To Prepare Your Retail Store for the Holidays, Train!

You know that feeling you get when you walk into a business and no one seems to know anything about the products they’re selling? You’re asking for help and they’re sending you to the wrong aisle, burying their heads in the computer — or worst of all, shaking their head and shrugging. Not only does this erode customer confidence, it usually ends with no sale. It certainly won’t inspire repeat business! Why would anyone return to a store where the staff are clueless about what they’re selling?

Our goal is to provide as much knowledge to our vendors as possible, so that they can properly guide their patrons to the best buying decisions. How can this be accomplished? Store trainings! Regular store trainings are the most effective way to avoid the dreaded shrug and watch your business thrive. It all boils down to these three elements: foot traffic, product knowledge and training benefits.

The fourth financial quarter of the year is notorious for high foot traffic — real live people pounding the pavement at brick-and-mortar stores. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanzaa all fall in “Q4,” so it makes sense that it exceeds all other seasons in terms of dollars spent during in-person visits. It goes without saying that as a retailer, you want to optimize your sales during this time, and ensure customers are buying the proper items, so they aren’t returning them the day after Christmas! After all, this is the time when people are not only motivated to shop, they are more or less required to find something for everyone on their list. Why not turn their obligation into something that exceeds their expectations, and even gets them talking to their friends about how your store is the perfect go-to place for gift ideas, whether it’s fun stocking stuffers or something more substantial?

The key to maximizing foot traffic is preparation. Walk through the store as if you were the consumer. What products do you have front-racked? Are there gift ideas spelled out for people who aren’t quite sure what they’re looking for? Are the displays eye-catching and leading the customer on a path to more and more items? Get your “store experience” plan in place well before the panicked shoppers arrive. That way, instead of frantically pulling items from other areas on the fly, you can greet customers at each pre-prepared stop along their journey, and chat them up about the products that catch their eye.

Products are the star attraction. That’s why product knowledge is the best way to ensure sales success. It’s really that simple. Make sure that the customer is connecting with the product they want, or the product they want to buy for someone else. Ask questions to keep them engaged. “Who are you buying for?” or “Is this for yourself or a gift?” are great starters to get on the path to a sale. Then give them the highlights of the item they’re considering. What are its benefits? Who was it designed for? What has the feedback been from people who have purchased it before? These are all important factors in deciding whether or not you’re going to put something in your cart. If the sales representative has all the answers, it’s reassuring and creates an important connection.

An employee can be outgoing, attentive and helpful, but if they don’t know whether or not a product works better for men or women, that’s not going to translate well. We want the individuals selling our products to feel so comfortable with the product information that it just rolls off their tongue. That way, they’re in the perfect position for an upsell! We love trainings on product pairings, which benefits the consumer because employees can pass on that knowledge and create a more fulfilling experience for themselves and the person they’re buying a gift for. As a gift giver, it feels satisfying to have a “story” to go along with a gift. Not just, “I found this myself on the rack and thought it looked okay,” but rather, “The woman at the store says it’s the absolute best hands-free massage gel, and told me that it pairs beautifully with these candles.” Everyone wants to put some meaning into a gift, and it’s the salesperson’s job to give them that product knowledge as part of the purchase.

Advice and guidance are especially important when it comes to intimate products used on sensitive areas of the body, because a customer might feel inhibited about returning the item, not wanting to talk about it further since they “got it wrong.” They are far less likely to return for future purchases if they were steered in the wrong direction the first time. Incorrect information doesn’t just hinder one sale, it disconnects the customer from the whole experience of shopping for intimate products. On the flip side, a great experience can also lead to one of the most valuable sales tools out there: positive word of mouth.

The benefits of a well-trained staff are plentiful. Improving sales is the most obvious benefit, but training can also reduce staff turnover. How? Imagine you’re working in a store and you keep failing to close sales because you just can’t seem to connect customers with the right products. You’ve read all the labels and gone online to find talking points, but you’re not closing deals. Your manager thinks you’re not trying hard enough, which makes you resentful, and the cycle continues until one day you quit or get laid off. Now imagine that you attend a store training and get in-person advice on how to hold the products, show them off, talk about their benefits and upsell potential. You learn little details about how the product came to be, what the focus groups were like, and maybe even some funny anecdotes to share about the development or marketing of the product. Now you’ve got some investment in what you’re selling, and you feel confident out on the floor. Suddenly your sales are soaring, the manager is happy and you’re receiving a bonus. Thorough product trainings also ensure that staff can answer questions with ease on the spot and overcome any obstacles to a sale with key facts and details. A well-trained staff is a happy, productive one, which reflects back to the customer.

Let’s return to our walk-in experience. You know that feeling when you’re talking to a salesperson and they know all about the products they’re selling? Yeah, that’s what we want, too.

To Prepare Your Retail Store for the Holidays, Train! By Jared Pomerance originally appeared in XBIZ

How Will the Delta Variant Potentially Affect Adult Retail?

No one is super thrilled about the rising surge in COVID cases and how it may potentially cause another major shift in business. This time, our industry has a chance to prepare for any major shutdowns and plan how to navigate potential closures. As of now there are no closure mandates going into effect, but what we are seeing is a surge in voluntary closures. Event cancellations (none that are industry-related) are starting to trickle in for me, and that means one thing — prepare.

