A Conversation With Eldorado's Industry Vet Jeff Waterstreet
Eldorado sales guru Jeff Waterstreet is beloved and respected by retailers, manufacturers and distributors alike. Waterstreet joined the Colorado-based company back in 1976 and shows no signs of slowing down. Recently we caught up with the sales veteran to discuss the pleasure products business.
XBIZ: We’re here with Eldorado sales legend Jeff Waterstreet. You’ve been in the business since ‘76. How did you get started?
Waterstreet: Well, when I started I just applied for a job as a warehouse packer. We were selling smoking accessories and so I applied the job and I got it.
So you started in the warehouse then?
I did warehouse for three years and then I switched over into sales.
Had you had any sales background?
Not at that time.
So you learned on the fly?
What were you first selling when you got started?
We were selling all sorts of smoke accessories and snuff accessories.
Before all the sex toy product then?
Yes, we were selling Harley Davidson and rock n’ roll accessories. Stuff today you’d find in smoke shops.
For those who don’t know, Eldorado didn’t start as an adult product distributor.
Right, they actually started off selling Indian/native American jewelry. Now I wasn’t with them at the very beginning of that phase, I came in about three years after. And at that point we were doing smoking accessories.
When did you guys start bringing in the adult products?
Well, I think that was in the late ‘80s, that’s when I believe we began the transition. Back then there were some legal issues — as far as selling these products, at least the smoke ones. So because of that we decided to transition into adult. I think it was the late ‘80s or early ‘90s when Uncle Sam paid us a visit.
But that was for paraphernalia?
Since the ‘80s, what are some of the biggest differences you’ve seen in the industry compared to now?
The growth of all the different types of products, I mean we went from a handful of items — to over 15,000! The variety is just tremendous these days.
What do you like best about selling in this industry?
I like the people, the people are great. I enjoy going to the trade shows and meeting my customers in person and having a chance to spend some time with them.
Do you have a favorite trade show?
Actually, I do prefer the ILS show the best.
Is that because most of your customers are there?
Pretty much (laughter).
Take us through a typical Waterstreet day at Eldorado.
I get here bright and early in the morning so I can get a lot of my stuff done.
Do you have a lot of customers on the East Coast?
I have a handful of accounts that I have to contact early in the morning on the East Coast. I have a few shops that are open 24 hours a day and those purchase agents place orders as early as six in the morning, because they actually work the graveyard shift. I’m here to take care of my people before Eldorado’s doors open.
What’s the biggest mistake you see retailers make?
Probably the people they hire. The thing is, product knowledge is real important, but it all depends on what the store wants. If they just want numbers and to move people in and out, that’s one thing. If they want to increase sales then they need to have the right staff, and that’s a challenge.
How about manufacturers?
There are just so many people copying everyone else. There’s a lot of duplication of a lot of products.
You’ve seen all the gimmicks, but what are the products that are consistent bestsellers through the years?
We’ve had some — the Magic Wand has been around for 40 years and still sells very well. It will always be a top seller. We do have a vibrator that’s been around a long time that’s another bestseller — those Jelly Caribbeans. People to this day still order them after 20 years — they still want them. But I wonder if that’s because they’re so affordable (chuckle).
Are you seeing an increase in sales for the luxury items?
I feel that we’re doing better and better with our high-end lines. The quality of the products is so much better and more sophisticated than the old stuff.
Your customers don’t mind spending the big dollar amount for those items?
Well it depends on the areas they’re in, and their customers, etc.
Do you have any memorable products — good or bad — that stand out over the years?
Hmm... we better skip that.
What advice would you give new manufacturers to make their products easier to sell?
I think it’s important to have very inviting packaging — that’s the main thing. Something to catch everyone’s attention is what you want. You don’t want to have generic packaging with a nice product inside. Customers need to be able to easily see the product, because a lot of times they’ll try to open things in the store just to see what the product actually is.
The industry continues to change — where do you see it going in about five to 10 years?
Right now it’s been going pretty strong and I hope that continues. I do see more and more Internet sales happening for sure. We’re now seeing a lot of people go into stores to look and touch the products, then go home and try to order it online at a better price.
I know a lot of stores in this business are what we’d call “old school” and some of them still don’t have a website — would you say now is the time for them to get online?
Right — yes and I’m seeing more and more of the old timers willing to adapt. I think they finally know they’ve got to do something to change in order to survive.
A lot of customers are concerned with “mainstreaming” where adult products are now available in Walgreens, Wal-Mart, Targets, etc. Do you see that as a threat to the industry?
Well, I don’t really see it as that big of a threat or a factor because I feel that a lot of people are still leery about something like this in a mainstream store — worried about their neighbor behind them in line seeing what they’re getting.
Do you think the legalization movement is going to have an impact on the adult industry? Are you seeing growth from your head shop customers?
Yes. Slowly but surely we’re seeing a little bit more growth. Some places are doing incredibly well with adult products, and other ones are willing to give it a shot and gamble by bringing it in — and that’s what we’re experiencing right now.
Now I know a lot of people are reading this to hear about a typical crazy Waterstreet story — anything you’d like to share? Or can share?
I would just say that with everything that I do, there’s always a little bit of craziness.
All right, we’ll leave it at that. Thanks a lot of Jeff.
You got it. My pleasure.