Retail Revival: Aggressive Marketing Fuel Brick-and-Mortar Adult Retail

Alex Henderson

Brick-and-mortar sex shops have been a staple of the adult entertainment industry for many years. The digital age, with all its technological advances, has not made them obsolete. However, it is forcing them to evolve, and in 2015, important brick-and-mortar adult trends include extensive digital and mobile/wireless promotions, aggressive marketing of sex toys to female consumers, and more high-end purchases.

Charles Craton, founder of Craton Promotions and owner of the Entice Couples Boutique in Rome, Ga., stressed that sex toys and female customers will be his bread and butter in 2015. “The continuing decline of revenue from adult DVDs and replacing it with revenue from romantic accessories and intimate apparel is the biggest brick-and-mortar trend for 2015,” Craton asserted. “Actually, we still sell adult DVDs, but whereas DVDs represented maybe 40 percent of our revenue five years ago — or in some cases, 50 percent of our revenue — DVDs are now 10 percent of our revenue.”

The nature of sex, thank God, is that it is mostly an in-the-moment thing. People are always going to walk in, not wanting something but needing something. We have to make sure we have it. As long as that need remains, the need for clean, classy adult stores will remain. –Donovan Green, SB Books

Craton added that adult stores that aren’t female-friendly will be at a major disadvantage in 2015. “Some years back, women were not a big part of sales at brick-and-mortar adult businesses,” Craton explained. “Now, they are our main customers. It used to be that the biggest customers in brick-and-mortar adult businesses were men coming in to buy adult films; now, it’s women coming in to buy sex toys. And that is a big, big difference from before. These old-school porn stores that have been around for 40 years and still have the neon and the dim lights, black walls and black carpet — those days are over if you want to survive.”

Jackie Rednour-Bruckman, executive vice president of Good Vibrations, asserted that aggressive online promotions will be vital for brick-and-mortar adult stores in 2015 — and a crucial part of that, he said, will be marketing to users of smartphones and other mobile/wireless devices. “You absolutely have to have a mobile site, or you are living in the dark ages,” Rednour-Bruckman emphasized. “Connected commerce is the thing for Millennials, Baby Boomers and everyone in between and beyond. My mother-in-law is on social media now, and she price-searches on her iPad. My 22-yearold son buys things from his smartphone and his Twitter account now.”

The Internet and the mobile/wireless explosion, according to Rednour-Bruckman, are making brick-and-mortar adult customers increasingly knowledgeable in 2015. “Customers do their research online, and then, they come into the store ready to shop,” Rednour-Bruckman noted. “So they may have a solid idea already about what they are looking for. They also are savvy about shopping and care about where their dollars are going to and who they are supporting with their dollars, and they are very vocal about it via social media. ...Customers are going to come into your store, and these same customers have shopped on Amazon, shopped on their smartphone or tablet and have certain expectations about products, service and prices.”

Linda Koch of Treasures for Lovers in Hattiesburg, Miss., said that as consumers become increasingly educated about sex toys in 2015, brick-and-mortar stores will have to know their market thoroughly. “Five or six years ago,” Koch observed, “our market was primarily men buying porn. Now, our target market is couples trying to spice up their relationship. We focus on having a well-educated, approachable staff who make the shopping experience at our store both educational and fun. Many couples come in asking for items they’ve seen in TV commercials. When we explain what it actually is that they are seeing, how it works, and how we have three or four items or products to choose from that do the same thing or perhaps perform better, they know they can shop with confidence.”

Sarah Tomchesson, director of business development and strategy for the Pleasure Chest chain, predicts that the release of the “50 Shades of Grey” movie will boost the sales of BDSM-related sex toys in 2015. “The release of the 50 Shades movie will inevitably affect the Valentine’s season this year,” Tomchesson observed. “I don’t think we can anticipate the same upswing in kink sales as we did in 2012 because you cannot recreate a phenomenon like that, but I do think that we can anticipate an additional rush after Valentine’s Day as couples and friends go to see the film and are inspired by it.”

Another important brick-and-mortar trend for 2015, according to Tomchesson, will be more customers willing to make high-end purchases. Tomchesson explained: “I think we will be seeing a similar trend in 2015 that has been happening over the past few years — that consumers continue to become better educated about their pleasure purchases and seek out higher quality products, which often come with a higher price tag. The biggest change we have seen over the past five years in buying trends is in how much our customers are willing to spend on pleasure products — vibrators in particular. As we see an average shopper spending more in our stores on a single transaction, we have had to develop more robust ways to bring them back into the store.”

Donovan Green, president and CEO of SB Books, predicted that in 2015, brick-and-mortar adult stores will become more and more mainstream — and Internet-savvy female customers will be a crucial part of that. “As recently as five or six years ago, I would never have thought that customers would spend $300-400 on a sex toy,” Green observed. “Now, they don’t even hesitate. We’re experiencing a bit of a freedom renaissance. The energy of the ‘60s and ‘70s is cycling back, and people — women especially — aren’t feeling the guilt and shame they used to about having fun sexually and using toys. Women are earning more money, are more independent — and the truth is, they are driving the current market.”

Green continued: “The nature of sex, thank God, is that it is mostly an in-the-moment thing. People are always going to walk in, not wanting something but needing something. We have to make sure we have it. As long as that need remains, the need for clean, classy adult stores will remain.”