Sex, drugs, and rock ‘n' roll. Whether or not you prescribe to this All-American mantra, it's impossible to deny the fact that it has come to define more than one generation. Even so, the likelihood of finding products that cater to all three of these indulgences at anything other than a rave or a Meatloaf concert is slim. However, in what appears to be a growing trend, store owners are finding that two outta' three ain't bad.
From a single display case to an entire store section, smoking accoutrements have proven to be a shot in the arm for many retailers who have chiefly carried adult items and lingerie in the past, but are searching for new revenue streams in a flagging economy. Some detractors who once maintained that sex toys and smoking items had no place in the same store have come to realize that the pursuit of happiness is not only multi-faceted, but profitable as well. And then there are those who have known it all along.
"Our clientele is mostly couples," explains Vincent, who owns Purple Onion stores in Long Beach and Lakewood, Calif. "Many of them are looking to try something new and are a bit more on the adventurous side. They may come in looking for lingerie, or some other gift, and decide they want to complete the fantasy by trying new smoking items."
Vincent says the decision to carry smoking accessories makes perfect sense for a store like the Purple Onion, since it was designed to be more of a lingerie and gift shop to begin with. He started the stores in 2003, primarily carrying lingerie, but including novelty items, such as packages of lube and condoms, as well as smoking accessories like pipes.
"The idea was that it would be like a liquor store, in that you can get a variety of items," Vincent says. "Just like a liquor store doesn't carry just beer, but also cigarettes and other items, we do the same. Many of our customers are looking for more than just one type of item. So we carry a variety for them."
The Purple Onion markets itself as a gift store, Vincent adds, not focusing on just the adult novelty items or just the smoking accessories.
A chain of stores throughout Georgia known as The Love Shack takes a similar approach. Advertised as "romance centers," the Love Shack began in 2000 and has grown into a chain of nearly a dozen adult-themed stores with locations throughout Atlanta.
John Cornetta, president and CEO of Cornetta Enterprises, parent company of The Love Shack stores, says he has written articles in the past about the synergy between adult novelty products and smoking accessories, and "people told me I was crazy."
"I didn't make this up," he says. "The secret's out. The same people who are using adult sensual products tend to enjoy their tobacco, too.
"Growing up I saw an awful lot of movies where after the couples were done being intimate, they would light up a cigarette," he continues. "It seems like one has always had a lot to do with the other."
Both the Purple Onion and The Love Shack opened their doors selling adult novelties and smoking accessories from the start. While Vincent devotes a small glass display case to smoking accessories, The Love Shack stores devote an entire section of their square footage to The Burn Smoke Shop. In addition to occupying space in The Love Shack stores, The Burn Smoke Shop is another chain of stores owned and operated by Cornetta Enterprises.
PLAY IT SAFE
Those who are considering adding smoking accessories to their inventory would be wise to educate themselves in a number of areas first, Cornetta cautions. In the case of Love Shack employees, he says, only those who are "Burn certified" are allowed to discuss smoke accessories with customers. Each certified employee is tested on a regular basis to ensure they know the correct terminology, basic rules, and laws concerning what they are allowed to say and sell.
And every store in The Burn Smoke Shop chain and in The Love Shack has a tobacco license from the state of Georgia, Cornetta says.
"We pay all our taxes to the state, and are inspected for certification every year," he says.
Though having state certification is not required in Georgia, in other states it is. California, for example, recently passed a law requiring that any type of store that carries smoke products and accessories must be licensed by the state.
Cornetta also suggests that store owners interested in carrying both adult novelties and smoking accessories learn any state or local laws that might affect them. In some states, for example, retailers are not allowed to describe the function of any adult novelty with customers. The same often applies to smoking accessories. Oftentimes, customers who refer to "bongs" are corrected to say "water pipes," or even asked to leave a store.
Marketing techniques need to be considered as well when expanding into this market. In The Love Shack stores, hookah pipes and other pipes are displayed as "artistic pieces," and signs throughout the store refer to them as such, Cornetta says. The stores also avoid carrying anything that might be considered questionable, or could draw unwanted attention from the local authorities. High Times magazine, for example, is not carried at The Love Shack, nor is anything that bears the image of a pot leaf.
GIVE THEM WHAT THEY WANT
Those who are considering supplementing their inventory with smoking accessories might want to start small, Cornetta suggests. Carrying a few select pieces and displaying them in a small case is a good way to start.
"See what types of customers wander over to check out that section, and ask them what they might be interested in," he says. "Don't carry what you think they want. Ask them what they want."
By starting small, it also lets you determine if smoking accessories are even something your customers want you to carry, Cornetta says.
"It's not something you want to jump into without some type of business plan or without having done any research," he says.
If after doing all the research you still are interested in carrying smoking accessories, there can be a major payoff.
"In every one of The Love Shacks, items sold from The Burn Smoke Shop account for 20 to 25 percent of all sales," Cornetta says. "It really shows that the same people who buy smoke products also buy adult products, and vice versa."
Another bonus is that smoking accessories have built-in upsells. Just as stores that carry lingerie can also carry nylons or garter belts, and those that carry vibrators can upsell with lubricants and batteries, a store carrying hand pipes or hookah pipes can carry other items to add on.
"Everything from screens to cleaning products," Cornetta says. "But you must make sure your staff is well-educated when it comes to the product lines and the upsells. They shouldn't push something that a customer doesn't want or need.
"If your staff can't currently upsell the product lines you are carrying, then don't even think about adding smoking accessories," he continues.
For more information on carrying smoking accessories, check with your state licensing board.
ANB would like to thank Darin Burt and HQ magazine for their cooperation on this story. A companion piece is available for viewing in the xxx issue of HQ, and can be seen online at Headquest.com.