Sex is just business for John Frew, who sits at the helm of sex store giant Peaches and Cream. Chains like Peaches and Cream are part of a movement that is slowly but surely making shopping for sex a mainstream activity. But in the offices above the world of leather, lace, whips and chains sits a man who is content with simply earning a wage. He chats to Hannah JV about the business of getting down to business.
After hearing reports from a number of BDSM lifestylers that fad book 50 Shades of Grey is painting a negative picture of their community, the decision was made to steer clear of talking about the book when meeting with John Frew at the Peaches and Cream head office. So imagine the surprise when outside the Glenfield megastore and head office building stood a huge billboard advertising the triology! As it turns out, John says sales of the book have done wonders for business.
“I’m struggling to get products in,” John laughs. “I’ve just been checking overseas suppliers for Kegel balls – they’re out of stock all over the place. We’ve sold our year’s normal supply of these things in the last couple of months. Kegel balls and blindfolds have been really big sellers. I read about the book a few months ago and placed a few orders, otherwise I would have had no show.
“The funny thing is, books like that have been around for years – we stock lots of different BDSM erotic novels. 50 Shades of Grey must have just made it into the right hands at the right time.”
John has been in the business long enough to see how things like popular culture can have an impact on his business. He says television and the promotion of sexualised characters opened up the adult industry to a whole new world of customers.
“Back in the 1990s, one of the big things that changed the face of the adult industry was Sex and the City – we noticed a big difference in who was coming in and what they were buying.”
However it’s not just Samantha and Carrie who led the charge towards acceptance of sex and the adult industry; John says the industry itself has a part to play.
“I first got into the industry about 11 years ago; things have changed so dramatically since then. It used to be just as I’d assume a lot of people picture the adult industry – it was really orientated towards men and the ‘long coat brigade’ were our regular customers.
“People becoming more open was one part of it, but you’ve also got to look at the industry itself having a part in these changes – The Den was a pioneering company in making the industry more accessible to people and D-Vice has fabulous stores; the Ponsonby store is great. It’s obviously a two-way street – people are more willing to come to adult stores, so the adult market opens up and expands; both have had a part to play in how the industry has changed.
“These days, our stores are now bigger and brighter and we go for a softer feel with our branding. We’re gearing ourselves towards the couples market and we’re much more women-friendly and gay friendly. The couples market is definitely growing – for some stores I think couples are the main customers. Every store is different and has a different focus – all Erox stores bar one have been changed to Peaches and Cream, including the Manukau Erox, which is being gutted and remodelled right now. But then we’ve got things like The Grinder on K’Road, which is very much still focused towards the gay market.”
John jokes that gay guys mostly visit The Grinder (formerly The Den) on K’Road to cruise, but for others who frequent the store, it’s force of habit.
“The Grinder and the old Den stores have a big BDSM market – people who have been coming to those stores for years so they keep up the habit. We keep a lot of leather, restraints and some of those really big toys there. They can buy this stuff online but a lot of the time, people come into the stores for this fringe-type stuff – I think people want to see and feel the things they’re thinking of purchasing.”
John’s understanding of his product and the cavalier way he talks about it might seem a little odd to some people – while some may giggle or be shocked by the types of toys described, John sees what he sells as simply business. “We are a little bit like other retail stores – I’ve worked in retail all my life and this isn’t any different.”
Regardless of how John sees his business, there will always be people who have an axe to grind with the adult industry. John says he regularly runs into issues with the media and its unwillingness to give ad space to even the tamest stuff Peaches and Cream has to offer.
“One of the main differences between us and other retail is that we have real restrictions on who will let us advertise with them – some magazines and newspapers won’t take us on and we can only advertise on television in the middle of the night. We have lingerie that other shops and even department store chains stock, but because we’re Peaches and Cream, we don’t get to advertise. Durex and Get It On! get to advertise condoms and safe sex, but we can’t. Whereas with other media such as radio stations, we get taken away on holiday because we spend so much with them that they give us a travel perk.”
Travel is par for the course for John, who also travels to trade shows to get the inside word on what to order in down under.
“The trade shows are less like Erotica and more like a place where you go to see new innovations. Every manufacturer will have its new products on display.”
John often travels with his business partner Andrew, who he stresses is his business partner. “I have to say that because otherwise people will think we’re together. We were over at a trade show once, and I think the people who were putting us up were trying to be PC and put us up in a room with a double bed. It was nice of them to think of us, but… wrong idea.”
When it comes down to it, John says that despite what he sells and the jet-setting lifestyle he leads, life is pretty normal. He’s sick of playing games when he meets people and says that he just comes out and tells people what he does.
“There’s a bit of stigma with certain people who seem to think we’re these sex crazy people, but we’re not. If you go back a few years, perhaps things were a bit different, but not these days!”
| Hannah JV