Starship Enterprises, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2018, wasn’t always known for selling sex toys.
Founded by the late Lamar Huff in 1978, the Atlanta-based retailer started out as a record store before shifting its focus to smoke items and later, in the 1980s, adult products. But Starship has evolved considerably along the way and is now among the largest adult retail chains in the southern U.S.
Starship Enterprises is now manufacturing some adult toys of its own — including Starship-branded vibrators, lubricants and wands.
“Starship first started as a record store and later started adding smoke shop items until it became the primary business,” Starship CEO and President Kelly Rogers told XBIZ. “Noticing a growing industry in the Atlanta area for adult novelties, my partner — Starship founder Lamar Huff — decided to expand the business model to include these products. Forty years later, it is obvious that this decision was a great business move.”
Starship, according to Rogers, will be holding its 40th anniversary celebration on April 20.
“We plan on giving away a $10 gift card with every purchase of $40 or more to be used at the customer’s next visit,” Rogers noted. “We are also planning numerous drawings, promotions and giveaways. The marketing team is hard at work finalizing all of the details. For updates and more information regarding these events, customers are encouraged to find us on social media.”
Rogers has been with Starship for 22 of its 40 years. Huff had been running the company for 18 years when, in 1996, he brought Rogers on board and formed a partnership with him. And Rogers continued to operate Starship after Huff’s death.
“In 2016, we received the devastating news that we had lost our founder, Lamar, on Father’s Day,” Rogers explained. “Despite this loss, I now have the opportunity to be partnered with his daughter, Leslie Smith.”
When Rogers joined forces with Huff, he brought with him a diverse background that ranged from law enforcement to tech.
“Before starting at Starship, I was in law enforcement for 8½ years,” Rogers recalled. “The first four of these years were spent with the Clayton County Sheriff’s Department, and the following four and a half years I worked for the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). After leaving this job, I was running my own computer consulting firm. Technology and computer security were always a passion and talent of mine. These skills brought me to Starship in 1996 as an independent computer consultant. And the rest is history.”
Starship currently has 21 brick-and-mortar stores — 20 in Georgia and one in Tennessee. Most of them were opened after Rogers came on board.
Rogers explained, “We are constantly looking in surrounding states for locations or the opportunity to buy existing stores and/or chains…. I’m still looking in Tennessee. I’m looking in both of the Carolinas. I’m looking in Florida. I’m really not opposed to going anywhere, but if I were going to go somewhere that’s quite a distance, I would probably be buying a chain. There are a lot of logistics that go into managing stores that are a good distance away.”
Starship carries a variety of pleasure products, from vibrators, cock rings, butt plugs and BDSM toys to lingerie. And the company is now manufacturing some adult toys of its own — including Starship-branded vibrators, lubricants and wands — in addition to carrying products from Doc Johnson, Pipedream, The Screaming O, Hustler, Adam & Eve, Bodywand, Sportsheets and many other well-known brands.
Rogers estimated that Starship’s sales are currently 70 percent adult and 30 percent smoke products. Going from being a DEA agent to the CEO of a company that sells sex toys, adult DVDs and smoke products — including vapes and hookah tobacco — was certainly an interesting transition, and according to Rogers, his knowledge of the law has made it easier to grow and expand Starship.
“During my 22 years at Starship, I grew the company from seven different locations to the 21 stores which we currently have in operation,” Rogers noted. “I feel like my legal background has been an asset to the legal barriers that we have faced over the years to opening new stores. Additionally, my computer and technology expertise has helped the company successfully grow into the 21st century in terms of marketing, operational processes, security, finances, etc.”
As aggressively as Starship has been promoting itself online, Rogers stressed that he has no desire to get out of brick-and-mortar retail. Rogers views Starship’s e-commerce site, ShopStarship.com, as an enhancement to its brick-and-mortar stores — not a replacement. And in fact, Rogers is hoping to open some additional stores and remains a strong proponent of brick-and-mortar adult retail.
“Despite the trends in other industries, I feel like brick-and-mortar stores still hold a strong place in the adult industry,” Rogers asserted. “This is not to say that we have not had to spend a lot of time and effort to build our web presence. However, Starship has experienced continued growth despite the growth of internet sales.
“We believe that we are able to continue strong for a few reasons. First, our clients like the ability to compare products in person. Second, our clientele appreciates the ability of our staff to assist them in finding the right product and to answer any questions they might have.”
Brick-and-mortar adult retail has been changing considerably in recent years. In the late 1990s and 2000s, many adult stores received most of their profits from selling adult DVDs.
But with DVD sales having decreased from what they were 10 or 15 years ago, sex toys have become more and more prominent in adult retail. Rogers estimated that porn DVDs now account for “less than 1 percent” of Starship’s sales, stressing that pleasure products dominate its adult inventory by far.
“DVDs just can’t compete with what’s on the internet,” Rogers observed. “Not only that, they just can’t compete with the free porn. DVDs are still selling, but they’re a real small percentage for us.”
Rogers continued, “We do our best to stay on top of the new high-tech products. We have also found that our clientele prefers brightly lit, couple-friendly stores and have remodeled our stores to meet this demand. We pride ourselves on having the best customer service in this area’s retail industry.”