LOS ANGELES, June 4, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Thanks to E.L. James, for many people in the twenty-first century, ropes and whips may be what flowers and chocolates were to previous generations. James's best-selling first novel, Fifty Shades of Grey, has become an international phenomenon with an explicitly kinky romance about a young female college student who finds true love in sexual submission to a wealthy businessman.
Many of James's readers want to go beyond words on the page. Mike Herman, president of "The Stockroom," a 24-year-old fetish clothing and equipment company that was the first of its kind on the internet, reports that his company has seen a surge in business inspired by Fifty Shades of Grey. "In recent weeks, we've received literally hundreds of calls thanks to this book," he says. "About 90% of them are middle-aged 'soccer mom' types who never imagined themselves calling a fetish sex toy company." For these callers, BDSM is a brave new world; they know little beyond what they've read in Fifty Shades, and want to know where to start.
As with any full-contact sport, BDSM can involve some risk. Newcomers soon learn to draw a line between fantasy and reality. The Fifty Shades trilogy offers a stimulating read, but it's not a handbook on how to have kinky sex for the first time. The fictional affair between Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele is based on a contract Anastasia signs, giving Christian complete control over her life. "There are people in BDSM who have that sort of 24/7 relationship," Herman says. "But it requires sophisticated negotiation and detailed consent between both parties. In real life, it's not something you should jump into without considerable experience, with BDSM and with your partner."
For curious callers wanting to dip their toes into the pool, The Stockroom's first recommendation is to try something relatively simple and non-threatening such as a blindfold. Blindfolds, Herman says, are a safe, simple, yet profound way to begin. "Take away that one sense, and others are immediately heightened." For clients venturing further into bondage or discipline, Stockroom offers a wide range of restraints and implements designed to do the job safely and in style.
Often, calling Stockroom is the first time the client has openly discussed these newfound interests with someone who understands. Often the floodgates open quickly. "We are happy to see how brave and eager many women are to try some more advanced toys and deeper experiences," Herman says. "We start out discussing blindfolds, and within minutes we're talking about more esoteric topics, like bondage gear, whips, electrical stimulation, and chastity play."
Until recently, acting out these kinds of fantasies seemed more taboo. Fifty Shades of Grey has inspired much more open discussion among women as a component of romantic, caring relationships. One of Stockroom's new customers said, "I didn't understand BDSM before reading this book. Fifty Shades put it in such a beautiful light, showing this type of relationship as actually really loving. The give and take between the lovers is so romantic."
Consensual, loving BDSM may be a new concept to many new mainstream readers, but 24-year-old Stockroom has tended that flame since the 1980s. The company built its reputation not only on whips, restraints, and fetish clothing, but also on education and community building. The "Stockroom University" series of workshops and lectures covers such topics as "Bondage 101," "Flogging," or "Electrical Play." According to Midori, a prominent sex educator who teaches Stockroom University classes, many newcomers turn to the Internet for instruction, but "there's such a glut, including some terrible information." To spot the bad advice, Midori lists the basic things to watch for: "Does it seem like practical, reality-based information for people who lead actual lives in the real world? If it seems too absolute or too rigid, or lacks compassion, then it's probably garbage. And always remember that this is about pleasure and play, and everybody must respect everybody's humanity."
Stockroom also fulfills its commitment to education and community building via contributions to assorted organizations and causes, and its stewardship of Daedalus Publishing, which specializes primarily in non-fiction books by authors who address the philosophies, ethics, and how-to aspects of alternative sexuality.
Stockroom founder Joel Tucker started the company in 1988 as a 21-year-old college student with a somewhat countercultural yet idealistic vision. "Regardless of the taboos," Tucker says, "I knew that an otherwise normal, sane person could be attracted to this form of eroticism, because I had these interests myself. I found a small community of people in Los Angeles who pursued these interests in safe, healthy ways. I saw a need for a company that could provide quality, affordable gear with intelligence and discretion, and so I created it."
The recent surge of popular interest in its area of specialization has not caught the company unprepared. "This is a trend I foresaw when I started the company, and we have tried to stay current with it all along" Tucker says. In 2005, the company created a new brand, Kinklab, specifically designed and packaged to bring kinky gear to the mass market, now carried by countless distributors and retail outlets worldwide.
Top-selling items from the Kinklab line include affordable basic restraint designs, its "Mandible Body Clamps," and a whimsically sweet ball gag using a jumbo candy jawbreaker for the ball. Kinklab's latest runaway hit, the Neon Wand, is a higher-tech device that produces sensual stimulation with colorful electric shocks and assorted electrode attachments. "Dedicated kinksters have been playing with specialized electrical toys such as these for decades," Herman notes. "But previously these kits were hard to find, and cost $400 – 600 or more. We knew that if we could produce a more affordable kit, include an informative manual, and package it for the mainstream adult market, there would be demand for it." The Neon Wand retails for a much more affordable $150, and demand has exceeded the company's expectations. "Fifty Shades fever fuels that trend. Stores around the world are carrying the Neon Wand. We are ramping up production as fast as we can to meet the demand."
The Stockroom catalog has grown to over 4000 items, and only a small portion of its kink offerings have been targeted for mainstream crossover so far. Meanwhile, the company continues to innovate with edgy new offerings in its specialized niche, such as "Mike's Spikes," a locking ring exclusively for use on the male equipment, lined on the inside with dozens of devious-looking, adjustable spikes. "Believe it or not, that product is another bestseller," Mike Herman says. Was "Mike's Spikes" named after Mr. Herman? "I was involved in the design and oversaw its production," Herman explains. When asked if he has actually used this device, or had it used on him, Mr. Herman declined comment.
E.L. James may have unleashed something that's here to stay. Today, the Fifty Shades trilogy occupies the top four spots in Amazon's Top 100 (the three books, plus an omnibus edition), and Universal has already picked up the movie rights. Meanwhile, The Stockroom is planning its 25th anniversary year in 2013. "This may have been an underground interest years ago," Herman comments, "but as mainstream catches on to it, we are ready for them and welcoming their inquiries with open arms." The Stockroom staff is always happy to respond to questions about how to say "I love you" with a blindfold, a paddle, a set of leather cuffs, or a real electric spark.
SOURCE Stockroom, Inc.