trends

Kinky Couples: Couples-friendly Retailing

Saskia Vogel

Retailers have a major opportunity to engage customers in a meaningful and long-lasting way that will keep them coming back even after the spell of Christian Grey’s steely eyes wears off.

XBIZ spoke with The Stockroom, Hustler, Peekay, Inc., Fairvilla Megastores, Babeland and The Pleasure Chest to see how these retailers are making their stores couplesfriendly in a post-“Fifty Shades of Grey” world.

Customers can see themselves experimenting with these toys. They don’t have to be labeled as “kinky” or “straight,” they just have to be interested in a new adventure. - Debra Peterson, Fairvilla Megastore.

As it has driven sales across adult retailers, “Fifty Shades” has inspired people to explore new things. BDSM-focused retailer The Stockroom has seen a significant impact across its Stockroom and Syren stores. “What ‘Sex and the City’ did for vibrators; ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ has done for BDSM. We have been getting a lot of ‘soccer moms’ who are surprised they had the guts to shop at a BDSM/fetish store. We are impressed with their bravery and how quickly the conversation changes from asking about a blind-fold and within minutes we are talking about more esoteric topics such as male chastity and electrical-play,” says Layla Ross, Stockroom distribution and packaging director.

“We start with a diverse staff: straight, gay, vanilla and kinky,” Ross says of creating a welcoming atmosphere. “We start by welcoming every customer with a greeting and a smile, followed by an offer to help find anything ‘special’ they may be looking for. If you know you are valued, you feel comfortable asking questions.”

Phyllis Heppenstall, founder and COB of Peekay, Inc., has observed that the ‘Fifty Shades’ phenomenon has driven “more mainstream business” into the store and sales in general are up, thanks to a cracking team who are able to speak intelligently about their product ranges. Heppenstall prizes helping people to “confidently express” their sexuality.

Pamela Doan, who handles public relations at Babeland, says they strive to create an inclusive atmosphere “that affirms the sexiness of everyone that comes to Babeland. Customers respond to that vibe, and we can help anyone find the right toy.”

At Hustler Hollywood, layout plays a big role in creating a welcoming atmosphere for couples. Carol Mendelsohn, director of marketing at HH Entertainment, Inc., says, “We are careful to position merchandise so there is a natural flow from the beginning to the more advanced items. This has a positive impact in that new customers feel comfortable with the store as a whole and are more willing to engage with staff to discuss their wants and needs. Our more advanced customer is happy to find sections devoted to kinkier items, which enables them to shopwithout wading through all of the ‘beginner’ products.”

For Fairvilla Megastore, part of consumer confidence and connection comes with not using labels. Debra Peterson, chief marketing officer at Fairvilla, explains: “Take for instance, the S&M line from Sportsheets. They used the terms ‘Sex & Mischief” along with glamorous photography to redefine restraint play. ‘Play’ being the optimum word. Customers can see themselves experimenting with these toys. They don’t have to be labeled as ‘kinky’ or ‘straight,’ they just have to be interested in a new adventure.”

In order to help customers find their way through new adventures, Babeland, Stockroom, Hustler Hollywood, Peekay, Fairvilla and The Pleasure Chest place a premium on staff education. Kristin Tribby, director of creative development and strategy at The Pleasure Chest, says, “There’s no ‘typical’ customer. We learn new things about how people use our products, on a daily basis. So our education, our merchandising and our customer service are focused on meeting individual needs, and making no assumptions.”

In-store events play a big role in building couples’ confidence in making purchases and exploring their desires. Fairvilla Megatores in Florida and Peekay’s A Touch of Romance stores in Southern California have been hosting “Fifty Shades”-themed events, in addition to their usual in-store events. At A Touch of Romance, couples can discover the techniques and toys they encounter in the books. The books are for sale, and staff are on hand at the event to help customers equip themselves to live out their fantasies. Special offers on the night include discounts on nipple and clit jewelry, anal lubricants and select Sportsheets products. At Fairvilla, they featured product presentations, opportunities to speak with toy manufacturers, delicious treats and a photography exhibition by local photographers.

Now bang on-trend, Stockroom continues to host Stockroom University, a monthly series of educational classes ranging from BDSM 101, transsexual life, bondage as art, and extremes such as blood and fire-play. These events are especially popular among couples.

In terms of engaging with a wider community, Pride festivals are a natural fit for the retailers XBIZ interviewed, but these stores also go beyond. Hustler Hollywood stores participate in local music festivals, parties, club nights and charity events using its presence and giveaways to create a “sexy atmosphere wherever we are in attendance.” Babeland does excellent community work through its Come for a Cause program. In 2011, the company contributed more than $100,000 to more than 300 organizations, ranging from The Stonewall Youth Rock Camp to Immigration Equality.

At the Pleasure Chest, its community activities range from activism to comedy nights. Tribby explains: “Last year, we co-sponsored SlutWalk and gave out free buttons with slogans like ‘Consent is Sexy’ and ‘Slut Pride.’ We frequently sponsor fundraisers and events, with a particular focus on the LGBT community.

“For the past year, our Los Angeles store has hosted ‘Performance Anxiety,’ a comedy show that happens twice a month. It’s brought some excitement to the store. We’ve even had surprise appearances by Margaret Cho and Sarah Silverman.”

As part of overall community building activities, social media is integral. Peekay stores are also active in Pinterest, Facebook Twitter and more. Peekay’s Heppenstall asserts the importance of listening to the consumer as retailers grow their social engagement. In part because some social platforms may feel too public for customers, Pleasure Chest’s Tribby feels a diverse online presence is vital. At Instagram and Pinterest they are seeing a strong growth in followers.

Ross at Stockroom echoes this: “Knowing your audience is crucial; this facilitates appropriate dialogue between you and your clientele. For instance, our Syren blog works very closely with the film industry in dressing talent for TV, movies, music videos, commercials and ad campaigns so our postings there are specific to fetish fashion.”

Fairvilla’s Debra Peterson sums up a sound social media approach well: “As long as we keep the conversation ongoing, these tools are proving to be very effective.”

It seems that the best way to create a welcoming atmosphere for all couples is to give them the chance to feel like a store’s staff is a trustworthy guide that they can follow through the next “fifty shades” of their fantasies.

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