Future in Focus: Toy, Novelty Market Growth

Jared Rutter

What trends—current and future—drive the pleasure products market? How important is penetration into mainstream retail? What business strategies can be used to capitalize on sales opportunities?

For a closer look at trends we contacted a sampling of pleasure product manufacturers. CalExotics/JOPEN, Pipedream, We-Vibe, Blush Novelties, UK-based Lovehoney and Canada’s BMS Factory each provided insight into the current novelty market picture.

Women are discovering their appetite for pleasure with or without a partner, and pleasure products are playing a bigger role. From the get-go We-Vibe made a conscious decision to ensure our brand would appeal to both the adult industry and mainstream industry. -Lorraine Byerley, VP Marketing at We-Vibe

Perhaps the most important trend is the broadening of the market itself.

Lovehoney summed it up: “Terms such as ‘sexual wellness,’ ‘pleasure products,’ and ‘intimate self care’ are now used far more frequently during marketing and branding as sex toys become more mainstream.

“Using approachable, consumer-friendly language when considering design and marketing helps drive the normalization of the adult industry and the understanding of sexual happiness as part of our overall well-being, rather than something to be ashamed of.”

On specifics, there is agreement that technology is a major market driver. Susan Colvin, CalExotics President & CEO, said, “USB rechargeable products are incredibly hot right now. People are conditioned to use them for their phones, tablets, and other mobile devices, so it stands to reason the technology would easily adapt to the sex toy industry.”

The Lovehoney team agreed. “Rechargeable technology, in particular USB charging, is growing in stature and will continue to do so. USB charging allows us to produce a singular model for the UK, Europe, America and Australia.”

Bonny Hall, Lovehoney’s head buyer, pointed out, “USB charging is quick, convenient and economical. So much of the technology we use today is charged via USB, and with the Lovehoney Flash Vibrator this revolution has now made its way into the sex toy world.”

Lovehoney pointed out another trend: “Male sex toys and anal sex toys have proved big growth areas, suggesting the taboo associated with these products is slowly declining. Evidence that people are becoming interested in exploring anal sex is that the Slimline Butt Buddy is the third most popular sex toy sold on our site.”

An equally important factor is luxe products, according to Steve Bannister, founder and CEO of BMS Factory (XBIZ’s 2012 Sex Toy Company of the Year). “These days there are more and more brands appearing in the market that fall into the luxury category. So defining our position as the best luxury vibrator manufacturer is what we’re focusing on. That doesn’t mean to say that we won’t be coming out with entirely new game-changing products. Those are still in the works.”

Mainstream Penetration

Everyone contacted agreed that penetration into mainstream markets is crucial to pleasure products sales.

“Penetration into the mainstream is great for everyone,” said a Pipedream spokesman. “Many people were concerned when adult products began selling in pharmacies and other mainstream stores, but we don’t see this as a threat at all because it exposes customers to products they may have never used or seen before. So they purchase something like lube or a simple vibe at Walmart or a pharmacy, and with that initial purchase they become more curious, leading them to adult stores to buy the specialty items that you can’t find in your ordinary wellness store.”

Lorraine Byerley, vice president, marketing for We-Vibe, said, “Women are discovering their appetite for pleasure with or without a partner, and pleasure products are playing a bigger role. From the get-go We-Vibe made a conscious decision to ensure our brand would appeal to both the adult industry and mainstream industry. That branding decision is paying off and our products are appearing on drugstore shelves.

“And there’s plenty of cross-pollination taking place. In other words, one consumer may hear about We-Vibe on TV and drop by her local adult store; a second may read about We-Vibe in Cosmopolitan and drop by her local drugstore; a third may read about We-Vibe on Yahoo! and land on an etailer’s website.”

Lovehoney said that their “mainstream-friendly brands require extra consideration in terms of packaging (which is generally more inconspicuous and non-sexual) as well as the PR and marketing strategies which surround them. The PR strategy during the launch of Swoon, a range of pleasure products available at Boots, was more tame than many of our other items and focused on a vintage theme and the idea of romance and couple’s play rather than the fact that they were adult products. Pastel colors and stylized old-fashioned language on the packaging helped with successfully securing wholesale deals.”

BMS Factory’s Bannister said, “I’ve always known that adult products can and should have a place in the mainstream and have designed our vibes to be equally as friendly to that market. We don’t shape our designs after human organs; rather we focus on shapes that are ergonomically built to offer the most pleasure. Because of the non-intimidating look of our products, they end up becoming objects of beauty instead of something obscene.”

And from Colvin at CalExotics: “The mainstream brands are doing a great service to the industry as a whole as they are broadening people’s awareness of pleasure products. As people learn and discover, the next step is for them to begin exploring adult shops and online stores where they will be introduced to a wider array of adult products.”

Building Brand Awareness

Inseparable from market trends are a company’s strategies for building awareness of their brand.

“California Exotic Novelties does branding two ways,” said CEO Colvin. “One is our overall company brand. Our name speaks volumes in the industry and is known as one people can trust. That spills over to the consumer, as we are one of the most readily identified brands in the pleasure product market.

