Retail Sales: When to Call in the Pros

If you work on the front lines of the sex retail trade, you’ve had customers who came to your store and asked for a product to fix a situation that it simply can’t fix. Some couples try to spice up their sex lives with a toy or a movie, without realizing that their sexual problems are rooted in something much bigger than that. Some folks want a cock ring to resolve their erection difficulties, when what they really need is a medical exam, to do their Kegels, or to stop smoking. Some people hope that a dildo will help them figure out how to make intercourse less painful, when they actually need an appointment with a pelvic physical therapist.

While most of your customers walk through your doors with an interest, a desire, or a need that a toy would be perfect for, there are others who need support from a medical or mental health professional, or relationship counseling, or a lifestyle change. So what happens when those folks show up?

While most of your customers walk through your doors with an interest, a desire, or a need that a toy would be perfect for, there are others who need support from a medical or mental health professional, or relationship counseling, or a lifestyle change.

It depends on what your priorities are and how you train your staff. If you want a quick sale, you might expect your employees to push a product on a customer who doesn’t need it. I’ve heard plenty of stories from people who have had that happen to them and many of them say that it was years before they ever went to a toy store again. They figured that since they didn’t get what they needed when they really needed it, there wasn’t any point in trying again.

It can be tempting to go for the immediate sale, especially in this economy and in an era in which customer loyalty doesn’t mean what it used to. But that won’t help you build a reputation as a dependable resource. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is refer a customer to a medical professional. At other times, you might suggest they find a therapist or a relationship coach so they can learn how to talk with their partners about their fantasies or what they need in bed.

That person might walk out the door without buying anything today. But the odds are good that they’ll come back when they’re ready. They’re much more likely to feel loyal to your store and make a return visit, or to tell their friends to come shop there, if they know that you want them to have the happy, healthy sex life they deserve, rather than going for the fast buck.

This seems especially important as more and more of the sex retail industry rebrands itself as wanting to help people enhance their sexual well-being. It’s wonderful that more manufacturers and stores are making this shift because it’s going a long way towards creating healthier ideas about sex, improving people’s lives, and spreading the message that sex isn’t anything to be ashamed of. And the only way that works is when branding, intention and action are all lined up. If part of your mission is to make the world a sexually healthier place, and a customer’s sexual well-being would be better served by something other than a toy, what do you want your employees to do?

There are a few ways you can make this easier. Having a list of resources to give customers will help your staff make the right choice. Create a listing of local counseling options or a few STI testing clinics that your employees can share with people who needs it. It might take some time to put together, but once you have it, it’ll speed things up on the floor. Ask some therapists to send you their cards to keep on file, though you should probably read their websites and make sure that they actually know about sexuality issues. If there’s a pelvic pain specialist in your area, keep their info handy. Build a list of your area’s LGBT organizations, BDSM groups, or swing clubs. It’ll boost your credibility with customers, and the people and organizations you send them to will keep you in mind when their clients are looking for toys.

It also helps if you train your staff to know when to make that referral. After all, they might not know what they don’t know, and sometimes, people will try to make something up rather than admit their lack of expertise. Let them know that telling a customer “I don’t know” is just fine, as long as they also know who to ask or where to look. At the very least, they can offer to take the customer’s email and have a more experienced staffer get in touch with them.

Sales, of course, are what make it possible for you to grow your business. But sometimes, sexual health needs something different. If you and your employees know what to do when that happens, you’ll improve your brand, build loyalty, and create positive relationships with your community. You’ll also know that you’re helping make the world a sexually healthier place.

Charlie Glickman PhD is a sexuality speaker, trainer, writer, blogger, and coach. He’s an AASECT-certified sex educator and has been working in this field for over 20 years. Charlie is the co-author of The Ultimate Guide to Prostate Pleasure: Erotic Exploration for Men and Their Partners. Find out more about him at or on Twitter and Facebook.