The last time we went into closures and shoppers started locking down in their homes, it caused all of us to shift how we did business to be accommodating to what was happening in our world. This time, we have more knowledge about what we need to do to support shoppers who are starting to stay home and order online again due to mandated closures.

Here are some ideas on how to prepare for the Delta variant and how it may affect us:

Cleaning and sanitizing remain incredibly important

Keep up the good habits you developed when COVID first appeared. Extra traffic in stores means more germs, so keep those sanitizing wipes well stocked. Lysol and Microban are great products when it comes to disinfecting all contact surfaces after periods of heavy foot traffic. This may sound clinical, but it’s important to keep your store safe and customers feeling confident. If they see the actions you are taking to be safe, it reaffirms the decision to shop with you and spend money.

Look at your tester policy

A lot of stores have put testers back out. I’m not saying you should not put them back out on display, but I would advise looking at how they are being sanitized to make sure customers feel confident in utilizing them. Testers are such a key part of our business; it’s an extra challenge to operate without them. Instead of taking them off the floor, put in place a strict sanitizing policy for anything that might be touched by multiple people on the sales floor throughout the day. Let customers see you taking safety seriously and they will be more likely to do so as well.

Promote online shopping if you can

A lot of retailers were able to implement online shopping as an option when COVID started. Send an e-blast to customers and offer them a discount if they shop online to help with their safety. If you already operate an online store, try directing more traffic to it. This gives you an excuse to reach out and promote your business, while also showing that you are working to keep your community safe. If you feel your conversion rates are low in trying to get people to shop online, now is a perfect time to experiment with different promotions or reward systems to see what your customers gravitate towards. Retail forces us to experiment frequently to find out what works for our stores and teams.

Online shopping isn’t just a website; it can also be done via social media. If you haven’t explored how to set up shopping options utilizing social media, it is a great way to drive sales, promote products, sell things online, and educate customers. It’s not just for fancy pictures, but a tool to make money. Share pics of new products, do small training videos, highlight promotions or deals that customers can take advantage of. Let customers know that items can be shipped for a small fee and set up drop shipping from your store. Lingerie is a great example of something to post on social media to get people’s interest without sharing a hardcore sex toy image, in case you are worried about going against the guidelines on social media platforms. Want to share something on the more daring side? Find a program that lets you blur or pixelate the more realistic-looking items.

Utilize online trainings to include as many team members as possible

I’m hearing different concerns about people in stores being vaccinated or not being vaccinated — remove the barrier and focus on online trainings again. I know it can feel redundant to sit in front of the computer for trainings but implement small prizes for those who attend. A $5 Starbucks card or a similar small gift can be a great way to reward those who engage, and also encourage more people to participate. It’s a little thing, but it goes a long way in making things feel new and fresh.

Tune into your CLIENTELING

Remember what customers shopped for with you during the last time that the pandemic altered retail. Offer them specials for being a VIP customer, even if it is in the form of a discount code. This is also a good time to check in on your social media followers. Are you following your top customers back when they follow you? It’s a small relationship-building tool, but it can be so effective when it comes to personalizing someone’s experience with you and your store.

While I hope that we don’t find ourselves back in states of lockdown, we have the opportunity this time to be prepared and help preserve business as we know it during strange times. New can be scary, but it can also be good. Being forced to step outside our comfort zones can show us new ways to make money and drive sales in our businesses. I hope this article doesn’t cause fear but highlights some small steps we can do to keep business flowing.

How Will the Delta Variant Potentially Affect Adult Retail? by Danielle Seerley originally appeared in XBIZ

Relationship-Building Is Only the First Step to Closing Retail Sales

Our success in this industry revolves around the ability of retail associates to build relationships with customers new and old, and in my 20 years of experience turning around troubled companies and retail locations, I’ve witnessed the same basic principles lead to success every time: relationship building, providing and fulfilling a need, and closing the sale.

These are the basics that you need to master if you want to not only be a great sales associate, but build a team of talented associates that results in success for the whole company. I’d like to share my wisdom on how to hone these skills.

I managed brick-and-mortar retail stores for more than 15 years and ran a “top five” store out of 100 in North Carolina. I was always in the top three for sales in the state personally, and was responsible for training all the associates, store managers and district managers in North Carolina — about 25 people each month. It was these years of training that shaped my beliefs about sales and management, and my tried-and-true method for success. Now, as the national sales director for United Consortium (System Jo), my view hasn’t changed. It’s still all about people.

Relationship-Building

People buy from friends, so as a sales person you must develop the ability to create a friendship immediately. Don’t worry, this can be learned! I’ve watched the shyest associates go from staring at their feet when customers walk in the door to actively participating with a few simple strategies.

Start with the first impression. Greet your customer at the soonest appropriate time, tell them your name and ask for theirs. There is nothing people like more than to hear their own names because it fosters the feeling of a “custom” experience. You can say, “Welcome! My name is Brian. And you are…?” Be excited to see them, give them a big smile and use an inviting tone of voice. I actually use a higher tone of voice when I deal with customers directly because I’ve noticed that it gets better results.

