Sunday, 3 January 2016

2016 / Go to a new event or bar / Learn something

So it is the start of 2016, and people have started their New Year Resolutions. My fave one I saw was to stop being so condescending (that's when you talk down to people). It is now a few days into January and I fully expect so many people have broken theirs already.

So I am not setting a resolution, instead I would like to set two challenges for 2016.

Go to a new bar or event
This past year I have started doing a lot more events - BLUF, UK Leather Pride, Birmingham Fetish Men, GearBlast:UK, Dare to Bare, Full on Fetish, Birmingham Pride, CLAW and various other events around the country. Though notably not in London - something that I'm sure a lot of people struggle to understand, there is indeed plenty of fetish events that go on outside London. Just that most people in London are too lazy to leave the big city and experience something new.

But this year I plan on doing some new bars and new events, and I challenge you dear reader to to do the same - try something new, visit a new city and try a very different event.

This past week one of the oldest leather bars in the UK reopened its doors - The Backstreet in London. Probably the last iconic strict dresscode bar in the country and I've never been. So that is something I will definitely be addressing this year. And if I can sort it, a visit to Mastery some time.

And for a very different type of event, and slightly closer to home, KINK up in Birkenhead in the North West of England. For the London gays this doesn't have a tube stop near it, but it does have a host of dungeons and playrooms. It has a Fetters Bondage Wheel, bondage frame, a bar, a jacuzzi, orgy room, underground prisoner cells and much more. This place appeals so much because it is somewhere that has lots of places to play!

Too many clubs now are just fuck clubs with a dress code, and for many events not very well enforced. I want to play somewhere with someone. This from what I have heard is a great place to do just that.

Learn something
When we start out on our leather journey of discovery we don't really know too much. And after a few years we know a little more, maybe we have found a particular interest - rope bondage, single tail whips, humiliation, ass play, objectification or animal role play.

But how do we learn? Most people just make things up and see how it goes, which for a lot of play is fine but for others very dangerous. For example not using the correct suspension harness can lead to unconsciousness or death in just a few minutes, using pressure around the neck from a rope, hand or something else for breath play can lead to heart failure and death in a matter of seconds with absolutely no warning. Using the wrong type of candles for wax play can lead to very serious burns.

When you start out do you know the importance of aftercare, of the come down for both the Dom and sub? How about knowing how clean some boots properly, look after your leathers or make your rubber super shiney?

Fortunately we usually find others to help us, play partners, Sirs, boys, pups or just friends. And then there is of course a wealth of knowledge in books and other publications that you can refer to and learn from. There are also some online learning resources like FetLife or Kink Academy we can use - though some find the presence of women on these too much to cope with.

In a future post I'll share some links to the books etc that I have found useful and interesting over the years.

But nothing beats hands on personal coaching, someone showing you how to do something and to help you get better.

So in 2016 why not find someone to help coach you in an aspect of your play you aren't that confident with. It could be flogging, rope bondage, asserting your dominance or finding your inner pup.

There are also lots of events that actually host workshops to help you with this - CLAW over in Cleveland, USA, being one of my favourite. But there are others - just take some time and find them.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Fetish Shopping - Lets Make It Better

As people shopping for fetish kit, clothing and toys we are a niche market.

This usually means two things - there aren’t many customers for companies to market to, and secondly for us customers there are even fewer suppliers for us to choose from.

And because the niche we are talking about relates to sexuality that also means big £££’s are involved. Too often a fetish / sex store will sell an item that you can get at another regular store for half the price, you have the sex mark up. We have all seen them!

This premium pricing, particularly for specific fetish products, to me should also come with premium customer service and experience. And that premium service should happen for each and every customer. When I walk into your store you don’t know if I am just gawping, browsing, buying cheap lube / poppers, or looking to spend £2,000 on custom leathers, or to kit out new dungeon as a pro-dom.

And whichever I am, when I walk in I expect to be treated exactly the same. You don’t have many competitors in this industry, and you want to make sure I spend the money with you and not one of them.

On a trip to the USA this year I had the pleasure of visiting three of the best known and largest fetish stores. That really highlighted for me how bad the experiences I’ve had from most UK fetish stores – though there are one or two exceptions. Speaking with friends it appears I am not the only one who feels like this.

