The next time you wish you were a kid again, just remember: those dear ol’ golden school days were never this fun. Extracurricular activities are the latest trend to revolutionize sex education-focused adult boutiques. Already equipped with knowledgeable staff and a killer lineup of ethical sex toys, retailers were looking to go above and beyond the daily grind.
As outdated moral barriers continuously crumble, consumers are eager to head back to school for interactive workshops on their most coveted kinks and deepest desires. Sex-ed courses are an easy win-win for retailers and pleasure devotees. Customers feel valued through their participation, and are eager to come back to fill their brains and their toy drawers.
My belief is [that your] offering should be based on the geo, political [and] social positioning of your store and not just the [human] body.
The need for workshops arose from both the modern popularity of sex education and the limitations of the retail floor. Hourly sales associates and managers only have so much time to dedicate to each customer, most of whom walk away hungry for more. When the busy hours hit, it can be difficult to delve much further into individual sexual preferences beyond directing visitors to the table of toy demo samples.
“There is a serious need for more hands-on, demonstration-based health education,” The Garden’s Program Manager Leah Mae said. “There are only so many demos you can give in a retail setting.”
Certain products could also use a bit more pre-sex training. Basic vibrators, butt plugs and dildos are fairly self-explanatory. Kinkier items like clamps, whips and rope, don’t exactly come with safety warnings, and it was clear that customers needed more than a quick in-store demo. Consistent requests for classes lead The Garden and its sister BDSM store, The Chamber, to cook up something special for inquiring minds.
“We got started because of customer demand,” said Abby White, general manager at The Chamber. “Especially with our Chamber BDSM store items, we educate people regularly and have found that many seek a deeper understanding of the items they purchase and use.”
Kink, which makes regular appearances at just about every workshop series, isn’t the only topic that consistently fills the house. Hudsy Hawn, head mistress and events & education director for The Stockroom, fields feedback from strictly-vanilla lovers, amateur kinksters and devoted lifestylers to develop the shop’s curriculum. The key to pulling off such a wide range of topics without missteps or misinformation lies in carefully vetting the lineup of speakers. The Stockroom prides itself on their connections with the industry’s best sex educators, and even plays host to a handful of well-qualified sexpert staff who take the lead at the front of the classroom, including Hawn herself.
“We choose our speakers based on their experience and then help them to craft the best class topics,” says Hawn. “Most of our featured educators have extensive lifestyle experience so their professional resume is supported by a historical background that lends great credibility to what they share with our students.”
Boutique-led classes are as unique as the cities that contain them. Just because you’ve seen one sex-ed presentation doesn’t mean you’ve seen them all. Workshops and presenters vary greatly based on each shop’s niches, consumer base, and surrounding neighborhood. Popping into Los Angeles’ The Stockroom during the day will lend a preview of what you’ll see after-hours. As a top location for some of the best kink accessories in the country, their sex-ed students request topics in rope bondage, beginner’s BDSM, and flogging.
Good Vibrations’ upscale vibe brings in the most attendees on Sundays for their monthly Vibrator Museum tour, lead by a traditional docent. The Garden, though located in a trendy Columbus, Ohio, neighborhood, still struggles with conservative Midwestern morals, and invites speakers like trans-activist Buck Angel and porn star Nikki Hearts to broaden their range of topics and open the minds of locals.
“My belief is [that your] offering should be based on the geo, political [and] social positioning of your store and not just the [human] body,” Feelmore founder Nenna Joiner said. “What is relevant in your community is powerful.”
Oakland’s Feelmore boutique knows exactly how to play to their working-class community of young artists and unique personalities, and oddly enough, they draw the most attention from live performers that have nothing to do with sex-ed.
“We opt primarily for live band performances that are traveling the Bay Area,” says Joiner, who understands the initial confusion from potential patrons. “I know, I know,” she jokingly responds.
After hosting 10 bands, the shop has become a kind of unofficial ritual for musicians passing through the Oakland area.
“People from around the country call and ask to play here,” comments Joiner. “It’s novel to have the booking managers call, and we ask if they know it’s a sex store, to which they reply, ‘yes.’”
Joiner does book sex-related speakers like kink educator Midori, but ultimately her clientele keeps coming back for the guitar solos as much as the vibrators.
Some stores host sex, others host rock n’ roll, and some spring for drugs (of the brain chemical kind released during kinky play, of course). In the end, all boutiques that transform themselves into venues wind up profiting in a big way.
“We almost always see an increase in store sales directly after [Stockroom’s] events,” Hawn said.
Most retailers echo Hawn’s observations, also noting that in-store classes create the word-of-mouth sales that brick-and-mortar dreams are made of. Finding and retaining customers is an around-the-clock effort with subtle nuances that are essential to getting through to discerning shoppers.
“Customer conversion and acquisition has always been equally important and it naturally follows after providing trusted information in a fun, sex-positive atmosphere,” says Good Vibrations’ Executive VP Jackie Rednour-Bruckman.
The most successful adult retailers combine a selection of body-safe sex toys, sexpert sales associates, and interactive workshops to foster the kind of environment where consumers feel comfortable to come out and play. When consumers see stores putting intrinsic rewards first, like the priceless task of helping someone going through a gender transition to find gender-neutral toys, extrinsic rewards follow in a natural domino effect.
“If you are part of helping someone have a better sex life and have more pleasure in their life, you get very loyal customers,” says Rednour-Bruckman.
Hosting sex education classes becomes a statement for adult boutiques; it is a statement that surpasses bare-minimum customer service and business practices. When retailers put in the effort to become a safe gathering space for sexually explorative people to discover themselves, it sets them apart in a big way. Almost anyone can run a business; not everyone has an honest passion for changing lives.
“We strive for a workshop experience that is genuine, creative, nonjudgmental and accessible for all people,” Mae said. “Overall, there is a need for adult sex education. This is an amazing way to provide a memorable and participatory experience.”