Having a month's free rent is a godsend when you need to work at top speed to get a shop ready for business. Before we moved in, the shop had been a hydroponics store (haha) and there were little partitions everywhere and a low ceiling with cables running all over the place. The bones of the place were good though and we could see our vision unfolding.
I'm not much of an interior designer but I do like to pour over magazines and I'm a mad pinterest fan. But pinterest didn't exist in 1998 and there were no types of stores like the one I was envisaging in existence. When I did speak to designers (who I couldn't afford) they always came up with the same old story of red velvet, lots of cushions and draping fabrics. 'No, that's a French bordello' I always thought. It's not that simple to re-frame an age old construct, even for a professional. How do I come up with an interior that's not intimidating on a very small budget?
The only stores that were inspiring me back in the 90's were the revamped (but soon to fail) George's on Collins and the newly opened Husk store in Armadale. Both stores had a wonderfully original, creative flair and heralded the beginning, for me anyway, of shopping as an experience. Husk was a gift/clothing shop that served coffee in a divine Moroccan style garden and had a fire crackling in the store over Winter. Shopping for earrings and a new jacket had never been this much fun.
That's what I wanted Passionfruit to be. An experience. Sex shops had always been the antithesis of fashionable, welcoming, fun and warm. I wanted a place where all of the senses were ignited. The 'natural' look was all the rage at the time and I decided that more than anything, the store should feel homey and comforting rather than glamorous or frou frou and maybe alienating.
When, with the help of my partner, parents, brothers and sister, we gutted the shop and pulled out the fake ceiling (much to my dad's insistence that it was 'fine'), we uncovered a beautiful building with a 15 foot soaring, timber ceiling. The sisal carpet went in, stone shelving bolted to the wall, a beautiful iron and sandstone 'toy table' installed and stock merchandised.
Merchandising was something that I had never seen in traditional sex stores. After all, how can you merchandise 'Beaver Eaters' and 'Ron Jeremy' dildos? This was a problem I had been pondering for quite some time. There was actually no nice packaging in the entire industry in those days. You can't have a nice store filled with ugly, pornographic blister packs so I had to repackage everything to streamline my merchandise.
All the packaging went in the bin and the toys put in our own satin bags and renamed. 'Beaver Eater' became 'White Knight', 'Ron Jeremy Dildo' became 'Senseii' and so on. We still get asked for 'Seven Deadly Sins' which was our name for the 'Pussy and Arse Egg'. They were then stored in their own velvet lined drawers in the toy room and a wholly uniquel sex store was born.
(It's a bit mortifying now but at the time I thought it was pretty good)!
After four exhausting weeks of my partner finishing NEIS in Geelong, me running around managing a work site and moving house (we moved into the upstairs rooms to save money), it was finally time to open the door. I'd been up all night creating a window display but was ready for my first big day.
I unlocked the door, stood behind the counter and waited. And waited. And waited. After all that frantic activity, this was a huge disappointment. Nothing. We did get a few customers that day and I sold my first strap on harness! 'What the hell am I doing?' I thought. I still think that sometimes, especially when business isn't going great guns, but the philosophy of the store as well as my mission have always been the same.
We did make $63.00!!
My mission at the time was
"To re-invent the sex shop - With fun, love and passion" and my philosophy is still on the website as it was written back then. From that first day in June 1998 it has been one hell of a ride and it has always been full of fun, love and passion.
Stay tuned next week for 'Riding the waves of the noughties'.
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