(Note: This story appears in the June 2023 issue of SE Magazine)
SE Store Spotlight by Larry Kaplan
Even in 2023, nothing beats good in-store customer service
From his initial role as an 18-year-old stocker, store custodian and cashier to becoming the general manager and buyer of a 9,000-square-foot store in Dallas, Martin Puentes has inhabited virtually every role at the chain of New Fine Arts stores. Here, Puentes discusses his buying strategies, the changing landscape of adult retail and which products his customers can’t get enough of.
fter graduating high school 24 years ago, Martin Puentes worked a series of grueling on/off warehouse jobs in his hometown of Dallas. One evening, while getting his second shift lunch, Puentes ran across one of Dallas’s New Fine Arts adult retail stores. Brightly lit with neon, the store looked like a nightclub to Puentes, who had never visited an adult store. He went in to check it out and liked what he saw. The “Part-time Help Wanted” notice on the wall led him to inquire, and when he learned that it paid as much as warehouse work without breaking his back, he was hooked. It took a persistent Puentes a week to convince the reluctant manager to hire the then 18-year-old, who started cleaning, stocking, and cashiering on midnights and eventually became buyer and GM of the New Fine Arts West Northwest Highway store after working every job in the stores.
StorErotica spoke with Puentes about changes in clientele, product popularity, and the joy he continues to get from serving and educating customers.
SE: How has your clientele changed since you started?
Puentes: When I started, it was 90-95% men. Today it’s about 50/50 with more couples, which is great. Many second and third-shift workers who live or work near my store like to stay up and shop after getting off work, which I like, being a 24/7 store.
SE: It must be gratifying to help people out face-to-face.
Puentes: That’s the beauty of being brick-and-mortar. Sometimes you get the customer that knows what they want, they saw it online, but they’ve never visited the store before and want to look around. Every company we deal with must have tester programs for their new products, so we can show customers who prefer that over buying online. I try to immerse myself in knowing everything about the products. I love seeing a guy come in with his girl, trying to find a toy, a DVD, or a movie. They often don’t know what to do, and it’s pretty satisfying to get on the floor and help them out. Or a guy comes in with a prescription, looking for a penis pump. They’ve come a long way on those from just regular old cylinders. They’re no longer toys; they’re medical devices. So we can provide much better solutions, which is rewarding.
SE: When you started, your clientele was 90% male. Did your stores look much different? Was there a point when your stores changed and started looking more modern?
Puentes: Our company has always striven to be the best with well-lit stores, the highest quality modern fixtures, and inviting displays featuring lots of products. It’s like walking into a Target store. We went from 100 square feet of toys to a majority toy store with racks full of merchandise. Our stores are soft when you come in with lingerie, making it more inviting for females, and it gets harder as you go further back. Starting in the late ‘90s, we divided into sections as more and better toys emerged. We’d have a rabbit section, a wand section, a bullet section, etc.
SE: How much competition do you have from other nearby stores? And what do you do to stand out from that competition?
Puentes: By being clean, organized, and well-lit with huge selections and excellent customer service, our parking lots are brighter than most supermarkets. We want people to feel welcome and safe. Our biggest brick-and-mortar competition is our other stores. We have five stores in Dallas, each 8,000-9,000 square feet. The competition has much smaller stores with far less inventory. It’s like comparing a Walmart to a Walgreens.
SE: In regard to providing excellent customer service, what do you look for when hiring salespeople?
Puentes: We look for people who are dependable and comfortable talking about sex. It’s usually not good if they’re shy, but I have hired shy people who came out of their cocoons and became butterflies. Once hired, the more product knowledge we provide for employees, the better, and we do that. So if a supplier offers training, we’ll take them up on it.
SE: How much contact do you have with Gary Hartstein, the primary owner?
Puentes: We used to have weekly meetings, but we stopped that. Gary’s in town, and I see him at least three or four times a week, and he’s only a phone call away if I need him. He’s been a great boss. I’ve learned a lot from him over the years. I can call him anytime, day or night, and he answers. He’s always there to help if I have an issue.
