When thinking about who I wanted to interview for my second interview in the #SexWorkerLives series, I immediately wanted to speak to Max Black, Australia’s award winning adult retailer. The reason being is because the store was actually quite pivotal in my own development of my sexuality. As a “sexually shy” person even up until my early 30’s, I was very afraid of going into adult stores. Then one day, I saw the sign to Max Black in Newtown and I was alone and I figured that if I could get up the stairs without anyone seeing me, I’d be relatively safe. Now, five years on, I waltz into Max Black like its my second home. This inteview really shows just WHY it had such an impact in my own personal life and that is why I am so thrilled to be able to present to you the interview that I did with the people behind the Max Black name.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed giving the interview!
1. In our discussions, you spoke of the Max Black philosophy – what is this philosophy?
At the core of all we do – from purchasing and retail to our partners in business and our relationships with professionals, organisations and communities – we first believe that sex at it’s best is a gift. Sex is fun, intimate, for most it is essential and for many it is healing.
We believe that happiness and a healthy expression of our sexualities are intrinsically linked – they are essential components of a balanced person and of a balanced society.
By exploring, developing and expressing our sexuality we are offering the best of our most intimate selves to others and this in turn shapes more evolved relationships and, by extension, communities.
It can sound quite serious when written down but we believe we’re dealing with something that is fundamental for many so yes, we take it seriously – but we always have fun with it.
1B. What is the purpose of Max Black?
Max Black is about giving people permission to be their best and to be happy. It might sound condescending however after almost a decade of business we’ve learnt that just by saying ‘yes, you can do more, be more, have more – of yourself’ that sexual development can flow naturally.
So to achieve this we work hard to source the best products from around the world that can support this goal. We carefully curate the collection and then house it in a beautiful store that creates an air of sex positivity and openness.
We staff the store with people who are intelligent, caring, informed, creative and have a healing spirit.
When we open the doors we give people the option to come in and explore information and products which may link to an aspect of their evolving sexuality, whether that be individually or within the context of their intimate relationships.
2. How does Max Black perceive sexuality and the explorationof such?
Sexuality at its best is about attraction, chemistry and intimacy. What we’ve come to understand is that the characteristics within the people we are attracted to evolves and changes throughout our lives. We can surprise ourselves when we discover we are attracted to new characteristics which we were previously not attracted to, or when what used to be important to us falls away for something new.
Max Black seeks to remind and guide people to the understanding that sex and our sexuality is one of the true delights of adulthood. In an unencumbered and natural state, sex between consenting adults is delightfully bonding, adventurous and fun.
3. How does Max Black assist the general public in understanding their sexuality?
One of the first steps to understanding your sexuality is to accept it and see it as normal and OK.
When people come into our store one of the first things that strikes them is the physical space itself – “Wow this is a really beautiful store” is the most common thing heard when folks get to the top of our stairs.
The next thing that frequently strikes people is that these is a wide variety of adult intimacy products which are of a high quality. It is perhaps the spectrum and the quality in store that demonstrates how diverse, exciting and interesting sexualities can be. The fact that there is a beautifully crafted product for almost every proclivity reinforces the idea that what excites them is not abnormal and by extension that it is not something which is shameful.
What we understand is that the products we sell are quite incidental and are, at the end of the day, merely things. However it is frequently the discussion about, and use of, these things which can lead people to a greater degree of understanding of themselves and their partners.
At the helm of this is of course our team, who frequently wear different ‘hats’ to help our guests. At times they may need to wear the listener hat, or the teacher hat, sometimes it’s purely sales and yet at other times they must wear the hat of the healer. What all of our staff members have in common is a strong sense of self confidence and a genuine desire to see people in a happier place within themselves and their relationships.
It is this confidence that comes with greater knowledge (and therefore greater intimacy) which is our goal.
Beyond the store we aim to serve as a point of connection to communities, interest groups and health professionals. Max Black is often the first port of call for people experiencing sexual difficulties and we frequently are in the position of acting as a hub directing people to more specifically qualified professionals.
4. I expect that many Max Black employees have different views of what constitutes sexuality. How do they each add to the client’s experience when they walk through the door?
One of the interesting features of working at Max Black is that over the months and years it becomes quite clear that human sexuality is as diverse as it is personal.
Each person that walks up the stairs has their own desires, fears and dreams. As people share these with you it quickly becomes clear that many of these differ from your own. It also becomes clear that these fears and dreams are very real to the person that is standing in front of you. Because this may be the first time that someone has talked with someone else about these, it can be quite confronting for them. As a consequence, because you are dealing with fears and fantasies it does not take long to realise judgement is both redundant and useless.
Take this example. A woman comes into the store in her mid 50’s. She is nervous. You can feel the tension the minute she walks in. One of our staff will likely approach her, tuning into her body language, offer a greeting and gauging her response.
Through the course of the conversation it comes to light that the woman has never had an orgasm before. The staff member may start to talk about various relaxation techniques or products that can help with this.
