opinion

Mixing it Up

Alison Marshall
Adult retail has undergone a major metamorphosis, a fact we're all well aware of and, from a consumer's point of view, something we're all very grateful for. The “couples-friendly” movement brought adult stores out of the dark, spurred major retail facelifts across the country, and forced company owners to analyze their market share and determine whether their product stock is relative to their target customer demographic.

Mainstream retail has taken a cue from adult, and with an influx of development opening adult boutiques in trendy hotel chains it’s clear that serious progress has been made. But now it’s our turn. Adult retail can no longer just be about selling sex and the basic tools — lube, condoms, dildos — necessary to complete the act.

Castle Megastores CEO Mark Franks says adult shops are now destinations for sensual candles and bath products, items that caters to everyday life, not just a one-night romp.

“We started incorporating these lines because they are very appealing to our customer base, which includes a large number of women and couples,” Franks said. “Companies like Castle are moving in this direction because the industry as a whole has become more focused on attracting and retaining a larger customer base. These products cater to the new audience while also being a fun new area of exploration for our existing customers.”

Franks says that this is not just a move to attract more customers. It’s a development that shoppers commonly see in mainstream retail, and provides a level of customer service and merchandising that has typically been missing from adult stores.

And now that retail chains both big and small are catching on, product manufacturers are following suit and broadening their collections to cater to all five senses — not just touch.

Elizabeth Bergland, spokeswoman for fetishfocused manufacturer Spartacus Enterprises, says this focus on the five senses is happening in part because of the realization that sex isn’t simply for the finale, but the beginning, the middle and the end.

“Sexual pleasure isn’t just derived from the basic physical act of intercourse and/or orgasm,” Bergland said. “Rather, what we call sex can be a complete, immersive experience, one that engages every mode of human perception.

The industry has seriously neglected an entire segment of the ‘narrative of sex.’” The industry doesn’t seem to be neglecting it now. These sensual products sell very well, Castle’s Franks says, and Spartacus is seeing the proof. Retailers and distributors have already pre-ordered large quantities of Spartacus’ soon-to-be-released Afterplay soothing gel — a lotion made to alleviate the sting following a hard flogging — and testers are already singing its praises.

“We’re considering expanding into this sector of the market and we haven’t even released our first item yet,” Bergland says. “This is undoubtedly the future of the industry. The market is opening up and expanding at an unprecedented rate and there are huge populations of potential customers with whom we are coming into contact with for the first time.”

Manufacturers also keep gender close in mind when looking to expand their customer reach. Although many of the products appear to be inherently feminine, gender-neutral packaging, incorporating a wide range of fragrances and carefully designing in-store merchandising displays are ways that both manufacturers and retailers can assure they hit their targets.

For high-end manufacturer Jimmyjane, the name says it all.

“Being gender-neutral is inherent in our products’ name; it is the conjunction of a man’s name and a woman’s name and we find that what we market will appeal equally to both sexes,” Jimmyjane founder Ethan Imboden said. “A beauty and lifestyle crossover was our fundamental belief from the beginning. Sexuality is maybe 20 percent physiological and 80 percent psychological.”

With this in mind, many manufacturers are finding creative ways to enhance their product lines and the way they’re perceived by the outside world. Jimmyjane has partnered with high-end celebrity haven Fred Segal boutique, as well as mainstream beauty chain Sephora, to market their massage stones and blindfolds. Luxury product designer LELO recently launched its own couture line, which includes “Earl,” a prostate massager that comes with a pair of matching cuff links.

This sensual movement is not taking away the buzz from the need for traditional sex toy and novelty manufacturing, however, and some believe it will act as a stepping stone for new customers.

Al Bloom, director of marketing for novelty manufacturing giant California Exotic Novelties, says these sensual products can give those normally hesitant about stepping foot in an adult store the perfect excuse to start experimenting with novelties. The products also help company founder Susan Colvin reach the one goal she had in mind when she launched the company in 1994 — to reach as many women as possible in a market dominated by men.

“Creating and introducing lingerie and true-type novelties was an arduous task, but getting retailers to change their product mix was critical to changing the trend of only men shopping in their stores,” Bloom says. “These ancillary categories gave a woman an ‘excuse’ for being in an adult store. It wasn’t before long that sharp retailers saw that expanding these areas gave women the freedom to ‘wander’ into the toy area, and pick up a new vibrator.”

Once word got out that producing these sensual goods was essential to meet the increasing demands of the market, Bloom says the larger manufacturers got into gear to offer mass quantities of the lotions, candles and oils that customers were demanding, and their production of adult and lifestyle collections is more comprehensive than ever.

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