Fetish Business, Advertising and Amateurism

The Fetish Business, Advertising and Amateurism

It’s well over twenty five years now since I gave up the day job – a decent career in the publishing industry – and decided to make Skin Two a business rather than just a hobby. That was my first mistake. 

If you start a business without a solid, realistic cash flow and business plan, you are kidding yourself. It means that, whatever you may think, what you actually have is a hobby. You don’t have a business, you really don’t.

The following twenty five years have essentially been about trying to put solid foundations under a building long after it was built. That’s really not doing it the right way around.

Looking at back issues of Skin Two magazine over the years, you’ll find dozens of companies making all kinds of fetish clothing and products featured in the ads and articles. Very few of them are around today – just one or two survivors. Most have come and gone. And how many businesses have made it to that level where the owner can rest easy after the years of slog? Count them on the fingers of one hand. I could name maybe two or three. Maybe.

What’s going on here? Well, have no doubt that the market for BDSM/ fetish businesses is still very small. Much smaller than the gay market, for sure. Any potential to expand, as the gays did a generation before us, is yet to be fulfilled. It may come, as it did for the gays, and I hope it does, but don’t hold your breath.

A good plan when starting a business is to bring your cash flow and business plan to investors and pay careful attention to their response. Even if you don’t need investment, because you are mad enough to risk your house on your scheme, the advice of a professional is well worth having. If they say your business is not worth investing in, don’t be offended. It may well mean your business really isn’t a runner – they are doing you a favour and you may do well to listen.

Nothing wrong with having a hobby business, of course – not at all. It’s fun to sell fetish gear at markets and hang out with pervy people. A lot more fun than fishing or golf, for sure. But just don’t let’s kid ourselves that it’s anything more than part time fun.

Readers often ask why Skin Two magazine costs ten pounds, when many glossy mags are half that. It’s because most glossy mags are full of ads from firms making consumer products and those products are costed and priced to allow a markup which gives the company an advertising budget. When you buy that famous brand watch for £500, only a fraction of your money pays for the watch. The rest pays for the glossy ads.

Fetish companies don’t work like that at all. One clothing designer told me the other day that his income each month went to pay the rent, then the staff, then the raw materials. Finally, if there was anything left, he breathed a sigh of relief. Survival for another month! Having run a fetish shop for six years, I know the feeling only too well.

So we have to charge way below market rates for ads in Skin Two. Low ad revenue means that, to pay the printer, we must therefore charge a higher cover price for the mag. Many small businesses take an ad here and there, but they simply can’t afford a permanent regular programme of advertising, to build and grow a customer base. Without regular advertising, sales go down. So income goes down. Then there’s even less money to advertise,so income goes down even further, so then there’s even less money. Well, you see where this is going… That’s why so many of the ads in our old back issues are from firms that closed down long ago.

Some business owners reckon that nowadays you can survive by only promoting yourself online – no point in print advertising at all. Is that realistic? Let’s look at what the professionals do and learn from them…

Adspend in glossy consumer magazines is growing. Open a car mag or a fashion mag and count the two-page ads from Volkswagen, The Gap, Revlon, Sony and all the rest. They don’t advertise for the good of their health – they monitor results very carefully. They advertise in print to build the brand that draws paying customers to buy their products. They have great websites of course, but print ads create and sustain the brand. The customer trusts the brand they know – and feels OK to buy from their website. How many successful consumer brands do no print ads? Exactly.

From time to time, experienced investors take a look at the fetish market. I’ve been approached several times. Then they do the sums. After they realise the limited size of the market and the tiny mark-ups, you don’t hear from them again. They are not fools, these people.

So where does this leave us? A fetish business is a great hobby, sure, but is it possible to start without investment and a realistic business plan and cash flow to back it up – and build your enterprise as you would in a mainstream SME? Well, show me who has achieved this in our market over the past generation and I’ll be convinced. I’ll also be astonished.

Can we see any cause for optimism at all, in this gloomy scenario? The holy grail has always been that fetish is going mainstream. Bands dress in fetish, famous designers go fetish, our look is an attention-grabber for Hollywood movies. Surely rubber, leather and BDSM is just about to go mainstream. The “50 Shades of Grey” effect! Then we’ll be going places. Just like the gays before us, we will burst out of the shadows into proper profitable businesses. Any day now…
I’ve been hearing that one on a regular basis ever since Skin Two started, back in 1983. It has never happened.

Yet, you know what – I still believe our day will come. They say that faith is the triumph of hope over common sense. I think I must be mad. Or maybe we’re getting there…