opinion

High-End Novelties - A Distributor's Dream

Bob Johnson

Think of them as being part of a giant grid that powers an entire city or country. Only instead of electricity, picture millions of high-end, luxury sex toys vibrating their way into retail stores around the world.

Wholesale distributors — the very lifeblood of these products — are on the forefront of the ever-burgeoning trend and offer a unique perspective on the market’s current zest and where it’s headed.

Being able to add luxury products to its distribution has done what every adult business hopes for. It’s enhanced our businesses in many ways. -Tamara Payton-Bell, Home Pleasure Party Plan Association (HPPPA)

Trying to keep pace with what’s new can be dizzying what with skyrocketing demand first fueled by TV shows like “Sex and the City” and most recently the "Fifty Shades of Grey” frenzy. This is where a distributor’s savvy — honed from years of frontline experience — can offer adult sellers a virtual master’s course in how to sell sex novelties.

According to Michael Basset, the CEO of Australian giant Calvista, high-end items sell very well in stores that sit comfortably in the premium niche. He explains that these retailers are typically the newer generation and their “fit-out,” staffing, decor and product ranges must cater to couples and be female friendly with little to no DVD inventory. A knowledgeable staff is also key.

“Luxury novelty items work well in a mix with lingerie, massage oils, fragrant candles and games. In more recent times such stores are typically found in high foot traffic pedestrian areas such as inside mainstream shopping malls, however there are also many premium novelties being sold in large footprint mega stores that offer items from every category and are a one-stop adult product shopping destination,” Basset says.

And there’s more good news for retailers. Basset notes that these stores that are typically successful in selling luxury items also cater to a higher socio-demographic class with more disposable income. Keeping with this trend, most of these stores are located in capital cities rather than on the fringe or in regional areas.

SexToyDistributing co-founder Ari Suss agrees with Basset’s assessment about regional appeal.

Suss says his company’s data shows that luxury sex toys sell better in high income areas such as Los Angeles, New York and Washington. He also attributes the uptick over the last few years to shows like “Sex and the City” that he recalls brought mega attention to the Rabbit vibrator.

No surprises, women are also fundamental in powering more and more sex toy buys, according to the executive. He says, “The Real Housewives, Dr. Berman and Sue Johnson also focus on educating viewers that sex toys are normal and help enhance one’s life. We have seen them focus more on luxury sex toys that are built for women.”

Another online mega-distributor, Williams Trading Company, has an even broader perspective as to where the natty nouveau novelties are making a splash.

Sales manager Rich Pyne says that his company has been drop shipping for almost every sex toy retailer on the web for the last 15 years and he’s pushing product into every region.

Pyne says he ships 200-300 orders a day for SexToy.com alone, along with Amazon customers to nearly every corner of the world. “Some items like LELO’s Luna Beeds can see 2,000 to 3,000 orders a week.”

He further notes that since Sportsheets’ “Sex Mischief” line debuted the company has experienced a 400 percent growth in 2012 alone.

From a brick-and-mortar standpoint, Pyne’s sales associate Bob Chichetti explains that the old “dirty book stores” are now transforming themselves into boutiques thanks to the popularity of high-end novelties. “Products from suppliers like LELO are helping to change the image of sex toy stores. Instead of selling those old, plain white vibrators, they now come in a range of colors with high quality silicone. This is escalating the products to new heights,” Chichetti notes.

Calvista’s Basset also believes the new products and boutique atmosphere have undoubtedly bolstered the market.

“Many companies in the distant past, including CalExotics, brought out from time to time, a more luxurious item or range, with varying degrees of success. But I first recall — and I’ve only been in adult for nine years and perhaps because I was handling European business at the time — the buzz around 2004 that was created by FunFactory and LELO with beautiful and ergonomic designs, colors and materials. They really craft and create objects of desire, yet simultaneously highly functional,” Basset says.

PinkCherry CEO Daniel Freedman attributes another manufacturer — LELO — in helping to ignite the trend that’s continuing even now.

“At PinkCherry Wholesale we take a one-stop shop approach, and premium luxury brands are a big part of that. We have seen huge growth in brands such as LELO and Njoy and have increased our orders to meet that demand,” Freedman says.

He adds,“ When we started in the industry five years ago we had only a small handful of luxury brands, but the demand is certainly there and we have adjusted our inventory to meet that demand. It is also interesting to note that it seems like every industry show has at least a half dozen new and innovative luxury brands being launched. We have also seen a number of existing products such as the Vibratex Snuggle Puss and Rocks Off Rock Chick, among others morphing into higher-end products like the We-Vibe and LELO’s Tiani.”

Basset maintains that luxury novelties are correlated to the use of silicone and are usually rechargeable — two important factors that alone resulted in a higher priced, premium item due to the cost of manufacturing. “When I asked LELO’s Filip Sedic several years ago what motivated LELO to create such luxurious novelties he simply said, ‘It’s not luxury, it’s the basic minimum how a toy should be,’ a statement that requires no further explanation.”

Basset also feels that the Europeans have driven the development of luxury brands with their styling that’s become a standard today.

But can any adult store be successful just because it carries high-end products?

Basset thinks so and categorizes three different types of stores that can sell luxury items: boutique style, megastores, and traditional bookstores with video booths, peep shows, DVDs and some novelties. But he emphasizes how presentation affects the sale of high-end novelties. “I recall a female store owner calling us two years ago requesting that we take a We-Vibe II back as she hadn’t been able to sell it for two weeks. This was during the time that other stores were selling 10 units a day, every day, and we were air freighting stock, landing 40-foot ocean containers, just to try to keep up with demand. She owned a video peep type store. So, it doesn’t have to be a luxury store to sell luxury items, just well categorized, with a nice fit-out and educated and motivated staff. In essence, a decent retail store.”

“I think in today’s climate, without the benefit of adult magazine and DVD revenue, if you can’t be successful in mainstream retail, you’re not going to make it in adult retail either,” Basset maintains.

And it’s not only the retail segment that’s proving to benefit from the highend novelty boon. In the last two to three years, the home party market for highend luxury items has taken off.

“We initially didn’t carry these items because of pricing,” according to Home Pleasure Party Plan Association (HPPPA) founder Tamara Payton-Bell and “Two to Tease” party plan member services manager Kim Varner.

“Most of our customers attending our parties look for items in the $20 to $100 price range. We have since learned through attending tradeshows and reading industry magazines how to introduce these items at our shows. By educating our customers, we have created a demand for what we call our ‘affordable luxury line.’”

Like traditional retail stores, the party distributor supplies popular products from manufacturers including Cal Exotics, JOPEN, LELO and other brands that work with the company on how to merchandise, demonstrate and sell the items successfully in their home demos and special events.

“In the past, we were apprehensive about adding them because we felt our customers would not be interested, or would want to pay the higher fee. But through education and creating a demand for these items we have been very successful in integrating them to our demo kits,” Payton-Bell says.

Being able to add luxury products to its distribution has done what every adult business hopes for. Payton-Bell beams, “It’s enhanced our businesses in many ways — higher end clientele, increased credibility and stronger revenue.”

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