“I have a strong vision!”
A modern erotic boutique can be more than just a place to buy sex toys. It can be a place where people meet, where everybody is welcome, a place that offers added value beyond the business side of things. Feelmore Gallery, situated in Oakland, close to the Californian city of San Francisco, is such a place. We interviewed the founder of Feelmore Gallery, Nenna Joiner, about her boutique and the current situation in the adult market.
Feelmore Gallery was recently featured on Essence.com, a magazine for African-American women, as one of the top spots for couples to visit on California’s Northern coast. What makes Feelmore Gallery such a prime destination to visit?
Nenna Joiner: Oakland is an old city that is having new fame and resurgence with an influx of people discovering it for the first time. The Customer of a ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s, 2018 sex shop if totally different and so we are meeting those needs of Customers while keeping a clear connection to days of old without making them feel Hella old. We are working to make Feelmore a collision space and not just a retail space that takes monies but gives something More!
Before we talk more about your business and what make your shop stand out, could you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?
I grew up on a dairy farm in Minnesota! No seriously, I am from Las Vegas and have been in the Bay Area for 20+ years. I started selling sex toys out of the trunk of my car after I visited the AVN expo in the early ‘90s. Although I had no back office experience in retail, I was able to pick up several books and watch YouTube videos to learn how to run a retail store the best I could. Oh, and mistakes always help. Never be afraid to fail… it’s quitting that should scare you!
How did you come up with the idea of starting a sex shop as an inclusive place for all people who are seeking a comfortable place to explore their sexuality?
Feelmore isn’t a space especially for black and brown people but we have black and brown people in mind as we make our decisions such as buying, hiring, advertising, selections of colours. We want to make a place inclusive and won’t leave out marginalised people to focus on the bottom line. We work to make our bottom line inclusive for ALL not just Black and Brown.
Have there been challenges and obstacles you had to overcome in order to open your business?
As a Black person, the economic issues for starting a ‘brick-and-mortar’ makes it close to impossible but still achievable, with a vision, to do anything. I have a strong vision! I had the luxury of using my own money but last-minute financing came in from the late Joani Blank who founded Good Vibrations. To give an example of starting, I began writing orders/receipts by hand, and then graduated to a retail system some years later. Some delivery services we use don’t delivery to crime ridden neighborhoods, however, I find that less acceptable and get in my own car to deliver anywhere in the city regardless of risk. I’m not afraid of Oakland.
Since the goal of your business is to be inclusive to all people, that raises the question, how do you address the different communities and what they expect from your store?
Feelmore caters to all people not just people of colour but we are just all around inclusive. One particular demographic has no Power here…Kindness and Respect rules! However, when it is mentioned or noted that I am Black, it gives my community pride that I’m doing good business. Just last night I had several people, whom are not customers, come up and say how happy they are that we exist.
Could you take our readers on a quick tour of your shop? What do we see when we enter, and which products did you choose to display most prominently?
Before you enter Feelmore, we were strategic in keeping the old display windows that were made popular in the 1940’s..i.e. jewellery stores without privacy frost. Vintage items in exterior windows educate people what the adult industry of the past was like. A carved statue from Bali that stands almost 4 ft backed up against a table that holds vintage adult magazines. Custom shelving was specially created to be 4 units deep as to keep it closer to the wall to preserve walking space. Bookshelves with custom crown moulding hold the books front facing with one of a kind historical/sexuality book ‘Pink Triangle: The Nazi War Against Homosexuals’. Custom tables on roller wheels allow products to be laid out to suggest the Client engage in a different way. The walls are gently crowded with art work collected by myself from travels across the world and nude portraits found at art liquidations. Of course, we have adult products, but they are carefully and specially selected with our location and Clientele in mind not for cost.
I choose some products because of their connection with history and the opportunity to create a different mental space for the Client. As an adult store, I want us to grow culturally and create a new paradigm that helps to give us not just longevity in the industry but in the minds of consumers.
“As an adult store, I want us to grow culturally and create a new paradigm that helps to give us not just longevity in the industry but in the minds of consumers.”
What are the biggest challenges for brick and mortar sex shops at the moment?
I would say rising operational costs (Employee wages, Rent). The other challenge isn’t just Amazon vendors but the Manufacturers of brands. When you have a customer can now get the same product a store would sell in another country at the same wholesale cost, it is hurting business, the bottom line in our hearts. With margins shrinking the bigger question is what exactly the adult industry will morph into. The cannabis industry has changed, why we are going backwards away from profits.
How important are brands for your store? Do your customers ask for specific brands?
Brands are not as important as they once were. Customers will come in and name a brand because of an article they’ve read in a mainstream publication. People just want quality products that can solve their personal matter and if they can save money in the process, they will thank you. Having products sitting on the shelves that are $100 at wholesale and hoping a customer comes in to buy it doesn’t make much financial sense. With Customers heading straight to Amazon to get it the very next day, brands helping retailers make monies as they once did. Someone once told me, “You are not in business for them [companies] but yourself.”
“Brands are not as important as they once were.”
One of the big trends in the adult business right now is sex tech. How do you think about this trend and is it something your customers are interested in?
I really don’t think about the sex tech genre much anymore. Most magazine articles will feature new and exciting products, but the technology part isn’t as big for us. We-Vibes products with Bluetooth capability is the most we focus on. Everything else is novel, higher price point, and little profit margin. Customers will ask about such products but what we found was that they just wanted to see the product and would never purchase.
Could you tell us a bit about your plans for the future of Feelmore? Are further projects in the pipeline?
The sky is always the limit! Two things I am working on: 1) Opening in San Francisco Airport and 2) collaborating on a cannabis lubricant with a local company. You always have to dream bigger and for brick and mortar to stay relevant my imagination NEEDS to be bigger than those 13 inch cocks we sell!