(Note: This story appears in the April 2022 issue of SE Magazine)
After a career steeped in the fashion industry, Ruth Arceo has translated her talents into purchasing for Pleasure Chest.
Ruth Arceo may have gotten her start in the fashion industry, but over time she aspired to be a retail buyer. It’s safe to say, as the iconic Pleasure Chest’s director of operations and purchasing, she has certainly achieved her goal and then some.
Arceo earned her BFA in fashion merchandising and then held sales associate and visual merchandiser positions for a fashion retailer before moving to the manufacturing side, where she handled large retailers’ special custom orders.
Two-a-half-years ago, Arceo started as a junior buyer at Pleasure Chest. After a year-and-a-half, she became buying manager. She was recently promoted to the chain’s director of operations and purchasing.
STOREROTICA’s Larry Kaplan spoke with Arceo about her start and career ascent with Pleasure Chest — including learning to “let go.”
SE: How did you end up at the Pleasure Chest?
ARCEO: After learning of an opening, I explored their website and visited the West Hollywood store. I was blown away by the fun environment and ready to learn about a new industry.
SE: What separates a Pleasure Chest store from other adult retailers?
ARCEO: It’s our curated assortment, sex educators on staff, and the merchandising of the store. You’ll find similar products in most other stores, but if you’re into something specific like puppy play, you’ll find a variety of tails, hoods, leashes, even down to the cage! You’ll find whatever you’re into, along with the knowledgeable and welcoming staff at the Pleasure Chest.
SE: What’s your biggest challenge as buyer and director of operations?
ARCEO: Time management between the new teams I’m building and current teams. I love saying yes to everything, getting involved, learning new things, and expanding my skill set. Recently, I’m learning to let go, and delegate tasks as my team gets comfortable working independently.
“I love saying yes to everything, getting involved, learning new things, and expanding my skill set. Recently, I’m learning to let go, and delegate tasks as my team gets comfortable working independently.” — Ruth Arceo
SE: What are your best-selling products and categories?
ARCEO: Vibrating toys, including external, dual, and internal toys. Also, non-vibrating dildos and lube.
SE: What are your best-selling brands?
ARCEO: We-Vibe, Womanizer, Le Wand, Magic Wands, Lelo, Sutil, Swiss Navy, and Vixen.
SE: In terms of brand awareness, do you find your customers shopping by brand name, based on affordability, or staff recommendations?
ARCEO: Each location is different. The two New York stores’ customers are asking for brand names they’ve seen on social media. Their next question is, “How much is this?” ; followed up by, “Oh, that’s a little expensive for me. Do you have something within this price range?” So our staff recommends three to four products at different price ranges for each of those items. In LA, customers specify a product type and ask for materials and price. Chicago changed locations last year, so they’re still learning their new client base. Occasionally they’ll have customers drop brand names, but from what I’ve seen, they’re mostly shopping by staff recommendations and affordability.
SE: What types of toys captivate you at trade shows, with so much new product emerging? How do you sift through everything to ensure you realize your ROI?
ARCEO: I’m drawn to pretty and colorful things. I always take a source list to trade shows. And I touch base with each store manager, asking, “What are your customers and staff requesting?” I’ll also look at our slow sellers to determine why it’s slow. Is it price point, color, materials, or the packaging?
My favorite LA customer is a regular who shops for greeting cards. It’s hilarious to me that with everything we have to offer, they look at our greeting card selection. — Ruth Arceo
SE: So, unlike somebody who shops at the supermarket and buys just because they’re hungry, you know what you want and need.
ARCEO: Exactly. But occasionally, something I don’t expect to see catches my attention. A product recently did that to me. It was from Evolved, their stroke and poke featuring a penis at the end of the stroker; I’d never seen anything like it. My samples are shipped to the LA store, and one of the managers was in the room with me when I opened up the box, and the two of us gasped when we saw it, in a good way, of course.
SE: How is the Pleasure Chest keeping up with the technology curve as it relates to customers?
ARCEO: We’re increasing discounts, gift with purchases, and online workshops. Our monthly staff virtual workshops have brought considerable success with our Upper East Side manager, Bahar. Customers come in, saying they loved everything Bahar discussed during the workshop and ask to see the same or similar products. That’s how we’ve maintained that customer base.
SE: How are you attempting to lure more potential brick-and-mortar customers? How has your marketing changed since you started?
ARCEO: It starts with our sex educators. Pre-COVID, our sex educators led in-store workshops, connecting with their regular customers and creating a safe environment for curious new folks. Our staff misses hosting in-store workshops, so this year, we’re opening it up to all our sex educators. I was thrilled to see a positive response from staff ready to pitch their ideas!
SE: So make your people rock stars?
ARCEO: Absolutely! Part of my strategy is to revamp the “staff picks” category and expand the blog postings, which hadn’t been updated recently. We’ll rotate guest staffers with each seasonal campaign to get more engagement. We hear our staff and want their toy recommendations featured for their customers.
SE: What are some significant changes in product popularity and industry trends since you started with the Pleasure Chest?
ARCEO: Many popular items since I started two-and-a-half years ago are still relevant; hello, Magic Wand! However, with the rise of TikTok and influencers, there’s a lot more to look for. For example, the crazy rose suction toy trend! A lot of customers were coming in each day asking for it; even my own friends were asking me if we carried it! A year later and that trend has not slowed down. I’ve also seen so many great new books in the last few months. Customers and staff are asking for updated educational books. We see many of the same how-to guides from the ‘90s and early 2000s, so I love to see more distributors expanding their book assortment. Recently IonaPearl, PC’s junior buyer, handed me a sample of a fetishwear craft book that I instantly loved when I saw it.
SE: How does the clientele in your stores differ? Do any of the stores see very many tourists? Are shopping habits at the different stores vastly different?
ARCEO: In the West Village store, most tourists come from the Sex in the City tour. For Chicago, they get a nice mix of folks coming in due to their high foot traffic zone with numerous shops and dining areas nearby. LA gets a little of everything, from leather daddies to couples to gogo dancers. My favorite LA customer is a regular who shops for greeting cards. It’s hilarious to me that with everything we have to offer, they look at our greeting card selection.
SE: What’s your biggest pet peeve when buying product?
ARCEO: Packaging! There were lots of great items at a recent trade show, but I was instantly turned off by packaging due to the hetero couples and similar dated packaging. I don’t want outdated packaging or packaging without a window or product picture. Usually, we have testers, but we pulled them post-COVID. It’s easier to sell products customers can see, even through a little window. I prefer packaging without models, but Sportsheets updated their packaging with diverse models, and I loved it! I love that folks can see themselves represented and not try to fit into an outdated stereotype. I hope more companies follow suit.
SE: If you could speak with industry distributors and manufacturers, what would you advise them to help themselves and help get more customers through your doors?
ARCEO: Don’t be scared to provide more color assortment and relevant, updated packaging. We’re seeing more neon colors emerging, which is fun. Gray was such an off-color for us for a while. Having said that, I gambled on a gray product recently, and it’s been surprisingly successful.
SE: As a buyer, you must maintain relationships with major distributors. Talk about how those relationships must feel symbiotic.
ARCEO: Since becoming buying manager last year, I’m incredibly grateful for all of my distributors. Everyone’s been incredibly patient with me as I navigated my new role. I try to touch base with each of them regularly to coordinate product placement and website exposure to showcase new product releases and growing the partnerships.
Larry Kaplan has been the Legal Correspondent for ED Publications for 21 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.