We are bombarded with images of sex everyday in magazines, on television and the internet. For example, web pages like tubevsex provide adult content that millions of people consume every single day. However, the topic of sex is still considered taboo and is seldom discussed in many circles.
One reason might be because of the stigmas attached to sex and the fear people feel of being judged because of their preferences. Businesses that operate in the sex industry also have stigmas attached to them. When some think of sex they imagine dark, creepy places that cater to perverts.
One business owner who is doing her part to remove these stigmas and educate people is Nenna Joiner, owner of Feelmore Adult Gallery in Oakland, CA.
We recently had a chat with her. This is what she had to say:
SB: We’ve all heard the phrase, “Sex sells.” Apart from the potential profitability, what sparked your decision to open a sex store?
NJ: Sex does sell, but it is really sex and not products that sell more than not. Thought I‘d put that notion into perspective. Yes, the adult novelty business is profitable as is any industry that has a high barrier to entry. Understanding profit and gross margins along with what products sell will contribute to the bottom line.
I honestly woke from a dream and decided this is what I wanted to do. I purchased novelty products and DVD’s to sell around town. I then, loaded up two boxes with product, popped it in the trunk of my Toyota Camry, and stood in parking lots and front of bars doing my best to sell what I could.
Sometimes I got grins from women more out of “How cute!” vs. “I need a product.” It was really a lesson for me to become okay with being uncomfortable and not knowing. I’ve come a long way, yet I’m still not as comfortable. I’ve learned to stay with the road of uncertainty.
SB: What challenges did you run into when trying to open the store?
NJ: Anytime you have a high barrier to entry business it takes money to begin. I started with a solid 401k, IRA, and stocks I began purchasing while working for ‘The Clorox Company’ in Oakland. The permits were very expensive. Changing the hours of operation to much later also came with a price.
Given that I did not have a preexisting business reputation; it was difficult for the majority of the community to rally behind me. Many assumed I would pimp kids and be a bad influence on the community. Many dissenters, after seeing how I ran my business, came by to apologize months later. I understood that they were protecting their youth base from at risk clients. I’m just happy NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard Thinking) did not win.
SB: Would you say that Feelmore is much more than a sex store?
NJ: Feelmore is absolutely more than a sex store! Anytime anyone opens a business we always want to say we are different, yet we all carry the same products. I did my very best to make certain that many products that clients wanted were carried yet I wanted to make certain that we carried items that you just couldn’t get elsewhere.
This is where your product and business differentiation comes in. You have to give people more than they expect otherwise new businesses will lose out to businesses that have been there for years if not decades. There is enough [money] to be made.
SB: How would you describe the typical Feelmore customer?
NJ: Well, first of all, Feelmore doesn’t have a customer. Feelmore has clients. We treat people with the utmost care and respect for their information. Respecting privacy is instilled in our Team.
Clients will share some very detailed and graphic information and you want them to know that ‘Your secret is safe with Feelmore.’
Our clients are all over the place: They include Hipsters, Millennials, Gen X, Gen Y, church goers and politicians. New businesses always want to say “Our target market is…”, but from my own experience, you just have to take everything and allow the client base to sift through the process.
Most adult products can cost upwards of $200-$300, or more, bringing in products that can be had for as low as $10-$20 is important. It doesn’t change what the client looks like but it distributes the purchasing power across the board to demographics.
SB: Where do you see your company five years from now?
NJ: I honestly see Feelmore as a lifestyle business. Not that we will not continue to sell traditional adult products but the industry is changing. The access to products is changing and as the consumer is able to buy, at times, what stores procure; it makes it hard to stay ingrained in an industry that has less control over purchasing sources.
Overseas manufacturing is helping to lead the way but also leads to inferior product on the market.
As I’m looking now to open Feelmore in other locations/states, I feel there is an opportunity to buy out businesses that are all out of ideas. I’m just getting started and I can see more than a light at the end of the tunnel. I can see a whole new galaxy that I will create!
SB: What is the most gratifying part of being a business owner?
NJ: The best part of being a business owner is the repetition of solving problems…sometimes the same problems with different solutions. Personally, I enjoy being in a challenging industry. I did not know what to expect in the beginning. You should never do too much research when opening a business especially asking questions such as, “How hard was it?”
I did not have a partner nor a lover to go into business with. I depended only on GOD to get me through the difficult times…and trust there were plenty. If ‘it’ were easy, everyone would do it. I’m able to see what I am really made of and if I really want what I say I want.
SB: What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
NJ: Go for it! You have nothing to lose. When you look back after giving it your all, you can sleep well and be at peace knowing that you got your dreams out of your head and into reality. It will not be easy yet it is satisfying. It will let you know who your real friends are quickly.
It will teach you how to manage yourself and others. It will teach you to keep your word. It will teach you how to get back up again. It will teach you how to get out of your comfort zone if you are truly to be successful.
Success attracts people (the good and the bad). Be mindful when people just want to be around you. Do not use your business as a hangout spot, pit spot, or take it as a joke, especially if you have a physical location.
With all the gentrification going on in the world, people of color having ownership to commercial space sometimes keeps us in neighborhoods that are quickly transitioning. You are the last bastion of hope for many communities – treat it as a coveted position.
-Tony Oluwatoyin Lawson (IG @thebusyafrican)