Retailers Discuss Growth of LGBT Marketplace
Retailers and distributors are finding the popularity of products for gay couples and gay males in general is increasing. From marketing to new items, the category is evolving.
At The Pleasure Chest, director of business development Sarah Tomchesson and buying and merchandising manager Victor Tobar offer their take on the subject. Tobar says every couple that comes into their stores is looking for something different. “We have some great products geared to a male audience this year. We’ve been excited about how well the Fleshlight Quickshot is doing as a toy for couples — it makes an excellent handjob and BJ toy. Oxballs has released a number of cock rings in the past few months that have hit the ground running as new customer favorites, particularly items in the Atomic Jock line.” Tobar notes that Oxballs’ cock sheaths are always customer favorites. “Our staff and customers alike are responding really well to the new Daddy Cock Sheath. The LELO Bruno has done well as a high-end prostate massager that is great for solo or partner play, and the Aneros Prograsm continues to be a top-selling prostate stimulator.”
Customers looking to go solo are drawn to Fleshlight’s recently expanded Fleshjack line, Tobar says. “The Fleshjack Ass is definitely a top-seller. The Fleshlight Flight is also one of our most popular male masturbation toys. LELO’s Loki Wave has been a huge innovation in solo prostate play by offering hands-free dual stimulation that combines function with a luxury aesthetic.”
Toys with more neutral designs, such as sleeves that are not shaped like vulvas, appeal to both gay and straight consumers.
According to Tobar, The Pleasure Chest has seen increased interest in a few types of fetish items, for example, neoprene gear. “We’re happy to be adding neoprene to our collections this Spring/Summer season. We’ve also seen increased interest and variety in puppy play items. Oxballs has a very thorough and creative line of toys that cater specifically to pups, and includes tail plugs, cock rings, paddles, and gags.”
Speaking on gay product marketing, Tomchesson says having an inclusive retail environment is key. “The gay community is not unique in seeking spaces where they feel safe, comfortable and understood, especially when shopping for intimate products. We try to reflect our diverse customer base in all ways, through our hiring decisions, product selection, educational events, in-store fundraising events, year-round sponsorships and donations, artwork and advertising.” In short, Tomchesson believes the best strategy for marketing to the gay community is to create a space where they are considered on all levels and where their sexuality needs and concerns are understood. “Outreach and marketing then flows organically,” she asserts. “We think of ourselves as part of the gay community with a rich, gay history that we are proud of. For us, it is not about showing up at Pride once a year and handing out swag. Our engagement strategy is centered around year-round community involvement. Then when Pride comes around, we get out on the streets with our community and celebrate.”
Nenna Joiner, owner of adult boutique Feelmore510, calls The FiFi the “latest and greatest masturbation product that can be used by gay males. It’s a ‘Snuggie –like Stroker,’ a velcro blanket with disposable sleeves.”
Joiner adds that both gay and straight men like this type of product. “As long as nothing is draped in rainbow flags, products appeal to everyone. Staying away from products that have descriptions of two men or two women helps us turn the product faster. We want people to use their own imagination. If a straight person comes in, the product can be for them. If an identified trans person visits, we should be able to find a way to communicate the product benefits without offense. Creativity is the most important part of making a product appealing to both gay and straight consumers.” As far as fetish products, Joiner terms Oxball products as standouts.
Joiner’s inclusive philosophy also applies to her marketing. “Feelmore doesn’t market to a specific sexual demographic, we appeal to the sensibility of all people. Being kind in your marketing will always make a difference.” However, just communicating product information to the gay community certainly won’t hurt, she says. “It just lets the community know where they can buy products that they may need.” She believes that participating in Pride events helps more with brand awareness than brand loyalty.
Open just five years, Feelmore is a relative newcomer, and Joiner has not seen a lot of category shifts in that time. She says she has seen enhanced technology expand categories, while consumers themselves have evolved in terms of expanded knowledge due to information from blogs, podcasts, and news outlets writing about sex and the sex industry.
Larry Garland, CEO of distributor Eldorado, has seen a number of expansions in gay product lines. “Our selection of Gay Pride items has exploded over the past three years with wigs, tutus, drinking glasses, flags, candy, sashes, and more. For gay couples, it’s not so much about finding new products as new lines from companies such as Oxballs, Tom of Finland, and Malestation,” he says. But some individual new products also stand out. “Sounding bars, the b-Vibe Rimming Plug, Colours rainbow dongs, and the Master Series Kanine Collection all do very well.” The Fleshjack appeals to solo gay consumers; and as to products that appeal to gay versus straight males, Garland notes that gay men do not want products which resemble vaginas. When it comes to fetish items, he sees leather as a staple. “Erotic underwear and puppy play are popular, and popular products include items from Malesation, Master Series, Male Power, Cocksox, Pride, and Mystim.”
