Category Archives: Brand Interviews

INTERVIEW: Martin King, Sinsins Boutique

The naughty wolf in sheep’s clothing? Meet Martin King from Sinsins Boutique, in Norwich.

Still going strong after nearly two decades in the adult retailing sector, Martin’s seen a lot, and learned a lot. Read on to get his thoughts on a variety of key business and marketing issues – and a healthy dose of reality for good measure.

BRIAN GRAY: First impressions count. From the pictures of your boutique, Sinsins is so untypical of an erotic or adult retailer. It’s not dark, it’s not trying to be edgy. It looks more like a nice artisan bakery or a gift shop. Are you the (naughty) wolf in sheep’s clothing?

MARTIN KING: Your description of Sinsins is totally spot on. You’re absolutely right when you say first impressions count. In essence, Sinsins is a gift shop which sells sensually charged erotic gifts and treats for temptation, seduction and flirtation with decorum, integrity, subtlety and vivaciousness whether they be for yourself or your sweetheart.

Many years ago I had the dubious privilege of venturing into a ‘sex shop’ which was part of a national chain. I went in as a lover and an explorer not as a wannabe hardcore porn star seeking blatant arousal and instant gratification. Hand on heart, it was the worst shopping experience of my life. It was at best functional, at worst grotesquely soulless. I was so incensed by this tawdry and sleazy debacle that I decided to create my own little independent Boutique of Love.

Sex shops sell blatant fantasy fodder with equally blatant, unrealistic imagery to match. Sinsins has done the opposite by shunning the gaudy and licentious. In a relationship love and sex are both pleasurably and immeasurably entwined… both elements are giddily special. ‘Naughty’ is in the eye or mind of the beholder, and the way Sinsins does ‘naughty’ is much more subtle, more thought provoking and intrinsically much deeper through its passion and captivation of the senses.

You’ve now been around for more than fifteen years. What do you think has been the key to surviving and thriving?
This is now our 18th year of trading, and I ask myself this question frequently. The only answers I can give with any degree of certainty, beyond refusing to sell tat, is having a strong rapport with our customers and a willingness to change with the times.

In this time, you’ll have probably witnessed a fair few changes or developments within the adult retailing industry. Which ones most stand out?
In the old days, the majority of suppliers didn’t seem to care what they sold. I remember having a ‘heated’ argument with one over the fact that their product stated it required AA batteries to work. The only problem with this was that no standard brand of AA battery would fit their product. Their answer at that point was that their own brand fitted so what was my problem! Nine months after me providing them with an unequivocal direction in which they could go, they phoned me up out of the blue to tell me they had changed all their product motors because of me.

Product-wise (moving on in years) the biggest game changer for me and Sinsins was Lelo: elegant, luxurious, seductive…stunningly designed and beautifully presented. A real game-changer with a price tag to match. Almost everything about this brand matched perfectly with Sinsins’ ethos. It was also at this point I ended my ten plus years of self-inflicted single dad bachelor lifestyle and met a special lady, now my wife.

The other biggest change for me is the camaraderie within the industry. Maybe because I’ve been in it for so long now, maybe it was the beginning of the recession but there was a point when suddenly everything seemed to change. Suppliers started to care. Sales teams became not just good… but really good. There’s a large pool of awesome people out there in this industry who not only do a good job but they go out of their way to show they care.. even after moving companies.

If you were just starting from scratch in the adult retailing industry now but had all the knowledge and wisdom from your Sinsins years to call upon, how differently – if at all – would you go about it?
If I were starting from scratch?! I’m not getting any younger you know, time is passing me by way too quickly these days.

As a sole trader I wouldn’t. There’s a lot more to it than just buying stock from A, whacking it out on the shelf and selling it to the happy, non-demanding customer. Unless you’re a big player with tremendous cash deposit behind you, don’t do it. The sleepless nights, the cash flow worries, the sheer volume of work simply doesn’t stack up when it comes to immediate financial reward.

The majority of the consumers out there are more driven by online price comparison than by good old fashion face-to-face customer service, truthful sales knowledge and upfront expertise. We are lucky in that once our customers meet us they tend to remain loyal and we get to know them well.

