I Worked in a Sex Store

It was actually two sex stores, and I was the floor manager of both for seven years. It was a small business with a modicum of local notoriety due to the fact that they were owned by two women, a mother-daughter team. The owners had two locations and every employee was cross-trained at both, therefore I was responsible for both. I have tons of stories that I will recount at a later date, but this post is not about that. This post is about how working in the sex industry prepared me for work in Corporate America.
I have been in the workforce since I was 15 years old. My first job was as a physician’s answering service operator. (I have some stories about that job that I’ll share at later date as well.) After that, I worked for a local theatre company (stage not movie), a video rental store, and a locally owned convenience store company with multiple locations all at the same time. There were some stints with a musical instrument store and hotel during that time for a short period, but the main three were the important ones. Eventually I was offered the Floating Manager position with the convenience company, meaning I covered stores when the Store Manager was on leave or fired. So, I left the other two jobs. The hours were brutal but I entered college at that time, so the flexibility to go to school in the morning and work at night without truly being responsible for the profitability and innerworkings of a static location was necessary. That ran it’s course and from there I worked at the sex store.
For the purposes of this… blog, rant, stupid word vomit thinggie I’ll refer to the sex store as Dildo McSexStore.
So, when I was initially hired at Dildo McSexStore it was under the implication of becoming the manager of one of the locations based on the offer discussion. They hired in bulk, so there were eight of us that started at the same time. In talking to the new hires, we all came to realize that the manager carrot was dangled during all of our interviews. Needless to say, the first few weeks were bumpy. It became clear fairly early on why they mass hired. It was to “cull the chaff from the wheat” or insert whatever metaphor you like here. It would be like that for entire seven years I was there. Every few months another set of new hires, only for one or two to make it through.
This was the first time I had encountered a company with such a high turnover rate. Even working in the convenience store business, the workers were treated well, therefore there was a large portion of employees who would never leave. I personally had worked for the convenience company for four years and wouldn’t have left if there were better hours to be had. Anyway, I was the only one of the eight to make it through the complete training process at Dildo McSexStore. I was proud of myself for sticking with it despite not agreeing with A LOT of how the stores were operated. But, I believe that no matter where you work, even if you are working for yourself, you’re going to be dealing with bullshit you don’t like. At the end of the day, I had better hours, better pay, and the motto “its not my business, I just work here”. That being said, there were both positive and negative lessons learned, all of which helped prepare me for a career in finance.
From Dildo McSexStore I learned how important it is to give a professional image. I know, not the place that immediately comes to mind when using the words “professional image”. Adult stores have a very negative stereotype. You know the one, you’ve seen it portrayed in movies (not just the pornographic ones). Dark, dirty, the staff covered in *gasp* tattoos and piercings with “unnatural” hair colors. Oh my! Yeah, well, these stores were nothing like that, and that was strategic. They were owned by women. It’s already tough being a women in a primarily male dominated field, much less owning a business that caters to a niche market that no one willingly admits to patronizing. There was a lot for them to fight against. The most impactful way they fought was to negate all stereotypes by presenting a more socially acceptable and professional version of a sex store. We were the city’s “only upscale adult toy store”. With that came a uniformed dress code in which all my tattoos had to be covered up and any visible piercings not in my ears to be removed. I wore long sleeves and pants all year long and kept my hair down for seven years. They wanted all the females to wear makeup, I hate wearing makeup. We compromised on eyeliner and lipstick for me. Our behaviors were to be professional as well. No profanity or lewd speech with customers, all genitals were to be referred to with medically correct terminology. We were not to accept gifts from customer and no talking to customers outside of work ever. If you came to work messy in anyway, i.e. hungover, high/drunk, unkempt appearance, “excessive” skin showing, or tattoos/piercings showing, you got sent home, or in a few cases fired. It was the most strict dress code I have ever encounter, even to this day.
Working for Dildo McSexStore taught me how to sell via “spinning the truth”. I have never been comfortable with lying and have never been particularly good at it. There’s no altruistic reason, I just find it stupid to lie when the truth is easier to remember. Anyway, we received bonuses on top of our regular salary based on sales, so if you wanted that fat bonus check you better sling some damn dildoes by any means necessary. There was also a huge emphasis on product knowledge. The running joke was that we were “sexperts”. I have helped save marriages, helped women feel more confident and comfortable with their bodies, helped one man come out the closet, and helped a few ladies with vaginismus when they were at the end of their ropes with their doctors’ recommendations. I know this for fact because they all came back to thank me and became my regular customers. You would never think that knowing the chemical composition of lube or what material “jelly” is actually made from in relation to latex or how important diameter is would come in handy, but it did. So did telling every customer that you’ve tried whatever product you are currently discussing and can attest to how great it is from personal experience. Also, that this $100 vibrator is far more superior to the $20 one that looks exactly like it and is produced from the same exact manufacturer, but is a prettier color. Or that KY is shit and bad for your body. (That last one is 100% true though. Stop using KY, it’s cheap for a reason.) Basically, I learned how to make people who are in the most uncomfortable form of themselves not only trust me but to rely on me for sexual, emotional, relationship, and mental health advise.
