WEHOville

Reality Sucking Right Now? Pleasure Chest Offers a Solution

Fri, Apr 07, 2017   By Michael Jortner   
pleasure chest, west hollywood retail, sex shop

The Pleasure Chest gives shoppers an experience they just can’t get online. Or pretty much anywhere else. (Photo by Michael Jortner)

In the second of a two-part series, WEHOville concludes its interview with the Pleasure Chest’s Brian Robinson, owner, and Sarah Tomchesson, head of business operations.

WEHOville: Last week I teased readers with names of celebrities who have mentioned the Pleasure Chest, such as Freddie Mercury. Which Queen song is your brand mentioned in?

Sarah Tomchesson: [smiles] “Let Me Entertain You.” (From the album “Jazz.”)

WHV: Do you remember the lyric that mentions your business?

ST: It’s from 1973, or something (actually 1978), and it says something like “finding S&M attractions at the Pleasure Chest.” Better worded than that, right? [Laughs] (You can listen to it and read the lyrics here.)

WHV: And who else?

Brian Robinson: Somebody gave me the book “Just Kids,” that Patti Smith wrote about her and Robert Mapplethorpe. She mentioned that Mapplethorpe was gonna go down to the Pleasure Chest.

sex shop, west hollywood retail

Sarah Tomchesson of the Pleasure Chest may spell “enjoy” in a queer way, but when it comes to sex ed, take her class. (Photo: Michael Jortner)

WHV: You’ve got good word of mouth. What is your marketing strategy?

BR: We’ll do campaigns based around the idea of exploring, or accepting, or jogging your mind or your interests: “Just try it!” It may not be for you, but at least you tried it.

ST: Our spring campaign, the centerpiece is the song “What the World Needs Now, Is Love, Sweet Love.” Masturbation May is the big time for self-love and we like to promote that.

WHV: What’s driving that campaign?

ST: You’re reading all these stories about how people’s libido is way down. People are dealing with depression on a new level. So we’re doing work around loving your body, loving yourself. How can we tap that into this larger thing that’s going on? [She’s right. See Google results on “Trump and libido” here.]

BR: Reality is kind of sucking right now so [people] are not thinking about sex. In this campaign the imagery is sort of this fantasy world, like a Cinderella experience and these models opening up gifts [of] sex toys. If reality sucks, there’s always fantasy to explore.

WHV: So the larger culture influences people’s sexual expression and that affects your business?

ST: As the [presidential] campaign started ramping up, so late summer [last year], our sales trends went completely off charts [i.e. down]. It was just straight through, late summer into the holiday season and Valentines Day. Buying patterns are really different.

WHV: How did you figure out what explained that dip in business?

ST: The experience of hearing it from our customers: “Like, man, life is just tough right now.” [And] sales trends throughout the U.S., from what we’re hearing from vendors, we’re not the only adult business that’s experiencing this.

WHV: How does the Pleasure Chest you use social media?

ST: We look closely at Yelp. Three years ago people were saying [Pleasure Chest] “is starting to feel like Target. Too mainstream.” So we redesigned the store. We brought in some of the older pieces like the bondage bed, the puppy cage. We installed the “Sex is Back” sign. I mean, you can buy sex toys on Amazon now. People are looking for that experience that is different.

BR: Comments that I get when people find out what I do are: ”Oh my God, you’re on my tour when friends come [to town]. There’s five places I take people, and Pleasure Chest is one of them.”

WHV: Some of your employees have been here nearly ten years or even longer. Why?

BR: Most of the employees that we have are working on the sales floor. They’re interacting with customers and they feel of service, I think.

ST: There is some self-selection that happens in our hiring process. Not everyone is gonna work at a sex shop. The stigma. That was my first battle that I had with my family. My parents were like, “Are you’re kidding me? With your college education?” So there is strong motivation for people, personally. There’s not many work communities you can go to and also be your whole self. That is something that kind of hooks us all and keeps us here. It’s like, “Well, I could do this other job that’s maybe gonna get me a little bit more social credibility. But I’m also gonna give up being able to just work with people that really see me for who I am.”

WHV: What satisfies you in doing this kind of work? What are you proud of?

BR: I am proud of the store and its legacy. It has my family history. And then it’s been such an integral part of a lot of people’s experience. That’s real important to me.

ST: I teach sex ed so that is still the touchstone for me. When I get to really interface with customers. Also, the people that we work with. It’s a really strong community.

WHV: What do you mean you teach sex ed?

ST: We have a free, weekly workshop program, which started about eight years ago when I came on. I still teach as part of that program. And then we have opportunities to teach at universities and things like that. That’s really my favorite, to be able to interface with young people when they’re just starting to come into their sexuality. It’s such a rewarding experience. Like I taught a class here last week and it’s always that shot in the arm.

WHV: What was the topic?

S: “The Ultimate O: Finding and Expanding Your Orgasm.”

WHV: Who attends most of your workshops?

ST: Actually the very first time I taught a strap-on class here it was the largest, the most diverse mix of people I have ever encountered. That’s what’s amazing about teaching at the Pleasure Chest. You’re never just speaking to that audience you think the class is about. You have so many different gender identities, relationship statuses, ages in the class. I had already been teaching for a few years and I was intimidated because I was like, “I don’t know how to meet the needs of everybody in this room.”

WHV: How many people can attend?

S: About 60.

WHV: Tell me a story, Brian, about what the Pleasure Chest means to you.

BR: One of the most inspiring things that I saw was this [straight] couple in their seventies. They were completely open with each other, asking all these questions and buying all these things. There was just such vitality in them. On the other side of the coin, we saw people who were super intimidated, [who] would come in and slowly warm up to where they could ask questions and make decisions. By the end [of their visit] they started getting a little bit of that glow, too, where they just couldn’t wait to go home and try their new thing with their partner, or by themselves. Just seeing that transition in someone, people who were really closed off and then go through that experience. By the time they go out [the door], they’ve changed.

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Michael Jortner

About Michael Jortner

Michael Jortner writes about entrepreneurs, leaders and influencers running small businesses in and around West Hollywood. More information can be found at michaeljortner.com and Jortner can be reached at writer@michaeljortner.com

View all posts by Michael Jortner →

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