In regard to marketing, Eldorado believes that it’s important to have separate recognition for the gay consumer’s sexuality; and that attending gay events brings notice to the business and shows commitment to the gay community.
Garland sees some general changes in the category. “There are more products and product lines that appeal to the gay demographic in today’s marketplace. As laws have become more inclusive of the gay community, more people have been willing to buy gay-related products openly and our business in gay lines has grown significantly as a result.”
At Williams Trading Company, director of sales and marketing Scott Dantis and business development rep Charlette Lopez discuss their views of this year’s newest products and marketing. Lopez says one of the most popular products launched for couples was the F-Machine Gigolo, whose smaller size and portability makes it easy for couples to use. Other popular couples products include the new bondage products in the Manbound line, King Cock strap-on kits, and the Gay Pride Fetish kit complete with furry rainbow blindfold and handcuffs. “All your necessary Pride accessories from rainbow leis, to rainbow lollipops and bullets, are also popular.”
In the solo toy category, Lopez doesn’t see much difference between what straight and gay men purchase when it comes to masturbators. “Of course straight men buy more masturbators molded after women, although the purchases of mouth and anal masturbators seem to be common among all men,” she says. “The most popular solo sex toys for gay males are masturbators, lubricants, dongs and butt plugs. Straight men are more likely to purchase a masturbator and lubricant, although, sometimes a straight man may still pick up a butt plug depending on his preference.”
As far as fetishes are concerned, Lopez sees many involving heavy bondage and electro-stimulation becoming increasingly more popular. “Manbound and Fetish Fantasy Extreme has catered to the male bondage community, while Mystim has really come up with some amazing products, including urethral sounds and butt plugs. Both male and female gay communities will love the Cloud 9 F-Machines. All products in the line are easily adjusted for comfortable penetration with a full line of accessories,” she notes.
And when it comes to marketing? “It’s important to send the message that there are special needs this community requires. The gay community looks for the rainbow of equality and recognizes it. Packaging and assortment are important, so that the couple knows the product is geared more for their lifestyle.” According to Lopez, “Participating in and supporting our gay communities establishes loyalty and respect. We support all aspects of sexuality and gay/pride events.”
Lopez notes that Pride seems to get bigger each year. “LGBTQ’s community is not hiding and we are not hiding them. Retailers, manufacturers and consumers alike all seem to be streamlining the market. During Pride season, of course the community is highlighted and celebrated, and we feel that everyone is doing a very good job of that. We have expanded our brands to include Perfect Fit, Rascal Channel One, Colt from Calexotics, and Manbound from Sportsheets along with RAM from Nasstoys.”
At Honey’s Place, director of purchasing Kyle Tutino cites Oxballs products as a specialty brand that feeds multiple niche markets in the LGBT community. “We see wonderful success with them and feel that they’re going to continue to grow.” In regard to solo toys, Tutino says ball stretchers and cock rings are both big in their LGBT market. “I think the straight male market has yet to learn about the sensations that come with this added tension. We are also seeing an increase in prostate massagers over last year and feel this is represented in both LGBT and straight communities. We see more strokers and pumps selling for straight males, while gay males tend to be more interested in purchasing probes, beads and plugs.” When it comes to fetish items, Tutino sees certain trends as well. “We saw a rise in puppy play this year. Oxballs and Master Series from XR both cater to this fetish. Also noted this year is urine play across all sexual preferences.”
From the standpoint of marketing, Tutino asserts that the LGBT community is openly discussing how to meet various desires. “They want products that speak to their desires as well as designs that are intentional for adding additional sensations or functions.” This should be addressed in marketing, he believes. “The gay community is more brand loyal and brand driven than straight male shoppers who often look for value first.” Participating in gay/pride consumer events does help establish a brand, Tutino asserts. “By providing samples, you are giving a person a glimpse of your brand, your image, and your quality. And, by being part of the community events you are connecting with the end consumer.”
How has this category evolved through the years? “It’s evolved away from the typical stereotypes and sub-cultures to a quality design product offering. There is so much more available for self-education that focus on intent and quality, which raises expectations across all sexual communities,” Tutino says.