Each month, industry news media organization XBIZ spotlights the career accomplishments and outstanding contributions of Women in Adult. WIA profiles offer an intimate look at the professional lives of the industry's most influential female executives.
Over the past decade, Sarah Tomchesson has seen her career blossom from working the sales floor at Babeland into a multifaceted role with the Pleasure Chest, where she’s taken on multiple roles throughout her eight years with the progressive, sex-positive retailer. Today, Tomchesson serves as the company’s head of business operations and with that comes a slew of responsibilities. The Pleasure Chest, which currently operates five locations and a new e-commerce platform, also is constantly evolving as the company grows and Tomchesson continues to roll with the punches. In our exclusive Q&A with this month’s WIA Woman of the Month, Tomchesson discusses how she’s adjusting to her demanding role and what keeps her motivated.
The experience of helping someone through a sexual roadblock or introducing someone to a new part of their sexuality or even just normalizing someone’s fantasy or desire is so incredibly rewarding.
XBIZ: What is your role and responsibility as the head of business operations for The Pleasure Chest?
Sarah Tomchesson: We are a small (but mighty) team at the Pleasure Chest; everyone is expected to wear many hats. My role changes a lot depending on the needs of the business. I oversee the operations of our five retail stores and e-commerce platform as well as lead our creative and purchasing teams. It’s also not uncommon that I’m pulled into most HR decisions. This year, we launched a new site and my focus went to not only the design and helping to shape the aesthetic of the site but also project managing the development, data migration and launch. I’ve been with the Pleasure Chest for eight years and in that time we’ve grown from three stores with about 35 team members to about twice that size. I have had an opportunity to participate in each new growth initiative and to grow with the business. The only department I gladly leave to the consultants is IT!
XBIZ: How did you get into the business?
Tomchesson: Spring of this year was my 10-year anniversary in the industry. I started working the sales floor at Babeland in Los Angeles and became manager of that store. I like to joke that Kristen Tribby (of Fun Factory) “dragged” me into the industry, but in reality it did not take much convincing. We had been doing some volunteer, community work together at the time and she pitched me on working with her at Babeland and the rest is history.
XBIZ: What challenges have you confronted in your career and how have you overcome them?
Tomchesson: The Pleasure Chest has been around for 46 year, but I still think of us as having a bit of a start-up culture because of how much the business has evolved over the past 10 years or so. Being part of a small leadership team, in a growing business is challenging because you have to do a lot with somewhat limited resources. However, I think I am currently facing my biggest career challenge, which is the unionization of our NYC stores. As someone who has grown from a sales floor position to head of a company, I have always had a very hands-on approach and really value the experience and the input of the people who work day in and day out with our customers. To reach an impasse with some of our team members that I am not able to personally fix by getting in there with them and working together to find solutions is new terrain for me. It is a process that is definitely calling on new skills and methods for finding a solution.
XBIZ: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Tomchesson: I felt like I found my calling when I first started teaching sex ed. I’ve tried in recent years to take a step back from our PleasurEd program to make room for new educators at the Pleasure Chest. I can’t give it up altogether though. The experience of helping someone through a sexual roadblock or introducing someone to a new part of their sexuality or even just normalizing someone’s fantasy or desire is so incredibly rewarding. I always feel recharged after teaching.
XBIZ: What is your personal motto or mantra that you live by?
Tomchesson: Every opportunity is a learning opportunity. I have found if I go into situations, good or bad, with this approach the outcome is always a win.
XBIZ: What career accomplishment are you most proud of?
Tomchesson: The first national project I took on at the Pleasure Chest was restructuring our staffing to create internal growth opportunities. Since, we have developed and sustained a comprehensive training and testing process to promote entry-level customer assistants to sex specialists — sex specialists can then train to teach. In my time at the Pleasure Chest, we have trained over 60 sex educators and 93 percent of our management has been promoted internally. Creating systems for cultivating the talented and dedicated people that work for us (and seeing those systems stand the test of time) is my best accomplishment to date.
XBIZ: What are your professional goals for the rest of 2017?
Tomchesson: I think of 2017 as a year of growing pains for the Pleasure Chest and, in turn, for me as well. We have expanded our focus from our core business, which is brick-and-mortar, to online sales and we are entering into a new staffing relationship with our NYC stores. I look at the rest of this year as an opportunity to dig in on those two projects so that we can come out of the gates running in 2018!