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Marital aids, sex toys, pleasure products--whatever you call them, most communities have long exiled their sale to grimy industrial areas or truck stops by the highway where no "decent" soul can see them.
But Adam & Eve, which has been selling such products in the U.S. for more than 40 years, brought the adult store out of the shadows in 2009 with the launch of the Adam & Eve store franchise.
Adam & Eve's take on risque retail isn't your typical smut shop. The company has tried to create an atmosphere that's friendly to women and couples, with a focus on sexual health. Lingerie, supplies for bachelorette parties and other less shocking items are stocked in the front of the store, while the naughtier bits and videos are kept behind partitions in the back. All DVDs are reviewed internally, and 20 percent are sent to sex therapists, who make sure they depict positive human sexuality and wellness. The company focuses on specialty retail locations in strip malls and other shopping areas.
"When you walk in, the first 80 percent of the store is like a Victoria's Secret," explains Dave Keegan, general manager of Adam & Eve franchising. "Women don't feel safe visiting adult stores in industrial areas, so they don't go. Our store is open and inviting. We attract people because we're in the mainstream."
Despite having to fight city by city to get stores built, Adam & Eve has opened 53 units in 24 states, with up to 400 more coming in the next 10 years. We talked with Keegan about what it's like running an adult franchise.
Who are your typical franchisees?
Our operators are usually middle-age couples from 35 to 55. About 80 percent are couples or close family members. Most of them see the store as an investment opportunity. Quite honestly, sex sells. They get a mainstream store that meets couples' and females' needs in a nonobtrusive, very accommodating environment. They look to our franchise because of what we have to offer--there's a built-in customer base from people using the dot-com site who want to come in and see and feel the products.
There's great support to each franchise location, and vendors out there give us better pricing because we are part of the Adam & Eve family. Our franchisees are doing this rather than selling ice cream because they see a real need in the market.
Who are your customers?
When we first opened, our customers were 35 and over. But in the last five years, that lower age has decreased. I've waited on 21-year-olds all the way up to a 75-year-old lady.
How do you promote sexual health?
We suggest to our franchisees that they do ladies' nights or couples' nights or have sexual-health nights. We'll have a gynecologist or sex therapist give a talk. It's a way to have women come out to a safe environment and do something they haven't done before, and it gives doctors an opportunity to preach to new people.
What difficulties do you face when opening a store?
Our biggest obstacle is also our greatest positive. We are one of the No. 1 names in adult merchandise. But landlords and legislators envision our website. They think we are going to be a porn store, which we are not. Some tenants don't want a store near them selling adult products.
Then there are zoning issues. We are a specialty retail store, not an adult store. About 10 to 30 percent of our floor space is deemed "adult," so we use a specialty retail license instead of an adult license. Once we get a store open, and the public and chamber of commerce sees it, other stores are much easier to open.
So have you mastered the art of dealing with zoning regulations?
No way. We still battle store by store with zoning boards and landlords. The federal government put the definition of obscenity in the hands of municipalities. It's an ongoing battle, but we're happy to intervene on behalf of our franchise operators.
For instance, we opened a store in Ohio. When we started, the local chamber of commerce was strongly against it. Once we opened, we had an event at the store and invited the chamber members--all 15 showed up! They wanted to prove that they were right, but they loved the store. One lady was from Dayton, and she said, "I know I fought it, but now I want you to come to my town!"