SE Focus Cover by Claire Sass

Retail buyer for the Knock First store in Maryland, Claire Sass, shares her perspective on stocking smoke products in an adult store, as well as advice for those who may have some reservations about the cross-merchandising.

(Note: This story appears in the April 2024 issue of SE Magazine


ecent trends in our industry have owners wondering whether adding smoke products to their offerings is a good move for the future. As always, reflecting the new trends as well as the steady sellers, is a solid path to boosting revenue. The savvy adult store retailer understands that, while we may share a certain percentage of a crossover customer base with smoke shops, our sex shop customers are really seeking a place where product-expertise, educated advice and new innovative products address the real needs we hear about from them during their visits. Additionally, there are certain challenges that can face a store-owner entering the world of paraphernalia, synthetic weed and actual flower:

Firstly, a retailer must consider whether or not any of these items place their current licensing in jeopardy. Federal, state and local laws are so varied that careful analysis is required. 

Secondly, if you are displaying these products, there is a risk of alienating certain customers who are a significant part of your existing repeat-business base. Not all of our customers are crossover clients, and to assume so is to ignore the significant demographic of guests who may find that this moves your store from a sex-positive environment into a different genre altogether. 

Finally, these two types of retail are very different. As purveyors in the adult industry, we know that specializing in sex products is more than sticking items on a shelf. The most successful stores have spent years honing in on repeat customers, and don’t just sell as much to as many customers as we can. To accomplish a steady base requires us to be knowledgeable about our products, adult sexual health and the journey that our individual customers are on.  

So, who is the crossover customer base, and how do we leverage them as we continue to grow our business? One path might be to bring in smoke products, but another may be to consider building non-monetized relationships with existing smoke businesses in your community, so that your products are complimentary, not competitive. Push customers to each other in a symbiotic way. Our shop, Knock First, is located in Rockville, Maryland, in a mall next-door to a vape shop called Vape Ink. Every day, we send customers to each other. We don’t send every customer; we send the right customer. By building relationships with our guests, we learn which customers share an interest in the other store’s products.

“Traditional word-of-mouth advertising is still the best encouragement for a person to try something new, and you are building towards increased success by inviting new feet into your store.”


– Claire Sass 

It is difficult for any small store to thrive without a robust base of repeat traffic, but the store that sees the same guest four times a month is maximizing that relationship and increasing sales. How do you get them there? Knowledge of products is important, but the external pattern of shopping in a person’s life plays a huge role, too! Consider: Can they do two errands while parking only once? The economic fabric of your community is infinitely more viable when you and your business neighbors create these opportunities for your guests to find themselves back on your block and on your doorstep!

In addition, traditional word-of-mouth advertising is still the best encouragement for a person to try something new, and you are building towards increased success by inviting new feet into your store. Having your neighborhood smoke shop tell people about your amazing couples’ boutique is gold, and you become a valuable source when you send your customers to a great smoke shop next door. The community of customers then may spread the message that there are several amazing shops in your area!

Trusted referrals are a community-positive way of growing your business, while limiting your risk, and continuing to increase your reputation as the leader of specialty adult products in your region. Grouping strong businesses with shared customer bases make this an easy lift; you just need to spend a moment to get to know your neighbors, talk about how to help each other rise and continue to know your customer.

Claire Sass is a lifelong consumer of adult toys and newly appointed Director of Wingman Services at Knock First in Rockville, MD. For more information, call 202-492-9244, email or visit