We sent one Questionnaire to Adult Retail owners and another Questionnaire to Adult Retail staff, and asked them about their experiences working in the Adult Retail Industry. 

Questions included:

  • History and images
  • Industry knowledge and product expertise
  • The changing face of the Adult Retail industry - customers, products and the online world
  • Reactions of family and friends - acceptance and stigma / discrimination
Here are some of the responses that we received:

What got you interested in working in the Adult Retail Sector?

How did your business come about?

  • "Living in Bendigo, I needed an employment change and spread my resume across the town. I remember standing outside the Club X store, shrugging my shoulders, and thinking, why not?  In 2003 I was employed as a casual staff member. Shortly after I moved back to Melbourne I worked at multiple Club X locations leading into managing a variety of the stores including the new concept store “Twisted Toys”.

    A typical day - Every location has its own ‘typical day’. It’s funny how the customer demographic changes from store to store whether it be because of its services, its discreet entry or the staff working there. I don’t think I have ever classed any day as ‘typical’ in the industry….I was always ready for the unexpected, and certainly learnt you can’t stereotype. I started to realise, ‘T-shirts to business suits, 18yo-118yo’.  If you stopped & relaxed, and thought it may have been a ‘typical’ day…..a customer would throw you a ‘curve ball’ with that unexpected question or story! Oh, the customers LOVE to tell you stories!!!

    The most significant influence in my working career is everyone around me. The Adult industry is such (a possibly unexpected) amazing assortment of staff managers, reps, wholesalers and general people that make working so much more ‘colourful’ than so many other industries!" (Michelle - HGC AUstralia) Source: Synergy Media

  • "I actually started off selling other women's products such as pads, tampons, boxes for that time of the month with other goodies in them, self care boxes, then I started expanding into other boxes for menopause, fertility then sex, and once I bought out the sex themed one, well that was that, all my customers wanted was more adult boxes and adult products. My customers love my one-on-one high level of service and they put a lot of trust in me to look after them, It's more than just about a sale for me. Quality over Quantity here." (For Her Box)

How has the landscape of the Adult retail sector changed - both on a geographical and social level? 

  • "Online sales have grown dramatically but not everyone is comfortable with online shopping. Adult toy shopping is a very personal experience and I like to make people feel as comfortable and as informed about certain products prior to taking their money. Socially it is becoming more acceptable to shop within an adult products store. As a retailer, I'm trying to change the way the community perceives the stereotype of what adult product shops used to be. My shop is bright, light and smells amazing, 99% of the time there is a female behind the counter and most customers seem to feel more at ease with this combination." (The White Rabbit Adult Boutique)
  • "Geographically there are more online stores so the market has opened up exponentially. Socially, the growth in the industry has enabled sex toys to be valued as any other product. Quality, design and packaging have improved and the taboo has lessened. The market is much more focused on the female market. Some of the market has aligned itself more with health and wellness rather that drugs and pornography." (Passionfruit - The Sensuality Shop)
  • "Socially, people are more open to new experiences than they were 10 or so years ago. We have a loyalty program now which after 10 months has over 1000 members, meaning customers are willing to receive emails from us. This would not have been possible 10 years ago. People are more interested in strengthening their sexual confidence and building their self esteem and connecting with their sexual partners, which makes our job so much more rewarding. Geographically, it's hard to say, Adelaide used to have soooo many sex shops but the numbers have dwindled, mainly due to old school owners not adapting their business models to the new wave of technology and connectivity." (Adult Bliss Erotic Boutique)
  • "It's becoming more accepted and spoken about on social media." (For Her Box) 

How has the internet affected your business or the Adult Retail Industry as a whole (both positive and negative)? Have you had to make changes to your business process because of the online world?

