There are Mister B Shops in Copenhagen, Antwerp, Berlin, Zurich, Frankfurt, and Amsterdam. And if you add the various Mister B shop-in-shop systems, you can find the fetish brand in dozens of stores in cities around the world. This success story began 25 years ago when Wim Bos opened the very first Mister B Shop on Warmoestraat, in the centre of the Dutch capital of Amsterdam. EAN had the opportunity to speak with Jeroen Janssen, Commercial Manager of Mister B, and learn about the importance these brick-and-mortar outlets still hold for the brand today.
25 years ago, Mister B opened its first concept store in Amsterdam. Could you take us through a quick tour of the shop in 1994? Jeroen Janssen: According to employees that worked at the shop over twenty years ago, one of the most vivid memories is the (great) smell of leather everywhere in the shop coming from the vast number of leather jeans. Our assortment consisted of leather, rubber and fetish clothes, BDSM attributes like whips, flogs and bondage gear, dildo’s and lubricants. Next to that, when you entered the shop, you could find magazines on the one side, postcards on the other. The further you walked in, the kinkier it got. The large shopping window drew in a lot of light and gave the shop a welcoming appearance. We had a piercer and a tattoo artist in-house and our own leather workshop.
Mister B wasn’t the only gay and fetish-oriented business on the street. Iconic bars from Amsterdam’s leather scene like The Stablemaster, Argos, Eagle, and the Cockring were our neighbours. Our biannual art vernissages were also famous, creating an exposition of the horniest leather outfits besides the actual reason for the gathering, the gay and fetish artworks on the brick walls.
We opened our shop in the middle of the AIDS epidemic. Mister B was very active in promoting safe sex and education. Sponsoring safe sex tools like gloves, lubricants, and condoms and just selling porn movies where condoms were actively used.
Another unforgettable feature of our Mister B shop that came a bit later was the urinoir in the back of the cellar part of our store, where many customers had a much needed and sometimes slightly arousing toilet break.
Why did Mister B decide to open this shop?
The original Mister B, Wim Bos, opened the store with the philosophy to create an open-minded, welcoming, community-based business in the heart of the leather and fetish community. Supporting community initiatives and creating a place for people to just be themselves. The assortment of Mister B was pointed towards innovative products and clothing at an accessible price point while not compromising on quality or durability. In these 25 years, not much has changed about this philosophy.
How would you describe the concept behind your stores?
Our shops offer a welcoming and open-minded atmosphere above all. We cater to the needs and desires of gay and fetish customers around the globe. This also means we offer that section of the Mister B assortment that is most suitable for the local scene. We offer workshops and tons of knowledge on how to (safely) use our products alongside exclusive items and tailor-made clothing. Our shops are designed to show the Mister B products in the most optimal way. Also feeling (and smelling) the goods is important, therefore we offer customers the opportunity to experience our goods while shopping, sometimes just by letting you feel the materials, other times by helping customer into a straightjacket.
25 years is a long time. How did the shops change throughout the years?
Our philosophy has not changed in these 25 years, but the appearance of our shops has. For one, the urinal is gone in our Amsterdam store. Also, our tattoo artist and piercer are not there anymore. We are focussing more on creating a fetish boutique feeling in our shops while retaining the welcoming, accessible, and open-minded atmosphere. Our signature photography plays a large role within our presentation, as do our unique leather garments. Our wholesale business has grown from the basis of our shop(s) but we are slowly making a distinction between the two again, with (shop-in-)shop exclusive items and in-store pre-launches.
The importance of internet sales has obviously shuffled the deck in the retail landscape. We see our website and social media channels as an important marketing tool for our brick-and-mortar stores. Our newsletter, social channels, and store locator are used to draw customers to our stores. Also, a lot of our products benefit from experiencing them first-hand and trying them on to find the correct size, and you can’t do that online.
Over the years, more shops were added. Where can Mister B shops be found today? Are there differences between shops in different cities?
