educational

Mom and Pop Shops

Tod Hunter
In today’s adult toy market, companies with a small number of employees can carve out their own niche and thrive in the competitive market, operating from anywhere in the U.S., not just the major population hubs. We spoke with some 21st century entrepreneurs about their businesses and found some surprises.

Vera Worthington, owner, For Your Nymphomation
For Your Nymphomation designs and manufactures locking storage cases for sex toys and BDSM equipment. The company was founded in October 2004.

Company owner Vera Worthington was a handbag designer, but she always wanted to own her own business.

“I was tired of working the really long hours in the fashion industry, and making my bosses filthy rich,” she said. “I wanted a piece of that. One day I was talking to a friend and she said that her movers had seen the toys in the bottom drawer of her night table. ‘So what?’ I said. ‘You’ll never see them again.’ ‘No, you don’t understand,’ she said. ‘It’s my brother’s best friend’s moving company.’”

From such accidents ideas are born. The friends looked around Manhattan sex toy stores and found that there were no locking cases for sex toys, and the idea grew from there. The For Your Nymphomation collection ranges from pocket-sized condom cases to wheeled carriers.

Worthington designs the cases, and they are made in two factories in China. The products are initially designed on paper, prototypes are approved and corrected, and then manufacturing begins.

Worthington keeps close tabs on her retailers’ stock because of the lag time between orders to the factory and delivery. Shipping of completed cases from China to New York takes a month.

“There are occasions when we’re out of stock and waiting for a particular color, but our retailers will take a different color,” Worthington said. “Some retail customers will see that we’re out of stock on a particular item and email us. If I know it won’t be in for a while, I will check my online retailers and see if they have stock, or if they live in a major city I will tell them what store is selling it. I keep track of my customers; I know who carries what. Rather than have my customer wait three months, I’d rather they get it from one of my other customers than not get it at all.”

Worthington maintains stock in two small warehouses, and has three part-time employees including a bookkeeper.

“It’s tough doing the majority of things on your own,” Worthington said. “Everybody in the whole industry is hurting. We’re actually surviving. Surviving is good. Growing would be better,” she adds with a laugh, “but we’re surviving.”

The company also private labels products, Worthington said, with a minimum 500 pieces. The cases come without branded labels, and include the trademark FYN glow-in-the-dark zipper pulls.

Worthington operates out of suburban Long Island, New York, and has no plans to move.

“My husband is an architect in New York City; he has no plans to leave, and my entire family is here too,” Worthington said. “Family is really important to me. I use UPS and Priority Mail. I could be anywhere, and being in New York isn’t a problem. I have customers in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, England, France — a lot of places.”

One problem Worthington has with retailers is that the nature of her product is unique.

“A dildo is a dildo,” she said. “If you have plastic, you can sell glass and silicone. A vibrator is a vibrator. They don’t know that storage cases sell because they’ve never carried them before. Getting the foot in the door is tough with mom-and-pop stores. But if they train their people, suggest that customers buy a locking case to keep their toys clean and safe, they’re going to sell a lot more than, if they have it dumped on a self in the back of the store. If they put it in the front of the store as an impulse buy, merchandised with a couple of toys inside of it, people will get it. If the customer doesn’t know it exists, they won’t buy it.”

The bigger cases are the better-selling cases, Worthington said, and she is considering phasing out the smaller cases. She is also considering starting a subsidiary brand name to be sold as a private locking cosmetic case.

“That way it’s up to the consumer to decide what to keep in it,” Worthington said. “‘For your Nymphomation’ says ‘adult industry.’ If we added a second brand, we could get into other stores. The condom cases could be sold right next to condoms in drugstores.”

Greg DeLong, co-founder, njoy
njoy is known for its sleek stainless steel sex toys. Company co-founder Greg DeLong said njoy formed when he “realized that the world truly needed high quality, thoughtfully designed, and artfully branded sex products. We launched njoy with minimal planning or funding, but with a solid vision, good timing, and of course some luck.

As njoy toys are a high-end boutique item, DeLong said the company discourages a high volume mass marketing approach to selling them.

“Our current stainless steel designs are quite difficult to produce, much more so than your typical molded plastic orrubber toys, so we literally don’t want to make that many of them. Given our chosen manufacturing process and our extremely high quality standards we have never intended to turn the njoy stainless steel line into a high volume, low margin proposition.”

DeLong also said that there are plans to add new high-volume product lines to sell at different price points from the current stainless steel line, expanding the reach of the njoy brand.

“We’ve learned that growth must be managed carefully,” he said. “We’ve added production capacity as needed, and have plenty of reserve capacity to meet future demand. The real challenge for a rapidly growing brand, we’ve learned, is to manage cash flow such that the profits from what we sell today are sufficient to fund the inventory needed for higher sales some months in the future.”

njoy is headquartered in Fall River, Mass., “an old textile mill town that’s rather down on its luck,” DeLong said. “We don’t exactly advertise what we do, but when we do cross paths with the locals — staff at our favorite lunch joint, tradesmen working on our building, vendors, salesmen — we always receive a heartily encouraging response. I’ve come to realize that the vast majority of people are perfectly accepting of the idea of incorporating erotic toys into their sexual play. Furthermore, locals we cross paths with are universally intrigued by the fact that they have a local dildo maker in their town. Most of them want to visit.”

DeLong said the company has no plans to move.

“We’re rather happy where we are. Besides, moving a few tons of stainless steel dildos and butt plugs doesn’t sound all that appealing at the moment.”

njoy’s products are made in China by an American-owned company based in Hong Kong. (“Talk about globalization,” DeLong said.)

