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November 07, 2017

Sex-Ed Sells: Retailers Weigh In on Benefits of In-Store Events

Do sex classes and store events increase business in brick-and-mortar stores? We asked stores across America what type of events create more throbbing sales. Generating Excitement With four stores near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, the chain of Excitement Adult Superstores holds sex classes and “Girls Only” nights. Their “Intro to BDSM Nights is advertised with this teaser: “Come learn what makes bondage, submission, sadism and masochism so damn sexy and thrilling!” “People especially like spinning the prize wheel, said Excitement Director of Marketing Katy Halter. “We give away store dollars, but they end up buying a more high-end toy.” During a recent drive through this part of Pennsylvania—filled with conservative Christian churches with unintentionally adult signs like JESUS SAYS GET DOWN ON YOUR KNEES, I wondered how sales were going in the Bible Belt. “We get all the closet kinksters,” Halter reported. I also noticed tons of Amish and Mennonites in the area and wondered if the store ever attracts them. “No,” she said, “But we did get a bunch of women wearing burkas once. Everyone is welcome!” The store prides itself on establishing a non-judgmental atmosphere. “The store as well as the events open people up and make them feel comfortable,” said assistant store manager Jimmy McFadden. “We have regular customers who brings friends into our events. Plus, the three-hour window brings more people in.” What the store learned from having these events, Halter said, is that they serve two purposes. First, the sex classes establish a reputation for the stores. (Like their “Oooh La La back to school” classes, where sex educators like Ducky Doolittle teach peeps how to have different kinds of orgasms.) And second, said Halter, throwing in-store parties, such as the Girls Night Out events, brings in a “ring at the register.” “We’ll get about 100 girls who are excited to be in a safe space where they can explore their own sexual pleasure—with our staff demonstrating how to use everything. We do the Girls Night Out event about twice a year, and by doing them less frequently, we build up anticipation for the event.” Lessons From Adam & Eve Bob Strothers, who owns three Adam & Eve stores around Houston, Texas, once tried throwing a “Texas Show” event at his store, where he invited a bunch of porn stars—34 in all, including Evan Stone, Ron Jeremy and Katie Morgan. But it grew to such huge proportions that he had to move it to the local Hilton hotel. When the Hilton canceled the show in favor of a charity event, he moved it to the local Holiday Inn. By the time the second hotel canceled the event, it had grown to 5,000 attendees. (“It was like a mini AVN show,” he said.) The store event ended up at a local strip club. The final verdict? “If you want to draw people into your store, invite porn stars,” Strothers said. “And make it fun.” Events at his stores have included signings with Alexis Ford and Bree Olson, an Erotic Ball, Garden of Eden and Mardi Gras parties, a Naughty XXXmas party, a Harley-Davidson anniversary party, a Ladies Night and a Couples Night Out. The parties have a DJ and a “training table” to show customers how to use the toys. The store always provides free hors d’oeuvres and drinks, he said, but after the Harley party he decided on a two-drink maximum. “After some bikers threw down beer after beer, I was horrified to see them ride off drunk on their motorcycles.” “The couples parties are always a big hit,” he said. “At those, people play party games like pass the double headed dildo between your legs.” (A great party ice-breaker!) “As long as people are having fun,” he said, “I feel like I’m not selling products, I’m selling satisfaction. We want people to walk out of the store smiling.” Greg Peters, who owns two Adam & Eve stores in Reno, Nevada, shared his experiences as well. “We do classes on everything from Intro to Anal to Sex Toys 101 to our Spank Session class with a local dominatrix, our most popular one. We also did a Tantric Love class that did really well and a ‘whole body orgasm’ Reiki-like massage class. I wasn’t really sure how that works, but people really liked it. We get a lot of couples,” he said. “These events make great date nights.” Kara McGee, who owns an Adam & Eve store in Boise, Idaho, said that she hopes the knowledge women learn from the classes at her store will empower them. The philosophy of her store is a “safe, friendly environment for men, women and couples who are looking to venture away from the more mainstream norms of sexuality and experiment with the more erotic and growing interest in taboo sex practices.” Like the other Adam & Eve stores, she notes that the BDSM classes draw the most interest. “Sometimes the couples coming to our events are looking for something different, but not necessarily someone different,” she says. And she has two words for anyone who isn’t sure who to invite to an event at their store: “Nina Hartley.” The PleasureEd Principle The Pleasure Chest—with stores in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City—has packed in crowds for its sex classes since 2008, and its success is a lesson to stores everywhere. “Our goal was to differentiate from other similar programs by offering entirely free, pleasure-based sex ed to makes the classes accessible to everyone,” said Sarah Tomchesson, head of business operations. An average “PleasureEd” class draws about 30 people, she says. “But we regularly present to a standing-room-only audience in Los Angeles and New York with anywhere from fifty to eighty people. And what is their number-one class? “Our blowjob classes are our crowd pleasers,” Tomchesson said. “A hundred attendees show up for a blowjob class in our L.A. store. Other popular classes include O-M-G Spot and Butt Sex Basics.” These days comedy rules, so the Pleasure Chest tried a comedy show at the L.A. store. Then one at the New York Store. And another. “Performance Anxiety, our monthly comedy show in West Hollywood, Awkward Sex and the City and Party of Two in New York have been hugely successful for us,” Tomchesson said. There is an audience for the shows that might not otherwise come to us. Since the program is free, the sales from the event are what sustain the program. Our educators consistently bring in sales in their classes and our event programming across the board is a big draw for new customers. The comedy events, in particular, help us with one of our biggest retail challenges in the digital age—getting people in the door.” This article originally ran in the September 2017 issue. Click here to see the digital edition.  

 
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