RICHMOND, Tex. – Car dealers may not be selling cars; big corporations like Circuit City and Chrysler may be going out of business; companies of all sizes may have trouble getting credit – but the novelty business, at least in Texas, is going great guns.
"I think what's happening is that a lot of people are spending their discretionary dollars in different ways," observed Gary Krupkin, Vice-President of Sara's Secret and Condoms To Go, "so rather than going out for dinner and a movie and some other entertainment and spending anywhere between $100 and $200 on an evening out, what they'll do is stay home and entertain themselves with each other."
"When 600,000 people are losing their jobs every month," he continued, "that not only affects them personally, but everybody who loses a job has a family, they have friends, they have relatives, and when all the people around them see what happened to that individual, they think that they might be next on the line, so obviously it has a ripple effect. So how could you be more cheered up than seeing a nice new pink vibrator in your stocking?" he chuckled.
If sales are any measure, Krupkin may have hit the nail on the head.
"We are selling an awful lot of intimate devices," Krupkin said. "Our actual numbers of devices that we sell are greater, but we are seeing that the average cost of the devices we're selling is a little lower. So what we're seeing is more people coming in, buying more vibrators, more intimate devices, but they're not buying the real expensive ones. And we're selling an inordinate amount of lingerie and lotions and that type of thing."
"Our stores never really carried a tremendous amount of lingerie, but the owner, Sara Lee Goss, decided, in association with our buyer, Abe Rojas, that she wanted to go into that a lot heavier," he added. "They both felt that lingerie was a real important addition to the stores, so we've gone real heavy into that, and that's proved to be a real winner for us. We've been selling a lot of it now."
And Texans, possibly in response to the Fifth Circuit's decision in Reliable Consultants v. Earle legalizing dildos, vibrators and other toys, are buying more of them than ever – so much so that the company is opening up three more Sara's Secret stores in the Dallas area.
"We're opening a new store right on the border of Dallas and Highland Park," Krupkin said. "Highland Park is the same kind of socio-economic bracket as Palm Springs; a real, real high-income demographic there. We're also looking to open up a store in a town called Corsicana, which is just about 50 miles south of Dallas. It's kind of its own little metroplex down there. Corsicana itself isn't real big, but all the other towns around it kind of make it a popular place, and it's a nice sized demographic for us. And finally, we're looking at four other options for our third store. One is at the intersection of the Dallas North Tollway and Frankford – it can be seen from the Dallas North Tollway, which is a major north-south highway that runs through Dallas. Or we're looking to open up in either Coppell, Grapevine or Southlake, Texas, and those are kind of northwest of the metroplex, with a nice size population, good income and socio-economic demographics."
But finding the right properties hasn't been easy.
"One of the things that has been a major roadblock for us are cities that won't give us a certificate of occupancy without much difficulty, and we were having trouble finding landlords that would rent to us easily," Krupkin explained. "I don't think, generally, that city attorneys are much aware of the Reliable decision until a company like ours brings it to their attention. But when I've brought it to their attention, they're certainly willing to read the decision and try to analyze their municipal ordinances in light of it. Some city attorneys still say, 'Well, it doesn't matter about Reliable; we're still finding you a sexually oriented business.'"
That's a problem for Sara's Secret, since the company pointedly refuses to sell any DVDs, magazines, books or other hardcore material.
"That's not our clientele. That's not what we're trying to do. We classify ourselves as a romance shopping boutique, and we try to enhance the romantic experience between people."
But the recession seems to have made property owners more reasonable.
"What we're finding is that a lot of landlords that wouldn't do business with us before for one reason or another have realized that our money's just as good as anybody else," Krupkin assessed, "and then when they look at our payment history to other landlords, they know they're going to get paid on time every month. So some of them have actually been seeking us out."
"We haven't seen a major commercial deal in Dallas in a while," he added. "You still see some commercial deals but they're not as prevalent as they were three, four, five years ago."
Each of the new Sara's Secret stores will mirror the existing ones in size – usually between 1,600 and 2,000 square feet – but the company has also undertaken a company-wide upgrading of its properties.
"All the stores are getting wood floors now, and we're trying to match the flat walls with the wood on the floor, and put nice complementary paint on the walls," Krupkin detailed. "We're also merchandising our stores a little differently. In the front windows, we're putting our mannequins and all of our lingerie up toward the front of the store, and toward the back of the store is where we put the intimate devices. The mannequins may be dressed up a little fetishly in the front windows, but they don't hold any intimate devices. And what we have found is the lingerie draws everybody in, whether it's a man or a woman or a couple; they're kind of fascinated by that, and then they come in and start moving around the store. The store is very inviting. And I think one of the biggest advantages we have, if not our biggest advantage, is our customer service representatives. They're unbelievable. You can ask any vendor in the industry, our people are the most knowledgeable. We train them real hard, and then always update their training."
It's a philosophy that seems to have paid off big-time.
"What can I say?" Krupkin summarized. "Yeah, Texas and particularly the Dallas area have not really been affected by the recession as much as the rest of the country has been, but let's face it: In this type of economy, I don’t care if you're Texas, New York or North Dakota, you are going to feel some effects. We're just glad that's translated into people becoming more intimate with each other."