We were given the chance to chat with the people behind Fantasy, a popular chain of adult stores in Portland, and were given a unique insight to what the industry has been like for the last thirty years.
How has the shop changed since it opened? Did the first Fantasy open in 1985?
The first Fantasy stores opened in Missoula, Montana in 1985. The owner, Tracy Blakeslee, moved to Portland, Oregon and opened the first Portland store in 1989.
Although we've always carried adult toys, Fantasy owes much of its early success to adult video rentals and sales, first with the advent of VHS in the 1980s, then DVDs in the 1990s. As the adult retail industry has evolved, so has our product mix. In 2006, we significantly expanded our apparel selection to offer a more inviting environment to those new to adult stores. Then when the Internet began to reshape the adult video market--and video rentals and sales began to drop--we began transitioning our stores from "old-school" video stores to adult retail boutiques. This transition has varied from store to store, depending on location and needs of our customers. Half our stores still have video arcades, but the footprint of our video selection has decreased as the needs of our customers have changed.
The adult toy industry has also changed dramatically in the past few decades, as the technology and social acceptability of sex toys has become more advanced and mainstream. Adult toys and lubricant sales now represent the largest portion of our business.
How has the company found success in expanding to 7 different shops?
We currently have seven stores, five in the Portland area and two in Missoula, Montana. Although we have customers who visit multiple stores, each store caters to a different neighborhood or suburb, with slightly different demographics and needs. We do our best to have a little something for everyone at all locations, but each has developed its own personality. Our Downtown store, for example, has a largest apparel selection, featuring the latest in adult fashion, while our Tigard store off I-5 is one of our largest, offering the largest selection of adult toys. Our oldest Portland store in the Hollywood neighborhood has perhaps the most diverse customer mix, and its eclectic selection of apparel, couples' toys, bondage and fetish gear, and video reflect that diversity; it also features our largest video arcade.
Advice for other sex shops and adult boutiques making the transition from old-school video stores to a modern-age business?
Don't be afraid of change. ;)
With the decrease of video sales and all of the VHS going to waste, do you think another sex toy or adult product could be upcycled from them?
We continue to sell video; we just stop replenishing what isn't selling. Although video sales have slowed considerably, almost anything will sell at the right price, so we frequently discount video. You can't really 'recycle' a DVD or VHS into a sex toy. Some manufacturers have tried packaging DVDs together with toys to sell their DVD inventory, but ultimately, supply has had to adjust to the lack of demand, and movie studios have adapted to an online format and/or have started making their own toys and lubricants. Some have been more successful than others with the transition as the industry has evolved. Wicked Studios, for instance, invested in creating a quality, competitive lubricant brand, Wicked Sensual Care, which has been doing quite well for us since we added it to our selection over a year ago.
With the transition to modernize adult shops, are you ever worried that your competition might be grocery stores or department stores because of how accepted sexuality is becoming?
Although there's a small overlap between adult stores and more "mainstream" grocery stores and department stores, there's little concern of competition. Drugstores have carried lubricants and condoms for decades, but drugstore clerks are notoriously awkward and unhelpful when it comes to recommending intimate products (even for those brave souls who do approach them with questions). While Amazon and other online retailers continue to put department stores out of business, customers continue to value small local shops that offer specialized product knowledge and personalized customer service. You can't get the same level of service from larger stores that carry a wide range of product (and conversely a very limited selection of adult products)--and when it comes to intimate products, you want to talk to someone you can trust who knows the product they offer.
What does sex positivity mean to you?
Fantasy's founder, Tracy Blakeslee, has always been an advocate for civil rights and sexual liberty, and opened the Fantasy stores in part to provide people a place for people to pursue and explore their sexual interests and identities, whatever they might be. We aim to provide a safe, non-judgmental, fun environment for people of all genders and sexualities. For Fantasy, this means not only providing a female-friendly, gay-friendly, and trans-friendly environment (for example), but also an environment that's welcoming to straight men and couples, whatever their interests or fantasy.
What are some things you notice trending within the industry? (fetishes, products, etc)
Anal play and toys have become increasingly popular and mainstream, expanding well beyond the gay market to include men and women of all sexualities. Since the popularity of 50 Shades of Gray, we've of course also seen an increase in the sales of bondage, soft fetish, and sex toys featured in the books and movies, such as stainless steel Ben Wa balls. Within in just the past few years, we've also seen an increasing interest in strap-on harnesses and pegging, again for couples of all genders and sexualities. We even sell strap-on harnesses to gay cisgendered men.
What has been the most innovative sex toy the shop has sold/is selling?
I don't know that I could pinpoint our single most innovative sex toy. We-Vibe's app-controlled couples' vibrator certainly comes to mind, and they're dramatically expanding the app compatible product line this year. Fun Factory released the Stronic Bi Fusion last year that combines the powerful thrusting action of their Stronic pulsators with external clitoral stimulation--and it's been selling nearly as well as the We-Vibe despite retailing for over $200. Every toy category has its innovative designs, from the remote controlled b-Vibe Rimming Plug (it's a vibrating butt plug with rotating "rimming" beads) to the new Pulse III by Hot Octopus (an open-ended male masturbator sleeve with pulsating action that targets the frenulum).
How do you facilitate a comfortable environment for your customers?
Our sales associates--and the customer service they provide--is key to facilitating a comfortable environment for our customers. Although, of course, we consider the comfort of our customers when making decisions about marketing, merchandising, and the layout of our stores (for example, putting lingerie in the front of the store, with bondage gear and video in the back), no adult store feels comfortable unless the sales staff are friendly, inviting, and helpful, listening to the needs of their customers and offering assistance without judgment. The superior customer service Fantasy provides gives us our greatest advantage over our competitors, even more so than our product mix. I cannot stress this enough.
How much assistance is too much assistance via customers and customer assistance? Where do you draw the line?
Speaking of customer assistance, learning to read a customer is very important, to determine their comfort level and to respond accordingly. But there are also a number of ways to help customers feel more comfortable, so that they'll open up and ask questions once they do feel comfortable. The key is being attentive to customers, saying hello, asking open-ended questions, listening, giving them their space when they need it, and following up to assist once they've had an opportunity to get their bearings and realize that shopping an adult store isn't really much different than shopping a clothing or electronics store.
What are some upcoming events and updates happening with Fantasy that you're excited about?
Every year, we get geared up for Pride in June, and this year, not only will have more to offer everyone at our Pride booth than we've ever had before, but our Missoula stores are also throwing their own Pride event! We've also been updating the layout of our stores and have a couple floor moves coming up in the months ahead. As we condense our video selection, we're updating and streamlining our video sections so they're easier to shop, and of course, we continue to create more space for our ever expanding selection of sex toys and apparel. As the needs and fantasies of our customers evolve and expand, so do we, and nothing's more exciting than keeping up with the needs of our customers!