Pleasure Products 2013: Delivering the Goods

Jared Rutter

What does 2013 hold for distributors of pleasure products? Will new market trends develop or will business continue on the previous year’s trajectory? To get an overview of market outlooks we contacted representatives of seven major distribution outlets: Eldorado Trading Company, Holiday Products, Komar Company, PinkCherry, Pleasure Works, SLS Specialty and, for the international perspective, Planet Earth Wholesale.

Most agreed that among general trends to look for are the mainstreaming effect of “Fifty Shades of Grey” on the market and a new emphasis on male-oriented products.

People who have never purchased adult products before are buying. They have more information available to them via Internet and television. -Ken Sahn, VP, Holiday Products.

Catherine Korfel, marketing assistant at Eldorado, said that “the big trends are really coming in male-oriented products such as male masturbation devices, gay products and male enhancement supplements. There is also a continuing upward movement in soft restraints for couples as an after-effect of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey.’ In terms of new brands that have been performing well, most of these are exclusives to us, such as Bathmate, Cascade and Munkeybarz.”

PinkCherry’s Sophia Springer, wholesale accounts manager, agreed about the impact of “Fifty Shades,” which “exploded for manufacturers and continues to do so — there was not one major toy company that didn’t have their own version to promote. Kegel balls, once a fairly outdated category with lackluster sales, quickly took the lead, and manufacturers scrambled to boost production to meet demand and re-invent new versions.”

Shane Nelson, CEO of SLS Specialty, noted that “The hottest trend has been seeing our industry’s top sex toys and products featured in the mainstream media. ‘Fifty Shades’ helped bridge the gap even further. But as the fad has died down, talk shows, magazines and radio outlets have kept their interest in featuring sexy products designed to help enhance relationships. On the manufacturing side we see an influx in product lines designed specifically for men (apparel as well as toys), and high-end luxury products will continue to drive sales.”

Ken Sahn, vice president of Holiday Products, also felt that “the ‘Fifty Shades’ trilogy brought a new awareness to soft fetish and a whole new consumer base to the adult toy and novelty industry. This growth along with continuing trend our industry has seen in the mass market continues to expand the potential market share. The adult market has received more mainstream product exposure than ever before and this will continue.

“While all of the brands from the traditional major and mid-level manufacturers continue to thrive, there is considerable niche competition from manufacturers like We-Vibe, Lelo and Fleshlight. This expanding market has brought many new, highquality smaller companies into the mix. Another trend that continues to plant deep roots and grow in our industry is health and sexual enhancement pill business.”

Mark Forman, head of marketing and sales for Komar, said his company “sees the market trending in 2013 with a strong emphasis on couples, along with manufacturers continuing to raise the bar with better quality products. At this juncture, there’s something out there to accommodate everyone’s budget without compromising quality.”

Celebrity brands will be important, according to Pleasure Works wholesale rep Mark Espinosa. “In terms of reaching new markets, celebrity brands can be really helpful. Most celebrities nowadays have a much further reach when it comes to the Internet and social media. When asked about celebrity-branded products, the question that arises for me is, ‘Will consumers buy a sex toy based solely on an individual’s endorsement or on the product’s functionality?’ Pleasure Works’ selection is the result of years of working in the industry and discovering new ways of improving on top-selling forms and designs.”

“Celebrity lines have gained momentum,” noted PinkCherry’s Springer, “as CalExotics followed up their successful Phil Varone line by unveiling the Nick Hawk Gigolo collection, while Doc Johnson released James Deen. Icon Brands has a dedicated following with their expanding Falcon series. Bachelorette as a category seems to be stronger than ever, and Pipedream wowed us with their new look and hilarious new gag items. In conjunction with their Plan-O-Gram program, retailers can create their own customized wall presentations with a cohesive look.”

Kris Horsnell of UK-based Planet Earth, like Korfel and Nelson, emphasized how the male market is trending. “In 2013, Planet Earth is going back to its roots and primarily focusing on our male clients. The male market has achieved continuous growth and development and we are seeing a boom similar to the female market in the 90s with the rise of Ann Summers and the popularity of the Rampant Rabbit.

“Male sex toys are becoming better and more diverse, moving away from the prosthetic vaginal sleeves which have been the most popular products to date. Verspanken, for instance, is a new product from Big Teaze Toys that we are bringing to the U.K. market. Verspanken is anti-realism, but pro sensation — most importantly, pro fun. It features sensation-enhancing, interchangeable textures and a unique look and feel. Backed by a hilarious viral video available on YouTube, which has been watched by over 50,000 people already, the Verspanken is going to be huge.”

