At the upscale San Ignacio mall in central Caracas, Venezuela, the only sight less likely than a sex shop is a sex shop with a mezuzah on the doorpost. But TuTiendaSexy — “your sexy store” — has found success by defying expectations.
Founded by a trio of 20-something Jewish-educated college buddies, the brand now encompasses wholesale distribution, retail locations in three Latin American countries, and a burgeoning online business. A new offshoot, TuTiendaVIP, offers bachelorette party planning, pole-dance clases, “seduction courses” and strippers.
Unlike its lurkier local counterparts, the brand injects humor – and uninhibited enthusiasm – into its site and stores. Now, as TuTiendaSexy plans a U.S. debut, Argentinean-born founder Gabriel Noe, 30, talked to the Forward about why sex still sells – and about those mezuzahs.
MICHAEL KAMINER: Jews have had a long involvement in sex-related industries, from adult films to sex toys. Why do you think that’s the case?
GABRIEL NOE: It’s as simple as this: Sex sells. The market of sexual wellness products is almost $15 billion annually, not to mention the market size of adult entertainment. Basically, it is an excellent business and is known as Jews we like to endeavor in “good deals “
You’re planning to bring TuTiendaSexy to the U.S. this year. Do you think the brand will translate?
There are over 50 million Hispanics in the United States, the second most Hispanics after Mexico. It was only a matter of time before we understood the potential of a 100 % Latino brand with passion and heat that characterizes us in response to a market that beats with the same passion.
After our company was consolidated in Venezuela as the first online store in the industry, we understood that this success could be replicated in any country of Latin America , this is why we started our operations in Panama in 2011 and in Peru earlier this year .
How has been the company’s growth over the last year or two, especially considering the challenging economy?
Despite the obstacles to doing business in Venezuela, the demand has grown incredibly since we started in 2009. In Latin America, especially in Venezuela people had many prejudices toward sex and the issue of sex toys . But increasingly more people understand how sexuality is related to mental and physical health, and more and more daring couples are willing to try new things.
When my partners and myself started this business, we never thought we were going to grow this much. I think we started with an investment of two thousand dollars – which I still can’t believe - and today we have successful operations in three countries. In Venezuela, in addition to selling at retail, we’ve become one of the largest distributors, selling to other shops and any individual who wants to earn extra income doing selling sex toys party or also by catalog.
You have a mezuzah on the door of your San Ignacio location. Has anyone ever remarked on it on their way into the store?
No, so far they have not made any comments. Nor is it something that at any point has caused any conflicts. As we would in any business, when we opened our first sex shop we placed the mezuzah.
What’s the biggest challenge of running and growing a business in Caracas, Particularly to sex- related business?
The main challenge is to overcome the barriers to importing, get the dollars, get permits. The truth is it’s not easy for any business. The government sets policies continually affecting private enterprise.
How would you characterize Caracas ’ Jewish community? Are you close to other Jewish business owners?
Venezuela’s Jewish community is mainly conservative, but also very unified and bonded. We are always in contact with each other by exchanging views on business.
What are your best-selling products?
Online, the bestselling products have to do with male performance - delay sprays, erection creams, penis rings. In our physical stores, we have a predominantly female clientele. They buy perfume with pheromones, oral sex gels and one of the bestselling products of the moment the [exploding oral sex candy] BJ Blast.
Not all Jewish parents would understand the career path of a child who opens a chain of sex stores, no matter how successful they are. How has your family reacted?
Obviously it was not the most ideal way for them, but from the first moment all of our parents supported us. Our first storage place was at Allan’s parents basement. Solomon ‘s mother offered legal consulting, and my mom provided the accounting until could afford the services of other professionals.
I remember a conversation with my dad in which I presented the idea to import erotic products, his response was specific: “If is good business, is fine by me.”
A U.S. company sells what it calls kosher sex toys. What do you think?
It’s great. I see no reason why a religious couple can’t include sexual wellness products in relationships. Where it says that enjoying sex is sin?
There are many products in a sex shop that can be purchased by religious Jews. In fact the [lubricant] brand WET recently was certified kosher, enabling oral sex while using their products. I also understand that some Orthodox people might be bothered by it, but I think the idea is to open the topic to be discussed instead of closing than once to any change.
Sex Shop With a Mezuzah on the Door