KHARA Cartagena, 45, of Northern Liberties, is the owner of The Velvet Lily, an erotic boutique on Chestnut near 12th Street. The store, which opened in 2008 as an in-home party business in NoLibs, grew into a retail store and moved to Center City in 2013. It offers a wide range of body-safe adult toys, lingerie and monthly workshops.
Q: How'd you come up with the idea for the biz?
A: I was a stockbroker and stressed out and so I left the business in 2004. I did some real-estate development but wanted to do something more active. A friend suggested I start this business. I thought it would be fun.
Q: The startup money?
A: I put $100,000 into inventory and a website.
Q: Why did you move the biz to Center City?
A: Walk-in traffic. We used to get a lot in Northern Liberties, but then it diminished.
Q: You've tried to improve the perception of the adult novelty industry. How so?
A: The perception was a man with a greasy moustache standing behind a counter staring at you who really didn't know how the vagina works. My whole staff is female. Customers tell me when they first came in they were shy and now they're self-expressive about their sexuality and their relationships are healthier.
Q: What are your most popular products?
A: The LELO brand, which is Swedish. It's very high-end and sleek, and they don't even look like sex toys. They're more like aesthetic gifts. LELO vibrators are $100 to $200 and we sell about 2,000 per year.
Q: Your customers?
A: About 70 percent are women. My demographic is late 20s to late 50s. I also get referrals from doctors for women who've had trauma or hysterectomies, so some come in for medical and not just sexual reasons.
Q: What differentiates this from other erotic boutiques?
A: We're more mainstream and our market is more housewife or generic customer as opposed to somebody into fetish. We don't sell anything for women that is Cyberskin because it absorbs bacteria and can cause yeast or urinary tract infections in women. So we promote body-safe materials made of glass, steel, silicone or hard plastic.
Q: How big a biz is this?
A: We're doing a lot more online business than we used to and it's about 15 percent of all sales. This business is decent and pays for itself. I've probably more than doubled my sales since I moved to Center City.
Q: What's next?
A: We're launching a wholesale line with [adult novelty distributor] Williams Trading Co. I also want to design my own toys. We're doing nipple pasties with embroidered beads and they're coming out in March. We're focusing more on body jewelry because it's small, easy to ship and costs less to make.