Remember that excitement is contagious. The customer will only be as excited to see you as you are to see them. If you’re gazing at the floor, why should they bother to engage? I used to tell my trainees, “Think about someone you’re excited to see every time you see them. How do they behave when you meet?” I always got the same answer: “They light up when they notice me, they smile and rush to give me a hug. They make me feel good.” I can think of several people like that in our industry, and whenever I go to events I anticipate seeing them because, let’s face it, we all want to feel good!

Creating & Fulfilling a Need

Every customer that walks through your door has a need they did not know they had, and you’re going to give it to them. Let’s say they come in looking for a specific toy. Great! Take them right to it. Then add, “If you like this, I think you would love this one!” Start walking to it and motion for them to follow. Choose the most expensive toy that is similar to the one they were seeking, believe it’s the best, and create a story for that item.

Story is a key element of this process. You can sell nothing without a story. Personal ones are the best, but if you do not have a personal story, steal one from someone else! You have nothing to lose by giving them some interesting details of your own or someone else’s experience with this toy or line of toys, and of course they can always say, “No, I want the other one.” You’re still making a sale. But why not build on their need, and use your expertise to guide them toward a fuller basket? “Great. Let’s get you that toy you came for, and then you’re going to need these, too!” Start walking to the accessories that go with the toy. They will follow.

You are the expert. Remember, you only need to know one more thing than someone else to be an expert at something. “You will need this toy cleaner,” for example. Start with the most expensive. “Oh, you will need this lube,” you can say. Then start walking and they will follow. Do they have a loved one they want to be more intimate with? Have they seen the incredible items that just went on sale? Is there a question they have that may seem less embarrassing now that you are “friends”? You can even tell a story about a question that someone else once asked you that turned out not to be as embarrassing as the customer thought.

Closing the Sale

Believe it or not, I have seen sales lost time and time again due to not asking simple questions to get the customer to the register. After all the work put in with this person, you must make a closing statement that leads to finalizing the sale.

Here are the four main types of closes:

  1. Assume the sale: “Did you want to pay with cash or credit?”
  2. Give options: “Did you want me to ring you up for this toy or the other?”
  3. Suggestion close: “Based on your needs, I think this would be the best for you. Ready to take this home today?”
  4. Urgency: “Let’s ring you up. We just got these back in stock, and they keep selling out!”

I believe in these three principles, and I’m happy to share my wisdom with you because lifting up others is a win-win. Before my life in business operations, I was an infantry soldier in the U.S. Army assisting in public relations. I worked with the United Nations Honor Guard in Korea and traveled the country parachuting into airshows. It was an exhilarating time in my life, and I’ll never forget that feeling of winning over new people every day as a representative of my country.

I’ve carried those relationship-building skills with me into the business world and found that it’s the formula for success. I hope it works for you too!

Relationship-Building Is Only the First Step to Closing Retail Sales by Brian Woolard originally appeared in XBIZ

How to Successfully Upsell Adult Retail Shoppers

Upselling. It’s a tricky game, trying to hit that target of being helpful to your customer, but not annoying or pestering them to get a sale. Not all retailers do it, but if you get upselling right, it’s certainly worth it. I’ve been to corner shops countless times and faced a barrage of offers, such as “Would you like to buy some fruit cakes today for only £1?” or “Can I interest you in some toffees? They’re on sale.” Each and every time, I refuse. I’m simply not interested, and because I’m only in there for a bottle of milk or a loaf of bread, I have no need for these other products. The upsell just isn’t useful or relevant to me and it often leaves me feeling irritated — this is a perfect example of how not to upsell.

Now, if I was buying, let’s say, dog food, and I was offered dog treats at the till, would I consider the upsell? I’m a huge dog lover and my chocolate lab/spaniel cross, Barney, is my fur baby, so yes, I would absolutely consider it — and will probably buy three or four packs because I’m a softie. A successful upsell!

Upsells are a great way to boost sales and sell items that customers wouldn’t ordinarily come in to buy without buying something else. It also helps to give your customer a better experience, and if they enjoy their purchase, there is a much higher chance they will return again.

Your upsell can’t just be “a great offer,” though. Not everyone will want the offer, so it isn’t going to be as “great” to them as you may think it is. The item has to be relevant to the transaction. Give the person a reason to buy your upsell. The product may work well with something in the purchase, or it may be required in order to use something that the customer has bought.

So, what upsells work in our industry?

Time for an example. Your customer brings a beautiful vibrator to the till and hands over their card to pay. You ring it up and then open your mouth and say… “Do you need any batteries at all?”

That’s it — you’ve nailed it! As long as the vibrator requires batteries, this is a great product to complement the sale. Even if your customer has batteries somewhere in their home, it’s usually easier for them to buy them there. This way they are sure, and they can be confident knowing that they will be able to use their purchase when they get home.

Once home, the thrill of their new purchase will hopefully be enough to drive them to return to your store in future.

For other upsell ideas, you just have to think of what products marry well together. For example, for butt plugs or dildos, you can suggest a lubricant as an upsell. Bondage collars can be sold with wrist and/or ankle cuffs (and vice versa), and why not suggest a blindfold to a customer buying a whip, explaining to them that it adds to the excitement and anticipation of not knowing when the next crack of the whip will strike?

Upsells are much easier in a physical store than through an online website. They don’t require programming or setting up, and the product can be placed strategically nearby within easy reach. For an online store, it becomes a slightly more complicated process.

