When It Comes to Sex Toys, Gay Consumers Are the Trendsetters
Well educated, tech savvy, socially connected and self aware … just a few of the attributes that Jahaziel Perez — owner of DickzToyz.com — uses to describe the gay male consumer.
“The gay consumer has more disposable income to spend on pleasure than heterosexual men. This makes the gay consumer an ideal customer,” he says. “The gay male consumer is brand loyal. And many will spare no expense to enjoy a product that is considered ‘premium.’ Gay men will research a product before buying and ask friends for their opinion before the purchase. This makes brand reputation very important for anyone that wishes to sell to the gay male consumer.”
While those qualities have manufacturers and distributors of pleasure products salivating, it makes their jobs a little more difficult.
“This also creates a challenge for anyone trying to introduce a new product,” Perez adds. “Gay men are looking for quality, stylish design and overall value. It doesn’t matter how good you say your sex lubricant is — if it isn’t silkier than what they are using, you are not getting a sale. If they read too many negative reviews, you can forget about getting them buying a bottle to see for themselves. Your best bet is to offer a free sample as a method of persuasion.”
At Perfect Fit Brand, Chief Marketing Officer Rob Reimer notes that solid customer service goes hand in hand with creating a quality product in attracting loyal customers — they offer a 100 percent customer satisfaction guarantee on every order. If at any time during the first year of ownership an item does not perform due to a manufacturer’s defect, consumers can provide a photo and proof of purchase and the company will provide a replacement or an alternate selection at no additional cost.
“The average gay male consumer is very educated about sex toys and they know what they are looking for before they go shopping,” Reimer says. “They don’t want flimsy cock rings that break after just a few uses; they want their products to last because — as we know — they use them a lot.”
Julie Stewart, president of Sportsheets International, Inc., says that gay men for the most part aren’t afraid to try new things and explore.
“They will bring up topics in general conversation that some people may not find appropriate. Gay men are unique, because they seem to be more open about sexuality in general than most of mainstream society. They talk about sex pretty openly, and they don’t seem to be shy about asking for pointers or advice from friends or partners,” she says. “With such an open attitude about sex, it stands to reason that gay men should be marketed to openly. Two men wearing your product and touching each other in a magazine ad is more targeted and less ambiguous than a single guy, or a guy standing next to a woman. It would also be fresh and bold, because you don’t see ads like that often.”
Defining the Demographic
Stewart says that their research shows gay male consumers generally know what they are looking for — and despite many of their differences, they are all united on wanting quality and respect.
“Gay men are a diverse and myriad group. There are men in monogamous relationships looking to spice up their sex life. There are men in open relationships, or men who engage in casual sexual relationships with multiple partners, and there are men who want to get a bigger kick out of masturbation,” she says. “Overall, our research tells us that gay men don’t seem to be shy about searching for what they want, finding it and getting it. Gay men have been a niche market for so long, and before that a completely ignored and derided demographic. Open and direct visual communication about the product is important. Gay men want to know what they’re buying and how to use it (if they don’t already).”
For companies, knowing and respecting the differences within the niche is a key to success. Perez says the gay market presents a unique marketing opportunity because it’s so diverse.
“Not all gay men are attracted to the muscle-bound, all-American, athletic jock. Yes, he is attractive. But if you are trying to sell sex toys to men in the leather or bear community, that image isn’t going to ring at the cash register. It’s just not going to happen. I have witnessed this at my erotic workshops,” he says.
“You have to understand the major groups that make up the gay market in order to sell to them. You have bears, daddies, twinks, jocks, leather and ethnic. Then there are the sub-groups based on a sexual fetish. While some may think they are not worth investing in, I wouldn’t be quick to dismiss them. Events catering to fetishes have been drawing men away from the traditional gay pride celebrations at an alarming rate. Why would a chubby man go to gay pride when he can be among other chubby men and admirers at Convergence?”
Perez stresses that the gay groups have different purchasing triggers: “Yes, there is overlap in tastes — but each group responds to what makes them tick. I know how to sell to urban gay men because I realize that many may not be out completely. I will offer masturbation toys and prostate massagers that don’t look like a sex toy. These will sell to discreet men over a dildo or masturbator that looks like an ass.”
In the workshops he has with gay men, Perez has to tailor his talk to reflect the type of sex they are having — and look at what challenges they can encounter. “You can’t show up to a chubby convention with a paddle and ball gag,” he says. “It had become a challenge for me to sell sexy underwear at workshops because I had nothing to offer the bears (large, hairy gay men) that would attend. I didn’t want anyone to face public shame. Everyone wants to feel sexy regardless of their size. I have emailed manufacturers many times asking them to cater to other markets in the gay community through packaging and sizing. My efforts have fallen on deaf ears. I think the increase in competition and economic pressure will lead someone to expand marketing strategy.”
Packing it In
Sportsheets Executive Administrator Joanne Queenin fully understands that pop culture is synonymous with gay culture. Whether in entertainment, fashion or technology, gay consumers drive demand — and demand the best, she says.
