme of the mug. Then I add some cellophane wrap, a nice ribbon, and a card. Now you have an easy to make a low-cost gift that is still very personal.

One thing that somewhat irks me from both a thrift shopper and store owner viewpoint is how mugs are displayed at stores. I have yet seen an ideal solution for that benefits both parties, the shopper, and owner. Below I will discuss some of the display methods I have seen including their pros and cons.

Pegboards, Slatwalls, & Hooks

Mugs on Display Using a Pegboard
Mugs on Display Using a Pegboard

One method that I have seen become popular in recent years is putting up a pegboard wall with hooks. It makes a lot of sense. Mugs have that whole handle part and they can slide onto the hooks very easily. This is a cheaper solution that shelving, as any floor display equipment gets pricey fast. Mugs tend to be similar in height and do not need huge spaces between shelves so a shelf dedicated to mugs will have extra shelves to maximize store floor space. In the end, this adds up, making the pegboard and hook method very desirable.

Depending upon hook length I have seen up to 6 mugs on a single hook. Other stores use smaller hooks and put no more than 3 mugs per. I have yet to see a store that uses smaller hooks with one mug per hook. While this is convenient for the thrift store for quickly getting mugs on the floor, it is very frustrating for the shopper. If there are only 1 or 2 mugs it is easy to grab the one you want to check out. If there are 4 mugs and the one you want to look at is all the way in the back, well, then you have to move 3 mugs off the hook. If you are lucky there are some free hook space to hang the mugs elsewhere. If you are not, then you are stuck trying to figure out what to do with the extra mugs just so you can see that one mug in the back.

Mugs on Display Using a Pegboard
Mugs at the back of the hook or on high hooks are difficult to reach.

Another issue I have seen if with pegboards some store will get the 8-foot tall pegboard walls and have hooks as high as the 7-foot mark. I am lucky to be 6 foot tall. My mother is a bit shorter and I have some friends who are much shorter. They absolutely hate trying to look at mugs on the hooks above the 6-foot mark. Without assistance, they simply cannot do it. Most of the time they just skip the top most hooked mugs altogether. This is bad as the shopper is not having a good experience and the store is missing out on potential sales.

One thing I have seen that I think is really classy to cover up all the unused holes on the pegboard is to cover the pegboard in wallpaper. Then all you have to do is punch out the holes you will use for hooks. With good lighting, this can create an upscale feel. I highly recommend this method over slapping some cheap paint to make the pegboards match the rest of the walls. Painted pegboard more often than not looks shoddy and cheap.

While the pegboard method has a low display cost and allows for fast merchandise stocking, I recommend stores never hang more than 3 mugs on any given hook and never higher than 5 to 6 foot.

To avoid the ugliness of pegboards there is a slatwall option. Slatwall panels can be purchased along with the different style of hooks. These have a more department store feel and have a big cost. Depending on the place of purchase, a 4-foot by 8-foot slatwall panel with the appropriate hooks will run well over $100.

As with the pegboard method, I recommend slatwall hooks never have more than 3 mugs per hook as well.

Free Standing Hooked Displays

I have seen two stores in all of my years of thrifting with free standing hooked displays.

One store used what looked like an old purse or bag rotatable wire hook racks. Each hook had so many mugs on it that the hook looked like it was bowing from the weight. In addition, it had a single fixed square base pegboard tower with several hooks on each side with endless mugs attached.

The tower was only about 5 foot tall and each hook had no more than 3 mugs. This is nice as it was easier to see all the various mugs, but you had to walk around it. I remember waiting for someone to move on who was looking on one side for what felt like 15 minutes.

As for the wire hook rack, just being near the rack made me nervous. It was not stable, it wobbled a lot when it was spun, and felt like it could topple at any moment. I can only imagine what would happen if someone ever bumped into it. This rack also was very difficult to get to mugs at the back of a hook. I was afraid to rehang the mugs I removed on other hooks because I felt it would unbalance the rack and cause it to crash.

The wobbly wire rack is not something I would ever recommend using for mugs. I am someone who is very careful and as I said these made me nervous. Being nervous while trying to browse mugs at a thrift store because of the display is just a bad thing.

The second thrift store had several rotating cube slatwalls that stood about 5 foot tall with many strong hooks. I love these for displaying clothing accessories in stores with limited space. These units tend to be very stable, sturdy, and strong. For mugs, I think this has been one of the better solutions I have seen.

All of the slatwalls were in front of one of the stores huge window glass panes. From the outside, you could see all the mugs. Inside you could stand and spin each rack examining the mugs quickly and efficiently. They kept the mug count to 3 or less per hook and did not stuff every hook allowing free space to move mugs around when getting to those back mugs.

