Upstart Novelty Companies Stake Place in Crowded Market

Bob Johnson

It’s not only the adult novelty “household names” that have benefited from the recent sex toy and pleasure product market frenzy. There’s a new “Doc” in the game who’s identified an electro stimulator niche, a line of new toys are now being marketed with color as their central selling point, and there are even products that make stainless steel their marketing hook.

Sniffing out the opportunity of an ever-expanding product category, new companies have sprouted up virtually overnight to meet the demands of novelty-hungry consumers. But what convinced them to get into the “shark tank” and allowed them to break into the “established fraternity of industry leaders,” as Rapture Novelties’ vice president of sales Janet T. describes the effort?

There is a lot of information about the sex industry but at the same time very little. So it makes it hard to determine if you are going down the right path and participating in the right events to introduce your product. -Sally Mallett, President of Dildudz

And electrical violet wand-maker, Dr. Clockwork (aka Michael Goldsmith), echoes Janet T. and says it’s a definite challenge for new brands to compete with “the big boys” in the industry. “Large and established companies have greater buying power, more staff, and more industry knowledge, as well as more connections and relationships that are stronger and established,” he says.

Goldsmith’s lament has merit. It’s one thing to identify a burgeoning marketplace but quite another to jump in and get a foothold.

The “Doc” says his company’s focus is on quality, user experience and customer service in an industry that “largely supports a cheap, quick and impersonal experience.” The selfdescribed “mad scientist” has been in business since 2008 seeking to fill a hole in a market he claims had substandard customer service and relatively little selection in the way of violet wand products and accessories.

“It is our attention to detail and our unique marketing that we feel shines through and allows us to grow and thrive. For a new and growing company that is still learning the ways of the world, it’s also mission critical to be able to swallow one’s pride and say, ‘I don’t know, but I’ll get back to you on that’ to a potential buyer, or to ask for help and advice from other companies who have already gone through those growing pains that we are going through.”

Montreal-based personal pleasure products company Bodi Spa Inc. sought its own help and took a different approach by launching its brand with women in mind last September during the International Lingerie Show (ILS) in Las Vegas. General manager Alain Elmaleh says that the idea was to create the “Bodi Spa Concept” that hinges on packaging specifically designed to reflect the changing attitude by women toward massagers.

The impetus for the products came after Elmaleh saw an invasion of new lines and toys, all looking similar to what was already on the market, that he says resulted in a glut of ordinary, cheaply made toys with packaging that resembled old adult DVDs rather than new toys.

“We decided to go about building brand awareness in the industry and among customers by attacking two fronts at the same time,” Elmaleh says. “The mainstream fronts, meaning attending mainstream trade shows around the world, such as spa, wellness and fitness shows, drugstore and pharmacy industry shows and advertising in their specialized magazines. We also attacked the adult toys and novelties front by attending numerous adult trade shows this year and heavily advertising in all major adult business magazines as well as creating a social media awareness for people to stay informed as to the evolution of the brand.”

So far, the up and coming line consists of 25 carefully picked wellness and personal massaging items and a steady stream of releases to keep the brand in the public’s eye.

Bodi Spa’s products feature modern box concept items to get a leg up, ranging from the very big massagers and vibrators such like the Almighty and Wonderwand to the vibrating Egg. There are also four different models of high performance vibrating cock rings for men with six more that were on the way at press time. There will be another dozen items released before the end of 2013.

The company is also readying to officially launch NOBU, an ultra-modern, sophisticated, exclusive new line of technologically advanced toys.

Although Bodi Spa considers itself a newcomer to the industry it’s already receiving notoriety by attending adult and mainstream trade shows. Elmaleh is especially excited when the company receives emails from either a spa in France, or an adult store in the U.K., that say how much they understand the direction and selection of toys. “It just tells me that we are on a great path, and I am really excited to see what the future holds for us.”

Another relative newcomer to the market, Maia Toys, that just celebrated its one-year anniversary, had its own way of breaking in. Longtime industry veteran and company director Mara Epstein says her color-inspired toys combine quality with affordability—the strategy behind Maia’s mission.

“My experiences working for upscale companies made me realize that not everyone has disposable income to buy expensive toys. So I decided to put a line together with my partners that offers stylized designs, using only 100 percent medical grade silicone, high-end packaging, and tying it all together with subliminal color therapy. Color plays a big part in our life that most people don’t think about. Color is a very influential source of information when making a purchasing decision. Customers generally make a buying decision with 90 seconds of interaction, and between 60–90 percent of the decision is based on color,” Epstein maintains.

But introducing an “idea” behind a product isn’t enough to break into a crowded field. It also takes brand awareness, something Epstein says she employed from the get-go.

The executive reveals that creating brand awareness is a process that requires listening to early feedback—both good and bad—and implementing changes where necessary. “You must be strong and believe in your brand,” Epstein says, and that requires tyro companies to invest some capital. “We participate in most trade show opportunities especially when we can spend time with distributors one-on-one like the XBIZ Retreat that does a wonderful job marrying business and pleasure. We show the line, educate and listen to all feedback. We attend distributor events, we have a ‘tester program’ and strong support with collateral for retailers,” Epstein says.

And it doesn’t stop there. The seasoned sales pro makes sure that although they rely heavily on their distributors, they also offer tools to retailers that help generate sales. Phase 1 is to build a strong foundation, Epstein says, and Phase 2 is to develop ancillary markets like Europe, etc., along with private label and other alternative markets.

“We attended the trade show in Shanghai that proved to be successful for us in Phase 2,” Epstein notes.

