When adult e-commerce was exploding in popularity in the 2000s, some tech writers predicted that brick-and-mortar adult stores would be meeting their demise. But those obituaries were premature. E-commerce, to be sure, is booming, but rather than making brick-and-mortar stores obsolete, it is co-existing with them; many consumers who purchase pleasure products online also enjoy shopping in person at The Pleasure Chest or Babeland. And in 2017, brick-and-mortar trends to watch out for include female-friendly marketing, sex education events, social media promotions and creative pleasure product displays.
Megan Swartz, general manager and buyer for Deja Vu Love Boutique in Las Vegas, said that in 2017, sex education will be a priority for brick-and-mortar adult retail — and stores will see the importance of having an educated, well-trained staff.
The economy has begun to loosen up discretionary dollars, and our businesses are once again on the rise. —Chaz Craton, The Love Boutique / Sexy Suz Couples Boutique
“Sex education is the most important factor in being a good representative — not just here at Deja Vu, but in any adult retail store,” Swartz told XBIZ. “First and foremost, it’s a safety issue. We are selling items that will be penetrating sensitive areas. It is very important to play safely, and more often than not, the products we offer are foreign to most guests. We have to advise the consumers how to properly use and care for these items. Even if specific instructions for the products are included on or in the package, it won’t always be read.”
Swartz added, “Teaching employees about sexuality and sexual preference that may not align with their own is also important. You have to have an open mind in this business so that you can offer amazing customer service and refrain from offending anyone.”
Although brick-and-mortar adult stores have not become extinct as some tech writers have predicted, they have evolved quite a bit in recent years. Ten years ago, many brick-and-mortar adult stores were relying heavily on male customers and porn DVD sales; in 2017, they are attracting a lot more female customers and selling them sex toys and pleasure products.
“I think brick and mortar has steadily evolved over the last five or so years,” Swartz said. “Retailers are moving more in the direction of upscale boutiques, and manufacturers are providing product to mirror that image. I think the advancement in technology has helped and will continue to help drive business.”
Charles Craton, owner of The Love Library in Rome, Ga. and Sexy Suz Couples Boutique in Athens, Ga., noted that brick-and-mortar adult stores have become increasingly female-friendly and pleasure products-minded — although he said DVD sales have been improving.
“The economy has begun to loosen up discretionary dollars, and our businesses are once again on the rise,” Craton told XBIZ. “In my case, I’ve noticed our adult DVD sales have actually spiked upward after a long downward trend. This is also due to the adult porn manufacturers price-engineering their DVDs to become more competitive in a retail environment. It’s working.”
Educating staff to be as helpful as possible with female customers, according to Craton, is vital in 2017.
“Education is a priority for our employees,” Craton explained. “Our stores are sex-positive, women-friendly stores. We truly engage to help people find out what can help their sex lives. We do in-house training, and we encourage the manufacturers in our industry to visit us — and we bring in our staff, on the clock, to hear them and educate themselves on the products we sell. There are many other web-based tools provided by our distributors like Eldorado, who has an extensive collection of training videos on a YouTube channel; I’m sure other distributors do as well. We subscribe to all the industry publications, encourage our staff to read them during downtimes at the store. We attend industry functions, trade shows and educational opportunities year-round to learn — and then, go home and teach our staff.”
Aggressive social media promotions, Craton said, will be a prominent brick-and-mortar trend in 2017.
“We’ve worked even harder this past year to train our staff and to find ways to add value to a brick-and-mortar experience over ordering online,” Craton explained. “We’re focused more on one-on-one touchpoints with our customers, creating an e-mail distribution list with monthly specials, increasing our presence on social media like Facebook and Twitter, and looking for more ways to be relevant in our customers’ lives in a non-threatening and positive way. We will continue to build our brands locally to insure we can remain competitive with online sales, our largest competitor. Other brick-and-mortar stores are not our competition; online is our main competition.”
Rachel Venning, co-founder of Babeland, stressed that having a knowledgeable, sex-educated staff is essential for brick-and-mortar adult stores — and manufacturers and distributors, she said, can play a prominent role in that educational process.
“We look at our vendors as partners,” Venning told XBIZ. “When we sell more, they sell more; so, we do a lot of listening and sharing information with our vendors. Then, we can collaborate to make things better….. We’ve had some really successful collaborations with vendors for in-store displays. What works best for us is when the display complements the aesthetic of the Babeland store. The trick is finding the balance of something distinctive enough that it meets the vendor’s need to draw attention to their products and that it fits in with the Babeland look so that it’s all part of a consistent experience for the customer in our store.”
Venning added, “At Babeland, we’re always thinking about how can we make the customer experience better. It’s best for customers when people working n the stores really know the nuances of the differences between the products. We have vendor events in store multiple times a year for our staff to get trained on new products, and it gives people working the store a chance to ask the vendors any questions that have come up about the existing line. Vendors who give sample toys are giving the people who do the in-person selling a chance to try the product. That can really pay off. And in general, it’s just nice to have personal connections and warmth between the companies.”