Q&A with Hilton Flax, President
Ted: Please describe your store for our readers?
Hilton Flax: In the beginning I started selling fetish art. I did not have a store, and would vend at shows. Many of my friends made leather and insisted I take their products to the shows on consignment. I would have 2 booths, one for art and one for leather. The leather products always sold, but never the art. I finally gave up the art and began selling leather products. I lived in a large mixed use loft in Chelsea NYC. I started selling Fetish clothes, BDSM toys and sex toys by appointment out of my loft. I would often go to my Post Office on 18th street and one day a small store was for rent on 16th street. It was about 300 sq. feet. It was March 10th and I signed the lease and sent out a mailing (no email at that time) for my grand opening April 1st. I was committed. So April 1st 1992 my first store opened to the public. Many people sent me flowers, I put them in the window and of course many locals stopped in thinking a florist had opened. Surprise, surprise when they saw it was a fetish store. After four years, a small one bedroom apt behind the store became available and I added that to the store. My first big expansion! I then added more products including corsets, boots, shoes, books, magazines and of course expanded the clothing and BDSM sex toys. Later on I again needed to expand and in Sept 2001 I was fortunate to buy DV8 a mens leather boutique in Chelsea. I also was able to move into their retail space which was many times larger than my store on 16th Street. I now also have a workshop where I make a lot of leather items, cuffs, collars, harnesses. We carry men’s and women’s leather, latex and PVC clothing, many corsets, boots, shoes, toys, books, magazines.
Ted: What makes your store special?
Hilton: We are very discreet, never talk about our customers no matter how famous or infamous they are. We are located in a safe, easy to get to neighborhood. Lots of trains, busses and cabs all nearby.
We are a short walk to the Empire State building, Penn Station and Greenwich Village. Our neighborhood has lots of fine restaurants. All of our staff are all very knowledgeable about the products we sell, and we make our customers feel very welcome. We want our customers to feel at home. We also have a comfortable front foyer where you can chill.
Ted: What do you look for in a brand?
Hilton: Quality is very important and so is pricing. With clothing we always want to carry up to 3x or 4x. So we like brands that make larger sizes. With boots and shoes we like to carry up to size 14 sometimes we even have sizes to 16. Probably half of our high heels are sold to men. Some of the more popular brands that we carry are: Latex clothing: Klawtex, Polymorphe. Fetish Clothing: Patrice Catanzaro, Lip Service, Noir Handmade, Gregg Homme. Shoes and boots we carry Pleaser and Karos Shoes. We carry Leg Avenue, Allure and Coquette. We also get sex toys from distributors including: Williams Trading, Sex Toy Distributing, Entrenue, Eldorado and East Coast News. We have a local guy who makes most of our leather toys, plus I make a lot of stuff. For fun, I buy plush teddy bears and outfit them with collars, cuffs and harnesses that I make.
We have lots of local crafts people who make products for us, including someone who only makes sized opera gloves in leather, PVC and spandex. We are now expanding our lingerie line to include Forplay.
Ted: Describe the popular styles or trends in your store.
Hilton: We are located in Manhattan so we have a very mixed clientele. Straight and LGBTQ, locals and tourists. We are a destination store for tourists and they always tell us that there is no store like ours back home. Many times people see stuff on the Web and then want that sex toy or leather toy they saw. Our store manager, Lolita Wolf, and I are constantly reviewing toys, researching products. Distributors are also a good source for new products. We read the trade papers to see trends and of course we learn from our customers to see what they want. Currently latex clothing is getting more popular plus we sell a lot of exotic masks. Steel-boned corsets are also very popular and we have over 400 in stock.
Ted: Describe your price points and size ranges.
Hilton: We are very focused on sizes. We don’t like the one size fits all clothing as that is really not true for most people. We like clothing sized X-small thru 4x. We have a huge selection of corsets sized 18” to 48.” We have a broad customer base and their sizes really do cover that whole spectrum. We like to have most price points covered both in clothing and in toys. So if you’re looking for a sex toy or a mask for $10 or $300 we try to have that.
Ted: What is your typical or average customer size?
Hilton: I wish there was a typical average size. We get very small people sizes X-small and then we get larger people size 3X or even larger. They are always so happy when they see we not only have clothes, corsets, to fit them but they also have a choice.
Ted: What does your average customer spend per visit to your store?
Hilton: Some days the average could be $30; other days $200 or more.
We don’t really have an average. I wish we did but it’s very variable. Some days it’s cold and everyone is buying clothing; some days when it’s hot, all they want is a cheap vibrator.
Ted: Describe your customer.
Hilton: We have all ages and genders. Straight, gay, lesbian, queer and trans. Single people and couples. Many of our customers are visiting a sex shop for the first time and are always pleasantly surprised at how welcome we make them feel and how “normal/natural” it feels to talk about their intimate needs. We also cater to the hard core fetishist.
Ted: What has impacted your business the most over the past year?
Hilton: Over the years I have noticed how people are more knowledgeable with regards to sex products. With the advent of the Internet, people can quickly and easily learn and research about products. We also give workshops to help customers better explore their sexuality. Out workshops are focused on Fetish and BDSM topics. We encourage people to play, but to always keep safety in mind. Fifty Shades of Grey also brought in many new customers. I always remind people that we all started somewhere. So if 50 Shades is their starting point, so be it. We are very careful to explain how the products work, try finding out the customers’ needs and what would best suit them. My staff does not work on commission so we don’t push products unnecessarily. We are always honest when helping customers choose clothing, toys. etc . My best source for advertising is our customer. If they are happy, they will tell their friends, etc and this is why I believe we have been in business over 24 years in New York City. Finally, one last thing, I really enjoy going to work. I love the fashion, the toys and the customer interaction.