It’s not hard to imagine that there’ll be some people who will take umbrage at a sex shop located in their local shopping street. How have you engaged with both the NIMBY’s and other local communities (business, public), etc. ?
We have never considered ourselves as a sex shop. Eighteen years ago our first premises was a council owned building. The estates department were loving our concept, the licensing department were not so enthralled. Licensing even refused us advertising on a black cab at one point – they took exception to the strapline ‘gifts, goodies and gadgets’. Apparently ‘gadget’ was potentially offensive.

Sinsins has always operated without a need for a sex shop licence due to the balance of goods sold. We were lucky that Norwich Council decided to trust our concept before making the final licensing decision. We have earned their trust by hard graft and remaining apolitical.

Sinsins has never hidden behind the shutters, you’ve always been able to see through our windows. Bar three cheeky pre-planned occasions (for press coverage), we have always maintained delicate and subtle window displays.

Our approach is to deny the NIMBYs any fuel to their way of thinking… the subtle approach challenges their negativity and leaves them solely to their own imaginations…  We have no wish to upset or challenge anybody, that’s just offensive and pointless. Those NIMBYs who have ventured over our threshold have, by and large, left more with a more accepting and appreciative view of what we do once they realise the branding of our product ranges don’t overtly scream out SEX! We’ve never touched pornography in any way shape or form. The atmosphere within Sinsins has always been as normal as in any other high street shop.

Over the years I have been invited to do talks to Relate Counsellors, the Institute of Psychosexual Medicine, lots of health related charities, Gynecology Units at The Norfolk & Norwich hospital and Addenbrookes too. We’ve also been invited guests on TV & local radio too. In every situation these organisations have approached us, not the reverse. We have earned an awful lot of trust by many people and organisations locally… and rest assured this didn’t happen overnight! Discretion, subtlety and confidentiality are of paramount importance all round.

Another factor for us is that Norwich champions small independent businesses.. we are proud to be part of this, and we are active members of Norwich Lanes (a local organisation which does a absolutely fantastic job of promoting the diversity of local independent businesses).

Let’s talk about your name SinSins Boutique of Love. How did you come up with the name and what made you decide to use it?
The name Sinsins is a play on words…. literally meaning Without Sin.

Who do you think the ideal Sinsins customer is, and what three adjectives would you want your customers to associate with your brand?
The ideal Sinsins customer is one who is polite, smiley, respectful, non-judgemental and with a positively inquisitive mind. It’s a bit old fashioned but those customers who talk to us and ask questions are the ones who get the best shopping experience from us. As far as three adjectives go, I’ve let my customers answer this for me: romantically welcoming, discretely joyous and intimately confidential.
[That’s SIX, Martin, but I’ll let you off! – Brian]

The popular perception is that adult retailers will be busiest around Christmas and Valentine’s Day. Is this still the case, and what are the most popular products you sell at these times, and the rest of the year?
Without doubt Christmas is the big one for Sinsins. Valentine’s is our second bite at the annual cherry. If i had to pick one product range the lube is our best seller by far. The time of year doesn’t change the variety of items sold, but it does massively change the quantities sold.

Good marketing is important for any company, not only to thrive but just to survive. What have been your key marketing learning points and observations so far?
As a micro business the marketing budget is for want of a better phrase… shoestring. Sinsins relies heavily on social media and customer recommendation. Marketing is an organic thing which builds the brand and trust over time. My main learning point over the years has been to do a little but often. You can waste a lot of cash on ill-thought through marketing, been there, done that.

What has been your biggest marketing challenge so far, and what steps are you taking / have taken to overcome it?
The biggest marketing challenge…. I guess that would have to be marketing . SEO is a full time job all by itself. I want to get our online presence to a wider audience. Working on the website is time consuming for sure, but I do see this as the way forwards.

What are the most valuable things you’ve learned so far both about competing in the adult retailing industry, and as an entrepreneur?
The most valuable thing I’ve learned is cash flow. Cash flow is paramount. Building up a solid rapport and trust with suppliers can make life a hell of a lot easier too. Don’t try to compete, just build the uniqueness of your business… and never stop renewing and never lose sight of your bottom line.

