There is always an article talking about a business taking the “Apple Store” approach to retailing, or an online shop incarnating their brand in a brick and mortar location. But what about merchants who make their mark by transforming taboo subjects into approachable retail experiences? High Road is dedicated to this mission-- as everyone knows, we put the class in buyin’ your grass, so we feel obligated to recognize other groundbreaking retailers who tackle stigma with style.
In this installation of our #dopedesigndiaries, we’re tackling the topic of sex toy stores!
During a recent trip to Portland, I had a lovely lunch with a lovely friend and afterwards was drawn to a series of eye-catching boutiques across the street. I had no idea that the particular one that caught my eye – She Bop – was actually an adult boutique. My friend let me in on the secret behind this tastefully branded storefront, and of course we had to check it out.
Evy Cowan and Jeneen Doumitt opened She Bop in November of 2009 with the objective of creating an adult boutique specializing in non-toxic body-safe toys, exceptional books, female- and queer- friendly DVDs and quality sensuality products. She Bop gives Portland an adult atmosphere that goes beyond the traditional sex store experience by actively pursuing a commitment to sexual education and conscious business practices while also offering a fun, safe, comfortable and sex-positive environment for people of all genders, sexual orientations and social backgrounds.
At the store there is no security guard waiting to greet you, no seedy blinking neon signs, and no sticky anonymous grime on the door handle. Their partially-frosted storefront windows provide a discreet barrier between passersby on the sidewalk and the adult merchandise inside. The adorably merchandised sex toys are presented in an approachable manner that encourage customers to test and touch. Information cards help educate shoppers while staff takes a casual customer service approach and they are ready to help as needed.
At High Road, we continually strive to educate people on the many aspects of cannabis and eliminate the negative stigma and stereotypes of cannabis and cannabis users. The attention we give to branding and the design of the physical environments of our dispensaries are critical to transforming perception. Likewise, She Bop is reframing the conversation about sex and elevating the experience of the adult boutique.
So, how did they do it?
Branding & Messaging
The name “She Bop” is not meant to convey that this is a female-only shopping experience. The owners were actually inspired by their love of their 80’s-idol Cyndi Lauper and the sexual empowerment she championed in her song “She Bop”. They want their message to be about gender equality and sexual freedom.
They also take environmental impact and community support seriously. They offer eco-friendly and local products when possible as well as a large selection of rechargeable toys, organic lubricants and products made from sustainable materials. They also use 100% recycled bags and recycle packing material. They support the local community by carrying many handmade and locally-sourced sexuality products as well as using local sources for printing and as many other business services as possible. Last but not least, they promote and support organizations that are focused on healthy and safe sexuality, women's rights and LGBTQ rights, as well as other organizations and non-profits. Through fundraisers, workshops, support groups and donations, She Bop is making a positive impact in the community.
Merchandising & Customer Service
The easy-to-navigate retail space is designed to be welcoming to all, and to be a setting where people can feel comfortable asking questions. Everything is on display. Everything is brilliantly merchandised to help the shopper discover new products and feel comfortable asking, what in most other situations, would feel like the most uncomfortable questions one might ever pose. Questions like “What is a Soft Packer?” or, “What are these holes for?”
Now, as tends to happen in these environments, people can get a little giddy or raunchy, but well-placed signage causes a moment to pause, maintain respect, and be educated. A display of very real looking genitalia notes the importance of the product for transgender identity. This adds a serious tone with a tasteful approach. From the products they offer to how they interact with customers, She Bop staff “strives to use gender-neutral pronouns as much as possible to avoid making assumptions about how customers identify themselves and their partners”.
The design and the staff create an informative and engaging environment that promotes health and wellness, a space where customers feel safe and respected. It is warm, comfortable and inviting, a Main Street appropriate sex shop that has a deeper purpose and is reframing the conversation about sex.
“Sex and pot” are considered taboo subjects that can make people uncomfortable. I feel like Evy and Jeneen are my kindred spirits on this relentless pursuit to inform communities and show how these topics are important to our health and happiness. By applying strategic and holistic design thinking to create highly branded environments, we are elevating these areas of retail, altering perceptions and changing the conversation. Kudos She Bop!