Retail rookies having fun, success selling what they want

There should be no uncertainty about what’s on sale at a business called Dongs, Thongs and Bongs.

But, in fact, many people who walk into the store at 1316 Main St. are surprised when they see what’s on the shelves: sex toys, lingerie and marijuana smoking equipment store.

The owners were amazed the risque name was approved by the provincial Companies Office.

“The first name we put forward was something like ‘Big Bongs, Little Bongs’ and that was rejected,” chuckled Dustin Morrisseau, who owns the business with his wife, Rhiannon.

“We had a few names picked out, but then my wife blurted out I should try ‘Dongs, Thongs and Bongs.’ I said that wouldn’t work, but I tried it and it did. Everybody now comes here because of the name.

“What can I say? She was right about the name.”

“It just popped into my head,” recalled Rhiannon. “What can I say? It is pretty straightforward.”

The Indigenous-owned and operated business will celebrate its first anniversary on Dec. 1. Neither owner imagined they’d be selling sex toys and pot paraphernalia.

“It was September and I saw this place here was for rent,” said Morrisseau.

“I talked with the guy and I rented it, but I didn’t even know what the business was going to be.”

The Indigenous-owned and operated business will celebrate its first anniversary on Dec. 1. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

So Morrisseau talked to his wife.

“My wife said ‘I want to sell lingerie and sex toys’ and I said ‘I want to sell bongs,’” he said. “We couldn’t decide which to do so we just did it half and half.

“We were real rookies,” he said. “We didn’t have a business plan.

“We just got lucky.”

The store has survived even though nearby shops sell marijuana and bongs. The Love Nest, which sells sex toys and lingerie, is literally across the street.

At Dongs, Thongs and Bongs, the lingerie section fills the wall to the left of the door, sex toys are lined up on shelves in the middle of the store, and the marijuana smoking accessories, i.e bongs, are under and behind counters to the right and at the back of the store.

The best selling item in the store isn’t a bong.

“To be honest, she does better than me in sales,” said Morrisseau. “I’m doing enough on my side, but the best seller is the sex toys. Lingerie and bongs are about even.”

Before they opened the store, Morrisseau built fences.

“I enjoy this,” he said. “It’s a lot different than being a fencer. It has been a lot of fun.”

Rhiannon said she had shopped at sex stores for years and frequented the old novelty gift store San Francisco, an outlet in shopping malls that sold family-friendly items at the front and not-so-friendly products at the back.

Sex toys are the best sellers while lingerie and bongs are about even according to Morrisseau. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)</p></p>

Sex toys are the best sellers while lingerie and bongs are about even according to Morrisseau. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

“I shopped at San Francisco as a kid,” she said “I’ve never worked at a business like this before, but I shopped at different ones.”

Rhiannon said she is proud of the large variety of lingerie that’s for sale.

“They sell well,” she said. “I’ve had more male customers come in and say (their) wife or girlfriend has told them to come. People come here from all walks of life.”

Thanks to the store’s name, the couple say word of mouth has brought in customers, as well as postings on social media. It is tougher to get advertisements in flyers or on the radio.

“It’s a good name, and it makes people aware of what we sell, but we can’t market it,” said Morrisseau.

“I called a few places for advertising and when I said the name, they said I don’t believe you. One guy laughed and said it’s a great name, but he couldn’t put it on the radio.

“I ask my customers how they found out about us and 90 per cent say Facebook. Others say they saw the name on the (store’s) van.”

A business named Dongs, Thongs and Bongs has helped people endure months of isolation during the pandemic.

“You can’t go outside. You’re stuck at home. What else can you do during COVID?” he said.

Morrisseau also had words of praise for an unlikely bedfellow who kept the business going when it could have failed in its first year: former premier Brian Pallister.

“He was giving out $5,000 grants to help small businesses,” he said. “I benefited and it paid the bills and kept us afloat. It’s a grant, not a loan.

“It was very helpful.”

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press.

Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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