Career Inspo: What It’s *Really* Like to Run an Online Sex Shop

In our 9-5 series, we ask boss babes what a day in their work lives entails. This week, Cailey Root, owner of the online sex toy store La Petite Mort, gives us a glimpse into her daily grind

online sex shop

La Petit Mort owner, Cailey Root (Photograph: N Maxwell Lander)

Age: 29

Education: Diploma in fashion management from George Brown College; currently studying computer programming at the same school

Length of time at current gig: I registered the business in June and only really opened up the store in July, so it’s still pretty new.

What did you originally want to be when you grew up? I always thought that I’d be an artist and I’d work in animation or something. I’ve obviously gone in a completely different direction.

What was your relationship to sex shops prior to opening one? I was kind of afraid of them because of the way they were presented. They never seemed welcoming to the average person. That’s part of the reason I started my own: to make it more accessible and not so in your face with super-busty mannequins.

What was your experience looking through the actual merchandise? When you go on a website or into a store, you see the same thing over and over again and  I didn’t understand what made something good. There are different price points for sex toys that look exactly the same. So I took it upon myself to do a lot of research and figure out what makes a good one and I learned that most of what’s sold is incredibly toxic, which is crazy because these are products that you put in or around your body—yet, they shouldn’t be anywhere near your body.

How did you find safe products? I would buy items. Some things have a very toxic smell, like chemicals or a tire. I’d put these products up to my mouth and they’d kind of burn right away—so yeah, you shouldn’t be putting that inside yourself! I also talked to a lot of my friends in the sex community, including sex workers and people who work in education, and get a sense of what they use. There’s also a lot of great blogs online too, like Dangerous Lilly, who will burn dildos to see if they’re actually made of silicone. [Non-silicone toys will generally catch fire and deform dramatically, unlike silicone ones.]

When did you decide to start your own store? I’ve always wanted to start my own store, any store really, because I’ve worked for a lot of small businesses and done pretty much every aspect of running a small business aside from owning it. I was looking for something that I could be passionate about, and this just kind of fell into my lap. At first I thought that I would just do a store that was curated and cutesy, but when I started researching I realized I could do so much more in terms of making a statement about having gender neutral and body-safe products. It’s kind of sad that that’s a novel thing to do.

Tell me more about the problem that exist with gendered sex toys and what you are doing to combat that. Often you’ll see it online with categories like “for him,” “for her,” and “for couples” and it enforces these gender stereotypes and this heteronormative, monogamous couples thing.  For instance, anyone with a penis can use a vibrator, but they really market it as being a “female” toy. It’s 2016 and we’re opening our minds to the idea that there’s more than one gender and some people don’t identify with a gender at all. There’s no reason to exclude these people. They can use sex toys as much as anybody else and they deserve to.

online sex shop

Pasties, $18, La Petite Mort

For those who aren’t familiar, can you explain why you chose the name? “La petite mort” is a French expression that refers to having an orgasm. I did French immersion and I’m really hoping to grow the site to be in French as well, as a nod to the fact that we only sell in Canada.

What’s your day-to-day like? Because it’s still so new, I’m constantly learning things as I go, but generally, I’ll start off by going online and posting some products that I’ve added to the store and am really excited about to Facebook and Twitter. Then I go through my orders and talk to the customers, since these products can be hard to buy online. Then I’m on Twitter and different sex blogs, doing accounting, and running to Canada Post to mail orders. I will literally work for 13 hours straight and forget to eat because I really love my job.

How have you made working from home work for you? Mostly just writing down my goals for the day and having my little desk space that is my “work zone.” I never use it for chilling out or watching Netflix.

Did owning your own sex shop push you to experience things you hadn’t before? Actually, yeah. When I get a break, I try some of the products and it is helpful for recommending things because I know first-hand what I’m selling.

online sex shop

From left: Icicles No. 24 Glass Dildo, $107; Crystal Celestial Dream Glass Dildo, $80; Icicles No. 43 Glass Dildo, $72; Crystal Frisky Business Glass Dildo, $80; all La Petite Mort

What is your best selling item? The glass toys. I love them because they’re body-safe, you can clean them easily, and you can do temperature play with them. I have some really nicely designed ones, including one that looks like a Sailor Moon wand with a moon on the top—that’s my best seller and also my favourite one.

What surprised you about being in this business? Mostly that it can be really difficult. The e-commerce platform that I was using cut me off of their payment gateway two weeks in because they said I wasn’t allowed to use it to sell adult products. It was really surprising because I didn’t realize that people would consider my business high-risk or that they wouldn’t want to associate with an “adult” store. I also have to constantly think of new ways to advertise since I can’t use simple digital advertising solutions like Facebook.

What kind of online feedback do you get? I get a lot of inappropriate messages, mostly from men saying things like, “Hey, you should product test with me” or people accusing me of being slutty. But the positive feedback is almost more surprising. I’m so new and there are so many people who really love what I’m doing. I didn’t realize how rare it would be to have gender neutral and body-safe toys, that’s what all the sex bloggers have been rooting for and I did it. So people are pretty excited about that.

What are some of the most frequently asked questions from customers? Usually it is about glass toys and if they’re safe or if they’ll break, because people are really worried about that. A glass sex toy will never break, unless you drop it hard on the floor. It’s not going to break inside of you.

Have you had to deal with any stigma because of your job? Yeah, for sure. It’s really surprising the number of people that will judge you. When I started my shop, some of my friends deleted me off Facebook or stopped talking to me because they think it’s inappropriate. It definitely hurt me at first; I was surprised by some of the people who did so because they were people I had thought would be more open minded. I wish I could’ve had a chance to talk to them and maybe give them some education on why it’s not a bad thing to use a sex toy, it’s not cheating on your partner and it’s not gross or “slutty”—a word I refuse to be offended by. Instead, it’s a healthy form of self-care. It’s hard to communicate that sometimes.

online sex shop

Choker, $25, La Petite Mort

In your opinion, what is the one sex toy that every woman should have? I am the biggest fan of the Magic Wand massager. It only has two settings: crazy intense or insanely intense. If that’s too much for you, you can use it over clothes or use an attachment to reduce the vibrations, but I find a lot of people, especially those who have trouble having an orgasm, find that it’s a good gateway to getting there.

What attributes does someone need to be in this industry? Empathy and zero judgement, because people really trust you. You have to be comfortable with sex and sexuality, have a very modern way of thinking, and be ready to educate people in a polite way when they’re going off the rails a bit. Also realizing that owning a sex shop can be tedious. A lot of people think that I just threw up a website and some dildos and now I’m just rolling in money, but that’s not the case. It’s a lot of work so it does have to be something you’re passionate about.

How do you unwind at the end of the day? I usually make myself a hot chocolate, put on Netflix and curl up with my feline business partner, Leonardo DiCatrio.

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