And what does the next twelve months hold in store for Sinsins?
As of January 2017, Sinsins relocated within Norwich City Centre. The next 12 months is all about bedding in again, pushing and to keep evolving. The last Friday of every month we are looking to do late night shopping collaborations in store. We kick it off at the end of this month with the Hewson Group’s Women, Sex & Shopping research – ‘All About Lube’. Then in June we are looking forward to collaborating with a very talented local photographer Julia Holland and we will be running An Introduction to Julia’s Boudoir Portraits.

I’ll admit: before coming across Sinsins on Twitter, the only thing I associated with Norwich was a silver spinning horse and the accompanying voiceover announcing “From Norwich, It’s the quiz of the week!” before Sale of the Century graced our TV screens. That and Delia Smith’s legendary (and for her sake, best forgotten) half time ‘announcement’ to the Norwich City crowd.

Now, with Sinsins, there’s a far better reason. For anyone thinking about entering the adult retailing sector, Martin’s account of things is an extremely insightful one, bursting with realism. It’s all very easy for new entrepreneurs to forget about the basics of business finance and instead focus on the perceived sexier aspects. His highlighting of SEO and cash flow particularly should be well heeded.

Through their own sensible stewardship, and maintaining good relations with the council and other local businesses, there’s a lot to be said for their approach to running a business in this sector.

Something tells me one interview with Martin might not be enough…..

…but for the moment, thanks again, and keep up the good work!

If you’re around the Norwich area, there’s no excuse for not having a visit. Or visit them on t’interweb at  Don’t forget to say hello on Twitter too, at @sinsinsboutique

If you’d like to be interviewed about your entrpreneurial journey and associated marketing issues that will be interesting to the Lascivious Marketing web fraternity, then get in touch!

Until next time!

INTERVIEW: Sophie Thorne, Twisted Lingerie, making you misbehave

Deliciously provocative lingerie, that’s made for misbehaviour? That’ll be London-based Twisted Lingerie then.

CEO and Founder Sophie Thorne gets Lascivious-ly interrogated but she’s the one brandishing the whip. Well, the brand is anyway.

BRIAN GRAY: So let’s start from the beginning, Miss Twisted. Name, rank, and serial number. Who are you and what’s been your lingerie journey so far?

SOPHIE THORNE: Hi Brian! So I’m Sophie Thorne, the CEO & Founder of Twisted, a deliciously provocative lingerie brand which launched last month. Since my background isn’t in lingerie (or even in fashion), it’s been a steep learning curve and a lot of hard work – from ordering every “How to run a fashion business” book Amazon had on offer to competitor research at any lingerie shop within a 100-mile radius of my flat, to business plan writing and brand development, to pattern-making and god knows how many sample iterations, to the long hunt for a factory that not only met my quality standards but would also accept the tiny order quantities (I eventually settled on a small factory in Latvia), to pricing and distribution decisions, to production, shipping and launch. It’s exhausting just writing that list and it’s only a whistle-stop tour!

In your few years since graduating from university, you’ve had various business roles. What persuaded you to change direction and enter the lingerie industry?
Twisted was a several-years-in-the-making project. I’ve always been obsessed by lingerie; whilst my friends drooled over designer shoes and handbags, I was obsessed with Bordelle and Nichole de Carle, and would spend my weekends loitering in either Coco de Mer or Agent Provocateur.

As I became more familiar with the industry, I noticed the ever-increasing gap between cheap-and-tacky and super high-end lingerie. As I saw it, not many of my girlfriends felt comfortable spending £250 on a lingerie set but they didn’t necessarily want to buy a bright red push-up bra either. I felt there was a gap in the intimates market that the wider fashion industry had already acknowledged and started to fill: I could pick up a new dress from Zara or Topshop for £30 but I wasn’t able to find well-made and well-priced provocative lingerie – the kind made for after-dark frolicking rather than functionality – to wear underneath it.

Twisted was born out of a desire to build an accessibly-priced brand, without compromising on the designs or the quality of the production. Women shouldn’t have to wait for a special occasion to treat themselves; I wanted to give women a reason to make every day that little bit naughtier without breaking the bank.

And how much support did you receive from friends, family, and business contacts? And is Twisted a bootstrap enterprise or did you look for funding from other sources?
My friends and family were – and continue to be – hugely supportive, and I’ve had a great response to the brand from ex-colleagues and business contacts.