“Men are very visual, and we feel that things presented to them in a very blatant way does best. It has to be sexy, but also very obvious what the product does or is designed for,” she says. “The biggest influences with product popularity seems to be open and directly targeted marketing. Sexy online video ads, visually stimulating packaging … all of it is designed to catch the customer’s eye and encourage them to buy that product. Bold, sexy packaging and targeted advertisements seems to be key to influencing the gay male market.”
In terms of packaging, Queenin says that sex sells — consumers are buying the fantasy that the packaging conveys. But not everyone follows that trend.
“Our packaging has always been neutral and focuses on the features and care of the product, rather than images of hot muscle guys to sell the product,” says Reimer. “Even though we are predominantly known as a gay company, we like to think of ourselves as a male brand and don’t want to alienate that loyal base of customers that we have developed over the past two to three years. We would rather be known for our quality and usability.”
At California Exotic Novelties, President and CEO Susan Colvin notes that for COLT Gear, they recently unified the packaging and gave the collection a more cohesive, branded look.
“It helps the consumer identify it with the popular COLT name. Plus it helps retailers to merchandise their stores,” she says. “We work very closely with the team from COLT in developing their collection of gear. Understanding the audience for the videos helps us target the audience for the toys. There are a lot of ideas that are generated from the films and it makes it fun and exciting as we collaborate to create and market this line of products.”
Jelle Plantenga, owner of Velv’Or — which designs luxury products — hopes packaging will become more retail friendly.
“Up to now, most products for gay are not packed in nice packaging, if you ask me. They come in simple plastic,” he says. “Looking at packaging, they probably do not mind how the product is packed. It needs to function and look rough, strong. Personally, I think this is the biggest difference between heterosexual guys and gay guys — heterosexual guys do make a decision based on the packaging.”
“Products for men are really popular right now,” says Julie Stewart of Sportsheets. “We think it’s great to see the market addressing the broader needs of men, gay or straight. We’ve seen great results on the more vanilla side for gay products. That myth that gay sex is only hard and rough still exists, however the consumer speaks to the versatility of most couples. Many gay couples want to experiment with bondage in the same way that straight couples do. Our Manbound brand is perfect for that as it introduces a safe way to play with the quality the gay consumer expects.”
In 2013, Jahaziel Perez says masturbation was the most popular topic for DickzToyz.com. Men wanted new techniques for stimulation, advice on sexual lubricants and tips for enjoying it using online/mobile technology.
“I think it was directly related to the rise in online video, webcam and smart phones. Social networks and forums dedicated to masturbation increased in membership. The COLT Gear Man Butt Masturbator was a hit among gay men looking for a realistic top experience. I bundled this product with Tiger Lubricant because it provided a silky glide when used together. Discretion became a factor for many gay men. The Tenga Deep Throat cup was a top seller for these customers; it’s a disposable pre-lubed masturbation toy that combines stylish design, discretion and pleasure.”
Perez said his workshops on prostate pleasure had the largest attendance. “Men were curious about the P-spot orgasm. They wanted to know where it was, how it worked and what toys to use. The Billy by Lelo dominated the conversation. The Booty Call Booty Blaster anal douche was offered with prostate toys to give the customer a complete experience.”
2013 was also marked by more requests for private sex toy parties. “Gay men enjoy purchasing sex toys in social settings. Retailers should offer these events to customers who are not comfortable shopping in public. You already have the inventory on hand. Why not bring the store to a group of consumers that want to spend money? In my experience, consumers purchase more products at a toy party than in a store. I think this trend will continue throughout 2014.”
From a product perspective, Perez says that masturbation toys will continue to become popular among gay men. “We are seeing innovations in the inner texture of toys that were not available a few years ago. These improvements will continue. I do think that the market will see an increase in sales among the disposable segment. With new entrants into the market like Vulcan, Zolo and Genie in a Bottle, they will serve as a gateway product that will introduce more men into the category. Once these men experience the satisfaction, legacy products will gain more sales as these customers will look for a long-term solution.”
Prostate massagers will continue to grow in popularity, he notes. “I think the new customers will come from the heterosexual market. I have seen an increase in the number of bisexual and straight women asking questions about anal sex. Products that are smaller will encourage men to have this experience. I think men will branch out and try products with new shapes. The Anal Fantasy Collection by Pipedream Products offers an excellent line of products for these customers.”
At California Exotic Novelties, flexing vibrators were big in 2013. “The COLT Easy Flex Glider was released in 2013 and quickly became a hit. With 10 functions of intense vibration, pulsation and escalation, and an incredibly bendable shaft, it is a toy to be reckoned with,” shared the CEO Colvin. “Vibrating strokers were also something that did well for us. The 10-Function Adonis Vibrating Strokers are great gadgets that appealed to the gay market, as well as heterosexual men. The 10 functions, the 120 ticklers in the pleasure chamber and the ribbed exterior for a secure grip made it a huge hit.”
