Sex Shops Go Mainstream

From the March 2013 issue of Columbus CEO

While the literary value of Fifty Shades of Grey is debatable, retailers are celebrating the erotic series’ effect on the adult accessories market. Many credit author E.L. James with empowering more female shoppers.

“Female consumers represent a larger share of the adult retail market than they ever have before thanks in part to the further mainstreaming of sex toys and other types of pleasure products,” says Dan Miller, executive managing editor of XBIZ, an adult industry trade publication, in an email interview. Sex is big business: Miller estimates that “aggregate adult retail revenues across the country are annually in the hundreds of millions.”

In January, the XBIZ 360 Retail Conference drew manufacturers, distributors and store owners to Los Angeles to talk about increasing consumer reach, “creating a sense of community” with in-store date nights and employing mainstream or couples-oriented ad campaigns. To compete with online sales, Miller says brick-and-mortar shops “can fine-tune the look and feel of their store to make it a more inviting, luxurious shopping experience.”

That’s the formula that the Lion’s Den is following in its current rebranding. The Columbus-based chain, which started in 1971, has gotten more local competition in recent years. Both Larry Flynt’s Hustler Hollywood and Ambiance (which caters to couples) opened in 2011, in Clintonville and the Crosswoods area, respectively.

Mark Miller was hired in July as senior vice president of the Lion’s Den. His charge: expand the demographic appeal of the chain, which has 43 stores in 22 states. “I’ve always viewed the Lion’s Den as just another specialty retailer,” says the 18-year commercial banking veteran who most recently worked at Chase. “We’re taking steps so that the bulk of the buying public views us that way as well.”

New logos, packaging, web design and signs complement architectural rehabs that incorporate more windows (where zoning laws permit) and more inviting interiors. Mark Miller says the makeovers “more accurately reflect what customers will find on the inside, and that is that an overwhelming majority of our products are oriented to females and couples.”

That includes items inspired by the Fifty Shades trilogy. Mark Miller says most Lion’s Den business is still conducted in stores, despite the popularity and discretion of online shopping. “Like most specialty retailers, people want to come in and see the products … to use the senses as much as they can to make a buying decision,” he says.

More women shoppers also would better reflect the company culture, which includes female executives, managers and clerks, says Mark Miller. “We’ve always had a significant number of females in our workforce.”

Reprinted from the March 2013 issue of Columbus C.E.O. Copyright © Columbus C.E.O.