Twisted is entirely self-funded; I put my salary and savings into the company, and I’m keeping the business going using profits. I have big ambitions with Twisted but I am not sure how I feel about looking for funding from other sources. It would help the business to scale quickly but, by continuing to subsidise Twisted myself, I am able to maintain my vision, grow organically and create a sustainable brand.

So, let’s talk branding and positioning. Describe who you think the ideal Twisted Lingerie wearer is, and what three words would you want your customers to associate with Twisted Lingerie?
I don’t really believe there is an ideal Twisted Lingerie wearer. In my mind it’s about how the lingerie makes women feel when they wear it. Whether women conceal their Twisted side under their workwear or style their underwear as outerwear, we want our customers to feel confident and sexy.

The three words I would want customers to associate with Twisted are: ‘Made for Misbehaviour’ – our key strapline. But if pushed for three separate adjectives, I’d opt for provocative, bold, and….if you’ll let me, twisted, of course!

One of the things that impressed me when first coming across your company was the branding. You’ve got a very distinctive identity, one that looks professionally conceived and designed. Tell us more about the whole process you went through. Logotype choice, meme choice, strapline, the whole shebang!
The hardest part of the branding process was coming up with a name! Once I had – it came to me on the train as I was thinking about Shibari (Japanese rope bondage) – the rest sort of clicked into place. I worked with a fantastic branding consultant who designed the logo; the whip is inspired by one of my favourite leather accessory designers, Paul Seville. It did take a few iterations – the first set of designs were a bit too tame – but I’m thrilled with the final result.

Your website is wonderfully sprinkled with words and phrases such as ‘debauched’, ‘after-dark frolicking’ (I loved seeing that!), and the premise that ‘even sex can be sexed-up’. You’re definitely trying to appeal to women who want to be naughty rather than a shrinking violet. How much of this is due to identifying with a defined buyer persona, and how much of this is a hint of Sophie being expressed?
A bit of both I think! I definitely believe in the value of a strong tone of voice and that runs right through the customer’s experience, from the website to our care labels (“You can get me as dirty as you like, but wash me gently”). The language we use communicates the core ethos of the brand and I’m not apologetic about it. It won’t appeal to everyone, but that’s ok; it will appeal to the women (and their lovers) who want to break aware from the status quo and surrender to their desires, whatever they may be.

You offer student discount for all your products. This isn’t something I’ve come across at least before now. Is this quite common? What was the rationale behind this?
I think it is quite common amongst the likes of New Look, Misguided and ASOS. Given Twisted’s accessible price point, I’m in part competing with that type of brand so it felt right to offer the same types of incentives as they do. Plus I remember what it’s like to be a student – they’ve invariably blown all of their cash on nights out but still deserve to look hot on the next one!

Good marketing is important for any company, not only to thrive but just to survive. What have been your key marketing learning points and observations so far, not only for Twisted Lingerie but the industry as a whole?
It’s still early days for us but the one thing that really struck me is the lack of awareness amongst some of the smaller lingerie brands of the importance of marketing. As a lingerie fan myself, the most frustrating thing is knowing there are some fabulous indie brands out there but they lose out to the big players because they don’t use marketing effectively. Coming from a business background, I place a huge amount of importance on data gathering, A/B testing, optimisation, etc. but I am often met with blank faces when I try to discuss this in fashion circles.

What has been your biggest marketing challenge so far, and what steps are you taking / have taken to overcome it?
My limited marketing budget! Since I’m operating on a shoestring budget, I’ve had to be very creative about what I can do with little to no funds. Using social media and writing a blog has been at the heart of my marketing strategy. It takes patience – building a following doesn’t happen overnight – but by genuinely interacting and engaging with my customers and the wider lingerie community, I have started to see organic growth.

Time is our most precious commodity, especially for entrepreneurs. How do you maximise yours, and what tips have you picked up along the way?
About five years ago I read a Vanity Fair article about Barack Obama. In it he explains that he only wears blue or grey suits because he doesn’t want to waste time making decisions about what he’s wearing when he has so many other decisions to make. The concept really resonated – having a fixed routine means I’m able to be more productive as I don’t get distracted by trivial things; for example, I decide what I’m going to wear and eat the following day before I go to bed, I only socialise (be it for business or pleasure) once in the workweek, and if something comes up that isn’t on my to do, I won’t do it (at least not that day).