As 2014 gets underway, Colvin says that pumps are huge. “This tried-and-true product category will see a lot of innovations from California Exotic Novelties in 2014. The Apollo and Precision Pumps Collections are certainly ones to watch. These lines have a variety of state-of-the art pumps that offer a lot of different options, nearly everything you can imagine from removable hoses that detach while the suction is maintained — like in the Precision Pumps Advanced 1 — to the sleek ergonomic design of the Apollo Power Stroker.”
At Perfect Fit, Hump Gear (also known as Raw Dawg) was the top seller and biggest trendsetter for 2013. Reimer says it was the No. 1 product on one of the biggest gay retail sites in the United States for over a year — going into wide release on Black Friday and now breaking sales records in many brick-and-mortar stores around the world.
“It’s basically a butt plug that you can have sex with, it’s something that had never been done before and it just went gangbusters. The guys went crazy over it because it changed the experience of anal sex forever,” he says. “It’s anchored in the bottom by the large nub on the base and gives the top ultimate freedom to play as he wishes, while the bottom gets more girth with less friction, no mess and ultimately longer play sessions. It’s made of SilaSkin, which is our own silicone/TPR blend that we developed. It’s incredibly soft and stretchy, but durable enough to use for lots of sex, which we like.”
Reimer stresses that gay consumers want original toys that they haven’t seen anywhere else.
“Steve Callow is the main designer for Perfect Fit and has a keen eye for designing toys that are an improvement on the original, or something that hasn’t been thought of yet. The product we’re most excited about in 2014 is something called Jock Armour, which Steve has named ‘hybrid apparel.’”
Reimer says hybrid apparel is going to be a massive trend — it incorporates specially designed cock rings and other moulded sex products into wearable apparel. FT Grunt Jock Armour is an apparel piece using the company’s Jock Armour cock ring, where the apparel component is designed by Timoteo and FortTroff.
“Its quite possibly the first time three design houses in our industry have collaborated so closely together to come up with a product. It has interchangeable snap-on pouches that cover your gear so you can wear them at the club or in the bedroom, it fits incredibly well and makes the guy look unbelievably sexy. When it launched in limited release last year, the buzz on the street was immediate and overwhelming and it was nearly impossible to keep in stock,” he says.
“In the adult world, we really respect companies like Fort Troff, Timoteo, Recon, Nasty Pig and Mr. S that are consistently bringing new things to the market and always seem to be on the cutting edge of fashion and trends for gay males. We hope we are becoming a part of that niche and that drives us to work even harder. One of the most exciting parts of what we do is to see positive customer reviews and feedback from people that use our products.”
Good Vibrations Purchasing Manager Coyote Days notes that the gay segment isn’t their direct market, but “ideally any person coming in would be able to find products to enhance their sexual connections as well as be educated, and encouraged.” She sees an increased use in male sex-toy use overall, and says there has always been brand loyalty and recognition from the gay community for them — but it’s been more lubricant focused.
“Our gay customers are looking for well-made toys they can play with alone or with a partner. Many come to us for beginner anal products as we offer a range of sizes rather than the huge, huger and hugest you find at some other locations. Safer sex products, lubricants and products that help them feel more comfortable with different sex acts — education, comfort and pleasure, of course.”
It’s all part of a big step forward, notes Joanne Queenin at Sportsheets: “We see the adult product market for gay men becoming less of a niche and becoming more open to all men. With gay men, we see more and more fashion with underwear and more high-end items.”
In terms of social media, Reimer notices the fastest growth for them on Twitter and Tumblr, which still allow adult content. “Some people thought Tumblr would crack down after they were bought by Yahoo, but it looks like they are taking a blind eye to adult content — which is smart because I think they would lose a large part of their traffic if they did. We also use our social media as an extension to our customer service, which makes it extremely easy for our customers to reach us. Having a daily presence on these sites is essential for any business.”
Tech-wise, Reimer notes that if you’re looking to reach the younger consumer, Responsive Web Design (RWD) is the way to go. Providing an optimal viewing experience across a wide range of devices from tablets, smart phones, and wearable devices — not just your standard laptop — is the definite trend.
Perez echoes the power of social media and video, calling them the biggest influencers of product popularity. “A tweet by a popular porn star can introduce thousands to a product. It is very rare to see any pleasure product being advertised in gay media these days; I can’t remember the last time I saw an advertisement. It makes you wonder, how are gay men learning about pleasure products? They are using social media to find video reviews by peers, blog postings, product ratings on online retail websites and personal interaction with the product at events.”
He says that the brands that spend their resources on developing long-term relationships using these technologies along with old-school marketing can become popular in the gay market.
“I have noticed the effort of a few manufacturers to drive sales by creating direct relationships with their customers. The top brands use social media. The most successful are active and take the time to address each concern. You can no longer depend on a retail clerk to establish that connection. If you want to create loyal customers, you must get social. It will not be about your product, but the conversation between you and the customer. And the connection that develops between customers through the brand.”