We have (shop-in-)shops all over the world, with main locations in Amsterdam, Antwerp, Berlin, Copenhagen, Zürich and Frankfurt. Our main shop locations offer the largest Mister B assortment we could possibly fit into the retail space. Our shop-in-shop partners also offer a selection of carefully curated products to match the preferences of the local scene. Our secondary brands like W.A.D., Fucktools, URBAN or our lubricants can also be highlighted at these locations. In some locations, we sell tons of leather, in others our toys and BDSM equipment are more popular.
Besides fully-fledged Mister B shops, there are also numerous stores that have a shop-in-shop concept in place. Would you tell us more about this concept and what kind of business is it suitable for?
The aim of our shop-in-shop concept for retailers is to cater to an ever-growing clientele. They can join Mister B in catering to the local gay scene while benefitting from the reputation of the brand Mister B. The shop-in-shop can make use of the Mister B name, our signature photography, marketing materials like posters, and our bi-annual glossy WINGS. Besides that, they are part of our B2C marketing campaigns and have first access to exclusive products. Also, they can order made to measure garments and accessories. The shop-in-shop concept is a great option for any adult retailer or speciality clothing store that puts a welcoming and open-minded atmosphere first and is interested in taking in a large portion of the Mister B assortment. We have Mister B shop-in-shops in retail locations specifically focussed on the gay consumers but also at locations that cater to the BDSM and fetish community in a larger geographic area. We are always looking for the right spread of Mister B points of sale in an area and within a target audience. Together with the retail partners, we carefully select and optimise an assortment that is suited for the local scene. We train and educate the staff and appoint a key account manager for optimal support from HQ.
Would the success of the Mister B brand have been possible without the shops?
Our physical locations contribute enormously to the success of the Mister B brand. We want to be where our customers are while at the same time contributing to the local scene. We do this via our shops and retail partners who are in close connection with the local scene and support it where we can’t. Personal connections are hugely important to Mister B and a cornerstone of our success over the years. This is something we firmly believe and have been doing for years now, resulting in high customer loyalty and brand recognition. We listen to our customers, retail partners, and employees, and the physical locations also work as testing grounds for new innovative products, enabling us to be on the forefront of gay and fetish retail and distribution for many years to come.
Which role does the physical presence, i.e. brick-and-mortar shops, play for the scene Mister B caters to?
We support local initiatives and are involved with numerous events all around the world. Besides that, we organise our own parties like Playgrounds and Damage to bring fetish to live. Our local (shop-in-)shops are the face of Mister B all around the world. Therefore, we try to be as involved as possible and support where we can. We feature local retailers and employees in our WINGS magazine and have our exclusive items that are only available at these locations. Mister B is a lifestyle brand that hopes to play a part in people’s daily lives. Our shops in the middle of the scene enable us to do just that.
The past 25 years have also seen the rise of e-commerce. Nevertheless, you have managed to grow outside of the internet. Are there synergies between these two parts of the business that have stimulated growth on both fronts?
A good example of the continuous innovation of the Mister B brand would be our iconic campaigns that have fuelled our brand since day one. These photographs have created a Mister B ‘world of wonder’ since day one. That has been on the forefront of the freedom we stand for. The rise of the internet and social media and the personal freedom that comes with that has enabled us to show this world to more people than ever before, creating a synergy between the on- and offline world where our shops create this ‘world of wonder’ in physical form. We also use the possibilities of online marketing to draw customers to our shops with exclusive items, special promotions or simply the option to try their desired gear on in real life. In sex and fetish, you are always looking to create a desire, fulfilling a craving or a fantasy. We strive to create the best possible environment for this experience at our shops.
What are Mr B’s plans for the future of your retail business?
We strive to open more locations around the globe and improve and enlarge the assortment available in our stores today. Furthermore, we look to intensify the synergy between our on- and offline activities by creating a 360° customer experience using online marketing, social media, and our (online) WINGS magazine. Through these channels, we also seek to empower our customers by offering knowledge and inspiration. One of the ways in which we do this is focussing more on our secondary speciality brands like Fucktools, Weapons of Ass Destruction, and our high-quality lubricants. Brands that can be combined into a nice collection and look great in any store. Along the way, we strive to improve ourselves and always offer a unique perspective into this world through our retail channels. And together with our retailers, we will continue to build a strong and visible brand.