Naughty Can Be Nice for These Businesses
BY Gene Marks
Changing social mores often create opportunities for entrepreneurs, as the once-verboten goes mainstream.
Wendy Strgar's company, Good Clean Love, sells organic lubricants and oils used by people to enhance their sex lives. Can you believe you're reading about this on Inc.com? Believe it. It's 2014. The world has changed. And entrepreneurs like Wendy are not the pariahs that they once were.
The Eugene, Oregon-based company sells products that are needed by millions of women around the country who suffer from vaginal dryness and counts supermarket chains Whole Foods and Fred Meyer as well as the popular site Pharmaca as its customers. "Many lubricating products sold today are unhealthy and cause infections in women," Wendy told me. "Our product is 95% organic, healthy and helps people have a better love life." This is not risqué. It's a legitimate business selling legitimate products that legitimately helps women.
Good Clean Love employs a handful of people, has been around for 10 years and has doubled revenues over the past year alone. And Wendy is projecting even more growth next year.
Even so, it's been a tough road. Many people hear "sexual lubricant" and they cover their children's ears, back away in horror and run for the hills.
But things are getting easier for this little business. More doors are opening. More customers--big customers and well-known retail stores--are picking up the phone when she calls. It's not easy to run a business selling products that are by many considered taboo in 2014. But it's a lot easier than it used to be. And that creates opportunities for entrepreneurs like Wendy.
Just take a look around. There are lots of edgy companies that once operated behind the scenes, if they were allowed to operate at all. There are abortion clinics in Pennsylvania and gun stores in Louisiana. In Colorado you can now make and sell marijuana for recreational use. In Connecticut there's a burgeoning community of new and old businesses catering to the gay community.
Nevada's "Bunny Ranch" has its own TV series on HBO. AshleyMadison.com makes millions every year arranging affairs between consensual married adults.
Businesses that were once considered taboo are now cool. Sometimes the more taboo (without being illegal) the better it is for business. Hey, even Howard Stern is a judge on America's Got Talent. Need I say more?
Why the change in attitudes? There are many factors.
A new, younger, smarter and more open generation is replacing older baby boomers who grew up in different times with different opinions as to what was considered to be "morally correct."
The Internet has opened up the world to all sorts of ideas (not to mention photos and videos) that were once kept locked away or hidden under the mattress.
Reality TV shows have legitimized fringe businesses like pawn shops, kiddy beauty show pageants and repo men and turned their stars into national celebrities.
People have opened up. Things are not as shocking as they used to be. Younger generations are growing into a world where as long if it's legal, it's an opportunity. America has become more and more of a melting pot of cultures, ethnic backgrounds and religious beliefs that at first may not seem mainstream, but are slowly becoming acceptable. A deep and painful financial recession has made it easier to sympathize with anyone who's entrepreneurial, regardless of the product or the service.
Even the Pope has recently questioned the church's long-standing opposition to homosexuals by historically asking: "If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?" Exactly. Who are we to judge?
Which is all good news for the entrepreneur.
Today, there are more opportunities because there are less restrictions. You can sell marijuana in certain states where it's legalized--and plan to expand to other states that will likely legalize it in the future. You can run a brothel in Nevada. You can help people have affairs. You can sell guns and perform abortions.
The Internet makes it easy to find customers. Payment systems like Bitcoin make it easy to do transactions anonymously for those customers who don't care to share their interests with others. The more edgy, the more risqué, the more chance you may have of getting your own reality TV show too!
So all things considered, is selling organic oils and lubricants that help women (and their partners) have better love lives while reducing their risk of infections sound like such a bad thing? No, it's a good thing. For both the customer and the entrepreneur alike.
GENE MARKS is a columnist, author, and small-business owner. He oversees the Marks Group, a 10-person technology consultancy to small and medium-size businesses. A certified public accountant, Marks has also worked in the entrepreneurial services arm of KPMG. He writes for The New York Times, Forbes, and The Huffington Post. @genemarks