The Tickle Trunk Turns 10 - Reflections on 10 Years
My heart has been very very full over the last month as we prepare to celebrate 10 years of the Tickle Trunk store. It seems to have gone by in the blink of an eye but when I think back on all those years, the day we opened seems like a lifetime ago.
Here's the story of how it happened and why we are still here all these years later.
I was thinking about opening a store about 2 years before it actually happened. The Traveling Tickle Trunk was doing well as a party business but there were restrictions to doing business that way. Not everyone who wanted to shop wanted to have a party. My tiny basement office wasn't big enough or the right kind of space to make an actual showroom for the people who has started to make appointments to shop just for themselves. I wanted the chance to have events and workshops and I certainly couldn't do that at my house. I was inspired by stores like Womyn's Wares, Good for Her, and Good Vibrations and dreamed of being able to run a space like that.
When I started looking for a space, I discovered that most building owners don't want to lease their space to a sex shop. They particularly don't want to lease their space to a local, independent sex shop that has never had a store before. We live in an extremely sex negative culture that lumps everything to do with sex all together, even when those things are very very different. Most building owners consider sex shops to be seedy or risky. They had never heard of a progressive sex positive shop and didn't understand my vision for it. Every time I inquired about a space, I was rejected as soon as they found out what kind of store it was. I started to believe that I would have to just work out ways to do my business without a brick and mortar store.
Then one day, I passed a Halloween supply store on Whyte Avenue. That space has previously been occupied by a tailor who had been there for ages. The Halloween store was obviously not going to be around for long. On November 1, I got up in the morning and raced over there. Sure enough, there was a 'for lease' sign in the window. I contacted the realtor that day and they, to my great surprise and relief, did not have a problem with a sex toy store. They just wanted to know I would pay the rent. I took the biggest leap of faith I have ever taken, paid the deposit (which is two and half months rent, no small thing) and signed the lease agreement. And thus began the greatest adventure of my life.
I got possession of the space on December 1 and had two months to get it cleaned up, renovated, stocked and ready for open. It was a time of big learning for me. The biggest thing I learned is that I can learn! Every time I would say to myself 'Oh what have gotten myself into? I don't know how to do this' my amazing partner in life would say 'Figure it out! There's obviously a way to do it, you're smart, go figure it out!'. And that's exactly what I did.
With help from my partner, a few friends, the amazing Amber Krasowski, who was my one and only employee (part-time) at the time, and a pretty decent contractor, we got the store together and ready to open. On February 1, I held a private opening with a few friends to show them the store and test out our systems. It went very well. I was excited and hopeful.
The next day, I opened for the store for real. 2 people came in and I made $35. Then I really began to wonder what I had gotten myself into. As I closed up the shop that day and mopped the floor I remember making myself a promise to do whatever it would take, to work as hard as I had to, to make something of the place. To make it work no matter what.
I connected up with every single person I knew who would be interested in the store and could spread the word. I took out ads in the SEE magazine (remember SEE magazine?). I worked 10 hour days in the store and then went out and did parties and events after close. Shortly after we opened, when Amber came in on a Friday evening, I rushed over to spend two hours at a University event, and then got in the car at 9pm and drove to Banff to speak at a medical students conference the following morning at 9am.
That year was the hardest I have ever worked in my entire life. But two amazing things came out of it:
1. I learned that I could work that hard. I came to understand what I was made of and that I was much much tougher stuff than I had ever believed I was.
2. All of the hard work paid off - people from all kinds of areas and interests were hearing about the store, they were coming to see us and they were liking what they saw. I invested my time in them and they more than repaid me by investing their time in and trusting the Tickle Trunk.
Many people had been waiting for a store like the Tickle Trunk and once they knew that it existed and got to know who we really were, they began to trust us and support us, and tell other people about us. And that is why we are still around 10 years after that $35 opening day.
Another of my big learnings is that you have a be willing to adapt and change. The Tickle Trunk doesn't look much like what I thought it would at the beginning. I realized early on that what I wanted didn't matter as much as what the people we are serving wanted. I needed to listen to the people who wanted and needed the store and give them what they are looking for. Now, you can't be everything to everyone and I have never tried to be. The Tickle Trunk is not a novelty store. It's not a discount toy store. It's not a lingerie store. But is does exist to serve the sex-positive community in Edmonton so we really strive to listen to them and what they want.
When I first opened the store, I hadn't the slightest clue about BDSM at all. I didn't know the first thing about the kink community in Edmonton. But they started coming in as soon as they heard about the store. So many said that the stores in the city didn't stock the kinds of things they were looking for. So I listened and learned - and I'm so very thankful for the people who were willing to teach me - and I sought out makers of good quality kink gear. Kinky play gear is a big part of our inventory now. Those kinksters that taught me what to do are now some of my best friends.
This has been one of the greatest rewards of owning the store. I have met a lot of people that I never would have met otherwise and had experiences I never would have had.
Owning an independent retail store is never going to be easy. There are a lot of pieces you have to keep together all the while struggling with the changes in the market, the economy, the products, the neighborhood, the political environment.
But for me, opening the Tickle Trunk is the absolute best thing I ever could have done. I have been so fortunate to be able to do this and to have the support I have had which has kept us going all these 10 years. It's been an amazing privilege to be a part of this community and we look forward to many more years of serving you.
Our birthday party is coming up soon on Saturday, February 2. The party is all for you - to say thank you. I hope you'll come down and enjoy treats and special gifts and prizes - and get your name into the biggest draw we have ever had - almost $3000 in prizes to give away.