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Fifty Shades of Grey means business for Fascinations chain

The Fifty Shades trilogy — often called "mommy porn" — appears to be changing the face of the adult toy business, one pink whip at a time. In fact, ever since E.L. James's novel Fifty Shades of Grey rose to fame as the fastest-selling paperback of all time, romance retailer Fascinations has found a new market in women who've been entranced by the explicitly erotic BDSM scenes and are seeking toys and more to enhance their sex lives.

"Products have been screaming out the door," says Patrick Jagos, general manager for the Tempe, Arizona-based chain, which has six stores in Colorado and twelve in Arizona.

Sales at Fascinations, which had been slumping prior to the Fifty Shades series hitting shelves, are now skyrocketing, he says. The chain, which has a 70 percent female customer base, has had a "nice influx of suburban housewives" and women whose eyes have been opened by James's novel.

In response, several Fascinations stores have put up Fifty Shades-themed displays that include blindfolds, tethers and "various accoutrements that we thought fit well with the story," Jagos says. The Glendale store, for instance, included sexy shoes, sensory-deprivation iPod plug-ins and products from the bondage room. The displays, which target the flocks of women who normally wouldn't feel comfortable stepping foot into an erotic store, have elicited monumental results: Sales in the book department are up 120 percent for the chain, and products like Ben Wa balls — orbs that can be inserted in the vagina to strengthen the Kegel muscles — are selling out.

These and other "vanilla B&D" products fit into a category that is more low-key than traditional bondage and discipline, with items that are cute and inexpensive: Think colorful small whips and furry handcuffs.

"It's not like you have to go in and buy a $300 whip," Jagos says. "It's something that people can dabble in." And women are eating it up: Fascinations has experienced more than a 20 precent sales increase in the vanilla B&D category. The decorative and cute Kegel exercisers are an especially hot item. "No matter what, we can't keep them in," Jagos says.

The influx of customers has led Fascinations to make plans to streamline its Fifty Shades displays in order to provide chain-wide consistency in the products that are highlighted, Jagos says, adding that there will be imagery and descriptive placards ("Attention, Fifty Shades fans: If you like this flogger, you might want to try this violet wand!").

What else can Fascinations customers look forward to? The chain is expanding its book department: More than half of total book sales for the chain are coming from sales of James's three titles.

"We're looking to bring in other pieces of fiction," Jagos says, which so far has included the Sleeping Beauty trilogy, an erotic BDSM series written by author Anne Rice under the pseudonym A.N. Roquelaure.

Of course, James herself is planning a line of Fifty Shades merchandise, according to news reports, one that would include lingerie, perfume, bedding, jewelry and, yes, adult products aimed at women.

There could also be home furnishings, which, depending on how you use that coffee table, could be just as much fun as the rest of the stuff.

 
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