opinion

Experts Offer Tips for Autumn Excellence in Retail

Experts Offer Tips for Autumn Excellence in Retail
Colleen Godin

As summer draws to a close, pleasure retail whirrs back into motion and stores hum with the sound of returning customers. Trade show orders are filled, holiday planning is under way, and shop shelves are ready to showcase last July's most promising sex toys.

The pleasure product industry is keeping businesses on their toes. Mainstream trends and tech have brought sex toy innovation up to speed with the rest of the retail world. Every year, more shelf space is engaged in a tug-of-war between recognizable stand-bys and high-aiming luxury products. It's up to store buyers and managers to pour over thousands of potential top sellers and strike a balance that guarantees no one walks away empty-handed. The task is more daunting than ever as consumers level up their knowledge and toy collections. The keys to success lie in perfecting a store's repertoire of education, enthusiasm and diversity.

Offering sexual wellness advice and suggestions can be a great entry point for a customer interested in exploring.

Adult boutique shoppers aren't their own niche anymore. It's essential to plan product selections for ages 18 to 80 that cover a range of play styles, kinks and body types. This year has hosted a slew of revamps and upgrades that put new spins on classic designs. When deciding between what's a staple and what's innovative, spring for a few different versions of products that are similar yet distinct in their unique functionality. It's unnecessary to stock five neon colors of the same vibrator, so look for technical differences that give customers more options across the board.

The traditional Magic Wand has seen its fair share of makeovers this year. Everyone knows the original blue-and-white plug-in version, but Millennials will probably spring for the hipster-cool Doxy Massager or 20-speed Le Wand, while middle-aged couples might prefer Vibratex's more old-school look (which is now rechargeable and cord-free.)

“The wand style has become increasingly popular in recent years,” notes Alison Barber, owner of Taboo adult boutique in Richmond, Va. “The Original Magic Wand is still popular, but smaller, less cumbersome wands are really taking center stage.”

Offering a few different styles of each toy type allows customers the option to customize their experience across a singular category, much like buying a laptop or smart phone with add-ons.

Sex toy material preferences have caused a swift change that's evident with a single glance around any 2017 trade or warehouse show. Silicone reigns as the most popular toy medium, and it's no longer reserved for the $100-and-up category. Moderately priced beginner's toys are now readily available in flexible, body-safe silicone. Consumers are often asking for it by name and passing over materials like PVC with well-known bad reputations.

“Silicone is so approachable and universal in its appeal,” remarks Sarah Tomchesson, head of business operations at The Pleasure Chest. “There's nothing else that molds and heats to the body like silicone, and also has the same hygienic properties.”

Lower cost materials like ABS plastic are still valuable for brand-new customers who might be purchasing their first toy, but they'll likely move up to silicone once they're more familiar with their options. A silicone-heavy selection is nicely rounded out with quality ABS bullets by Screaming O and basic smooth vibrators from Doc Johnson or CalExotics.

All those subtle selling points on materials, function and tech options are important to pass along to store staff. Management and buyers have already gotten the low-down on every new release during sales meetings. Now it’s time to equip boutique clerks with some serious selling power.

Product education is in no short supply, and most distributors and manufacturers are happy to oblige requests for in-person or Skype training sessions with sales associates. Educational handouts and marketing materials are also important for knowledge retention, and these mini sex references become go-to resources for staff after training has commenced.

Manufacturers like Fun Factory are often on the road making the retail rounds and setting up attractive floor displays that provide honest sex education that closes the sale for curious consumers.

“Offering sexual wellness advice and suggestions can be a great entry point for a customer interested in exploring,” says Kristen Tribby, Fun Factory's director of marketing and education. “Fun Factory offers a wide range of point-of-sale materials designed for education on a variety of topics. Our approach is definitely colorful: we use sexual statistics and advice wrapped up in humor and appealing graphics to offer our customers a fun approach to sex ed.”

Just like in the classroom, verbal education is best when mixed with visual aids and some good, old-fashioned hittin' the books. Enthusiastic, educated staff can provide in-store demos and then send customers home with fun bedside resources from manufacturers.

As sex ed becomes more easily accessible, consumers aren't just yearning for directions to the on/off buttons. They're prepared with questions for your staff on how the physiology of sex actually works. Electronics stores have on-site tech geeks to answer the nerdiest (or most naïve) of inquiries, and top-tier pleasure boutiques know it's smart to turn every employee into a sexpert.

“Manufacturers and retailers are often the first step in a person’s sexual journey,” says Alicia Sinclair, CEO of b-Vibe and Le Wand. “Retailers are answering questions that folks can’t seem to ask their doctor or therapist.”

Company owners like Sinclair are bringing in certified sex educators to teach store associates how their products are engineered with the science of sex.

“We promote sex education and sexual health by offering workshops and trainings that present education about the body, rather than just product education,” said Sinclair.

In addition to hands-on training, stock books that can become just as useful for customers as staff. During slow shifts, encourage sales associates to browse the shop selection of reading materials, or pull a few copies aside to keep behind the counter just for clerks. New hires and veteran staff alike will delight in the opportunity to increase their skills.

The key to retail success lies in staying connected to both the people and ongoing process involved in increasing knowledge to grow sales. Customer loyalty isn't as simple as service with a smile when you're selling sex toys. Every level of staff, from manufacturer representative to sales associate, plays an equally pertinent role in transforming adult boutiques into centers of education and exploration. A customizable product line-up and a team of enthusiastic sexperts will keep sex shops buzzing with business right into the New Year.

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