Williams Trading article

(Note: This story appears in the August 2021 issue of Storerotica Magazine)

*Story by Kim Airs

From its beginnings as a mother-daughter start-up to its acquisition by the PLBY Group, the Lovers stores continue to churn ahead as a leader in retail sexual health & wellness.

Forty years in the retail sexual health and wellness sphere is a milestone reached this year by the successful Seattle-based chain, Lovers. Founded in 1981 by the mother-and-daughter team of Phyllis Heppenstall and Kris Butt, the stores were initially an expansion of their home party business.

Realizing there was a need for a comfortable place to shop for sex toys and lingerie to encourage health and happiness for women and couples, they opened three stores just outside of Seattle, all within 14 months. They continued their growth in the Pacific Northwest and expanded 20 years later by acquiring two successful chains in southern California: ConRev in Orange County and A Touch of Romance in the Los Angeles area. Ten years later, Lovers scooped up the Christal’s chain of stores based in Texas and Tennessee, and today the chain boasts 41 stores spread over five states.

The growth continues with the recent acquisition of the Lovers chain by the PLBY Group, Inc. (Nasdaq: PLBY), a leading pleasure and leisure lifestyle company and owner of Playboy. The acquisition further legitimized and honored the work that Lovers has done over the last 40 years establishing and growing the brand.

According to Ben Kohn, CEO of PLBY Group, “We are thrilled to officially welcome the Lovers team to PLBY Group. This transaction accelerates our company’s Sexual Wellness growth strategy with a new owned distribution platform, superior merchandising leadership, and strong product innovation capabilities.”

In celebration of 40 years in business and to create a congruous brand, all the stores are now named Lovers, with consistent branding, signage, and atmosphere.

Many special events have been taking place to observe this landmark occasion. The anniversary celebration was launched with a national competition in March to discover The Ultimate Sex Educator, with a final selection of 10 participants. The winner of the Ultimate Sex Educator Award was Goody Howard of Dallas and was announced during a livestream program, “Come Together: A Celebration of Pleasure,” hosted by Asia O’Hara from RuPaul’s Drag Race and Jacq The Stripper.

The festivities continue throughout the year to reinforce Lovers’ mission and values. According to Jen May, senior director of marketing, “Lovers holds two virtual events every month to connect with our customers and provide education and empowerment. We host a workshop-style event and teach our top tips and tricks across a diverse set of topics including oral sex, lap dancing, kink & BDSM for beginners, and anal sex.”

Monthly panel events hosted by Lovers brings together thought leaders in pleasure-based education and activism for hosted conversations on topics like holistic pleasure, body acceptance, sex education, and polyamory.

In June, Lovers launched their first Lovers Artist Series with the premiere edition highlighting artists from the LGBTQIA+ community. The artwork, commissioned by Lovers, created pieces that captured what “orgasm” feels like, what it looks like and what it means to the artists. The company then asked the public to help curate the first Artist Series collection by voting for their favorite piece of art and allowed for continued conversations around visibility, acceptance, and the complexity of pleasure and identity. The program supported non-profit organizations focused on serving the LGBTQIA+ community and the winners were announced in late June. The chosen artists’ Orgasm art is available to purchase on the Lovers website and all proceeds from the sale of the prints going to Lambda Legal and APLA Health.

Above, pieces from Lovers’s first Lovers Artist Series highlighting artists from the LGBTQIA+ community.

In-store events began again during the weekend of June 31-August 1, to celebrate National Orgasm Day. A fun “O Joy” gift was given with purchase and the stores partnered with local business to create neighborhood excitement, and offered games, prizes, and discounts in celebration of one of Lovers’ favorite experiences ever: the orgasm.

Lovers’ growth has been paralleled not only celebrating their milestone anniversary in their stores but also in the virtual world. Their blog has become an important way the chain educates and informs their customers and shares information on topics such as education, advocacy, and lifestyle. The blog provides quality and fun information like monthly Sexoscopes, product reviews, and tips and tricks for a more pleasure-filled life.

“We just reached 16.2k followers on Instagram,” says May. “This is a big milestone for us as we have grown our digital presence from 3k in March of 2020 to where we are now. It’s a great community to engage with and we love and appreciate our followers so much!”

Congratulations to Lovers and here’s to 40 more pleasure filled years of sexual health and wellness for all!

Kim Airs is a veteran sex educator and can be reached at kim@grandopening.com.