Luckily, though, many off-the-shelf retail software packages and templates feature this type of system already built in, and just need the administrator to program in the upsells manually. These can be in the form of pop-ups (so when a customer adds a vibrator to their basket, a pop-up suggests to add the correct batteries to their order too), reminders (in the checkout, you could have a message similar to “Did you remember to add lube?”) or by related products on the product listing itself. (“Customers also purchased these” or “These products work great together!”)

Upselling can be a great way of maximizing order totals and increasing revenue, as well as giving your customer a positive and useful buying experience. These extra little sales aren’t designed to be “hard sell” purchases but will complement the sale and leave your customer feeling like they have had the complete package.

How to Successfully Upsell Adult Retail Shoppers by Daniel Miller originally appeared in XBIZ

Resurrecting Retail: Why Keeping Shelves Stocked Is Key

How do you resurrect a boutique that is going down fast? A common mistake that is made, which leads to the further decline of a boutique, is putting a hold on spending. Managers often do this to show their owner a smaller loss, but it is a lethal mistake! As the old adage goes, “you have to spend money to make money!” In retail, the problem is that you can’t survive if you don’t have stock. When you allow this to happen, you are left with old, stale and unwanted product. A store with empty shelves and walls looks like it’s going out of business.

Worse yet, when sales decline, morale often drops to an all-time low. The team’s desire to be a team and keep the store afloat diminishes. It’s very challenging to bounce back and obviously very costly to do so. The problem is only amplified if it’s a “mom and pop” shop that doesn’t necessarily have the spare cash to keep the store afloat while it’s rebuilt. Eventually, you will have to make the decision to restock and make your shelves and walls plentiful again. By this time, you are running very thin with good staff and sellable product. Again, “it takes money to make money!”

The best advice I can give is to begin your search for support within the vendors and manufacturers you support. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. If you do ask for a little help from time to time, you will more than likely receive support from the brands to which you have been loyal. Some vendors are willing to give you product to fill space with the agreement of maintaining that space with their product. Others may be willing to offer deeper discounts or longer terms. The main objective, however, is to build that morale and unity back up so that when you do get your store back to the “full” appearance it needs to be successful, you have a sales team that is ready to contribute to that success!

Refresher courses and seminars from your top vendors often result in better product knowledge for your sales force and even sample product for them to try out at home. The best part is that these seminars are free! We all know it’s easier to help speak to the quality of product when we have tried it ourselves, or at the very least, when we know how to explain it thoroughly to the customer. This also allows you to demonstrate to your staff that there are people out there that are willing to help. It is obviously a win for all. It’s important to know the difference between taking advantage of others and working with others to benefit both parties. Your vendors are often your key allies when trying to conquer any problem in a store. Leverage their strength, knowledge and training ability as much as you can.

A great start is working with what you have and exhausting your resources once you have a good, clean platform with which you can work. I mean this literally! Get your establishment clean and orderly and get yourself some systems in place to maintain that order. If this means scrubbing floors or bathrooms, then that’s what it means. When your staff sees YOU doing the hard work, they won’t hesitate to do the same when it’s their turn. Once that’s complete, you are ready to reach out for help. Let others know that you are first willing to help yourself. I find that you will receive the most out of people when you demonstrate the fact that they will receive the most out of you in return.

Lastly, carefully analyze your sales team to see which members have strengths that can be utilized. For example, is Sally good at selling high-end toys, but has little to no lingerie sales? Profile each of your employees to target areas for improvement. We often do not know what our team is capable of until we allow them to teach us as well! Be open to the possibility of learning from the people that are on the front lines dealing directly with guests. Promote those that are willing to bring new ideas to the table and put in the required work. There will be people that have moved up the ladder solely because of friendship, while others might be a better fit for the position. Give everyone the opportunity of growth and do not let nepotism plague your operation. If you overlook these talented people, they will likely seek opportunities elsewhere. Don’t be afraid to make these necessary changes. This is, after all, your business, and at the end of the day, YOU are the responsible one. Those that do not agree or understand this growth are only contributing to the failure of your business.

I am fortunate enough to have had several opportunities to travel to other Deja Vu boutiques to help out however I can. While the goal is to help others seek out new ideas and better ways of operating, it is always a huge learning experience for myself and the team that travels with me. I always leave inspired. I always find something to take with me and implement when I get home. These experiences have definitely given me an advantage when it comes to operating a business. Traveling to other adult boutiques may not be something within your reach but you can always check out your local competition. This research can begin right in the comfort of your office by simply checking these places out through social media or seeing what they are doing differently in the consumer’s eye to receive five-star Yelp reviews. There is no shame in imitating ideas that have proven themselves successful in similar businesses. Change is scary but it always pays off!

Resurrecting Retail: Why Keeping Shelves Stocked Is Key by Megan Swartz originally appeared in XBIZ

How to Create Elevated Experience in Retail Stores

Creating a branded experience in your store can do more than boost sales. It helps build credibility to stand out against other retailers, and boosts confidence among consumers that want to know that they are buying from an established business that has invested not only in supporting themselves, but their associates as well. Having well-educated and confident sales associates is reflective of stores that have made product education a priority — to not only ensure that they can offer the best customer service but that they can be trusted to offer great and reliable assistance.