Dildo McSexStore was the first time I had to navigate multiple, contradictory bosses. As mentioned previously, the stores were owned by a mother-daughter team. Well, the mother’s long time boyfriend was also a “manager”. I put that in quotations because he never actually managed anything, but technically he was considered my boss as well. His face was in all the ads because, in his previous profession, he was a fairly well-know radio DJ and they were leveraging him for marketing. He came into work late, left early, and regaled customer with tales of his radio glory days in the interim. The only time he ever took on a “managerial” role was when the daughter had given me a project to have the staff complete. She always gave highly specific instruction on what she wanted and it never failed that half-way through he would stop the staff and tell them to do it differently. I would intervene and explain the instructions relayed by daughter, to which he would tell me he was my boss and to do it his way. Daughter would check in on us and have a fucking fit when it wasn’t turning out the way she had instructed. I would have to explain boyfriend’s instructions, to which she retorted that she was the owner, she outranked him, and that I shouldn’t have listened to him. We would start over and do it her way. Enter boyfriend, insert argument between the two. The times I did tell boyfriend that daughter outranked him, he would also have a fucking fit. I then would be called in to speak with mother (a la principal’s office style), to which she told me that boyfriend was also my boss and to be more respectful. If there was ever any contradiction between them in the future to alert her, as she was the 51% owner, and she would take care of it, but to listen to him when he told me to do something. Rinse, repeat.
The final and most hurtful lesson learned from Dildo McSexStore was manipulation. I initially had no intentions of staying at Dildo McSexStore for seven years. The behind the scenes shenanigans outweighed the positive customer experiences. Then just as I finished college, another carrot was dangled… ownership. Mother was realistic about her health and age, and daughter was very vocal about not wanting to continue as owner if mother passed. The plan, as relayed to me, was that once I was trained to their liking, I would get a share of the profits and get a small ownership percentage. When mother passed, daughter agreed to stay on and take her place as 51% owner and I would own 49%. I began a schedule that had me split 50/50 between office training and floor work soon after. This went on for a few years. I was given some cash bonuses for “all my hard work” as we continued discussions of how much of the ownership percentage mother was comfortable with giving me while she was alive. Then the anticipated day came and I was called into the office for the “change in management” talk. What I thought was them bringing me on as part owner, turned out to be boyfriend agreeing to take on more of an office role and I would be “promoted” to the position that boyfriend once held, whatever that was. He was getting my profit bonus and my ownership percentage without knowing anything about the business besides whatever he overheard in passing. I was getting a new title and no increase in pay. I applied for a new job the next day.
There were many more lessons learned from Dildo McSexStore, but these are the most important ones that are applicable to working for a multi-million dollar corporation.
By the time I decided to leave Dildo McSexStore, I had a degree I would never use and no desire to ever work retail or be a manager again. Add to that the stigma that comes with putting Dildo McSexStore on my resume and you get a limited pond to fish from. It took a little over a month to get an interview with one of the places I had applied. An entry level position with a finance company. I was offered the job 30 minutes after the interview. In the nine years since, I have utilized every lesson learned at Dildo McSexStore to move up, and in some cases around, the ladder. From the field to corporate and back again, Dildo McSexStore’s teachings came into play.
Looking the part is the the most important thing to top level executives. You can try to argue this point, but from experience I can tell you you’re wrong. Every top level executive I have trained, worked with, or even casually encountered only remembers the people that dress nice and/or are physically attractive. If you don’t fit into either category, you aren’t worth remembering. All your numbers on the various spreadsheets could be the best in the entire company but it won’t matter if you don’t leave an impression. Personality and knowledge alone are not enough to people accustomed to a higher end lifestyle.