  • "POSITIVE - consumers can learn and compare. Shopping can be done in privacy and potential embarrassment reduced. NEGATIVE - the positives can also be negatives. Shopping in private can keep the industry 'private' and taboo. The ability to speak to professional staff is reduced. Price comparisons can be difficult. We've had to compete online and invest in a website. Having a website helps customers to connect with us and understand who we are before they come to the store." (Passionfruit - The Sensuality Shop)

  • "On-line has expanded dramatically. Our online store is our first point of call....its our shop window! The adult movie entertainment sector is now 98% streamed online. This is the past...... Sexyland have expanded our offering, by building our core ranges. Better quality, high tech products, made from superior materials, are now a prerequisite for all adult retailers." (Sexyland) 

  • "The biggest change we have had to make was creating and online presence and making sure it reflects our store and our ethos. Many adult retailers seem to build a website to sell products, but our focus isn't to try to just sell products on the website but to help people feel more comfortable entering our store. Most of our customers want to be able to touch and feel their new toys before buying them, and a large demographic also want advice on what to purchase. One of the main changes we have made is to make sure that we have display models of as many products as possible to give people the confidence to make educated decisions, something you obviously can't do online. Given that satisfaction is so reliant on the touch, feel and operation of many products your purchase has to be right for you, in this case we have an advantage over the online only stores! Understanding SEO and Google analytics matters as well, people are using the internet to find stores so if you want to be found you have to stay on top of it." (Adult Bliss Erotic Boutique)

  • "Unfortunately Facebook and Instagram don't allow advertising so that really really hinders my business. So it's always trying to find ways to still interact with my customers on social media."(For Her Box)

How has the clientele changed over the course of your business being in operation? For example - Women, LGBT, younger clientele, more couples...

  • "Younger people are now shopping with confidence. They are educated about what to buy, and where best to buy it. Reviews and recommendations are key! Sexual orientation is becoming a thing of the past....In the future, it will become a non-issue!"  (Sexyland)
  • "Customers are able to express their sexuality more freely and we are much more aware of such things as using inclusive language, being aware of health issues and triggers to trauma." (Passionfruit - The Sensuality Shop)
  • "I find that the bulk of my customers are women and couples I have customers ranging in age from 18 years to 91 years. I also provide a home delivery service to a couple of 85 year old ladies who can't manage to come into the shop physically." (The White Rabbit Adult Boutique)
  • "More couples definitely, but also a wider variety of couples (age, sexual orientation etc)! LGBT customer base is absolutely growing but this could just be that people are more comfortable being honest about their orientation in store, and the community is getting bigger and more open in general. We are seeing a lot more young people (men, women and non binary) looking to explore their sexuality. I think the era of "book stores", "Marital Aids" and "novelties" is in the past, sex toys aren't just for long term married couples who have lost their sex drive, they're not just cheap laughs, and stores aren't seedy and taboo anymore, they are literally for everyone!" (Adult Bliss Erotic Boutique)
  • "All of the above. More couples are realising introducing toys to the bedroom is a good thing, younger girls are seeing that its ok to masturbate and own a toy, more lesbians are buying products once they realise what is out there for them and their partner to enjoy. More women in general are trying sex toys, lots of my customers are first time toy owners!" (For Her Box)

Have the kinds of products that you stock changed over the course of your business being in operation? For example less videos, more sex toys…

  • "Products have improved so much since we opened in 1998 so we are much more able to find products that tick all of our boxes, such as vibrators made with body safe materials, packaging that is aimed at women and brilliant design. That didn't exist 20 years ago."(Passionfruit - The Sensuality Shop)
  • "DVD's are still strong is SA, arguably still a core part of our business at least. However a lot of the aforementioned old school sex shops (or should I say Book Stores) didn't catch on to the new wave of products and just closed down. We have a large selection of DVD's and we keep them up to date with new releases. As for toys, our couples toys and masturbation devices keep us strong, but a big focus of what we do at our store is Fetish and leather gear! We stock heaps of local leather and obscure kink products and there seems to be quite a demand for it." (Adult Bliss Erotic Boutique)
  • "Definitely have changed to more premium products, and whilst I still have cheaper options for everything, I am really focused on more unique and more luxury items. I have also recently introduced more for men while still sticking to the look I want for my adult store." (For Her Box)

Do you have any knowledge of the history of The Adult Retail Sector in your city? 