The resources and expenses of creating branded experiences has changed significantly over the last five years. Printing assets used to have incredibly high minimums, making it unrealistic and expensive for individual or smaller stores to do much of their own branding on various materials. Printing at smaller businesses usually required technical skill in creating and executing documents, which can be tricky if you do not have a graphics team to support you.

Over the last several years, marketing companies have been able to identify the gap between big business printing and small business restrictions. There are several online platforms that you can use that will help with design, printing and other details that may have caused obstacles in the past.

Companies like VistaPrint online give you a lot of options, with pre-made templates for design that do not require you to have your own graphics artist or team. Minimums are smaller and pricing is affordable for businesses of all sizes. They also give you a large range of materials to have printed, such as banners or large posters, which would have been pricey and harder to find before. Other online printing businesses to check out are: Uprinting.com, PrintPlace.com and GotPrint.com, to name a few. You do not need to go crazy — think about two signs that you could use the most on the sales floor, and the two items that you recommend to customers the most. Start there and you can add and adjust as you go to see what is most impactful for your store and customers. You may be tempted to use the store’s computer to make a sign whenever you need it. For example, if you need a quick sign for dressing rooms or the cash wrap area … check out the online resources that are available to help you design one. These types of details on store materials can enhance a customer’s perception of your business.

Establish a store culture that creates consistency in branding. All store signage should have the same logo, font and general “look.” Signage at the cash wrap should be minimal and not flooded with random flyers and posters. Each guest that checks out is given the exact same bags, tissue, inserts, etc. Exterior signage matches the inside for a connected experience. Product section signage is uniform across the store, creating a more organized and impactful experience. Floor ads are themed to other activities in the store with, you guessed it — coordinated signage. Having signs or posters made to match your floor set could cost as little as $20; it is so worth it for the long-term experience. Something to keep in mind is that it costs twice as much to gain a new customer as it does to keep a current one. One way of keeping current customers happy is to make their shopping experiences new and fresh. Having coordinated floor sets and sign changes will give the customer the trust of shopping at one of their favorite places, but it will feel like shopping in a new store each time. If you need help with this type of store activity or want help with it, manufacturers and distributors are so excited for this type of opportunity. I promise, please ask us!

When bringing new employees onboard, it’s important to have consistency and structure — so everyone gets the same training, and that consistency is seen when helping the customer as well. It is so important that these new associates and sales reps buy into the brand and the brand experience. Their onboarding, while having some serious moments, should also be fun and engaging. The experience you create for a new person will often be the experience they create for their customers. No one loves hours of paperwork or mundane HR training. Take this opportunity to show your new people why shopping with you is fun — why your store is different, and why consumers should choose you over your competitors. I go into certain stores that are so rule-driven that the shopping experience feels so autonomic. Aside from the regular comments when someone comes in such as, “How are you?” “Are you looking for anything particular?” “Let me know if you need anything,” create some new patterns and verbiage to incorporate into the shopping experience at some time. For example, what’s each customer’s favorite color? What type of phone do they have? Open-ended questions that are not the norm but lead to fun, sales-relevant conversations.

Start partnering with your distributors to gain more access to their materials. It is so hard for distributors to manage all the marketing materials they have on-hand, as well as what each manufacturer has available for them. Do not be shy! Ask your sales rep if they can reach out on your behalf to your favorite brands or top-selling brands and see what they have available. You will be surprised at all the signage and store materials available. Typically, if you do not see what you are looking for, it can be created for you.

At the end of the day, we are all doing what we can to make a difference in our business. The difference that makes it stand out compared to the competition and the difference that makes people choose to come back time and time again. As manufacturers, we support you trying to make the difference and want to help. Branding is one way to stand out and stand up for your business. To quote Thomas J. Watson, “Good design is good business.”

How to Create Elevated Experience in Retail Stores by Danielle Seerley originally appeared in XBIZ

Even in Business, Empathy Goes a Long Way

To quote Wilhelm Röpke in “A Humane Economy: The Social Framework of the Free Market” (1960), “Self-discipline, a sense of justice, honesty, fairness, chivalry, moderation, public spirit, respect for human dignity, firm ethical norms — all of these things which people must possess before they go to market and compete with each other. These are the indispensable supports which preserve both market and competition from degeneration.”

Core business values are no different than everyday virtues that we expect of our fellow humans, to be quite honest. Do the right thing, don’t be a you-know-what, that kind of stuff.

I’ve had the fortune of working both in adult novelty manufacturing and distribution, and no matter where I’ve found myself, the following habits have remained invaluable.

Empathy

Take a moment to reflect on some of your most rewarding interactions with a customer. What made those experiences remarkable?

Was it the thrill of the sale, or a larger sense of fulfillment, knowing that by intuitively understanding the needs of the other person, you were able to navigate a problem and deliver an outstanding resolution?

The ability to “put yourself in someone else’s shoes” is a gift both inside and outside of the workplace, and arguably the only business skill that one might need to be successful. Empathy, defined as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another,” is treating everyone with respect and dignity regardless of background or current circumstance — and it can make or break any business relationship.