“What we’ve done to date, which is rather unique in the industry I think, is to cross-pollinate the inherent value and quality of a hand-crafted product line with the immense manufacturing capabilities of China,” DeLong said. “The challenge, of course, has been to deliver the consistent quality of a boutique product line at the end of a globe-spanning supply chain. This has only been possible through our unique relationship with our manufacturing partner, and many hard earned lessons learned over quite a few product development projects for past customers.”

DeLong said the company has plans to expand.

“We’ve always thought of our current line of stainless steel insertables as a ‘starter’ product line, meant to establish the njoy brand as a leader in design of high quality, innovative erotic products, and a foundation upon which to build the relationships and distribution we’ll need for future growth,” DeLong said. “Being a product designer and engineer by trade, I’ve always intended to launch progressively more sophisticated product lines, pursuing the myriad opportunities that exist to create truly innovative erotic products.

“This is an exciting time to be making sex products, as consumer awareness and acceptance continues to increase daily. There’s plenty of opportunity to go around, and we’re always thankful for our small — but growing — share of it.”

Brian Vatter, CEO, and Suki Dunham, founder, OhMiBod
OhMiBod makes vibrators and other toys that plug into MP3 players to vibrate in sync with the music being played.

The derivation of the initial toy came as an accident, Brian Vatter, CEO, and Suki Dunham, founder, told XBIZ.

“I gave Suki her two favorite stocking stuffers one year,” Vatter said. “Her iPod and her vibrator. And she told me she had this great experience listening to music and masturbating.”

“And that was it,” Dunham said.

“She said that listening to music while she masturbated helped get her into it deeper,” Vatter continued. “That was important for her.”

“Our company’s slogan is ‘Where tech and pleasure come together,’” Vatter said. “Anything that has to do with technology, that’s where we’re shooting for.”

OhMiBod now offers five vibrators that plug in to MP3 players or cellphones, and just added a new vibrator, the Club Vibe, attached to a microphone that can be used in clubs or other public places.

“It comes with a lace thong with a little pouch in it to hold the bullet,” Vatter said. “If you’re in a club, it vibrates with the club music. It’ll also hook up to an iPod or have the regular vibrator functionality. That is specifically designed for the outdoor adventure.”

A nonvibrating product, a belt with a buckle that can hold and display a condom, has also been added to the line.

The company, which was founded two years ago, is headquartered in New Hampshire on the New England state’s minuscule seacoast.

“We spent a lot of time in California,” Vatter said. “Before that we lived in Europe together. Now that we have a couple of kids, we moved back to New Hampshire to raise them. We’re in a tiny little town, population of maybe 4,000 people. We’re going to stick around until the kids graduate high school.”

The people in the town who know what they do are supportive.

“Because it’s tied to the iconic iPod, it opens up the parameters by which people think of this stuff,” Vatter said. “It helped that they knew us first in the community. They knew Suki as a former Apple employee, they knew me as a former Tyco employee. We did volunteer work in the community, they knew our kids, they knew us before we got into this business. That helped.”

OhMiBod products are packaged in boxes that emulate the clean look of Apple accessories. This is deliberate.

“It’s an iPod accessory,” Vatter said. “That’s how we price it, that’s how we package it, that’s how we made it. Connecting to an MP3 player. Our whole objective is to open up the dialogue about vibrator use for women and couples. Toy use is fun, it’s needed, it’s healthy. It shouldn’t be thought of as some back-alley purchase. That’s why we designed the packaging the way that we did, and why we tied it to the iPod as well.”

The emulation of iPods goes beyond the packaging.

“Because they are an iPod accessory, we priced them to the iPod accessory market,” Dunham said. “Our goal from day one was to make ourselves a mainstream company. We knew we had a lot of crossover potential, and we’re sold by iPod accessory companies. We want to make it completely accessible and mainstream.”

OhMiBod is a small company, with four employees besides Vatter and Dunham.

“We designed the company to have a very low overhead,” Vatter said. “When Suki started this, I was supportive, but I was still working full time. When we decided that we should both work full time, we did it in a way that we could grow comfortably. We both have experience in starting small companies. We outsourced our marketing, we outsourced our PR, we outsourced our financing, we outsourced our production. The only thing we really do inhouse is customer service and shipping. It’s a small group.”

Although OhMiBod outsources many of its functions, they are hands-on for quality control.

“You try to find the best manufacturer, the best supplier you can find,” Dunham said. “Because you don’t own every piece of the puzzle, you have to stay on top of the quality. We test all the products, and we get copied on all our customer service emails so we can see what’s going on and what’s happening with our products.”

Outsourcing production keeps OhMiBod “nimble,” Vatter said, to meet consumer demand.

“We can ramp up, and we can ramp down. A lot of companies go out of business because they create a large overhead structure and can’t adjust quickly. They aren’t nimble enough to adjust to meet the economic climate. “Banks aren’t lending, and small and medium size businesses — even large ones — are going out of business because they can’t right-size,” Vatter said. “There are a lot of people who aren’t buying, and people are thinking three, four, five times about what they buy and how they spend their money. I think it’s important to be able to adjust to that. And we formed our company with that in mind. Before we invested in infrastructure, we thought about it and we stay nimble for just that reason.

“But just because you’re a small business doesn’t mean you have to think small,” Vatter continued. “We’ve sold in more than 30 countries. We’re setting up a global infrastructure and a global sales channel. To think small you don’t have to limit your revenues because you don’t have a lot of people. If you do it right, you can set it up so your cost base is low, but you can move a lot of product.”

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