A down side of rotating cube slatwalls is they tend to serve one customer at a time. Another downside is the cost. A single 5-foot tall slat wall cube with a 20-inch width and the hooks will run a little over $200 per unit. A wall of 4 or 5 of these will cost a store $1000. For most thrift stores who tend to have limited startup capital or is a non-profit, these cube slatwalls tend to be too pricey. If a store is able to get these at a discount, I highly recommend them as they have other uses than just displaying mugs.

Simple Shelving

Mugs on a shelf. Very simple, nothing fancy. Shelving can come in many forms from the standard gondola wall or aisle shelving to the large warehouse industrial style shelving.

Gondola shelving is one of the more common cases I see. If it is wall based, the shelves tend to go up to 6 foot high. The aisle gondolas I never see higher than 5 foot tall. From my thrift store operations experience, I know store tend to get these donated or purchased at large discount from stores who remodel or cease operations. Getting any discount on used retail shelving is a huge deal when these units tend to start at $300 per section new.

The upside is this style of shelving gives a store a more traditional uniform look at reasonable display costs if bought at discount.

The downside is that mugs at the 3rd or further rows back on the shelves are difficult to see unless they are on the top most shelf. Some stores commit what I consider to be a floor merchandising sin and pile all the mugs on the bottom most shelves. I don’t mind digging and doing a hunt for bargains and treasure. Others will mind and I have witnessed it first hand. Not all people are capable of getting down on their knees and digging through mugs on dark bottom shelves. From a store owner perspective, this is just bad business. You are making it difficult for the customer to see and buy your goods. Stop putting mugs on the bottom most shelf in the dark.

Mugs on a Warehouse Style Shelf
Warehouse style shelving allows for a more open access to mugs and other products.

Another favorite shelving method I have seen is the big gray metal frame with wood warehousing shelves. These can be purchased at most home improvement stores and at various online retailers. I use these types of shelves in my garage. Yes, they are big, but they are sturdy and strong. They are hard to damage or knock over. They tend to be a bit pricey and I rarely have seen used ones for sale.

The one big benefit of shelving like this style is the self-spacing tends to be greater. There is plenty of room to dig around and look at the mugs without fear knocking mugs over or having to shuffle around mugs. I tend to scan and then lift up mugs that catch my eye to see if the particular mug is worth inspecting more.

The downsides to this style of shelving are if the shelf width is very large it becomes difficult to reach in and pick up the mugs. Also, these shelves tend to be tall, I have seen them at 7 foot in height and one store I am aware of, for some reason, put mugs on the 6-foot height shelf. The biggest upside to this style of shelving is the ability to look through the self as there is no backboard. The light comes in from both sides when used to create aisle shelving. The shopper can look at both sides of the shelf and see all merchandise with ease.

Other Display Methods

There have been a handful of other display methods and I can say I was not a fan of any of them.

Mugs on a Shelf
Just about any type of shelving will work for mugs as long as the customer has access.

The first method is milk crates filled with mugs on the floor. Just why? Not only is it difficult for the customer to dig through the crates on the floor, there is a high risk that the mugs will be chipped or broken. Damaged product does not sell. Also, the milk crates can accidentally be kicked potentially causing damage and could have the potential to become a dump bin for other items. Just say no to milk crates filled with mugs if you are a thrift store operator.

Another method has been using a table and covering it with mugs. This particular store had so many mugs on the table that if you added one more, a few mugs would fall on to the floor. Luckily this was on a hard wood table which was stable. I would never do this with these flimsy folding tables unless I was having a yard sale. In addition, the wood table itself was for sale. So if the table sold, someone would have to remove all those mugs. I would only recommend using this method as a last resort to display mugs.

Last is anything that can be considered a shelf. Old entertainment centers, book shelves, DVD or CD shelves, hutches, and many other things I have seen used as display shelving for mugs and other dishwares. These display units tend to be free things the thrift store has received from donations or broken furniture that has been repurposed into display shelving. While not the most ideal, for the non-profit thrift store, these work just fine. They tend to be limited on space so as long as mugs are not stacked on top of other mugs, the thrift shopper should have no issues getting access to the merchandise.

The Best Display Choice

In the end, the display choices come down to what the store can afford, what the store has access to, and what makes sense.

For those with budgets and space, I recommend the rotating cube slatwalls if you deal with large volumes of mugs.

With all other cases, I really like and recommend the openness of the warehousing shelves. Slatwalls and pegboards offer cheaper solutions for stores with excess wall space as long as access to all the mugs remains fast. No more than 3 mugs per hook.

Lastly, mugs should never be on the very bottom, difficult to access, dark shelves where the customer has to work to gain access to the merchandise.

If you have seen other methods of displaying mugs, or a store owner who displays mugs using a different method please share on Twitter or Facebook.


137 thoughts on “Displaying Mugs at Thrift Stores”

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