“Our second strategy for branding is through our collections. Each line under the CalExotics umbrella speaks to a different target demographic. There’s playful Posh, manly Adonis, the First Time collection, Shane’s World for young adults, Dr. Laura Berman for those drawn to wellness products, and Seductive Body & Soul for women and couples. The list goes on and on. This is why we say we have ‘Something for Everyone.’”

We-Vibe’s Byerley said, “We have created new merchandising tools and advertising tools that they use to help spread the message. Having an army of retailer representatives on the street and online has been a key strategy here and abroad. And, since many of our retailers have tried our products, they are all that much more passionate about promoting the We-Vibe brand. We further support our channel partners with our global brand awareness and media relations program.”

Lovehoney “builds brand awareness in several ways. One of these being through consumer public relations; our online community of over 40,000 members provide us with unique content and sex-related data, both of which frequently receive attention from media publications and magazines, which provides a high level of mainstream exposure.

“Visiting local and national events such as trade shows and speaking at retail events is an important aspect of building brand presence, particularly with regards to the promotion of our wholesale B2B transactions. These events allow us to confirm our brand presence internationally, nationally and on a local grass-roots level.”

From Pipedream: “We treat all of our lines as individual brands that each have respective catalogs, as well as their own Planogram. Using our award-winning Planogrammer software, we’re able to assist retailers in better merchandising their stores using these brands.”

New Products and Programs

BMS Factory’s Bannister said, “We’re looking to launch an evolved version of our award-winning Leaf collection called Leaf+. We’ve listened to our customers and are incorporating the feedback we’ve received into this new collection. These new products offer three vibration intensities and two functions (wave and pulse). We’re most excited to announce that we’ve figured out a way to get even more power out of our PowerBullet® vibrations. The difference in power really is amazing.

“Also, we realize that having a large bulky plug for each toy can be an annoyance for people, so we’ve included a convenient USB charging cord with all Leaf+ products allowing it to be charged anywhere in the world using any USB plug or adaptor.”

Lovehoney has launched “a collection of pharmacy products designed to complement ‘Fifty Shades of Grey The Official Pleasure Collection.’ ‘Fifty Shades of Grey The Official Sensual Care Collection’ is a range of nine intimate products that take inspiration from the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ novels. The range includes sensual bath and massage oils infused with Christian Grey’s signature scent of bergamot, sandalwood and musk as well as an after-spanking cream, a sex toy cleaner, condoms and three lubricants.

Neal Slateford, Lovehoney co-founder, said, “The aim is to distill the extraordinary sexual chemistry enjoyed by Christian Gray and Ana and capture it in a bottle. We have worked very closely with E. L. James to perfectly blend the oils and aromas she had in mind when she created Ana and Christian.”

July happens to be the release month for CalExotics’ Super Catalog. Said Colvin, “We come out with a complete catalog like this every other year, so this is a very special occasion. It contains our complete library of products. We’re also providing our customers with all the sales tools they need. They get product images, videos, brochures and visual merchandising plans to help them dress their stores.”

Pipedream promised to “debut three brand new collections that explore new materials and designs at the upcoming ANME show.”

Future Market Trends

Market-wise, what does the future hold?

Eric Lee of Blush Novelties said, “As our society begins to accept pleasure enhancing products more and more, I believe products that are more discreetly designed and incorporating high-tech features and functions will be what defines a good product. We at Blush are working hard towards this direction.

“There will always be a niche for the old realistic and extreme styles. These are the staples of our industry but the fastest growing segment will be products designed and developed for the mainstream—non-offensive looking products.”

Pipedream CEO Nick Orlandino pledged that his company “will continue to set the trends with our Planogrammer software, our linear merchandising, and our innovative product and packaging design.”

CalExotics’ Colvin said, “We approach trend-watching like the fashion industry. We keep tabs on the latest colors, styles, and themes. We people-watch, too. Keeping track on the latest celebrities and trend-setters is a great way to stay in touch with what’s on the horizon.”

At We-Vibe, said Byerley, “We invest in customer research. That’s how we uncovered that savvy consumers wanted high-quality, body-safe and eco-friendly pleasure products. Staying tapped into consumers and following cultural trends are the best approaches to uncovering future trends.”

Lovehoney has found that “with couples becoming more open and adventurous, we can say with some certainty that the market for couple’s toys will continue to thrive, as will high-quality materials and rechargeable items.”

The pervasive “Fifty Shades of Grey” effect has caused an “enormous rise in demand for bondage products across the board as well as the signature ‘silver balls’ or kegel balls. Such things are difficult to predict, but can be harnessed in a way which benefits the company if recognized swiftly and approached with enthusiasm.”

BMS Factory’s Bannister had the last word: “If there’s one thing I’ve learned for sure in this industry, it’s that customers are very savvy in what they purchase and will almost always go for the most advanced product available in their price range. We’re always looking into new technologies so we can stay on the cutting edge both in terms of design and functionality.

“With Swan [vibrators], we were the first collection of flexible 100% silicone covered products with full play area which as you can see, everyone is trying to do now. Instead of predicting a market trend, I’d rather create one. That’s how we’ve always done things here.”