The finance company I worked for had fingers in a lot of pies, but collateral based loans with credit qualifiers are the bread and butter. By far the largest profit margin potential. That means your collateral determines a loan amount, but your credit determines whether or not you are approved and for what percentage of the determined value of your collateral. With this type of loan, even people with poor credit have the opportunity to get more money than they would have access to with a traditional loan. This can be both a good and bad thing. The good is that when emergencies come up there are options available for those who don’t typically have options. The bad is that the majority of people are not fiscally responsible in general. (That’s another post for another day.) In some cases, the bulk of the loan process was spent making your client feel comfortable, getting them to trust you, then helping them solve their financial difficulties by taking more money than they initially intended. Other times, the loan process is spent educating a client about this type of loan and how it differs from a traditional loan, then coaching the client on how to pay it off properly. The people who are able to sit through your entire spiel without asking questions fall into one of three categories. They do not understand and are afraid to ask, have no intentions of paying to begin with, or are mentally paralyzed by the dollar amount being offered to them. Sometimes the money being made available is too much to say no to to someone not used to having money. While we are not financial advisors, the bonus structure is based on total loan amount and profit. Every management level from Assistant Manager to President receives a percentage of profit and/or new loans, depending on what level of management you are. To get those numbers up you are taught to “discover needs” and “sell the money”, worry about collecting later. So, you speed through some details about the contract or answer questions with questions. For example, “What happens if I can’t come up with the minimum?” “Do you plan on not paying the money borrowed back?” See that? The question wasn’t answered and the icky feeling of concern rests solely in the client’s lap.
As with every corporate structure, there are multiple management levels complete with top level executives. Most, if not all, at the executive levels are too far removed from the day-to-day to understand how anything at the “bottom” works. When an executive has a brilliant idea about how to make things “better” for the branches, they pass that bullshit down to the next level executive, who in turn adds their own bullshit before passing it down to the next level executive. This goes on until it makes it to your regional, who also adds some bullshit on occasion, then to the district manager who does their best to balance towing the company line and ensuring their branches concerns are fully vetted. Your job now is to interpret this convoluted version of the telephone game and apply it to real life circumstances as best you can. The corporate office is located in my city so, when the executive at the top decides to pop into some branches to see how the new initiative is taking root; said executive gets upset at either how indecipherable his brilliant idea was or how the IT Department was unable to make the idea work because the system just doesn’t do that. Fingers get pointed, but when it’s all said and done, the branches are scolded for being too slow on speed of adoption. If you’re lucky, you get a second or third visit from other levels of executives who also are upset that the idea isn’t working and have their own “fix” that the next executive to visit tells you is incorrect.
Eventually I came to realize that no matter what the company’s mission statement was or how much community outreach is encouraged and publicized, the executives do not care about anything other than making the numbers look good to investors. I took on many roles and positions within the company, from Online Sales and Training in corporate office to General Manager in the field. Basically, wherever they needed me I would go. It took a while for me to grasp the totality of manipulation taking place as everyone, especially those in corporate, was so good at drinking and serving the Flavor-aid. They made me feel like family. The problem with being in everyone’s good graces is that you acquire their trust. They let you behind the curtain because you’re “one of them”. Me holding on to the motto “its not my business, I just work here” didn’t help either. In the nine years I worked for the company, I saw every single position above General Manager turn over at least 4 times. President being the only exception. GM positions and below turned over far more often. I have seen what the P & L, Rolling Reports, and other miscellaneous reports looked like before and after some tactical firings and hirings. I witnessed reports being generated with strategically translated information to make the focus number of the day look more appealing. I experienced how a large corporation handled natural disasters, i.e. hurricanes in Texas, Florida, the Carolinas, etc., and civil unrest, i.e. Ferguson riots and BLM protests. I experienced the joys of working through COVID shutdowns because we were deemed “essential”. And I was enlisted as the “fixer” for multiple locations over the years after the GM was fired for a single quarter (or less) that didn’t meet year over year goals. (See the “looking the part” section above.) Manipulation of numbers, positions, and people was the real business behind the scenes.
I recently left the company in January of this year and will be starting a new job outside of the financial sector in February. It’s a little terrifying starting from the bottom up all over again after nearly a decade in a place where you thought you would be forever. I am by no means an altruistic person, and empathy fatigue is absolutely real (look it up); but being privy to the way loyal employees were treated at the beginning of COVID shutdowns, the instructions given on how to handle clients that fell past due during a pandemic, and how I personally was treated when I started voicing concerns was far too much to deal with. Unfortunately, in order to make comparable money I am going to be working for another multi-million dollar corporation. We’ll see how it turns out.
If the lessons learned at Dildo McSexStore helped me navigate the institutional waters of a “professional career”, the lessons learned at Shitty McFinance taught me how to navigate the political waters of a “professional career”. There are a lot of things I wish I could unlearn, I guess those are lessons within themselves.
My take away from all of this is that sex stores and multi-million dollar corporations are essentially the same. A lot more getting fucked with no lube than expected or necessary. And to think, vending anal beads and strap-ons introduced me to Corporate America.