Vera Lui and Picco Chu started Sally’s Toy, their online and offline intimate lifestyle store, to help their customers have more satisfying sex lives. Read on to discover how.
It was the revolutionary discovery of the power of sex toys in their own sex life that prompted husband and wife team Vera Lui and Picco Chu to launch Sally’s Toy, their online and offline ‘sex positive’ retail concept. Determined to break taboos and help us all have a better time in the bedroom, they launched their four stores across their hometown to bring products, education and an open attitude into the sex lives of their customers of all genders and sexual orientations.
The idea for Sally’s Toy was sparked in 2010 when the then new couple became determined to improve on the lacklustre sex they had both experienced in previous long-term relationships. “We thought sex should be a really important part of our relationship, so we should do it right,” explains Picco. “And I’d imagine, to do it right, it is best for the person to understand their body. So, I thought, ‘Why not give her a sex toy and let her explore herself? Maybe this could be a good start.” It turns out he was right. “That night, I had my first orgasm at the age of 23,” Vera recalls. “The next day, Picco asked me how it went, and I said, ‘Oh my god, this is something that everyone should learn!”
Like many born and raised in Hong Kong, Vera and Picco feel they never received a proper sex education, neither at school nor from their parents. “Most of us studied in schools run by Catholic or Christian churches, and they have a very conservative view on sex,” Pico says, “So when we grow up in that environment, we tend to have a very restricted or limited knowledge about sex. I think the power of the religious groups here has a huge influence on the whole social atmosphere for talking about sex openly.”
Vera adds, “People turn to porn for education, but it’s supposed to be for entertainment. They imagine their sex life will be like porn, and when it doesn’t meet their expectations, they get disappointed, blame their partners, or feel ashamed. This causes a lot of emotional pain, but all of that can go away with a proper education.”
To offset this social issue, Vera, then an animator, and Picco, a software developer, thought they should spread the knowledge they had acquired so others wouldn’t also have to suffer from “shitty” sex. It was Picco that came up with the idea of selling sex toys as a way to infuse knowledge. They named their sex shop Sally’s Toy, with Sally being a fictional figure people could talk openly to – the “Sally” Pico and Vera felt they had lacked in their own lives. “She is very open-minded and sex-positive,” Vera describes of Sally. “People are able to tell her their stories and receive proper advice.” It has followed that, for many, Sally’s Toy also plays the role of a confessional, allowing customers to spill forbidden secrets about in-laws and husbands, sometimes whilst crying on the sofa.
From the start, the duo focused on quality products and a level of customer service not normally associated with your average sex toy store. Instead of salespeople, their four Hong Kong locations are staffed with ‘Intimate Stylists’ who are trained to ‘curate the best ideas that light up your intimate life.’ For beginners, they recommend investing in high-quality sex toys, averaging at HKD 500. “The point is, we don’t want them to have a bad experience the first time,” says Picco. “If you have a bad experience with an oyster or red wine the first time you try them, you’ll always think that red wine or oysters are not to my taste. People are buying an iPhone for a few thousand dollars, yet they don’t want to invest in their sex life which affects the happiness of their entire life. It’s our mission to educate them.”
Surprisingly, their families took the news of them opening their sex shop well. The real challenge came from reluctant landlords who didn’t want to rent them a retail space. Sex shops in Hong Kong are often perceived as being dodgy places littered with posters of adult video actresses and realistic, penis-formed dildos. Not only did this make landlords feel uncomfortable, but it also deterred just the sort of customers Sally’s Toy was courting. “We wanted to create a sex shop that was comfortable to step into,” explains Vera. “But it was very hard for people to understand what we were trying to do. Landlords didn’t want to rent to us because they said we would have dodgy clients. Basically, they saw us as selling illegal drugs.”
Over time, with their discreet, unintimidating shops and informative website, the couple has changed perceptions, and they’re seeing people interact with their concept in different ways. While female customers often come to Sally’s Toy loaded with questions, instigating talks that can last from five minutes to two hours, men are more reserved. “Most of the men who come to our shop have questions about their own sex lives, how to please their partner, or how to perform better,” Vera shares. “But for a man to open up and tell you they’re ejaculating too early is actually a big thing for them. Our culture is always telling boys to be strong, to be masculine, to solve problems on their own, so it’s very hard for males to be vulnerable.” Such was the demand for advice that Vera launched a YouTube channel where she reviews products and gives out tips. That channel now has 83,000 subscribers.
To help with their wider social mission to open minds and educate, the couple added a Love Library to their Tsim Sha Tsui shop location where customers can read books on sex, love, and relationships. Currently, Vera is also enrolled in a sex education certified course and hopes to open a centre in the future to hold workshops, counselling and therapy services. It will serve as a platform to educate people not only on safety and birth control, but also love, respect, and consent. As Picco expresses, “We have a mission to give back to the community by spreading sex positivity and knowledge.”