Toy Stories: Retailers Keep Consumers Engaged
Vibrators. Ben Wa Balls. Romantic games. Cuffs. Lingerie. It doesn’t matter what pleasure product you’re talking about, in this crowded, ultra competitive marketplace, the products don’t sell themselves. That’s why retail store owners and wholesalers continue to evolve with creative methods to move product from the warehouse to the shelves to the cash register.
According to at least three movers and shakers in the adult novelty industry, it takes a combination of imagination and determination to keep up the pace in this tightly contested retail environment.
Hustler Hollywood, a major contender in the field of wholesale distribution and sales of pleasure products—as well as a household name — is not just in Hollywood anymore. For years it’s been constantly, successfully expanding its outlets nationwide. David Ballow-Permuy, corporate buyer of the Hustler Hollywood Retail Group, gave us the lowdown on what toys are popular and what’s been making them sell.
Notes Ballow-Permuy: “Thanks to the relatively recent success of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ socially validating the exploration fantasies, role-play, BDSM and alternate lifestyle choices, this movement has created comfort zones for people. Consequently, we have great success with standard couples’ vibrating toys and rings. We’ve also seen growth in restraints, bondage rope, and role-play items like bedroom costumes as couples become more receptive to trying new things.”
And what of the individual buyer? Female or male?
“Clitoral, G-spot, and dual stimulating vibes are always a hit, along with the classic Hitachi Magic Wand,” Ballow-Permuy indicates. “Kegel exercises and masturbation sleeves are also incredibly popular… Additionally, more and more media outlets are running stories on sexuality, intimacy, and sexual health, which are driving consumers into stores to explore the many options available to them.”
Some of the other marketing tools driving sales in Hustler stores include a slew of dynamic techniques. Aside from email blasts and, of course, social media, such in-store, traffic-driving initiatives consist of flash sales, special discounts, and store events “to add excitement.”
“Contests are also a fun way to engage people,” adds Ballow-Purmuy. “We run them both in-store and on social media sites. And mainstream media—like print, radio, and TV—give us the opportunity to expose a much wider audience to the unique, erotic, and exciting environment of stores like Hustler Hollywood.
“We also have huge successes partnering with our vendors to create a nationwide chain of energy and focus for featured products. For example, to introduce Doc Johnson’s Wonderland line, our Hollywood store’s prime windows were devoted to incredible multi-dimensional Wonderland graphics and a customized display of the products. Since these windows face Sunset Boulevard, one can only imagine the number of people who saw the Wonderland line that might not have otherwise.
“We also created Wonderland-themed displays inside of all of our Hustler Hollywood stores to feature these playful and surreal toys, using oversized Wonderland stand-ups, glittery fabric, customized product stands, and graphics.”
Another famed distributor of adult toys, novelties and lingerie is Eldorado (Eldorado.net), which, naturally, has its own helpful take on what pleasure products the public are taking by storm—as well as their own invaluable recipe on how to continue driving those sales.
“Bondage items,” says Eldorado Marketing Assistant Catherine Korfel, “are extremely popular and, yes, the credit definitely goes to the whole ‘50 Shades of Grey’ phenomenon which brought S&M to the mainstream. In addition, good oldfashioned traditional vibrators and rabbit vibes continue to perform well for our customers. Also, the Kama Sutra line of products is always successful among couples; that is, products geared towards making foreplay sensual, fun, and healthy.”
As far as in-store methods for garnering public awareness, Korfel frankly states that there’s far more to the game than just displays.
“In-store displays are very effective and always draw customers. But planograms are also great if the store has the wall space; they’re particularly effective in generating lots of quick impulse sales within the brand, which is why so many manufacturers want stores to display planograms. But testers are probably the best way to sell a toy. If a customer can touch and feel a product to get a sense of its power and texture, that’s not something that can be done by looking at a box or a video.
“Beyond that, education is key. If your staff is knowledgeable and can speak fluently on the functionality of a product with a customer, that will not only win the sale, but lead to repeat business, as well.”
Meanwhile, Scott Bowman, operations manager for wholesale distributor GVA-TWN, discussed the how pop culture always has a direct affect on sales.
“It’s true,” Bowman notes. “Romance and escapist novels have, indeed, fueled a greater awareness in self-exploration. In turn, bondage lines—especially intros to BDSM like light bondage items and cuffs—and anal toys have both been part of this recent popularity.”
Other items high on GVA-TWN’s sales lists for both their stores and wholesale accounts— “generally sought after” says Bowman, “in that they give pleasure to both partners, as well as remaining popular for beginners and experienced consumers—include the We Vibe, Ben Wa Balls, slappers/ticklers, massage wands, and lube/massage oil products.
In terms of increasing brand awareness, GVA-TWN regularly takes a number of provocative steps. For one, it keeps its wholesale customers informed with sales information by email blasts, product mailers, and consistent phone communication. It also passionately pushes its vendors for in-house training on their lines so that the GVA-TWN staff is well trained and able to show its customers the benefits of new and existing products. “Great customer service,” reminds Bowman, “is one of the most important parts of our core values at GVA, as building trust is the single key to a long lasting and profitable relationship.”
Indeed, in GVA-TWN’s eyes, the best marketing tools aren’t website news flashes and/or in-house display units. Rather, it’s the human element which is vastly important to the company.
“Employees are our best marketing tool,” stresses Bowman. “They’re the key component in growing our business. All the in-store signage, promos, and advertising simply can’t compete with an active employee who’s out in our community passing out business cards, talking about Adultmart, and attending fetish/lifestyle shows. Then, once inside our stores, our employees use their knowledge to guide our customers to a purchase that will leave them confident that they’ve made the right choice.”
Bowman adds, “Yes, the Internet has been a leading force in how customers research and purchase novelties. It’s great to review prices and compare different novelties on the Net, but it all ultimately goes back to hands-on testers and prompt attention by store staff.
“Neither of which can be found on line.”