What are the most valuable things you’ve learned so far both about competing in the lingerie industry, and as an entrepreneur?
As a self-funded startup with a super small team, I had to make it work with limited resources so I quickly learned to keep things basic. I think with new businesses there’s often a temptation to do too much or to try to appeal to everyone but I believe that zeroing in on one idea and executing it exceptionally is the key to success not only in the crowded lingerie industry, but also as an entrepreneur.

And finally, what has been your most enjoyable moment or experience with Twisted Lingerie, that has made the blood, sweat and tears all worthwhile?
My first sale – it was an incredible feeling having worked so hard to make my vision a reality, and then seeing that reality start to take form.

For someone who by her own admission hadn’t a stitch of formal exposure to the lingerie industry before founding Twisted, Sophie’s bootstrapping, whip-cracking ways are noteworthy. And while lingerie snobs may question the lack of training or experience, it’s more than offset by her commercial background and an intrinsic understanding of the importance of branding, positioning and data-backed decision-making. In fact, between you and me, it’s this which will arguably hold her in far better stead than the designers full of lofty dreams and ambitions who have a eye for figures, but not those on a spreadsheet never mind a balance sheet.

Good luck, Sophie!

So, if Sophie’s sexy wares have got you in the mood for some after-dark (or daylight, we don’t judge!) frolics, then head to  and don’t forget to say hello to them on Twitter too, at @TwistedLingerie

UPDATE: Sophie made the decision to wind the brand down a few years after Twisted Lingerie’s birth. It’s a shame given the business acumen and the strong brand identity – c’est la vie.

If you’d like to be interviewed about your entrpreneurial journey and associated marketing issues that will be interesting to the Lascivious Marketing web fraternity, then get in touch!

Until next time!

INTERVIEW: Eva Cincar, Persian Palm, making ceramic sexy

Dildo or decorative object? Italian luxury sex toy firm Persian Palm has the answer: they’re both.

Co-founder Eva Cincar answers questions on branding and butt plugs, design and dildos. Brian Gray handles the alliteration.

BRIAN GRAY: So let’s start from the beginning. How did you meet one another and how did the relationship develop into one that said “Hey, let’s make sex toys together!”

EVA CINCAR: I’d start with the fact that we are both from the Italian region of Tuscany, which has a long history of ceramic production since the Middle Ages, so we have always had a close connection with ceramics. Also, I’m an archaeologist, which I studied at the university.

Luana and I have known each other for many years, we’re friends thanks to our husbands. Our friendship has become very beautiful and with a few secrets shared between each other. One night at dinner, talking passionately about what we could make from ceramic, the idea of producing artistic ceramic sex toys was mentioned. At the beginning we treated this as a bit of a joke, laughing about it. But some time later, talking about it again, we realized that it was no longer a joke but actually a really good idea. We began studying the market, to understand if there was a place in the market for such a product. Not long after that initial dinner, Persian Palm was born.

Many businesses begin either with a passion for a product or service, or experiencing a personal situation in which a need was subsequently identified, or because what’s already on sale isn’t good enough. Is one of those responsible for Persian Palm or was there another motivation?
Even before we had the idea of Persian Palm, we knew a little bit about the world of sex toys. We noticed that most of the products were so similar, and mass-produced using silicone, with more or less similar shapes. We also realised that people using sex toys usually keep them in their drawers, away from prying eyes. We noted that in today’s market there are few sex toys that a person can put on the shelf, without arousing comments from others. This is why we decided our line of sex toys would have a base, so they can stand by themselves as a decorative object in their own right, hand painted by ceramic artists, while being a fully functional, and safe, sex toy.

Another advantage of our sex toys is the fact that, all being individually decorated by hand, they can be personalised, which makes it even more of a personal, intimate toy. It becomes an object made just for you, as you want, and this item is your toy. So our goal is to create unique artistic sex toys for every single person exactly like they want it.

