The erotic boutique ZouZou can be found the historic centre of Rome, right near Piazza Navona – where it has been for the past ten years. And the erotic store, that was founded by Tiziana Russo and her cousin a decade ago, is still very much a pioneer of the brick and mortar trade, in Italy and beyond. EAN wanted to know more about the business philosophy that is at the core of ZouZou and thus asked co-founder and manager Tiziana Russo for an interview.
Congratulations on the 10th anniversary! How did you celebrate 10 years in business? Tiziana Russo: Thank you! We had a fantastic party on January 27th. It was a great night full of love and happiness. And on this special occasion, we also launched our new online store zouzoustore.com.
What made you want to open a brick and mortar erotic store in the heart of Rome ten years ago?
Well, I think it was fate. The idea emerged during a weekend in Berlin, when, for the first time in my life, I entered a sex shop where lots of women were doing their shopping in such a natural way in a nice and colourful place. I was positively surprised and I thought that in Rome a place like that was really missing …one year later I, together with my cousin Alessandra, opened ZouZou Sensual Entertainment.
What can you tell us about the location of your store?
It’s a special place. We were looking for a discreet location in the historical centre of Rome besides one of the more crowded streets and we found this place in a building from the fifteenth century, right near Piazza Navona.
Do you have a lot of competition in Rome? How many brick and mortar erotic shops are there? Are those erotic boutiques or sex shops?
Actually, I don’t think we have many competitors in town. ZouZou is still the only luxury erotic boutique in Rome and in Italy. Of course, there are sex shops and love stores and it happens that we share clients. But ZouZou is unique!
What philosophy do you pursue with your business? What makes your boutique so unique?
It’s the experience our customers get in the store. ZouZou is not only a place for luxury erotic shopping, couples and singles can also make appointments for an entertaining evening where participants can discuss different subjects related to sex and sexual well-being, guided by our sexologist. We are a female team of four, each one with a specific attitude, united in our mission to empower men and women to experience greater sexual pleasure.
How would you describe the ambience of your boutique? What’s the first thing a customer sees when she or he enters your shop?
Our boutique is more like a boudoir, a place to discover little by little, where some of the objects only reveal their function when you look more carefully. ZouZou is a sophisticated and cosy boutique, where smells exalt the senses and fantasies are stimulated by the beauty and design of the displayed products.
There are old school sex shops, big erotic shops that look more like supermarkets, love shops, erotic shops dedicated to women, and erotic boutiques like yours – what is the difference between all these concepts? What exactly is an erotic boutique?
What makes the difference is the exclusivity of certain products that you cannot find in other stores. For example, we are among the few stores in Europe where you can buy Betony Vernon’s Paradise Found collection. An erotic boutique is an elegant place where people can also shop privately by appointment. The presentation of the products also represents a big difference. For example, in our boutique, the products are laid out beautifully on an antique trumeau or on the shelf of a handmade bookcase, everything is accurate and creates an intimate environment.
This makes the shopping experience more pleasant for our customers.
Can you give us an overview of your product range? What are your best sellers? How important are brands in your assortment?
In our boutique, you can find luxury lingerie and loungewear, erotic jewellery, sex toys, perfumes, and BDSM accessories. We are working with several brands from the industry, with whom we have created great long-term collaborations. The products that sell the best are lingerie and sex toys.
Which criteria determine what kinds of products you purchase?
The quality, the design, the innovation, and the uniqueness. We are constantly doing research and keeping an eye open to discover new brands and new products that will make a difference for our customers from all over the world.
What role does the sales staff play in your boutique?
Absolutely decisive. A mix of discretion and sensitivity is a must have attitude for us. Sometimes, you play the role of a therapist, and it’s an amazing feeling to help people overcome barriers and live a more fulfilling sex life.
Who are your customers? Who do you want to cater to with ZouZou? Are couples your biggest target group?
Our customers are mostly women between 30 and 55 years. For two reasons. Firstly, because we focused on women when we opened 10 years ago, we wanted to be different from male-oriented, hidden sex shops. Secondly, because women are more curious and open to explore new ways of making love… Couples are also a big part of our customer base and since we are based in Rome, of course, we have a lot of international customers as well.
What is the decisive factor that drives the purchasing decision of your customers? The price of the product? Advice? The functionality of the product? The brand? The design?
A bit of all but it depends on the customer. Some customers are savvy and know exactly what they want without even asking for help; others, meanwhile, love to trust us and it is marvellous when they come back happily. ZouZou has a strong brand reputation which means a good and careful selection of the best you can find in the erotic market. We work with international brands but we love to work with Italian artisans as well to create tailored exclusive pieces.
Your customers can choose from a number of special activities such as ‘Burlesque Bachelorette Parties’, ‘Private Shopping’ and ‘ZouZou à la carte’. What’s that all about?
These are services we offer to our customers so that they can choose different ways of entering this fantastic world of eroticism. ZouZou à la Carte is a sensorial experience, a journey through our product range, which takes place at the customers’ place. The Bachelorette Parties are centred on the future bride as she will learn how to striptease, Burlesque-style. And Private Shopping is the best way to buy and live an intimate experience with your lover in a dedicated space.
You run a brick and mortar shop, an online shop and you organise home parties – what is the most important sales channel for you?
Still the brick and mortar shop. The experience people enjoy during shopping is part of the game!
10 years is a long time – how has the erotic market in Italy changed during this period?
It has changed quite a lot, becoming mainstream and accessible to (almost) everyone. Through the years, we have noticed how some of the customers just discovered a new world, new possibilities, while others simply indulge their own fantasies without being ashamed anymore… but still, there is a long way to go. We like to think that with our store, we contribute to breaking taboos and overcoming prejudice in Italy.
How has your boutique changed in the past ten years? Was there a change in your clientele? How have trends such as 50 Shades of Gray influenced your business?
For sure, at the very beginning, the 50 Shades of Gray hype increased sales of ben wa balls and all the BDSM accessories. Now it seems to have less of an effect on our customers. Instead, we have dedicated a corner in our store to Millennials – that is going to be an important target group for us for 2018. Plus, we are extending our product range by introducing a wider range of male products as well.
What is the situation in the Italian erotic market today? Are the Italians open when it comes to love toys and erotic?
As I mentioned before, Italian women are more open to explore new ways of pleasure and can be big spenders when they think ‘he’s the right one’. What has changed is the male approach. They’ve always considered a vibrator a kind of competitor, something to be afraid of. In these past 10 years, we’ve worked along with the market to change this mentality. Men are now more open to buy sex toys for couple use and for themselves. Male anal sex toys are becoming quite popular even among heterosexual customers.
Do Italians buy their love toys online or do they prefer the brick and mortar shops?
In our case, they prefer the brick and mortar shop even if the online segment is growing fast in Italy as well. We believe that, first of all, going to the shop adds the experience of buying directly. Also, it provides you with the possibility to talk with trained staff, the possibility to see and touch the product and last but not least, to talk about sex without feeling guilty in a safe place!
What are your plans for the future?
Our customers are constantly asking us if there are other ZouZou stores in other cities, so I think that after 10 years’ we have the know-how and the experience to take the next step forward and finally meet this customer request!