The impact of being empathetic in the workplace starts at the top and trickles all the way down to the end-user. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and empathic towards employees, co-workers, our customers — and their customers — difficult situations become easier to swallow, which allows us to think critically and achieve optimal solutions. This is why empathy in the workplace is so transformative, and also why empathy should be a top quality of any existing or potential employee.

Transparency

This one can take a minute to learn and it’s not always an easy pill to swallow, especially when everything goes to hell. Transparency is about being straight up and honest with your customer when hitting rock bottom in a dire situation. Being transparent has the potential to turn an irate customer into a brand evangelist; this is your time to shine! This can include an isolated situation, or a recurring issue on behalf of your company that you’ve tried to rectify with no luck. Both of those situations may be out of your control completely, or not. Some examples include:

  • An order didn’t ship when it was supposed to
  • They received the incorrect quantity/color of an item
  • Item ran out of stock
  • Repeated defectives for the same product
  • The company you work for may have wronged them in the past, etc.

I’ve found that the quickest way to alleviate tension with an angry or disappointed customer is to simply agree with them. Be on their side. (Back to empathy!) Defending your company because it seems like the right thing to do, or keeping a wall up with an “us vs. them” mentality is not the recipe for a harmonious, trusting relationship with your customers. We are all human, just trying to do our best. When all else fails, that statement, word for word, removes the company/corporation from the scenario and reminds the customer that we are all people, working our jobs, and in this together. Your company likely wouldn’t still be in business if it wasn’t capable of helping its customers. Mistakes are always going to happen, and the quickest way to get through a crisis is to acknowledge it immediately and always, always keep it real.

All customers are created equal

For manufacturers, it is understandable that your primary focus is to support relationships with your distributors. That is what they exist for, and that is what their reps do well — handling hundreds and thousands of retail accounts around the globe so that you can do what you do best: create the pleasure products! But the truth is, some retailers do slip through the cracks — perhaps they don’t order through your distributor(s), or they would rather deal with you directly. It is okay to make an exception for a little fish from time to time.

This also goes for distributor sales reps who are managing (what feels like) a million and one accounts. Yes — that can be beyond overwhelming, and sometimes it feels like the smallest customers on the food chain are the most demanding. That’s okay.

There was likely a point in time when you would have really appreciated a leg up from a particular person. Be that person for the little guy. If someone is trying to get ahold of your products and you go out of your way to make it happen, that is one more potential customer of yours in the world…at the very least.

You never know whose business is about to explode — and on the flipside, you never know whose business is on the verge of imploding. Sure, brick-and-mortars are reliable customers, but so are subscription box owners — and they aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

No business is too small. If someone is asking for your help to ultimately buy and/or sell your products, help them. As a customer, it always feels really good when a big company or corporation goes out of their way to take care of you, no matter how big or small the sale. There is no greater value to your business than making your customer feel valued.

Whether we are taking advice from Wilhelm Röpke in 1960 or “Bill and Ted” in 1989, it really all boils down to the same thing — be excellent to each other.

Even in Business, Empathy Goes a Long Way by Casey Murphy originally appeared in XBIZ

How to Keep Adult Retail Employees Engaged With the Sales Floor

We all know that adult retail is changing. Every year, it’s been harder to get customers in the door than the year before. In 2021, a new trend is emerging, and retailers are finding that employees are even harder to get (and keep!) than customers.

The pandemic forced millions of workers around the world to re-evaluate their place in the labor market. Workers are leaving stable jobs in record numbers, and not just for better pay. Workers are paying more attention than ever to hourly commitments, to positive work environments — and if a job can be done remotely, they don’t want to leave home to do it.

Hospitality and customer service fields have been among the hardest hit in this trend. In the adult biz, customer service workers are often expected to maintain expertise in a wide range of fields, often without any additional in-house training (or additional pay). Consequently, some of your employees might be reconsidering their positions — or you might be doing so yourself.

Passion for Pleasure

This is where I found myself in mid-2020: considering leaving a job I loved and finding an opportunity to support my family without leaving home. I had spent six years in adult retail, and although it’s unlike any other job, it’s also very much a normal retail job. Between cleaning shelves and processing orders, resolving conflicts with unhappy customers, overfamiliar customers getting entirely too close and canceling plans to cover call-offs, retail takes a toll on its workers.

Like many adult retail workers, though, I cared deeply about what I was doing. Every interaction with a customer is a chance to improve that customer’s life, and to make the world a more pleasurable place to live; every new toy design is a change to revolutionize somebody’s sexual experience. Also, of course, working with dildos and vibrators is fun — who would want to leave?

Our industry, then, is facing two parallel questions: How do adult retail staff move from the sales floor to another branch of the adult industry? And, how do retailers make better use of their best employees to keep the most dedicated and effective staff on board?

Taking the Leap

The adult industry is wide and multifaceted, calling for employees that possess a wide range of skills. Successful adult retail workers often have diverse professional backgrounds, so don’t overlook these crucial skills when building a resume:

Sell Yourself: Do you obsessively learn every detail about a new product or collection, and feel a thrill from talking a customer into a higher-quality (and higher-price) product? Adult retail is full of good salespeople, and there are always openings for vendor- and distributor-level sales and brand representative positions. If your tongue is silver enough, find the right ear and talk your way into one.

