“You’re never too old for sexual things in life!”

Seven years ago, Esther and Giel Nieuwenhuis openend an erotic store in the heart of Hengelo, a Dutch town with roughly 80,000 residents. The name of their store: Erotheek. EAN talked with the owners about the realities of erotic brick and mortar retailing in 2020, and about their activities, which also include a webshop, www.123stout.nl.

When did you start Erotheek, and why did you decide to try your luck retailing sex toys?
Esther Nieuwenhuis: I’ve had a lot of experience working in a sex shop and I always had a lot of ideas that I couldn’t execute in that store. So after a while, I thought to myself, why not start my own business? Well, eventually, I did: I opened the store in January 2013, and I’m still proud of it today!

What is the philosophy of Erotheek? What makes your store unique? What kind of shopping experience awaits the customer in your store?
The fact that our shop is actually a shop makes us unique; there’s no shady vibe surrounding it. Everybody is welcome, young – 18+ of course – and old. There’s no difference for us. And of course, our cinema section, with 3 different spaces, glory holes, and beds. It’s important for us to satisfy the customers in their search for information, toys, and customer service. It is not only about selling something to make money but also about sell something that the customers actually need. Sex is an every-day thing, and it is a very important aspect of everybody’s life. We focus on helping a customer so he or she will return in the future.

What can you tell us about your location? How big is Hengelo? Where is your shop located? Do you have any local competition?
We are the only erotic shop in Hengelo. Hengelo isn’t that big, but we are located in the centre of town. We get customers from all over the Netherlands.

How would you describe your product range? What can the customers find in your shop?
We sell almost everything that’s available in the erotic branch. If we don’t have it in the store, then we’ll have it on our web shop: www.123stout.nl. From vibrators to lingerie to massage oils, we sell everything. If we don’t have it? We’ll try to get it – everything to satisfy the customer.

Which products are particularly popular with your customers at the moment?
Recently, we started selling our own products. We’ve designed two vibrators, Sther The Rose and Sther Joy. These products are among our best-selling vibrators. Apart from that, we also sell a lot of products from the Satisfyer brand. Their products are extremely popular in the Netherlands.

What are the decisive factors that determine what your customers end up buying? Is it the price? The brand? The functionality? The design?
I strongly believe that the price doesn’t matter that much to a customer; if they think it’s worth it, they will buy it. That’s why it’s extremely important to know your products and ask the customer what he or she is searching for and what the expectation is.

Which criteria matter most when you yourself are looking for new products and brands to add to your assortment?
Quality is very important to us. Of course, the price has to be within our margins. When we’re looking to add a new product, it has to be something we believe in.

How important is customer service to you? What role does personal advice play in erotic retailing
Customer service is one of our top priorities, as stated a few questions before. When customers get help, and if you provide that assistance the right way, then they will come back in the future.

Do your customers take advantage of the advice offered by your team? How open are the residents of Hengelo when it comes to topics like sex and sex toys?
Of course, new customers will be shy when they first step in our store. That’s where our team comes in. It’s their job to try to relax the customer, ask them what they are looking for and try to level with them. This way, the customers know that it’s okay to be in the store and to ask questions about the products.

Who are your customers? Who is the target audience you are aiming for?
We welcome an endless variety of different customers at our store. Our target audience is everybody who is 18+. You’re never too old for sexual things in life! The same goes for our cinema area! Everybody who wants to experience something sexual is welcome in our cinema, whether you’re looking for a sex partner or just want to watch a movie. Everyone is welcome!

Women and couples – these customer groups have been the focus of our market for several years. How is this reflected at Erotheek?
This is also a big group we focus on in our store. The products we sell are 70% woman and couples focused.

In parallel to your bricks & mortar store, you also run an online shop, www.123stout.nl Did you pursue this dual strategy – using two channels of distribution – from the very beginning?
It was an ambition we had from the beginning, but we focused on the brick and mortar store in the first year. We wanted to be able to give the best possible experience in our store, wanted to make a name for ourselves. Once business was steady and running the way we wanted it to, we began exploring the online possibilities.

Is there some sort of positive cross-pollination between these two channels? Or are they cannibalising each other?
Actually, there is. We have a guest book integrated in our web shop; this way, people who never even heard of our cinema are inspired to come and take a look. Also, there is the possibility to pick up orders you place online at the brick and mortar store. This way, we can promote some extra products when people come by, or we can inform them about our cinema if that is something they are interested in.

Is a multi-channel strategy an absolute necessity nowadays if you want to be successful in the retail market?
I think so. Selling and buying online is easy and convenient but it’s always a better experience if you direct questions to one of our team.

Looking at your retail activities, what are the biggest challenges you face at the moment? Is it competition from the internet? Consumer restraint? Profit margins?
The biggest challenge we are facing at this moment is that one of our suppliers is trying to compete with us online. They are selling the products for less than what we have to pay to buy the products from them. This way, the supplier makes it very hard for us to sell some particular products. But this also motivates us to thrive and be better. Design more products of our own.

Are you satisfied with the support you get from your suppliers, or would you like to see better assistance from manufacturers, wholesalers, and distributors?
Most of the suppliers we have are transparent and won’t compete with their own customers, so yes, we are satisfied with most suppliers.

What is next for Erotheek? What are your plans and goals for the future of the store?
As stated earlier, the goal is to thrive to become bigger. We are always looking for new opportunities to develop more products for our own brand Sther.