Pleasure Works’ Espinosa pointed out that although “there will always be a demand for higher-priced, ‘luxury’ items — perfect for customers with the ‘I want the best’ mentality — anyone who has worked the sales floor at a sex shop can tell you that the ‘best’ is always relative, or else, sex shops would only carry one vibrator. There will always be a need for high-quality $20 dollar vibrators as well as $200 vibrators. Yes, more costly vibrators offer a nice range of features and functions, but something has to be said for a high-quality vibrator that doesn’t break the bank and offers the same range of vibration and selection.”

Holiday’s Sahn followed up on that: “People who have never purchased adult products before are buying. They have more information available to them via Internet and television. This new educated customer prefers high-end products. They don’t mind paying more for quality. The trend for product will be more mainstream packing and high-end products.”

“Quality for Price is more prevalent than ever,” added Pink Cherry’s Springer, “as brands like NS Novelties have literally exploded onto the scene with their clean, modern packaging and exceptional quality.” New brands to watch out for, said SLS Specialty’s Nelson, include “the G-Vibe dualstimulation vibrator, colorful Maia toys, and the feminine and affordable S-Closet collection of rabbit and hand-held vibes.”

Business Strategies

XBIZ also queried distributors about their individual business strategies for the coming year and matters such as distribution partnerships and catalog supplements.

“Exclusive distribution partnerships,” according to Holiday’s Sahn, “are a trend in our industry that I see continuing and growing. The mutual benefits to the distributor and manufacturer are many. The distributor has an obligation to focus much more keenly on their exclusives and it makes sense to feature these products to their customers because of the exclusivity. In recent years we have seen manufacturers lose control of their product line through deep discounting, diverting sales to other territories and Amazon sales. This doesn’t happen with a good, exclusive partnership.”

Growth and expansion seemed to be part of everyone’s forecast. SLS Specialty’s Nelson said, “This year we will continue expanding at an incredible rate. We soon will be moving into a warehouse four times the size of our current facility and doubling our staff. We also are making considerable investments in evolving and updating our shipping system and technology while updating our marketing techniques to accommodate all of the growth.”

Komar’s Forman emphasized that “our goals for this year are to aggressively grow and expand while continuing to provide a high level of customer service. We’ve also invested in our technology and inventory. As a result, our valued customers are receiving better ‘fill’ rates and an allaround much improved buying experience.”

“While we already pride ourselves on our superior customer service and focus heavily on our product fulfillment,” Espinosa pointed out, “Pleasure Works Wholesale will roll into 2013 with added focus on creative online marketing strategies. It’s imperative for vendors and retailers to strive to re-invent the ways they market their products and to be constantly searching for new ways to reach new customers.”

The feeling across the board was that good customer service is key to success.

“Because Holiday has its roots in the Home Party segment,” Sahn said, “superior customer service is always our goal. In 2013 we will be introducing a completely overhauled website, and internally we are moving to new updated distribution software system. While we are functional and competent in both areas, this will take us to the next level in fulfillment and operational productivity. From a marketing standpoint we will continue to excel in our catalogs and brochures, with a new 2013 Distributor Catalog and Bachelorette Catalog out in the first half of this year.”

“At PinkCherry,” said Springer, “we listen to the demands of our customers and closely follow the trends of the industry. Our main goal is to be a one-stop shop for our clients and to provide them service in an efficient, professional and expedient manner.”

“Eldorado continues to focus on being the best possible partner to our customers,” said Korfel. “We are always striving to improve service, offer the best and newest products, and our sales team is continuously learning about our products offered so they can be the go-to person for our customers. Our goal is to help our customers be more successful by giving them the tools to train their staff to better ser ve their customers.

“Eldorado went through its recent re-branding in order to update its look, and more importantly, to highlight what sets Eldorado apart from the competition. We wanted to emphasize that the Eldorado brand stands for education, selection and an experienced and knowledgeable team dedicated to customer service to ultimately help our customers succeed.”

Horsnell said that Planet Earth’s goal is to “help our customers as much as we can. We have always provided customizable POS materials, which can be downloaded and tailored to each individual store. We also offer customized web graphics for our clients. We will continue to expand on this throughout the year and we will be seeking feedback from customers as to how we can cater to their needs and help them increase sales.”

For SLS Specialty’s Nelson, “We will continue to focus on stellar customer service and creative marketing. We also will maintain one-on-one communication with our customers and value their requests and suggestions regarding online ordering and shipping procedures to assure we stay on top of our game and ahead of the curve.”