  • "In Melbourne, adult retail included pornographic magazines, videos, sex booths, cinemas and drug paraphernalia as well as vibrators and fetish gear. It was often relegated to industrial areas and illegal for minors to enter. Windows were also blacked out. Sex shops have lost some of their relationship to drugs and pornography but the scene hasn't changed a lot to this day." (Passionfruit The Sensuality Shop)
  • "The stories I hear from the old days make it sound like Adelaide was full of sex shops, "at one point there were more sex shops than churches" people say, which, being the city of churches sounds like a big deal! The joke follows on that we have so many sex shops because everyone is sexually repressed, but these days I don't think that's true anymore. With that said, most of the Kink and LGBT community and events have been, and are still, mostly "underground" but that has been changing over the years. Adelaide is a melting pot of culture and personalities much like the rest of Australia; we haven't yet decriminalized sex work which is a prime example of where we have been politically, and most city councils give adult stores a really hard time, with our efforts to open a store in the Adelaide Hills being blocked many times."  (Adult Bliss Erotic Boutique)

What is your Industry knowledge and product expertise?

Below is an 'Adult Retailer's Memoir' by Kerrie McKinnon – former Store Manager, Flirt Adult Stores - Source: Eros Association

Answer: "When I was asked to reflect on my life in the adult industry, I honestly didn’t know where to start. So naturally I took my thoughts back to where it all started.

In 2007 I walked into an adult store in Orange NSW for the first time. Little did I know that the experience would shape the rest of my career – I saw an ad for a job on the wall for a shop assistant and the rest is history. At the time I was working as a cake decorator and not pursuing any particular career goals but I knew that I had the personality to converse with many types of people – so without hesitation I submitted my application and thus began my journey with Flirt Adult Stores.

In the beginning the two Flirt stores represented a vast array of lower priced adult products but also a wide variety of toys. The majority of customers regularly stocked up on their DVDs and magazines, which were the bread and butter of the adult stores at that time. Those were the days where you couldn’t stock them fast enough, and the sale of an $80 toy was a great day, and talk of anal play made folks giggle with embarrassment. Of course the question ‘would your friends and family have a problem with you working here?’ was one of the first asked before a job interview.

Within the first few months of working in this environment I knew that the adult industry was where I wanted to be. Meeting people from all walks of life and talking with them about the most sensitive of subjects. Knowing that the non-judgemental environment allowed them to open up about their deepest feelings as well as their darkest indiscretions. I took it upon myself to learn more about every unique and intriguing subject that was introduced to me and I took pride in researching them and being ready and able to assist the next person that shared the same views and needs.

Like most adult stores we offered no judgement on sexual preferences, or towards people who shared bizarre fetishes and value., Yet the social acceptance of the adult industry was still pathetically low. Most people would have been shocked to see an advertisement for a vibrator in a magazine, but this was also the era of industry innovation, where the promotion of sexual health rapidly expanded.

I believe that in earlier years, a lack of knowledge about what the adult industry stood for was its major PR problem. Yet there were some defining moments. Think back to the late 90s when Sex in the City featured ‘the rabbit’ vibrator and women around the world responded – and in enormous numbers! This was a defining moment for the industry and helped shape the opinion that women were increasingly self-sufficient and in control of their lives… all the way into the bedroom.

I think back to the arrival of a toy promoting couples play using the most innovative design. 2003 was the founding year for the We-Vibe. It took a few years to trickle into retail stores of Australia but this little purple gem would go on to be one of the largest names in the history of sex toys. The vibrating panty blasted its way into suburban homes thanks to Catherine Segal and The Ugly Truth in 2009. Every second person walking into the stores would ask for the ability to squirm and moan submissively under the remote control of their partners… hands free.

