How’d you get that cool job managing a sex shop?

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Sex toy savant. Photo via Mary Hoffer

What do you do with that gender studies degree? You might not think it’s going to lead you into a cool spot in the world of commerce, but that’s exactly what it did for Mary Hoffer, who’s in charge of the pleasure center that is the Babeland Park Slope shelves. As retail director, Hoffer helps make sure what sold at Babeland won’t hurt you and also has to be thinking of what you’re going to want to buy  before you ask for it. If that sounds fun, Hoffer says it is, so read on to find out whether you might be good behind the scenes at a sex shop and whether there’s such a thing as a typical day there.

What first drew you into the sex shop scene?
I was first drawn to work at Babeland when I was 22 and fresh out of college. I had studied Gender Studies in college and knew that I definitely wanted to work in a feminist work environment. I also wanted to work somewhere that had purpose and where I felt like I was doing something to give back. I wasn’t 100% sure what it would be like to work at a sex shop, but I had been to Babeland as a customer and felt like it would fit my bill. And, was I right!

Is there a corporate ladder, same as everywhere else? If so, did you have to work your way up to retail director?
I did have to work my way up to retail director but I’ve never really thought of it as a corporate ladder (“corporate” and “Babeland” just don’t seem right together in the same sentence). I started at Babeland as a sex educator/sales associate and worked in that position for about 3 years before becoming the assistant manager of our Soho location.  When we decided to open the Brooklyn location I was offered the opportunity to manage the store and I was thrilled.  Brooklyn has always held a special place in my heart and I’m delighted to have had the opportunity to contribute such a necessary and needed type of retail to the Brooklyn scene. I’ve been the retail director at Babeland for about 6 years now and I absolutely love the work that I do and all of the new & exciting projects that I get to take on.

Does the Brooklyn location draw in a randier crowd than Babeland’s other stores?
At Brooklyn, we find that the Saturday/Sunday early afternoon post-brunch crowd is our most randy bunch. The weekends tend to get more customers who are taking it easy and enjoying time off from work. And, what better way to relax than with a vibrator and some lube!

What’s a day in the life like for you right now?
The thing I like most about my job is that there really isn’t a typical day. I mean sure, I run my fair share of reports and all that, but every day seems to present something new and different for me to work on. Working in a staff and customer engagement position lends itself to a lot of unpredictability (particularly in a sex shop) and I think that is very exciting and definitely keeps me on my toes.

I also love working for a smaller company where my workload isn’t quite as focused. While we all have our various positions in the company, we get to be involved in a lot of different projects. I recently took on the role of project managing the opening of two Babeland Pop Up shops at Ricky’s NYC and managed everything from the merchandising to the product selection to the installation. I really enjoy working closely with our purchasing, marketing, and creative teams to brainstorm and plan for what our customer will want from Babeland – I love anticipating a customer’s needs and being ready to give them what they want when they come through the door.

As the head retailer, are you always on the lookout for the most advanced pleasure gadgets? Are there trade shows for this kind of thing? 
There are, and we have a buyer who attends the shows to find new products that we can carry. As fun as I’m sure these shows are, I don’t envy her as there is a lot of selection when it comes to sex toys and I can’t imagine what it’s like to vet everything to find something that our customers will want. Babeland is very selective in terms of what we will offer. We want to make sure that we are providing customers with body-safe products and you’d be surprised by how much is out there that is made of questionable materials.

Once our buyer has narrowed the choices, I do get the pleasure of helping her to determine if certain products will sell in our stores. We also ask our staff to test products that we are considering and I think this is a really awesome aspect of any job at Babeland – the opportunity to decide what might be the next big thing!

What kind of qualities does a Babeland rep have to have? Who’d be good at working there?
There are a few things that we look for when we are hiring. Most important is someone who is sex positive. Our weekends are very busy and we have a lot of staff working so being a team player and knowing how to manage the flow is also very important. And finally, a sense of humor always helps.  We have a lot of fun at Babeland and I’m sure you can only imagine the office jokes.

Who would suck at this job? 
If someone is super nervous talking about sex or considers certain sex acts wrong or something to be ashamed of then they really aren’t going to make it. We want to make sure that when our customers come into the store they don’t feel like they are being judged or shamed for what they want to do. So if someone doesn’t have this sex positivity, then they just aren’t going to make the cut.

Can cisgender men work at the store? If so, what do you think about that? 
This often surprises people, but there really are some cisgender men out there who can work at Babeland. In general, working at Babeland takes a certain level of self-awareness and as long as someone has this, they will do just fine.  A good example is that sometimes our customers may not want to work with a male-presenting staff member. While we do train all of our staff the same, we understand that working with a female-presenting staff member might make the customer feel more comfortable. Having the awareness to meet the customer where they are at and provide them with what they need to have a positive experience is fundamental to how we do business and we see the most success when a staff member can do this without taking it personally.

The kGoal, recommended by Park Slope's resident sexpert

The kGoal, recommended by Park Slope’s resident sexpert

What are your own must-have pleasure products from the shelves? 
I’m really excited with the direction that sex toys are heading – especially in response to new technology that is on the market. My new favorites are the kGoal– it’s a kegel exerciser that tracks your progress through the use of an app on your iPhone or Android. I also love anything from Crave – they have very beautiful products that are made of silver and gold – and the advantage to gold is that you can charge a toy in about 30 minutes (which is sometimes all the time I have!)