SE: How do you handle showrooming? What do you do to create a shopping environment that helps to limit it?
Puentes: We see a lot of that. I’ve had them come in, look at the product, ask a bunch of questions, order it online right in front of me, and walk out the door. I explain that they’ll wait three or four days when they can have it right now. And if it doesn’t work, while some places don’t have return policies, we’ll honor the warranty.
SE: What are some of the best-selling categories of products that you carry?
Puentes: For my store, lingerie, bondage, anal, masturbators, of course, cock rings, bullets, and vibrators.
SE: What are your best-selling brands within those categories?
Puentes: For lingerie, Lapdance, Dreamgirl, Curve, and Fantasy are some great companies. The Shots Ouch line is excellent for bondage, and Sportsheets Sex & Mischief line is doing well. Spartacus has always been a superior leather line. They’ve been good to me. For masturbators, you’ve got PDX, Pipedream, Zolo, and Curve. CalExotics just got into the big masturbators, which they’ve done quite well. Vedo, one of the smaller companies, has been good, and it’s very inexpensive, right there in the mid-range price. So if somebody doesn’t want to buy that $100-150-200 toy anymore, yet they don’t want something cheap, they know they’ll get an excellent $50-70 product with Vedo.
SE: Regarding brand awareness, are your customers loyal to specific companies or shopping based on affordability?
Puentes: They shop by affordability; the branding stopped when companies like Lelo emerged. Now those are great products, but people aren’t spending in that $175 to $200 range anymore because you’ve got Vedo, CalExotics, or even Metro, which introduced the Link, a vibrating toy at half the price of everybody else’s, yet just as powerful and just as good.
“We see a lot of (showrooming). I’ve had them come in, look at the product, ask a bunch of questions, order it online right in front of me, and walk out the door. I explain that they’ll wait three or four days when they can have it right now. And if it doesn’t work, while some places don’t have return policies, we’ll honor the warranty.”
– Martin Puentes
SE: When you’re at tradeshows, what types of toys grab your attention first, with so much product coming out? How do you sift through everything to ensure you’re getting your ROI?
Puentes: Each of our locations is different. I’ve always liked that the owners allow us to each buy for our individual stores. If it were cookie-cutter, it would get stale. On the first day, I meet with all of my regular companies. I choose from what’s new out there and what to get. I want to see the latest and greatest, what’s trending and grabbing people’s attention. If you don’t visit some smaller companies, you’ll never see a lot of it. The big companies have a ton, but some smaller companies also have great toys.
Buying product at shows is great because you can touch it, feel it, and see what it is. Ordering online is fine for reorders, but I prefer to buy new stuff at the main shows. I’ll do reorders at distributor shows, but at Altitude or ANME, I’m shopping for new stuff.
SE: In your opinion, what’s the strongest trend in adult retail currently?
Puentes: Bluetooth, because a lot of folks want to be able to reach out and touch somebody when they’re not around.
SE: What are some significant changes in product popularity since you started?
Puentes: Toys aren’t just for use indoors, in the bedroom anymore. A lady will come in, buy a toy, and stick it in her purse, explaining that she’ll use it on her lunch break and take off. Or buy a Bluetooth toy, call her husband, and say, I just got this toy; come use it on me.
SE: What’s your biggest pet peeve when buying product?
Puentes: Lack of originality. Somebody has a product that wouldn’t sell. So they change the name and color, repackage it and try to pawn it off as something new. I hate that.
SE: What’s the best part of your job, and what’s the most challenging part?
Puentes: The best part is the ability to provide excellent customer service and help people. The biggest challenge is trying to hire and keep employees.
Larry Kaplan has been the Legal Correspondent for ED Publications for 22 years. Mr. Kaplan is a broker in the sale and purchase of adult retail stores and adult nightclubs and the Executive Director of the ACE of Michigan adult nightclub state trade association. Contact Larry Kaplan at 313-815-3311 or email email@example.com.