The book release in 2011, Fifty Shades of Grey, opened the minds of mothers, housewives and the like into the world of domination and submission. The phrase ‘mummy porn’ was peppered into polite conversations and we saw a surge in bondage products across the world. The social acceptance of this risqué sexual play finally emerged. But let us not forget the game changers, Womanizer and Satisfyer flooding into the market within 2014 – 2016, changing the minds of so many women who had previously believed that ‘it has to have the vibration of a jackhammer to make me orgasm’. Seeing all of these moments flow into the market and alter people’s thoughts about adult play was key to my developing obsession with the adult industry.

Within three short years, of my joining the Flirt team we opened another store on the mid-north coast of NSW at Port Macquarie. Being a part of this transition really taught me that this industry wasn’t just about products, or sales, or marketing. This industry thrives on knowledge! Any store can have an array of products, but to have your staff truly understand why a product was designed and manufactured was what stood any store above the rest.

I would spend many days and nights reading everything there was available to learn about the innovation and technology that was changing our industry from ‘sticky floor stores’ to sexual wellness stores – stores where we were helping other people’s lives – and this is no exaggeration, we were changing people’s sex lives. Before the end of 2017 a further four stores were proudly opened and the presence of high quality adult stores in rural/country NSW was fierce.

Reflecting on my 10 years within the Adult industry, changes in product preference and trends stood out. Internet and accessibility made the bread winning DVDs become obsolete. This left the only customers stocking up to be the dedicated fans of hard covers… and the customers that were scared of the dreaded search history …. and of course, the good old chaps that didn’t spring for an internet connection just yet.

We jumped from $80 high end toys to $300+ products that interacted from across the world. Masturbators that were simulating visual and physical penetration, vibrators that remembered our favourite settings and Kegels that told us when to ‘squeeze’. It was a new age, and even two years beyond that, the technology is still evolving! This is where my passion lies: how far can we go and where will this industry be in another 10 years?

I strive to see 100% acceptance and respect that sex is life – without it we wouldn’t be breathing! Rid the stores of snide remarks and complaints from strangers of our destruction to their communities! This change can only come from presence and knowledge within said communities. Hiding stores, hiding passion and the importance of sexual pleasure will not change conservative people’s views, it will only make them believe it is where we belong – hidden. The magnitude of that transgression is damaging to everything the industry stands for.

The hardest truth whilst working within adult retail was that although you adapt your personality and the false status of a counsellor with many of your customers, you do not have the credentials to back it entirely. It was many years of helping people on the surface but wanting to delve deeper into the biological meanings of their needs, fetishes and feelings of acceptance or inadequacy, that lead me to my decision to study Psychology and Sexology. To become a certified sexologist meant that I could help clients on the utmost professional manner, to study further the nooks and crannies of the industry; to find out what is needed, what hasn’t been designed yet, and is there a missing area that needs to be addressed when it comes to sexual health, acceptance and more importantly education?

Being a part of this change is so important to me, and we as a country still have plentiful years of change to work on. With the constant fight against the social norms in the topic of sex, change takes four times as long for us so we need to keep pushing and not let the fighting current wash it away.

So, I have now taken the leap from my ever-loved security blanket of in-store retail and I stand strong on my professional path within the most amazing industry I have ever known. I am proud of the last 11 years that have brought me to this point. I see my future standing before vendors, store-owners, staff and community, educating further on the benefits on sexual health and pleasure. I have had the honour of meeting world renowned sexologists, manufacturing toy giants and powerhouse distributors within my years and I have been given the opportunity to continue to work with them as an ambassador. The future to travel further delving into the inner workings of what will make this industry excel even more would be nothing short of a perfect profession for me.

As I have quoted to many… ’Never turn your nose up at an industry just because you don’t understand its presence. If it was simple and finite it wouldn’t be enough to change people’s lives." (Kerrie McKinnon)