Sex Ed: A Course For Retailers

Genie Davis

To increase both sales and customer satisfaction, sex education can provide great benefits for both retailers and their clientele. At Hustler Hollywood in Hollywood, Calif., marketing manager Allison Johnston believes it’s extremely important to offer sex education to shoppers. “People are increasingly curious about new products and trends, so they should come directly to the source to ensure they are getting the most thorough answers. We want to introduce customers to new activities or products they may not be familiar with already. Also, a little Sex 101 is always helpful for those just looking to enhance their sex lives or improve on the basics.”

Hustler Hollywood hosts classes or workshops in each of its stores approximately once a month. “In most markets that we’re in there’s a sex expert or therapist of some kind that we have a partnership with for these classes,” she says.“ BDSM related and oral sex workshops are always a big draw.”

Our workshops tend to attract a wide range of participants in a variety of ages. Consumers have always been eager for more sex education opportunities. The industry is now catching up the demand. -Sarah Tomchesson

Johnston says Hustler gets a little bit of every gender and age group attending classes. “As exploring your sexuality becomes less of a taboo subject, people from all walks of life are coming out to learn. I think people realize there is this vast, sexual world out there that they want to be part of and knowledgeable about.”

Kira Manser, interim executive director of The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health, says that in her experience retailers can benefit greatly from sex education. “Many customers rely on sex toy shops as a resource for sex education,” she relates. “Almost all retailers recognize this, since customers come in with sexual health questions, relationship questions, and questions about pleasure and use of toys all the time.”

Manser says that if retailers are not prepared to offer medically accurate and reliable information, they might miss an opportunity to build a deeper and more trust-based relationship with their customers. “With more information, retailers can more accurately support customers to meet their sexuality goals and needs. If a customer is happy with the items they purchase, they’re more likely to be repeat customers, and build loyalty for a certain shop. Retailers can also guide their inventory, and stock items that best match their customer base.”

The CSPH has an exclusive relationship with distributor Eldorado. “We participate in their events and come to shows with them to provide sex education to their retailers, and work with Eldorado’s retailers, as well as with individual retailers that contact us directly,” she says. “The CSPH’s mission is to reduce sexual shame, challenge misinformation, and advance the field of sexology.” Manser explains that CSPH sees sexual pleasure and health as intrinsically connected. “When people don’t feel comfortable addressing these issues with their health providers, they turn to sex shops,” she attests. “Retailers have a huge impact on the sexual lives of their customers, and if they provide great sex education this can only improve sexual health and pleasure.”

At The Pleasure Chest in West Hollywood, Calif., head of business operations Sarah Tomchesson, says she believes that offering sexual education to shoppers is a centerpiece of her company’s mission. “Everyone has a fundamental right to pursue sexual fulfillment, and part of that fulfillment is being well-informed about your body and your desires. So, eight years ago we re-imagined our education program and made it free. In our view, all sex education should be free.”

The Pleasure Chest offers classes on a weekly basis in all locations in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. “Blowjobs and Beyond, and Head of the Class: Blowjobs 201, continue to be our most attended classes, but all of our topics tend to draw a crowd,” Tomchesson says. “Our education program does more than just present the basic G-spot, oral sex and anal play classes. We offer a range of BDSM and relationship classes. Most of our classes are taught by in-house educators and we supplement with outside educators for more niche topics.” The demographic that attend sex ed events has broadened for The Pleasure Chest. “Our workshops tend to attract a wide range of participants in a variety of ages. Consumers have always been eager for more sex education opportunities. The industry is now catching up the demand,” she says.

At distributor Eldorado Trading Company in Broomfield, Colo., CEO and founder Larry Garland agrees with Tomchesson that providing sex education programs is a win/win for customers and retailers. “Retailers are by default in the forefront of sexual health and wellness. Having an educated staff is critical.” Garland asserts that customers may be looking for an item they think they need, when another item would better suit them. “Educated staff can guide the customer in the right direction. A trusted source of reliable information is a sure way to earn and keep customers for life, and it’s also about being a good citizen of the community.” Eldorado provides on-site training sessions conducted by certified trainers. “We video tape these sessions and provide a password-based access on our YouTube Chanel,” Garland states. “Retailers can call their account manager for the link and password.”

