The world is in a state of flux. First the pandemic upended life as we know it, and now an economic downturn once again has adult retailers facing an uncertain future as consumers shift their spending to essentials like food and health care. Given that our industry saw such a boom during the lockdown, this feels like an especially big contraction for us — but don't panic. We are not through the cycle yet. As usual, we just have to work smart and take the long view. How can small businesses thrive in this new normal? Here are some tips to help you stay afloat during difficult times.
Get laser-focused and watch your numbers.
Control the things you can and make sure your customers and staff feel safe and are having fun.
The first step is to take a close look at your business and find out where you can cut costs. This may mean streamlining your product offerings or reducing your marketing budget. The typical percentage of marketing, if you want to grow, is 8-10% of net income. That may need to be adjusted up or down as gross numbers change.
Whatever you do, make sure you have a clear idea of your overhead costs and your break-even point. Once you know where you can save money, it will be easier to make decisions that will help your business survive in the long term.
Many of us get caught up in the year-over-year change. While that was a standard calculation for business in the “before” times, we are not living through normal times anymore, so I think it is prudent to widen your lens. To assess performance today, I think you need to go back and compare to our last normal year, which was 2019. In my brick-and-mortar, Romantic Adventures, we are down from last year but 20% above 2019, and I count that as a win. In Mississippi, I am used to these boom-and-bust cycles because I have guided my business through Katrina, the Gulf oil spill, the Great Recession, countless hurricane parties, the state seizing toys and taking me to court to try to make them illegal, and even a well that ran dry and had to be re-dug.
What all of that has taught me is that low overhead is the key to bliss. We opened in 2001, and we are still making Mississippi a more pleasurable place every day except Sunday.
So, control the things you can and make sure your customers and staff feel safe and are having fun. Eliminate all the unnecessary subscriptions and luxuries that creep in when the tide is high and renegotiate anything you can to eliminate unnecessary fees and carrying costs. Keep a hard eye not just on the cash flow but on the overhead costs of doing business.
Up your merchandising game.
In a brick-and-mortar setting, it’s more important than ever to ensure your store is well organized and inviting. Your customers should be able to find what they’re looking for quickly and easily. If you have an online store, make sure that your product photos are high-quality and your descriptions are clear and concise.
This is also a great time to give your store a bit of a refresh and take care of any maintenance issues that may have cropped up since we all got slammed in the spring. Get outside and make sure your parking lot is clean and well-lit, so people feel safe and welcomed as they drive into your lot.
As supply chain issues are working themselves out, it is easier now to secure replacement parts and construction materials, so take advantage of the lull that back-to-school always brings and make sure your store is shipshape and ready to receive the holiday influx of new customers.
Think outside the box.
The third step is to get creative. What can you do to attract new customers? Can you offer something that your competitors don’t? Can you tap into a new market? Now is the time to think outside the box. Build a solid online presence. In today’s world, having a presence on the internet is essential for any business, but it’s especially important for adult retailers. If you don’t have a website or if your website is outdated, now is the time to invest in a new one. Make sure your website is mobile-friendly and easy to navigate. Most importantly, make sure it’s stocked with high-quality content that will appeal to your target audience.
It seems like new social networks are being invented every day, and there are constantly new ways to reach potential customers. See what platforms your youngest employees are into, and make sure you have a presence there.
Invest in customer service.
In any retail business, but especially in adult retail, customer service is critical. Your customers should feel like they are your top priority, whether they’re shopping in person or online. Train your employees to be friendly and helpful, and ensure they know the products inside and out.
Many distributors and manufacturers offer online training platforms. I usually offer my employees an hourly raise once they have completed trainings, because they are much more valuable to the business once they have expertise in the products we sell.
If you want to take it to the next level and really get your staff motivated, the best thing to do is invest in yourself. I suggest a Gold Star Selling seminar. This will take your management and communications skills to the next level. There are many more online resources for training available than there used to be, so set some time aside each week to make yourself a better manager.
Believe it is going to get better.
The bottom line for any small business owner right now is to control the things you can and plan for better days ahead. After all, sex never goes out of style. All those people who discovered new pleasures during lockdown haven’t gone away, and they won’t go back to being vanilla. We just have to be patient and be ready; the spark will come, and the itch will need to be scratched again. Now they know where we are and what we have to offer.
Things will even out. No recession lasts forever. Solid business practices will position you for maximum profit when the urge suddenly strikes the public again, and you’ll sleep better in the meantime knowing you have done all you can do.
Tami Rose is a sexpert and the owner of Mississippi-based adult retailer Romantic Adventures.