Two hours after the woman has left the store the telephone rings and it is her. The voice is different, she says “thank you”. There is a very real change. There is relief (at mid 50’s … that is an understatement).
This kind of experience is something we get to enjoy on a very regular basis.
For our team keeping it real is very important – being phoney, especially with a nervous person, won’t cut it.
While each of the staff members has a different view about sexuality, they are each able to add to a guests’ experience because they are themselves confident, they care, they understand we work in very real contexts and through the course of their work they have lost their judgement regarding sexualities.
Our staff tell us that they find working at Max satisfying because what they do is important and because they are important. As a consequence we have a very low rate of staff loss. This in turn, has the benefits that our average staff member is very experienced and knowledgeable, which has obvious benefits for the customer experience.
5. How can Max Black assist a sex worker, who may be aware of his/her sexuality but wishes to expand on their services offered or equipment used?
As a Sex Worker continues in their profession typically they will increasingly define what they do want and they do not want to do. As they develop professionally many choose to specialise or diversify they’re ‘tool box’ and Max Black can assist them in their goals.
With experienced Sex Workers Max Black usually adopts more of a listening role. Hearing what it is the person is wanting to achieve or purchase, then offering suggestions which best fits those objectives. We have access to many wonderful brands, products and resources and we can help put sex workers in touch with what they require.
6. Why did Max Black develop the Rubber Room? This is a very original concept in Sydney. What gave rise to this?
The Rubber room as we call it is a room filled with latex clothing, accessories and costume. It is frequently worn at dance and fetish parties and has a strong and loyal customer following. Some customers like it for its unique and distinctively edgy look. Because of this, it is gaining popularity with photographers and stylists and of late is regularly seen on celebrities with a strong fashion focus.
Others love it because the feel of latex – it is like having a second layer of protective, slinky and shiny skin on. This can be simultaneously protective and erotic in its feel.
On our team during the room’s inception were latex enthusiasts who understood the unique nature of the material and also its appeal. We were in the process of carving a new space out of what had been a DVD library which was part of a broader goal to distance ourselves from the sleaze of the ‘old’ adult retail industry as we recreated our store for a more sex positive focus.
We had always stocked ranges of costuming and fetish accessories but with the knowledge and passion on board to bring latex to Sydney with a dedicated collection it seemed a natural fit.
We sourced our first collection from both bespoke latex designers and latex makers with a more mainstream feel. Over time we’ve attracted partnerships with some of the world’s most respected latex fashion producers. We find the department very exciting and dynamic and for many of our customers it is an inspiring and original space.
Latex fashion and accessories are sexy. They suited the direction that the store was heading in. So in came the Rubber room and we’ve never looked back.
7. What are three (3) factors that are pertinent to Max Black’s success?
1. Listening to and being responsive to customers – and knowing that the reason we are here is for them.
2. Not accepting mediocrity as good enough.
3. Creating a workspace bubble where we all have fun together and look after each other and treat each other with respect and as family.
8. What is your highest selling piece of equipment/accessory/clothing and why do you think this is the case?
Our highest selling product is the Astroglide Natural Lubricant. It is very popular because of its silky smooth texture, it does not dry-out quickly and therefore is more fun to play with. Most importantly all of its ingredients are natural so it is perfect for anybody with skin sensitivities or prone to allergies.
Once Astroglide has been tried, it is very difficult to return to more main stream personal lubricants.
It is also proof that the simplest things are often the best.
9. What is the greatest misconception people have about adult stores?
The greatest misconception about adult stores is that we are sleazy, dirty or shameful.
This, at least in part, comes from the owners of most adult stores. The industry has been in a state of flux for some time now and there is a great number of stores that are in the old tradition of ‘sex shops’ whilst retailers like ourselves have been developing new models and spaces for intimate shopping.
The lingering misconception by the old school retailers is that sleazy equals sexy and that this is what most people want. As a consequence of this equation, many adult store owners have directed their attention towards the sleazy.
In addition, as the majority of product for adult stores is imported, retailers without a strong brand or market focus find themselves repeating the marketing messages of manufacturers from markets that are similar, but oh so different, to Australia.
We believe that sex at its best is actually sexy. We’re not the quickie in the back of the ute (though this can be fun). We’re driving down the coast with the roof down, wind in your hair, with a person you love beside you.
10. If you could tell your sector of the industry one thing, what would it be?
Your customer response and feedback is the most precious, and free, resource you have. Make your business how you would best want it to be as a customer.
11. Finally, finish this sentence…”In a perfect world….”
In a perfect world we would be at peace with ourselves and relaxed about sex. We’d be enjoying sex more and complaining about life less.
With thanks to Bruce, Owner and Robbi, Media Manager from Max Black for giving me their time.
Disclaimer: The writer of this blog did not obtain ANY payment or incentive from providing this interview, nor was Max Black paid by the writer for this interview. All images were provided by Max Black and used with permission.
If you would like to know more about Max Black, please see http://www.maxblack.com.au/ or do what I do and proudly strut into their store in Sydney.