How Not to Treat a Customer
A great example of this failure in service is when I made a trip specifically down to London to buy a pair leather chaps, and look at options for a full leather uniform.

After a two hour train journey I made my way to the store, and walked in. Offered a good morning and asked if I could leave my bag at the desk whilst I browsed the store. Greeted with a “yeah, I guess”. I’m not being made to feel very welcome at this point.

I wandered around, looked at various things, toys, restraints, gear etc. Finally finding the chaps I was after. I find the size I was looking for – 38” waist (the largest available on the rail, and only one in stock). I asked to try them on, was pointed in the direction of the changing room and left to it. After a few minutes trying them on I wandered out to the assistant and asked about different sizes as they whilst fit around waist they were too slim around the leg. “Oh. That’s the largest we do anything bigger needs custom fit”.

That was it – no advice, no other help, no offer to find out about pricing or measuring for custom fit. Just a brush off that I can’t fit into anything off the rail. I was made to feel like I wasn’t at all valued as a customer, and not worth their time.

And it does raise a big frustration … why do fetish stores only cater for small and thin people? Have they not seem all the amazingly hot bigger guys and bears out there? This isn’t about getting a hundred of each size made up, just a few larger sizes for guys to be able to try on!

This experience summed up how I am made to feel in most fetish stores I have visited. The staff usually give the impression they aren’t interested in helping someone who is nearly 40, has a few more kilo’s body fat then he would like, isn’t a twink or American jock porn star, nor a known fetish ‘celebrity’, friend of the staff or part of some scene clique. Basically they don’t fancy you or know you – so not that interested in putting in much effort or helping out.

I left not having spent any money, feeling quite despondent with the experience and not at all valued and not particularly keen to spend money with them again. On my next visit to London I did buy some chaps, and full leather uniform – but from a competitor.

Make It Right
There is a hotel chain that asks tells customers to let them know of any problems with their stay so that they can “make it right”. Instead of just bitching and moaning I want to offer some suggestions on what for me would make a great shopping experience for every customer.

Remember the phrase first impressions, and make yours count. Greet the customer, welcome them to your store. Introduce yourself if you like, offer them a drink for whilst they are looking around and ensure they know to ask you if they have any questions or are looking for anything particular.

Once they are in the store, don’t ignore them. If they are just wandering around make sure they aren’t looking for something specific they can’t find. Some people don’t like to trouble staff, they may even be embarrassed about asking for a douche or they could be looking for their first harness and aren’t really sure how you put them on. Staff are in the store to help customers and to help them make informed choices, and to answer questions on products, their use, safety etc.

There is a fine balance here too, don’t stalk them round the store – give them space to explore but know you are there to help. Some people are more than happy to be left alone.

If a customer is trying on some gear, do they have the right size – is a Levi’s 501 36” waist the same size as your 36” waist jeans? If they are trying something on, check if the size is ok – offer to fetch an alternative style or size that they may be interested in.

Also if you need to … offer to help them get into it! A full rubber suit isn’t always the easiest of things to squeeze into by yourself. Or if they are looking at a leather shirt in the summer for example and arrived in shorts and trainers, why not offer to fetch some jeans and boots to complete the look so they can see how it will work as part of the complete outfit.

As you are chatting to a customer think about inspiring them. If you have ever watched Great British Bake Off no matter how much of a disaster a contestant’s effort is Mary Berry always finds something positive to say. You need to do that with your customers.

If a customer is interested in electro kit, get it out and let them play with it and feel it, if they are looking at dungeon furniture let them try it for size – strap them in! And if you don’t know about some of the stuff you sell, get someone else in the store to show you it and to train you in it so you can help your customers.

And most importantly you need to do this for all customers, you need to make each and every customer feel welcome and important – even the ones you don’t fancy!

And just as important as first impressions can be last impressions, once they complete their transaction don’t just hand the bag over the counter, carry it around to the front and thank them. Hold the door open for them as they leave and wish them a good day and thanks for visiting. This small step makes them feel so important and appreciated. And if the store down the road doesn’t do it, they are more likely to come to you.