What type of retail projects have you got by now?
At the moment, of such projects I've got only one-Prezervativnaya shop. This offline shop is 6 years old. It is located on Myasnitskaya street. The project itself was born two years before. The point is that, at the beginning, the project used to look as a number of tents working at festivals. Then, an online shop was open. Later, the shop on Myasnitskaya was established. I've never planned to do online business only. The atmosphere of the place-that's what is really important for me. I've always dreamt of establishing a cozy place for people. So, the online sales are on the second place for me. The online shop serves as an additional ground to the physical shop for those who have difficulties to visit us personally. Still, we aim to attract customers to our shop. It is well-located and has round-the-clock working hours. It is not only our comfort, the customers are also interested in visiting the shop and choosing something personally. The online and the offline prices are the same.
What kind of goods are included into the shop's range? Despite of the name, it is not about condoms only, is it?
The condoms prove to be the basis. We do not sell sex toys. Our shop is not of 18+ type. We sell condoms of any possible types. They are all tested. We choose to sell those items we ourselves are interested in. We seek to sell high-quality, curious items. We don't aim to represent all existing brands. Our range includes a great number of lubricants and other love life products, massage oils, for example. And a variety of souvenirs. Our shop is often thought of as a place for buying guifts-lollipops, chocolate figures, soap sculptures. It is given fun status, so, it is not a shop selling condoms only. We turned to be a tourist spot, people take their friends to the shop to show there is a place like this in Moscow.
Going back to condoms, can you name two or three favorite brands, please?
These are Japanese and German condoms, sagami and my size. The variety is huge, I wouldn't name them all offhand.
Nowadays, you are launching another offline project. Before we start discussing it, what's the reason of your decision to start a new project, instead of developing the existing one?
I like doing something different. A new challenge is something I am interested in. It is like a test for me, I am eager to create something very cool. Prezervativnaya shop is doing well. I could have opened another condom shop, but this is not so exciting for me, it is like an old chapter. While the new project is so thrilling. I am the first to be interested in it. There are new tasks, some new experience. One more condom shop in Moscow would be ok, but they can't be opened in hundreds, for example, they will become unprofitable then. As for the other cities, I used to deal with franchise, so, I know how complicated it is, as you have to take so many things under control. People who do that may have the opposite vision or perception, they may not understand my ideas, and I would have to explain it all as if they were kids. I opened a project like this in Kaluga. It was undertaken by two girls, but they ended up breaking all the demands I had put on. In such a context, there is no use trying. It is not worth the trouble. To make it really profitable, it is necessary to open nearly 20 shops across the country. It takes a lot of efforts to maintain the appropriate atmosphere. I've heard of some franchise projects, supplied with a detailed brand book, a good business-like approach and a description of how things should be done. Still, I prefer to work with a friendly, cordial approach. And with such attitude, it turns to be more difficult to control the whole process.
Let's talk about your new idea then! I mean the offline shop "Spiele-Willy and the jade rod" ("Spiele Willy and nefritovy zhezl"). Tell me about it, please.
The desire of establishing a shop like this appeared two years ago. The complete perception was born at the same time. Within six month, we have drafted everything, including the name, the design. Everything was ready for opening. And then I had been looking for a suitable place. As the result, the place I finally rented for the shop, is not perfect. But I was just exhasted of searching for the right one. This place is more appropriate than those I had seen earlier. I had been looking for a place at the heart of Moscow, on Pokrovka street, for example. It was important to find a place in the pedestrian zone, with great number of cafes, as many people go there for an evening walk. So, it should be have been some good part of the centre, with big traffic and expensive rent. I was against opening something small, on trial, for then having to arrange something better. I believe that once you decide to do something, you should do it well from the beginning. I was considering Pyatnitskaya street, by the metro station. But, it didn't work. First, there was no room for rent. Second, if there was, and the rent price was acceptable for me, the owners were reluctant to rent that room for a sex shop. Those places are good, profitable ones, they were fought for. While the rest of the options were simply inappropriate for me. It proved to be pretty difficult to find a cool, spacious place in the centre, owned by a person who welcome the idea of a sex shop. It took me one year and a half. The room was found in late November. The rental agreement was signed in early December. But the building where the room was located has been under reconstruction till nowadays. This building has four floors. It was completely cleaned inside, the utility systems were substituted. It is a very big construction, all the four floors involved. The works were delayed. Three weeks before the opening they had only put the water, while the electricity was still on temporary basis. Nowadays, the works are coming to an end, so, on July, 18th, the shop will be open. This date can be considered to be the official opening date. We have time to finish the preparation works. Besides, by that date, the World Cup will be over, still, the date is not much later. As for the concept. On the website I indicated that all shops are devided into two types: a market or a boutique. And nothing for the creative young people. I don't talk about those of eighteen years old, they do not need our sex toys yet. I mean, young people aged from 28 to 38, who are solvent yet progressive. I don't say the other sex shops are bad and have got everything upside down. I don't mean that. There are many shops I consider to be a dump, but there are others and they are numerous. The latters have owners I respect greately, as they had done it all very well. Good job! However, they have another business direction. With my shop, I aim to cover the niche for the creative people, who needs something more vivid than a market or a boutique. I don't mean my shop is based on pure entertainment, still, it is more lightweight.