Crafty and Creative: Do you create something from nothing — on canvas, in wood or clay, or digitally? You may be able to design pleasure products! Pleasure products succeed or fail based on practical design choices, and brands are always designing and redesigning their products. Plus, if you craft and sell items yourself in an online marketplace, that ecommerce experience is increasingly in-demand! Extremely Online: Do you spot the new trends on social media before the algorithm does? Look at marketing and digital brand manager positions. Adult businesses at every level need help navigating the labyrinth of social media’s algorithms and terms of services. The tech needs of adult businesses expand every day, and if you’ve done any work building websites, designing apps, or even call-center tech support, you could be invaluable to the right company.

What’s a Retailer to Do?

The best employers want their staff to learn and grow, but nobody wants to lose the staff they’ve invested time and money to train. Somebody always has to work the register, but retailers may consider new ways to utilize more of the skills their staff members already have. Remember, your staff wants to keep selling sex. Give them more ways to do that:

Feed the Brains: If you don’t already, offer product and industry training programs. Not only will they improve your bottom line (because a more informed seller is a more profitable seller!) but they’ll also increase staff engagement. Workers feel more deeply rooted within a business when the business makes an effort to educate them.

Rattle the Bones: Get your frontline workers — the people who listen to the customers, who stock the products, who deal with returns — regularly involved with product selection, operational policies, and local marketing/ engagement. Sometimes, the careful organizational planning you’ve done to manage your business can be its greatest hindrance. If you’ve got department heads asking middle managers to ask other middle managers to ask retail staff for suggestions and feedback — shake it up!

Use the Hands: How are your teams spending their time, and what other needs in your business could they be meeting? Can your sales team members pull duty answering customer questions on your web store’s customer chat? Can stocking team members meet with your buyers to optimize the packaging that comes into your store? Can your social-media addicted part-timers spend a shift exploring the barrage of “the hot new vibrators you have to try!” options that blew up the feeds during the week?

Whether dodging protesters outside the store, fighting court cases and zoning boards, or dancing between the restrictions we face in advertising, the adult industry always finds ways to adapt to face the challenges of the day. Now, workers are searching for their own ways to evolve and grow in a changing landscape.

If workers and businesses alike continue creatively exploring ways to utilize one another’s strengths, we can use this moment as an opportunity to keep making profits, selling sex, and having fun — together.

How to Keep Adult Retail Employees Engaged With the Sales Floor by Chris Fleiger originally appeared in XBIZ

Stats You Need to Know to Get Your Business on the Road to Inclusivity

Over the past months, my team and I have been writing about disability and business — why it matters, why the time is now, and most crucially, why it can and will benefit your bottom line to be inclusive. We’ve also illustrated what that inclusivity looks like in 2021, and how to implement it in your business in a sustained and impactful way.

But as with any new concept, numbers really speak louder than words, so we’ve teamed up with Purple Goat, a brilliant specialist disability and inclusion marketing agency. We want to make sure that when you’re finished reading this article, you’ll be in absolutely no doubt about the financial benefits the so-called purple pound (the spending power of people with disabilities) will definitely have should you put in the necessary work on your business.

What’s It Worth?

Let’s start with the biggest number — there are 14 million people living with disabilities in the U.K., which is 22 percent of the population. That’s an objectively large number of potential consumers, whichever way you look at it, but let’s look at it comparatively for a moment. Also in the U.K., there are:

  • 600,000 vegans
  • 2.4 million students
  • 9.1 million 18-to-30-year-olds

This statistic is replicated all over the world — in the U.S. and elsewhere. Disabled consumers constitute an enormous consumer group, and yet are the least catered-to consumers overall. Even just going on the numbers, this makes absolutely no sense. Let’s think back to a few years ago when the only vegans you knew were lifestyle outliers, and the few vegetarians you knew struggled in restaurants to find a meal that wasn’t salad. Fast-forward a few years and the vegan food industry is worth billions. The reason? A deliberate, steady increase in awareness of the benefits of catering to this demographic.

Marketing Matters

When you consider that the families of disabled people spend $8 trillion globally, you’d think marketing and advertising agencies would make an effort to market to them either directly or, as with most other minorities, via representation. In fact, a paltry 0.06 percent of advertisements feature disabled people, and that’s all industries, so you can conclude that when it comes to the sex industry, representation is even more invisible. Why?

Disabled consumers want to be marketed to the same as everyone else, and there are many millions of them. They don’t want to see one wheelchair user in a campaign every two years, either — they want to be seen, heard and valued properly as consumers.

That means the same treatment as any other large minority consumer group. It means representation, not tokenism and it means having a voice throughout, not just ticking boxes after non-disabled marketers make all the decisions. It means following through on all of these things we’ve been talking about — inclusivity, representation and accessible versions of bestselling products — by paying consultants and thoroughly researching, not just agreeing enthusiastically to the idea with words and no actions.

What’s Stopping Us?

Disability has always been an uncomfortable subject for the non-disabled, because the truth that nobody wants to face is that anyone can become disabled at any time, and there’s absolutely no getting away from that — which means, as humans, we’re tempted to just ignore the entire sector out of fear.

