Adult Retailers Turn to Smoking Accessories for Traffic Boost, Diversification

Ariana Rodriguez

ROME, Ga. — Ushered in by the evolving landscape of adult retail, smoking accessories are emerging as a category that is attracting a new crop of young adult males that may otherwise be too ashamed to shop at the local adult store.

Phallix Glass founder Rick Plank told XBIZ that while his company started out making everything from glass jewelry and vases, borosilicate glass art really exploded 12-13 years ago in Eugene, Ore., and it wasn’t before long that two niches were bringing in the biggest returns: adult and smoking.

“The influx of pipes in adult stores is significant — especially within the past three to five years,” Plank said. “The decline of DVD sales convinced a lot of adult store owners to wisely branch out and diversify.”

After four years of receiving inquiries about smoking accessories, Charles Craton, owner of Entice Couples Boutique, Sexy Suz Adult Emporium and Sexy Suz Couples Boutique in Georgia, said he introduced a tobacco accessories department in July 2010.

“We opened our first tobacco department at Entice in July 2010, and then followed with our second tobacco department at our Athens, Ga., store — Sexy Suz Adult Emporium — two weeks later,” Craton told XBIZ. “When we opened our third store last April, we opened a tobacco department when we opened the store. So, bottom line, it has been a tremendous success. The sales are good, steady and regular — at all three stores. I’ve got my managers working with me and we’ve found a group of about five suppliers who we procure our inventory. Finally, this last September 2011, I applied and received tobacco licenses for the store to start selling hookah tobacco. We just started selling actual tobacco to go along with the accessories last month. Also, inside our tobacco department, we sell herbal incense, and that has been an amazing success.”

Craton said that he and his wife had steered away from selling tobacco products initially because of unfamiliarity. However, the growing segment came calling.

“I went online and did research via Google, found some interesting educational sites, and also found out about a trade show in Las Vegas called The Champs Show,” he said. “We decided to attend the show. We knew a couple of vendors who crossed over into the tobacco market as well. We reached out to Rick [Plank] for advice and he helped us enormously. We were also familiar with Glow Industries because we purchased some adult products and incense from them as well. So, we had their catalog full of tobacco accessories between Rick and Glow — we had a good start.”

Trade shows like Champs and trade publications like HQ are among the current resources looking to bridge the gap between adult and smoking accessories, in addition to manufacturers such as Glow Industries, which also offers the Don Wands range of glass dildos.

Similarly, Phallix Glass’ full range of erotic glass art, which includes wands, spinners, double dongs and anal toys is matched by an extensive catalog of bubblers, water pipes and other smoking accessories that are part of its Crush brand.

According to Plank, while smoke shops are straggling to welcome adult products into their inventory, smoking accessories fit in harmoniously in adult retail and attract the elusive young male demographic that is hesitant about purchasing sexually oriented goods.

“Young adult males may be too embarrassed to come into an adult store, but not a smoke shop,” Plank said. “If you’re incorporating both — it’s a definite home run. That will bring people in; diversity will set up a store for repeat sales.”

Plank recommends one-hitters, hand pipes, bubblers and water pipes as the core variations for adult retailers to stock; and he encourages proper merchandising.

“Anytime you give the proper space, attention and care to a store’s section or a display, I think you’ll have that much more impact,” he said.

Another parallel between adult goods and smoking accessories is legal restrictions. In the U.S., while heads shops are thriving, anti-paraphernalia laws call for signs specifying "For tobacco use only" or "Not for use with illicit drugs" placed near presumable paraphernalia that are for sale. Some retailers also will ban customers for referencing use of illegal drugs when buying items.