Ducky Doolittle, writer, speaker, and sex educator, works in marketing and development for distributor Komar. She, too, believes strongly that sex ed does wonders for retail. “Customers walk through the doors of an adult store with a wealth of emotions, from excitement and curiosity, to fear. A confident, well-trained staff can harness that energy and create a really great experience that fits the individual customer. As a former retail manager, I found that having formal product knowledge training and sex ed learning events was a great way to create a well-informed staff ready to catch any customer. Simply put, sex ed inspires sales.”

Doolittle interacts with as many as 1500 stores annually, with class attendance growing. Doolittle’s classes last 40 minutes, and the subjects are based on customer demand. “We’ve had classes on sex after hysterectomy, erectile dysfunction, anal sex, advanced lessons in lube, and management issues like how to hire great workers. Upcoming classes include topics such as female orgasmic response and extreme play with male bodies,” she says.

Sex and relationship coach Charlie Glickman feels that sex education is more important now than ever for adult toy stores, with a wider variety of features and differences between products. “If your staff can’t answer customer questions, they can’t make a sale,” he says. “In addition to that kind of sex ed on the sales floor, it’s valuable to offer workshops and events because it helps customers see you as a source of information and support, and gives people a reason to come to the store rather than just buying their toys online. And it’s one of the best ways to make sure that your employees are knowledgeable about different topics as well.”

Glickman stresses, “It’s important to offer sex ed, but it’s essential that you offer good sex ed.” A varied program is also key. “Offer some workshops that are related to sales, such as G-spot or anal play, and schedule some classes that are less directly related to sales, that focus on things people face in their sex lives, such as sex and aging or flirting. It shows customers that you’re dedicated to supporting the full range of their sex lives and keeps your workshop program from looking like it’s all about selling. That builds your credibility in the community.”

Erin Viereck, marketing and vendor liaison for adult wholesale distributor Williams Trading Company, agrees. “Train all employees and have a system in place for continuous improvement.

We carry over 20,000 different items with new products added weekly. It’s important to support our retailers with up-to-date, convenient e-learning opportunities to share with their employees and ultimately with consumers. Employee training, statistically improves retail sales almost immediately upon implementation.” The company offers adult industry classes to its retailers through Williams Trading University as an added value since 2014. E-learning has benefits over traditional classroom training such as flexibility and cost savings, she says. “Self-pacing and consistency of message are also important,” she attests. “Currently, the WTU catalog includes 64 courses and, on average, we develop three to four new modules per month.” A weekly Cyberscholar email blast notifies students about course availability, product raffles and contests; after a course is completed, the user takes a quiz and receives a downloadable certificate. In addition, Viereck says free premiums, samples and special offers are made by select participating vendors.

Dr. Carol Queen, staff sexologist at Good Vibrations and curator/historian at the Antique Vibrator Museum, says, “Good Vibrations was founded for two reasons: to make good-quality product available to the public and to arm them with good information about their own bodies, arousal, and toy use. People without good information often have unrealistic ideas about sex that can be detrimental to their health and happiness.” Classes run one to two times a week. “Lately fellatio classes have been extra-popular, but topic popularity isn’t the whole story. Some people will come see their favorite presenters pretty much regardless of the topic they’re teaching.” More women attend sex ed events these days, Queen says, noting that women are also more likely to consume informational sex books as well. Ages vary from 20-year-olds to over-50. “Clearly it’s never too late to want new information or inspiration.”

Good Vibrations’ customers have always been receptive to sex education. “We offered it during decades when it could barely be found anywhere else. If anything, we are looking now at an Internet-comfortable generation with many options for getting sexuality-based questions answered or researched,” Queen relates. “Today the challenge is helping them understand that some providers of information and education have stronger backgrounds than others.”