How did family and friends react when you first announced that you were setting up a sex toy company?
Reactions were very positive all round. Some people found it just an interesting idea, but others were very ecstatic. We never found hostility from anyone whom we told our project: indeed, a lot of our friends and helped us all with their own ideas.

How are the responsibilities split between the pair of you? Do your skills complement each other?
We divide our tasks, complementing each other. As I have a little more time, I take on the production, promotion and sales responsibilities, while Luana stands behind the administrative aspects.

In the UK, it can be an issue for sex toy companies getting business bank accounts due to the banks citing ‘reputational risk’ – which is ironic given their misbehaviour in the last decade or so! What if any challenges did you face in Italy?
Even if Italy is a country more closed regarding a lot of aspects, we have never encountered such problems. Indeed, our project was funded with a very soft loan, promoted by the Tuscany Region, and then also the banks were always ready to help and find the right solutions for our business.

What three adjectives would you like Persian Palm to be perceived as, by your target buyers?
Unique, artistic, and enjoyable!

When it came to designing your logo and selecting your logotype, how was this achieved? Talk us through the process.
I would start from the name chosen for our brand, Persian Palm. The Palmetta Persiana (‘Persian Palm’, in English) is a decoration of Tuscan tiles that was very widespread in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. As it is our favourite Tuscan ceramic decoration, we choose it for our brand. Our logo is in fact based on that decoration, with a palmetta drawn on the letter P of the logo.

Your toys are all hand painted. With this, there’s an obvious opportunity for customers to come to you with a particular paint scheme or design, or perhaps a naughty inscription, to be added. How often does this occur and is this something you’d like to see more of?
Yes, absolutely. Requests for customisation are very popular, taking advantage of the fact that ceramic materials allow such opportunities compared to mass production sex toys. Certainly we would like to see even more of these things, because as I said before, we want to produce a sex toy and a piece of art that is unique to each person, and with the customisation it becomes even more.

What have been your biggest marketing challenges so far and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenges for Persian Palm have been, and still are, increasing brand awareness, communicating the artistic value of our products, and introducing an uncommon material for the production of sex toys. Ceramic is a tough, durable, safe and beautiful material. We are still working to highlight its extraordinary qualities. It’s been used by humans in everyday life since the dawn of civilisation; indeed its discovery in the neolithic age was the beginning towards civilisation as we know it today.

Talking specifically about marketing, if you could go back to the beginning and start Persian Palm from scratch, what – if anything – would you do differently, second time around?
Sure, as beginners, we have made some small mistakes. But now, thinking on the spot, we would not have done anything differently. Perhaps one thing would be to communicate a little more the fact that, beyond the sex toy of Persian Palm, there is a really unique piece of art.

What are the most valuable things you’ve learned so far both about competing in the adult retailing industry?
The most valuable thing we’ve learned is about the market segment we’re competing in. Our sex toys are sex toys, but at the same time we are producing design items, that not necessarily have to be sold in a sexy shop or erotic boutique. We realised that a lot of resellers of any kind of artistic and design items, are looking for us and our products.

And finally, what has been your most enjoyable moment or experience with Persian Palm, that has made it all worthwhile?
I can tell that the most enjoyable moment was our first Persian Palm dildo sold. It was an indescribable sensation. After that, the best moment was our first fair, EroFame. It was the first time we went out with our products, showing them to an expert audience. Their reactions – and admirations – were priceless.

For a company that most definitely (thanks to their butt plugs) puts the ‘-anal’ into artisanal,  opportunites abound for Persian Palm to seek mutually rewarding partnerships not only with high-end adult retailers, but also with independent luxury art and contemporary interior design boutiques who are open-minded enough to accept PP’s wares as sex toys while also recognising their unique decorative values.

Good luck, ladies! Ciao bellas!

So, if your appetite has been whetted for some of Eva and Luana’s decoratively debauched delights, then head to  and don’t forget to say hello to them on Twitter too, at @PersianPalm

UPDATE: Unfortunately the Persian Palm brand seems to have disappeared and their gorgeous products no longer available. A real shame, given the heritage, attention to detail and jaw-dropping aesthetics on offer from this artisanal start-up.

If you’d like to be interviewed about your entrpreneurial journey and associated marketing issues that will be interesting to the Lascivious Marketing web fraternity, then get in touch!

Until next time!