LOS ANGELES — Hustler is undeniably one of adult’s top brands, with its iconic magazine, casinos, films, broadcast operations and gentlemen’s clubs. But its name is not always immediately associated with the retail marketplace outside of the flagship Hustler Hollywood store that’s been an adult Mecca for tourists and locals alike for decades.
But true to the company’s always pioneering and daring approach to whatever market segment it enters, Hustler’s retail operation has also blazed new trails and is constantly seeking new avenues to titillate customers — and of course boost profits.
In 2014 alone, the retail arm launched new stores in Cincinnati and Oklahoma City and embarked on an extensive facelift of a number of its outlets including New Orleans, San Diego and Fort Lauderdale, featuring displays of provocative lingerie, sensual toys, accessories, clothing, party gifts and beauty/body items — all in new bright, tasteful showrooms.
Hustler also announced that it’s broadening that approach and planning to expand further in 2015. And the keystone to the move is the increased amount of special events the company has undertaken. Some stores have allowed special 24-hour Valentines Day access for consumers, sponsored book launches by prominent sex-positive authors and lecturers, and have hosted a number of special events with porn stars and special music events.
The new strategy to improve the physical stores and ramp-up the special events is no accident. Marketing manager Allison Johnston told XBIZ that the increase is part of a plan to reach out to the buying public in new, exciting and innovative ways.
“We’ve definitely been having more events. We are a lifestyle brand and providing opportunities for customers, new and old, to learn something, have fun and ultimately connect with our brand is important. We are very particular when choosing what events we have — we want the right partners who are well aligned with what our stores are all about,” she says.
And although Johnston is the general in charge of the strategies, she's not alone when it comes to mapping out the plans. She recalls that the Sunset Strip store’s “7 Deadly Sins” event last February to celebrate the “I AM SIN” cosmetic line from model and performer Masuimi Max, resulted from conversations that Hustler's bath and body buyer had with Max when the company added the performer’s line to its inventory.
Max’s appearance packed the store, Johnston says, adding that similar events are all about awareness and promoting the lifestyle aspect of the brand.
Adult star Joanna Angel also appeared at the Sunset Strip store in January to promote her Stockroom line of punk BDSM products. And last October, designer Andrew Christian’s Trophy Boy models Pablo Hernandez and Cory Zwierzynski hit the Nashville store for an in-store meet and greet with an after-party at Play Dance Bar.
And it’s not only personalities and products that are helping the retail operation’s overall presence. Recent couples’ advice workshops with sex and relationship expert Dr. Emily Morse that included appearances at the San Diego and L.A. stores as well as more playful appearances like the “Steak & BJ” workshop are exemplary of successful events.
Johnston says Morse’s California workshops are very well attended. “People love her. Her workshops definitely help sales as most people that come want to hear what her favorite products are and they really value what she has to say about enhancing their sex lives.”
Another jewel in the company’s retail crown is its Cincinnati store’s monthly event called “Ladies Who Lunch” that Johnston says has become a big deal in the local community. “Our store is in the middle of all the downtown businesses and we figured it would be a great way to introduce ourselves to the women in the area. At each event, we have sex expert Nikki Ransom-Alfred teach a short workshop on new topic and provide a light lunch. The ladies love having something fun and educational to do on their lunch breaks.”
The Monroe, Ohio and Lexington, Kentucky stores are also benefiting from similar events that Johnston says are highly attended. There are a number of loyal customers in those markets that love to come out and see what Hustler has in store for them.
When asked if Is there is one particular type of event that seems to attract more customers Johnston says it really depends, noting that the “glamorous” parties at the Sunset Strip store attract a certain crowd, while the workshops have a completely different set of attendees. In January, BDSM authority and author of “Master of O,” Ernest Greene, along with film legend Nina Hartley, were at the L.A. store for a reading of Greene’s novel, "Master of O."
And Hustler’s BDSM workshop event in Lexington in February was the biggest event the store had seen in some time — both events no doubt benefitting from the “Fifty Shades of Grey” media buzz — but clever marketing moves nonetheless.
Although the majority of customers attending the events are women, Johnston says she’s seeing an up tick in couples — especially at the workshops. That being said, an event like “7 Deadly Sins” that featured the exotic Max drew a lot of men.
The progress has not only attracted consumers, but a host of new product manufacturers, sexual wellness authorities and performers who are asking to be part of the event schedule. And Johnston welcomes new additions saying she's open to just about anything.
The executive also notes that more workshops with Morse in Los Angeles and San Diego are coming up, along with continuing the monthly “Ladies Who Lunch” in Cincinnati along with “WednesDATE Night” in Monroe, Ohio.
“I’m sure we’ll have more as each one is better than the last,” Johnston predicts.