AVN.COM RETAILING PROFILE - Castle Lowers Drawbridge to Video Conferencing Age

The first rule of business is and always has been: Know your product.

Toward that goal, Tempe, Arizona-based Castle Megastore held its first-ever live video-synchronized product training seminar over two days last September in the Internet-linked locales of Seattle and Phoenix.

Castle CEO Mark Franks orchestrated the event to enable store managers from five states (Alaska, Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington) to participate in the training. And to lead said training — bringing us to the other half of what made it such a revolutionary happening — Franks rounded up 21 of the top vendors in the industry, who went over everything from product differences to design and construction to sales approaches.

Those vendors were: Ruth Chatfield (M.D. Science Lab), Ken Dorfman (Doc Johnson/Private Collection), Cheryl Flangel (Kama Sutra Company), Dave George (Coquette International Inc.), Dawn Goodman (Ball & Chain), Michele Goodman (Trigg Laboratories, Inc.), Tera Grengs (Topco Sales), Peter and Chrissy Grieco (Eurotique — Stormy Leather), Nicholas Guemes (Westridge Laboratories, Inc.), Serron Jackson (Dreamgirl Lingerie), Jennifer Martsolf (Pipedream Products), Robb McCullough (Leg Ave), Robert Miller (California Exotic Novelties), Sean Monahan (Fantasy Lingerie), Kevin O’Neill (Hustler LFP Apparel, L.L.C.), Brian Pellham (Kheper Games, Inc.), Robert Reinish (Relationship Enrichment Systems), Christopher Scharff (Dreamgirl Lingerie), Elliot Schwartz (Novelties by Nasswalk), Toni Spizman (Mayer Laboratories, Inc.) and Marc Suckman (Golden Triangle).

The goal of the event — which served as the introduction to a new program called “Castle University,” officially launching this year — was to begin long-term education and training not only of the chain’s management staff, but also of the sales associates at the store level, who work with customers on the front lines.

“The better educated and knowledgeable our staff is on every level, the more easily our customers can leave happy and satisfied with their Castle experience and purchases,” said Franks. “Our goal for 2006 is to make Castle University the cornerstone of our staff’s success in working easily with our diverse customer base. Who better to train our staff on products than our vendors themselves?”

Each vendor made a 45-minute presentation of their products in Seattle, while store managers from Arizona and New Mexico participated live from a Phoenix video conference center. Vendors sent the same product samples to the Phoenix location as they presented in Seattle, so that every participant had the same live learning experience. In addition, those in Phoenix were able to interact with the vendors in Seattle, exchanging questions and replies freely.

This video conferencing approach turned out to be eminently advantageous due to the high costs of travel and the difficulty of managers being away from their stores. Franks believes it was the most cost-effective way to bring dozens of people together and retain a professional yet intimate atmosphere. And similar to online college courses, the agenda was concise and fast-paced, yet at times humorous and light-hearted. Due to all of these elements, Castle store managers — who do participate in local sales seminars periodically throughout the year — thought it was the best product training venue they had ever experienced, according to Franks.

With Castle Megastore leading the way, this could be a new dawn for the level of professionalism and expertise in adult retailing. If nothing else, though, it certainly breaks new ground for the relationship between retailers and vendors.

To learn more about Castle Megastore and the Castle University program, call 480.921.1005.