It wasn't always Fred Hoverman's intention to sell sex toys. Originally he was a mechanical engineer. A combination of boredom with his work and a desire to enhance people's lives through pleasure prompted a career switch.
In 2012, Hoverman opened Kink Shoppe, the 2016 Reader's Choice Shopping & Style winner for both Women's Clothing and Giftware, at 126 Market Street. The high-end adult boutique aims to welcome customers for an experience that is comfortable and educational.
Some considered quaint, tourist-heavy Old City to be a surprising location for a store that sells vibrators and bondage gear. Hoverman was excited to set up in this neighborhood and says, "It encompasses everything I love about Philly in general: history, culture, great shops & restaurants."
Previously the space served as a gallery and Kink Shoppe honors that legacy by maintaining an open floorplan and showcasing the work of local artists on the walls. There's also the store's contribution to First Fridays, where patrons are invited inside for wine samplings and product demonstrations.
Initially there was hesitation from some residents, concerned about the stigma associated with adult businesses, but Kink Shoppe's community involvement, product quality and educational focus ultimately won them over.
Commitment to sexuality education drives Hoverman's business practices. "Sex is seen as taboo, but we've created a safe space for people to explore and learn," he says, "whether it be taking a class we offer or just coming to ask questions about the products and being able to get a knowledgeable response."
This commitment to making customer visits an educational opportunity starts with the store's hiring process. "Our staff includes well-tenured members of the industry and individuals degreed in teaching and human sexuality," says Hoverman. "Everyone goes through a training period when they learn about products, safety, and how to interact with customers. We also provide resources for our employees to increase their knowledge, including books and free access to our own classes."
So they feel more receptive to learning, patrons are first giventhe space to comfortably warm to the store. Customers are greeted when they arrive, but given an opportunity to peruse the shelves without pressure. The employees make themselves available for questions, to provide information about the products, and make suggestions based on the person's needs. Some customers want very little input while others want an experience that's more akin to personal shopping. The mission is to make shopping an illuminating, stress-free experience that customers will want to repeat.
There isn't exactly an "average" customer. There are familiar faces that comprise a loyal local base but the location also lends itself to foot traffic from first-timers, including folks visiting Philadelphia who don't have a comparable store back home.
Many newer customers feel more at ease checking out an adult store since the release of the BDSM-themed best seller 50 Shades of Grey. When asked about his feelings on the book, Hoverman replies that he loves this question. "My personal feeling is that if someone has read it and it opened their eyes to exploring something new, that's awesome; as long as they understand 50 Shades should not be used as a guide." He explains that because the book does not promote a healthy, consensual model of BDSM that it is not promoted or kept in stock. Instead, he says, they started a "50 Trades" program where the novel can be brought in for a copy of an erotica or educational book more respected in the kink community.
Aside from the inventory, which Hoverman says is "specifically curated, high-quality, and body-safe," Kink Shoppe also offers workshops. There are classes on everything from body confidence to fire play and burlesque. There's always something for everyone, no matter interests or level of experience.