Exec Seat: Dr. Clockwork, Master of His Domain
For someone known as a mad scientist, Dr. Clockwork makes an awful lot of sense. It becomes immediately apparent when he speaks about his craft and the industry, the two entities invigorating each other like a jolt of electricity — an appropriate dynamic considering he’s the president of his eponymous Home for Electrical and Medical Oddities.
“My company has definitely seen some very rapid growth in the past few years. Our decision to enter into the mainstream adult market as opposed to staying within the BDSM and fetish communities was definitely a positive move,” he says. “There have been some very positive reactions from distributors and stores, and we recently picked up our first European distributor.”
Known for high-quality violet wands and many other medical toys and equipment, Dr. Clockwork’s Home is dedicated to bridging the gaps between niche electro-play, the BDSM community at large and curious mainstream consumers. It’s a mission that isn’t always easy, but one that the expert is happy to champion.
“I’ve found that many large companies suffer from attempting to have a very broad reach, but never go into great depth or have high standards of quality, which I think is a real shame,” Dr. Clockwork said. “This is a problem that I’ve worked very hard to avoid. I am a violet wand company. That’s what I do, and that’s the part of the fetish community that I serve. I understand the market, because it’s one of my personal kinks. I don’t try to outreach my grasp or knowledge set, so I can focus on making very high-quality items for a very specific market.
“I think that I have a very unique perspective regarding the BDSM and fetish communities. Most company owners don’t take the grassroots approach that I do. And that’s fine for them, but it’s just not my style. I travel a lot and I meet the people who use my — and other — BDSM/fetish products.”
Diehards and Dabblers
The serious fetishists and players, he explains, are all part of a structured, highly organized community. There are local social groups for like-minded people to meet in every state — and locale, regional and national conventions. Dr. Clockwork says that trends run regionally, and most people are willing to travel one or two states to attend a convention.
“When I teach my violet wand classes at BDSM conventions, I notice an immediate bump in sales at the convention, followed by a general increase in sales over the next few months from that region. That said, there are also more general regional trends,” says the Doc, who has taught classes in 47 states and three provinces of Canada.
“This is very different when we’re talking about the John and Jane Fuzzycuffs of the world. There’s always been people who have dabbled in BDSM, but aren’t part of the community. This contingent has obviously become a lot larger since ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’” he says. “There are far more people who are interested in learning about BDSM based on what they’ve read. Interestingly enough, the majority of the BDSM community hated ‘Fifty Shades,’ as it implied a lot of gross generalizations about the people who were into BDSM and how things were done that were, by and large, completely untrue. Many have dubbed the book ‘Fifty Shades of Bad Education.’ Personally, anything that starts the discussion and gets people interested in learning more is a positive thing.”
Dr. Clockwork notes that it’s hard to determine what trends are popular within the dabbler crowd.
“Statistically, I know that Ben Wa balls became very popular after the books came out, as did a lot of the other toys that were mentioned in the book. As electrical play wasn’t discussed in Fifty Shades in any great detail, I personally haven’t seen a particularly large bump in sales from that demographic. However, as Fifty Shades is starting to wane in popularity — at least until the movie comes out — people have generally gone through the toys mentioned in the book and are starting to get bored with them, so they’re going to look for other things to play with. Electrical and other high tech toys are going to become very popular in the near future. I think most people have a near-fetish obsession with technology. Look at our obsession with smart phones these days. I’ve seen some of the new toys that are starting to hit the shelves. I’ve been very impressed so far with a lot of the underlying technology, and have a lot of faith in the coming popularity of toys that can be controlled remotely, or by people’s smart phones.”
The Ties That Bind
Dr. Clockwork notes that his consumer demographics cover a broad spectrum. His product line ranges from inexpensive to upscale, so he pulls in sales from “poor college kids to the very wealthy and discerning.” He says the ages range from 18 to 70, with the bulk of sales in the 35-50 area — and he does equally well among the heterosexual, gay and lesbian audiences.
“In comparison to my competitors, I tend to do better in the gay and lesbian communities than they do, due to my known and open support of the LGBTQ communities. As my toys are generally couples toys, within the het community I’ve found most women lead in the sales discussion with me, but men generally make the purchase, regardless of who the top is in the relationship,” he says.
Regardless of who is doing the buying, Dr. Clockwork stresses that on the whole, BDSM community members put quality above all else.
“There is a big difference between a $25 pair of neoprene cuffs and a $125 pair of handmade leather cuffs, or a $35 plastic boned ‘corset’ and a $300 custom-made, steel boned corset. And members of the BDSM community are more than willing to pay for the good stuff. That $25 set of neoprene cuffs won’t last 10 minutes in a heavy play session. The hardware just isn’t strong enough at that price point. Most stores don’t carry high-quality items, so members of the BDSM community don’t shop there. Knowing that a store would rather stock the $25 pair of cuffs—because that’s what sells to the John and Jane Fuzzycuffs of the world who don’t want to make the investment in heavy-duty gear — the BDSM community tends to be more willing to wait until there’s a convention in town, and go through the vendor’s room to make purchases directly from the small crafters who make the high-quality toys and sell directly to the consumer.”
Dr. Clockwork says that packaging is rarely an issue with the BDSM community — he never had to even think about retail packaging until he started working with distributors and stores. Because members of the BDSM community usually deal with small crafters, there’s a certain amount of negotiation that is expected with sales at a convention, he adds.
“In the BDSM community, it’s all about creating trust between your company and the client, and making them feel accepted and not judged. The BDSM community is tight-knit and insular because there isn’t a lot of outside acceptance from the ‘vanilla world’. Even with the popularity of ‘Fifty Shades,’ BDSM still isn’t widely accepted as ‘normal’. It’s only recently been taken out of the (American Psychiatric Association’s) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) as a disorder. People still lose their jobs and children for being outed as ‘perverts’. So supporting the community is really good press because it shows that your company accepts them for who they are.”
Dr. Clockwork sponsors a number of events across the country and is an advocate for many LGBTQ causes. He has plenty of speaking engagements booked this year — as well as vending planned at lifestyle events. He also intends to go into full swing R&D mode to come out with new accessories and completely new product lines.
“I also want to work on developing a more formalized marketing campaign. I’m fairly well known in the BDSM community as both an educator and purveyor of toys, but I need to learn how to translate that to a more vanilla market,” he says. “That’s new territory for my company to cut our teeth on, and will definitely be a learning experience as we scale up to meet the ever-increasing demand.”