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WIA Profile: Sarah Franson

WIA Profile: Sarah Franson

Each month, 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.

When you do what you love, they say, you’ll never work a day in your life — and when your job involves educating the masses about sex toys, it’s hard not to love what you do.

Create and nurture strong relationships with the other women who are active and passionate in this industry.

From hourly employee to company vice president, Sarah Franson’s climb to the top at retailer Adult Source is the kind of career story of which dreams are made.

That story began nearly 16 years ago, when Franson left her job as a hairstylist and put her passion for helping others and her knack for working face-to-face with customers to use selling adult videos and a small selection of sex toys for the small Canadian chain Adult Source. She was not immediately entranced with her new gig, she recalls — but like so many who wind up in the industry, she was soon bitten by the sexual wellness bug.

Today, Franson presides over the entire Adult Source enterprise from her office in Calgary, Alberta, managing everything from marketing to payroll to people. She budgets her time between social media marketing, supporting her stores’ local communities and buying products that uphold Adult Source’s reputation for quality design over fluffy branding.

By all accounts, she’s earned every bit of responsibility and trust the company has invested in her over the years. And just as her own bosses nurtured her unique talents, Franson focuses on the individual strengths of her management team members, who in turn pass along a positive work culture to their own staff.

XBIZ: Tell us how you arrived here in the sex toy world. What initially drew you to the pleasure industry and Adult Source?

Sarah Franson: If I’m being honest, I originally had no long-term intentions with this industry! I had bounced around a lot, working in hotels and restaurants, trying to figure out what to do with my life. Then I took a job at a boutique adult video store down the street from me in downtown Calgary. I figured an easy, fun job with no commute would give me the opportunity to sort myself out.

When I first started, we were primarily selling and renting adult VHS, and had only recently expanded into adult toys. After spending some time getting to know the clientele and having some very intimate conversations with them — a new experience for me! — I started to develop an obsession with learning more about sexual health and wellness. I found a deep sense of pride in helping educate my customers. I had an easy rapport with the owner, and my newfound passion for this industry began to open doors for me in management. Now, 16 years later, I’m running that same boutique chain with an incredible team of like-minded humans, and looking toward expansion in 2024!

XBIZ: For those who haven’t yet made the trip to your corner of the world, could you enlighten us on the Adult Source retail brand?

Franson: Adult Source is a chain of adult boutique stores in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. We have been in business for 42 years. We started as a mainstream video store, but after being bought out by Blockbuster, we moved into the adult video sector. Over the years we have made massive expansions into the adult toy category, adding in cannabis accessories as well as alternative apparel.

Our goal is to promote sexual health and wellness for all! We work very hard to create a safe and welcoming space that is inviting to folks from all walks of life with an incredible selection that fits all budgets.

XBIZ: What do you especially enjoy about being a woman in the sexual wellness space today? 

Franson: I absolutely love connecting with other women who are prioritizing their pleasure. On the odd occasion these days that I have the opportunity to work in the stores, it is truly delightful to speak with and educate other women about anatomy and expand their understanding of their bodies. Public education health classes have done a true disservice to people, and I take great pride in fighting against miseducation.

My favorite thing about this industry has been watching the evolution of acceptance. What used to be a primarily male clientele, purchasing adult videos and archaic strokers, plus the odd hard plastic vibe for a partner, has become, at least for us, a female-dominated clientele who are no longer ashamed to be in stores like ours. They feel empowered in taking control of their sexuality, and that is truly inspiring.

XBIZ: What are your main responsibilities at Adult Source these days?

Franson: First and foremost, my duty is to lead my team. I’m so grateful to have built an incredible long-term management team that not only works so hard to provide support to our in-store staff, but also use their individual personalities to better our team culture and working environment. I’m still the primary buyer for the company and prioritize a strong inventory that our team can stand behind, valuing quality product over branding. I also handle the majority of administrative work, like payroll, scheduling and filing, running deliveries to our stores, planning training seminars and handling our social media.

XBIZ: How has Adult Source evolved over the years to accommodate inclusive wellness and health trends?

Franson: Our biggest initiative as of late has been to become totally size-inclusive. We’ve shied away from clothing and lingerie companies that only offer one-size-fits-all, as the term itself is archaic. We want our wall real estate to promote companies that have inclusive sizing, including men’s wear. This summer, we brought in a large selection of quality swimwear that ranged to 5X at reasonable prices and had an overwhelmingly positive response. We were also early adopters of packers and are now fully stocked with body wear items and educational material to help trans folks.

XBIZ: Where is marketing and social media headed for Adult Source? How does the company plan to market itself and grow the business in the near future?

Franson: With the constant evolution of social media and the considerable hoops that our industry has to jump through to be able to advertise on most platforms, I think we will be pushing our marketing in the new year toward supporting local groups and performers and focusing on community outreach, as well as spending more time on our in-store experience. Though social media is a fantastic tool, there is no replacement for hands-on community support and word-of-mouth advertising generated from an exceptional encounter in-store. We’re happy to see more manufacturers providing hands-on displays to assist us in creating a memorable environment.

XBIZ: How can the next generation of women continue to make the pleasure industry even more accommodating, welcoming and life-changing for society? Do you have any advice you’d give to the next up-and-comers who’ll someday be your colleagues?

Franson: There is no glass ceiling in this industry and there is room for everyone. Create and nurture strong relationships with the other women who are active and passionate in this industry. Competition happens at the bottom; collaboration happens at the top. There is incredible growth in connecting with and learning from others, and there is no better motivator than the encouragement you receive from the powerful women — and men! — who are running beside you.

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