By Martin Kidston/MISSOULA CURRENT
It wasn’t long ago that Meg Ross had a novel idea to launch a company selling adult novelties. But she wasn’t looking to sell just any sex toy – that market was cornered years ago.
Rather, Ross and her team of Missoula testers would hand-select pleasure objects, toss in an erotic story and a few lubricants – for messages and other needs – and package the assortment into a themed box of surprises to anyone who subscribed.
Three months after launching, business at Nooky Box is booming.
“The American consumer appreciates that gift experience,” Ross said. “We decided to go this route because there was a missing piece out there. There’s a little competition in the business right now – there are other companies doing it. But it isn’t the same experience as we’re offering.”
Ross, a Missoula native, was in New York City this week for her sister’s wedding. Back in the Garden City, however, employees and friends kept busy packing boxes for delivery. While business was already trending upward at Nooky Box, a recent profile by Slate boosted subscriptions.
“The Slate article gave us a lot of additional traction – we got in front of a lot new consumers,” said Ross. “Our slogan is ‘Yay Sex!’ It’s a conversation starter and that’s the purpose – to break up that uncomfortableness.”
After exploring other subscription-based business models, from cosmetics to clothing, Ross found a niche in adult novelties. Every three months, subscribers receive a curated box that includes a new sex toy, an erotic story, lubricants and other surprises, from candy to ticklers.
Each box is also packaged to a certain theme – “Sex is fun” and Sex is hot” – and the theme includes a suggested play list, or “nooky.” Sometimes, Ross said, the stories are crafted around contents in the box. Signature deliveries include an edible box, a vacation box and a lube box.
“We’re constantly talking to new vendors and distributors, and we’re always looking for specific products that are in line with our values,” Ross said. “They have to be body friendly, safe silicone. A lot of times, we’re in a place where vendors call us, asking to get a product into the box. We’ll ask someone on our team to test or try the things we find appealing.”
While women buy more sex toys than men, Ross said, Nooky Box has gained its share of male customers. The business has also carved a niche beyond heterosexuals to include gay and lesbian couples.
Additional box combinations will likely be offered in the future.
“It’s not just heterosexual couples that are having sex,” Ross said. “If you’re a lesbian couple and want a box and want a lesbian story, we’ll give you that. They need to feel like they’re not being ignored, like they don’t matter. We’re getting a lot of traction in the gay and lesbian community because we support them. It makes me feel really good.”
Ross, a graduate of Loyola Sacred Heart High School in Missoula who attended college at the University of Montana, has found broad support among friends in Missoula. An entrepreneur by heart, she bounced her Nooky Box idea off others when she first explored the concept. The feedback inspired her, convincing her to put her plan in motion.
Ross took the idea and ran, starting with Spider McKnight, founder of Six Pony Hitch. The marketing firm, based in Missoula and Portland, developed the Nooky Box brand and logo. Ross found erotic writers in Portland, Seattle and Missoula to spin the Nooky Box yarns, including the one about the bashful man and his more adventurous wife.
“There’s some obvious conclusions that people come to right away, like I must be really kinky, but that’s not necessarily the case,” said Ross. “We should be talking and having healthy sexual conversations.”
While in New York for her sister’s wedding, Ross handed out “Yay Sex!” stickers in Manhattan, where the Nooky Box concept was well received. Making people feel good about sex – about their bodies – is an important part of the Nooky Box mission.
Though society paints sex as a dirty and shameful act, Ross said, her company looks to create dialogue and bring sexual conversation into the open. She also believes that gender stereotypes cut both ways. “If you’re not a model or you’re not well-endowed or you haven’t had lots of lovers, you are not adequate,” she writes on her website. “This has got to change.”
Regardless of size, shape, age, gender identity or orientation, she said, sex should be fun and liberating.
“I think men and women both want to feel like they can talk about things openly,” Ross said. “Both genders are shamed in different ways. It’s not just women who feel shamed about their bodies or sexual appetites. Men feel it too. Everyone needs to feel comfortable with who they are and what they want in life. We’ll have a better chance at choosing compatible companions.”