You mean, sex is something cheerful?
Well, yes, on the one hand, sex means fun. To be more clear, I would say, it is something natural. Yes, sex is natural! When I was drafting this concept, I was making a lot of inquiries, I asked about a hundred people, my friends and strangers, about their experience at sex shop, in order to understand what is missing. I realized that, in the majority of cases, people miss this kind of lightness. At a sex shop, they feel awkward, as if they had found themselves at some indecent place, they don't feel at ease. My aim is to set up a shop which will take away this awkward sensation, for people to be more extraverted than in other sex shops. Will I succeed? I don't know. Will my concept work? Or it won't? Still, I must try, because I consider it to be the right thing.
On your website, you state that looking for vendors, you put the age limit-from 25 to 30. Tell me, please, what's the use of putting such limits? Why do you think an experienced woman, aged 40, talking about sex and adult goods with simplicity, doesn't serve as your employee? Can a young person arise confidence within this sphere?
Well, it is also based on opinion polls. Consider the fact that I had been asking people of different age. The majority of those who are within my target audience' age (28-38), say they are confused by vendors of older age, of those mature women. Of course, it is a double-edged sword. When the vendors are too young, just looking at them, you think they probably know nothing about sex. But, I hope they will be able to inspire confidence. I am very strict at choosing employees. At the moment, I enjoy an amazing team. The new project will get almost the whole staff from Prezervativnaya, while the latter will get a girl who had been on maternity leave. I trust them a lot as employees. They are brilliant at talking to clients. And I can watch people of different age getting confidence with them. Moreover, I've already found a new employee, a girl. I haven't seen her working, I am still instructing her. But I can guess she is a sort of person able to win clients. Besides, that's the peculiarity of the shop, it implies certain amount of playfulness, lightness and a complete loss of awkwardness. Young people are easier at copying with awkwardness and maintaining a light environment as they are naturally more active, cheerful, light-hearted and carefree. That's why I've got such vision. I might be wrong, it remains to be seen. By now, I am full of hypotheses regarding everything: the concept, the staff... As for the staff, the problem is generally solved. What is missing are the boys for the night hours. I am unwilling to let the girls work at night, while, at other shops, there are women to work at night, including Prezervativnaya shop. They are often students, they go to uni in the morning and work at night. But I am afraid of leaving a sex shop, located in such a crowded place, for the girls' account. It is much more difficult to hire a male employee. I've got a boy at Prezervativnaya, whom I consider perfect at communication. Another one is to begin working, still, I don't know whether we match or not.
As far as I am concerned, you appreciate the atmosphere of the place, both in Prezervativnaya and in your new project, "Spiele-Willy...". What do you mean to do for getting it, apart from staff selection and decoration? Perhaps, you plan to hold some kind of events? How can you maintain this atmosphere?
The greater part of the success is guaranteed by the staff, the rest is supported by the design, the product range, etc. I wanted to reach a perfect match between the shop's furniture (the showcases, the shelves, the colouring) and a rather complicated design pattern. The interior designer and I have spent a lot of time drawing it all. The concept seems simple, but it should be also attractive. We also included the printing: we are going to distribute small books talking about the sex toys, what they are meant for. It is pretty costy. We are going to distribute them at both "Spiele willy" and Prezervativnaya. They are not product brochures, there have no brands represented. They are not for sale. They are a kind of "educational stuff". Despite the costs, I consider this to be a useful investment for rising sex culture in Russia. Many people feel awkward, not knowing what to do with these toys, what they serve for. I would hold some events with pleasure. But at my small room, of 36 square metres only, I am not able to do it. I hardly find some room for the stock. The goods have already been purchased. They need to be distributed properly, considering the merchandise matrix, 1 C accounting, the pricing. The employees have to be instructed, they are already in it. Despite the fact that they took part in a training, at mini Thai Fest, for example, they still need to get well-acquainted with the stock. Before the shop is open, I can't say anything else. The conception and the idea are drafted, as for the result, we will see it next.
How quickly do you expect to get your investment back?
My financial model says it can take three years. It will probably take more or less time. But three years is a usual term for such kind of projects.
The most impatient of you can visit the website of the shop and look forward to its opening, together with the project's owner, Eseniya Shamonina!