2017 and early 2018 were a time of transition for The Garden and Chamber (TheGardenColumbus.net). For 20 years, the Columbus, Ohio-based adult store was owned and operated by founders Tom and Shawn Smith. But late last year, their daughter Lacey Thompson took over as owner — and Rin Musick, an employee since 2015, has been promoted to general manager. With this new team in place, Thompson will be overseeing a boutique-like atmosphere and promoting the fact that the store is now entirely female-owned.
“We are working to streamline and modernize our look in 2018,” Thompson told XBIZ. “We want to present ourselves in a [more] high-end way, more like a boutique — lots of space and light and awesome displays to highlight our fashion and toy selections. We are also focusing on body-positivity and offering more plus-size fashion than ever. Plus, we are well-known as a safe space for our LBGTQIA+ clientele and love tailoring our selection to that ever-growing market.”
We have Great Conversations With Our Clientele, And They Trust Us With The Most Intimate Details Of Their Lives.
Brick-and-mortar adult retail, Thompson noted, isn’t as underground as it was in the past — and promoting sex-positive attitudes, she said, is a high priority for The Garden and Chamber in 2018.
“When we opened in our first iteration, adult shopping was still very much taboo,” Thompson recalled. “My parents opened initially as a small lingerie and toy boutique and adult video rental shop. Over time, people became more comfortable in our store and began of business and less of a dirty little secret.”
For many years, adult DVDs — both sales and rentals — were a major part of The Garden and Chamber’s business. But these days, customers are much more likely to purchase vibrators, dildos, lubricants or lingerie from them.
“DVD sales account for about 2 percent of our overall sales in the last year,” Thompson explained. “We have definitely seen that decline with the omnipresence of Internet entertainment, and have tried to supplement our DVD sales with online membership sales to OMGyes and some USB offerings, among other things. Ten years ago, the Internet wasn’t nearly as prevalent, and we were selling and renting far more. Even five years ago, we were renting a couple dozen movies a week and selling closer to 100.”
Thompson continued, “As Internet access has evolved from being expensive and exclusive to being carried in almost everyone’s pocket, the market for physical media of all kinds is waning. My parents were really smart in building our business just ahead of the curve, and backing off slowly as the market has slowed. Just this year, we have stopped renting DVDs and carry fewer titles overall, but still cover just about every category you can imagine.”
The Garden and The Chamber are actually two adjacent sister stores, with The Chamber being the more BDSM-minded of the two (a third store, The Joint, specializes in smoke products). BDSM products, according to Thompson, have continued to grow in popularity with her customers.
“In the last year, The Chamber sales accounted for about 13 percent of our overall sales,” Thompson observed. “Since we integrated that store into The Garden building, sales are up by several thousand dollars, as people who may have been nervous about shopping a BDSM-focused store find themselves admiring our amazing selection of deep kink merchandise. Our staff is so knowledgeable and approachable; customers love chatting with them and learn so much about our product and even themselves. That market is definitely moving more into the mainstream.”
The Garden and Chamber, which works with the Colorado-based distributor Eldorado Trading Company, branched out into ecommerce in 2014 — although in-person transactions still account for the vast majority of its sales.
“Our in-store selection is already massive; so, our online sales are pretty small — maybe one percent of overall sales,” Thompson explained. “Thanks to Eldorado’s StoreExtender program, we are able to offer our customers a multitude of items that we don’t have here without sacrificing time or service quality. They handle everything for us in drop-ship style, and our customers don’t have to wait for us to special-order anything. We’ve only been selling online for about four years. We’re one of the few brick-and-mortars who don’t have to rely on e-commerce to stay afloat, but it’s a great service to offer.”
In addition to Thompson and Musick, important players at The Garden and Chamber include Douglas “Wonder Doug” Cuckler, director of social media; Brandy Harrison, fashion buyer; Erin McLaughlin, toy buyer; and The Chamber’s manager, Abby White, who maintains its BDSM selection and represents the store at fetish events and online at FetLife. Musick, as general manager, has a variety of responsibilities.
Musick told XBIZ, “I am focused on working with our fashion buyer to streamline our floor, and with our employees to make sure they are happy and well-trained. Staff turnover is way down in the last two years, and it’s important to me to be present and active in keeping our amazing team working well. Lacey and I spend a good amount of time consulting with our social media director and our fashion buyer on polishing our image and presentation. I also take care of accounting and payroll. I wear several hats, but it works.”
Although Thompson is now heading The Garden and Chamber, she emphasized that Tom and Shawn Smith’s influence on the business remains — and that their guidance along the way helped prepare her for a leadership role.
“Tom is a naturally savvy businessman,” Thompson asserted. “He has shown me a strong work ethic and great strategies in how to make our business grow. Shawn has helped me build an awesome family vibe in the store. Working with my mom showed me how a figure of motherly support could be so valuable, especially in a small business. They both demonstrated a deep connection with and passion for our community. We love our neighborhood and do all we can to support the businesses and people in it.”