As a result of plain human fear and the subsequent head-in-the-sand mentality, the disability sector — especially in the sex toy industry — has been woefully slow to develop. Disabled consumers have been segregated for so long, they are almost a completely unknown quantity to mainstream brands. It can be intimidating to enter this new arena, and the fear of doing it wrong can hold businesses back.

But as we’ve discussed in previous articles, there’s a very easy fix: hire the experts. Hire disabled people to advise, consult and innovate. Ask the people what they want, get community input and sign-off, and test the creative regularly, just as you would with any other sector.

‘Nothing About Us Without Us’

So, how do you, a brand in the sex industry, get started on the journey of financially driven inclusivity? Read our XBIZ articles, hire the best disability consultants and agencies you can find, and always follow their step-by-step guide:

  • Engage with the community
  • Listen to what they want
  • Strategize how to give it to them and drive ROI
  • Recruit the right professionals, talent and influencers
  • Test the creative and strategy with the audience
  • Execute the tested strategy seamlessly and at scale
  • Track performance, sentiment and measure success
  • Optimize creative and strategy with insights and learning
  • Repeat the process — no one-off campaigns

All of which can be boiled down to a quote by the brilliant Martyn Sibley, CEO of Purple Goat Agency, who says, “Nothing about us without us.”

Stats You Need to Know to Get Your Business on the Road to Inclusivity by Julia Margo originally appeared in XBIZ.

Tips for Bringing a Pleasure Product Brand to Market

Our industry is always welcoming new designs and products from aspiring manufacturers whose aim is to bring their own unique and quirky twist to the market. From past products like the Dodil, to the newer, tech-packed Cellmate Chastity Cage and, more recently, the intriguing Balldo (which I personally can’t wait for!), the adult market is constantly searching for the next big thing. After all, it’s those unusual, exciting ideas that grow into groundbreaking products and consumables.

Building a brand is no easy feat. Trust me; I know this from experience. You need to get so many aspects correct before you have a chance of getting to the forefront of the industry. Let’s explore a few areas that you need to master in order to build your brand.

THE NAME

Forget design. Forget marketing. If you don’t get the name right, you’re on the wrong path!

Your product name is key to the scale of your sales. Give it a catchy name that will stick in people’s heads, but also describes what your product is or does. There is no point in naming a product something people can’t spell, as they’ll never search for it. Likewise, a long name can be forgettable or confusing. The best product names are short, snappy and sweet.

RESEARCH

Research is essential to your brand. Once you have an idea for a name, get Googling! Find a domain name that fits your product and make sure there are no other brands with the same or similar names. The last thing you want to do is become confused with another brand and possibly leave yourself open to numerous lawsuits in the future.

SOCIAL MEDIA

Every brand needs some sort of social presence. Whether it be Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other social outlets, bag those social handles before you launch (even if you don’t intend to use them right away). The more channels that you claim your handle on, the less chance there will be of others trying to copy or impersonate your brand. It’ll also mean that you’ll have uniformity across social media platforms by using the same (or similar) social media handles.

BRAND IDENTITY

Give your brand an identity by using a color palette and use those colors across your packaging, website, products and marketing to enforce your identity and help people to easily recognize your branding. Use your logo as often as you can to let potential consumers know who makes the product and reinforce your brand. If I think of fast food, one of first brands that pops into my head is McDonald’s, and I immediately see that golden M. That’s what you’re aiming for!

Also stick to a limited number of fonts across packaging, marketing, etc., to give your branding a more uniform, recognizable appearance.

Whether you are branding in an informal, casual way or a formal, professional way, make sure you stick to this tone across your brand. Don’t confuse your customers with chatty informality on social media and then ultra-serious, informativeness on your packaging and website. Your customers will struggle to understand where you are coming from.

PRODUCT DESIGN

So, brand built. Product complete. Launch ready.

But whoa there! Have you actually tested it through a feedback panel?

Customer feedback is important to make sure that you get things right the first time. You don’t want to launch and then find that consumers don’t like your product, or find that there are faults or flaws with the product or branding (which can usually be rectified if you are made aware of them).

Test your product yourself. Take time to look carefully at every little detail. Read your packaging and check for mistakes. Question yourself, introduce alternative ideas and let your creativity flow. Then, only once you are completely happy, ask others what they think. Send samples to would-be consumers and ask them for feedback. Find out what they like and what they hate, and then analyze this data in detail.

You may find useful points that need addressing (and in some cases, hear things that you would never have even thought of yourself). If you want to get your launch right, you must listen to the consumer. They hold the key to your success.

I could ramble on about other areas that need to be addressed, as there are so many decisions that need to be made when launching a new product into the market. As you can see, though, it’s no picnic, especially for those who are totally new to the industry. Getting it right the first time is paramount, as getting it wrong can leave a bad taste in your customer’s mouth and leave lasting damage to your brand.

Above everything, I would suggest this one final tip. Whatever you do, don’t rush. It’s hard to correct a mistake so do everything you can to ace it the first time.

Once it’s out there on the shelf and selling, you can reap the benefits of your hard work and you’re bound to feel a great sense of pride about what you’ve done. Although no easy project, the sense of achievement and buzz you’ll get from bringing your idea to life makes it all worthwhile! Now, enough chat. Go get those creative juices flowing!

Tips for Bringing a Pleasure Product Brand to Market by Daniel Miller originally appeared in XBIZ