The good thing about a growing marketplace is that there’s room for new innovation. Like Maia that identified its “color” hook, Houston-based Dildudz’s “clothes for sex toys” found a unique niche. President and CEO Sally Mallett says the company was founded in May 2011 with the sole purpose of creating a way to have fun, and store sex toys in a safe and hygienic manner.

“I have young adult children and when both of my kids left the nest, one of them came home to visit and found my toys. It was an ‘aha’ moment for me since I really did not need my daughter finding my sex toys and telling her friends about it. Her comment to me was, ‘You should at least put it somewhere where it stays clean mom instead of wrapped up in a t-shirt,’” Mallett recalls.

One of the unique challenges Mallett faced bringing her product to market was finding reliable industry information. She says there are a number of companies and people whose advice is often shoddy and costly. “There is a lot of information about the sex industry but at the same time very little. So it makes it hard to determine if you are going down the right path and participating in the right events to introduce your product,” Mallett says.

She also warns that when it comes to pricing and packaging it seems everyone has an idea on what should be done—but that usually means the newbie doesn’t make a profit.

Elmaleh also notes some pitfalls, pointing to established adult companies seeking a potential goldmine. He says that as adult DVD sales decreased in the past four or five years, more and more distributors wanting to capitalize on their adult store clientele went on to start their new lines of adult toys, ill prepared, under financed, and for the most part with very little knowledge of the existing market, or what the market needs in terms of items, price points, and how to go about to market these items. A scenario that’s often the death knell for any new business.

Goldsmith saw a way around that barrier and relies on his own research to better compete. He says his marketing plans include word-of-mouth marketing as educators and experts. “Our customers are, and always have been, our greatest advocates. While this does not work for everyone, it works great for us; a significant portion of our sales come from us specifically not trying to close a sale.”

Because his products are unique—largely inspired by antique, quack medical devices with a steampunk flare—he mixes the old with the new in a way that is approachable and inviting. “We merge the sleekness and subtlety of modern design with a packaging that is both charming and whimsical with taste of the Victorian era, and bring it to a genre of products that is too often depicted as scary and unapproachable.”

Although Goldsmith says he’s also looking into a more traditional and formalized marketing strategy, his young company has “grown by leaps and bounds by keeping things grassroots.”

But not all new companies start from scratch. The OVO line of sex toys, engineered in Germany and introduced to North America in 2012, has joined forces with industry giant East Coast News (ECN) for sales and distribution.

Account executive Dana Divalli says despite the advantages and a collection that boasts a tremendous amount of development from the technological centers of Berlin—from aesthetics to functionality to merchandising—when entering a very wellestablished market, there are always challenges in differentiating a line from existing products. “Knowing that, OVO has been set up to stand out on several fronts: design, merchandising and value. Our product designs and displays have been honored with numerous international awards, including the prestigious ‘reddot’ design award. As for value, there are simply no other products in the high-quality/design segment that are priced as competitively as OVO. Capping it all off, we offer POP merchandising displays that are free with qualifying orders,” Divalli says.

Rapture Novelties, the sister company of another big player—adult DVD distributor Pulse Distribution — also launched in 2012, and debuted with a line of steel and leather fetish products and luxury vibrators, enjoying a similar competitive edge. But early obstacles included establishing a brand name and logo for the unknown products that could be molded into an image, was easy to advertise, and had visual appeal.

“We then had to develop a packaging plan that could accommodate a variety of product forms while being retail compatible and having a visual presence that would be remembered. Once we had a product game plan and a retail ready product line our next challenge was to get it known in first the wholesale market and secondly the consumer market,” Janet T. says.

Pulse has buoyed the start-up with an advertising campaign toward building Rapture’s recognition. This effort has concentrated on industry print media that’s been an adjunct to direct contact sales with Pulse customers, building on the distributor’s reputation of excellence in distributing and product service.

Janet T. says the ongoing sales tactics are being supplemented with a planned trade show presence and direct consumer advertising and promotions, coordinated with its wholesale and retail partners. In addition, an assortment of selling tools has been developed to assist customer partners with consumer awareness including product displays, an informational website, electronic images, product demonstration videos and print media materials.

“Rapture is proving to make market inroads and developing an established customers base to build onto,” the executive says, adding that the products have been selling well in their respective markets with favorable consumer acceptance. So much so the company is introducing a line of apparel and costume items consisting of corsets, lingerie and masks. Future product expansion will include additional corporal play items and electronic novelties.

Goldsmith also employs customer education. He notes that because the violet wand industry has been largely kept underground in the kink community for 15 years or so, educating consumers is key. His Dr. Clockwork avatar answers questions on Internet forums and teaches classes at both kink conventions as well as in brick-and-mortar stores, all while specifically never mentioning having a product to sell. “People get excited about what they’ve learned, and they seek us out. Most people who purchase our products know who we are, and ask for our products by name. More importantly, they tell their friends, who in turn, ask for us by name,” Goldsmith says.

Another advantage Rapture sees is its exclusive collaboration with a stainless steel manufacturer with state-of-the-art machinery. Together the company was able to develop unique designs and make them at competitive costs. The end result are products made of polished steel, some of which Janet T. says can pass as jewelry.

Dildudz’ Mallett is expanding to remain competitive. She says the brand has evolved into focusing exclusively in the novelty arena where as our other products such as the company’s privacy bag, lube bag and sleeves will now be marketed and sold separately under an even newer label — Monjoujoux — which translates to “my toys” in French.

And although Dr. Clockwork’s products haven’t change much in the last five years, Goldsmith says he’s gotten more efficient in his processes and products. “We put in a lot of time and effort early on in the conceptualization of the company, how we do business, and what we stand for.” Now, he says, it’s paid off and it’s the reason why people want to do business. “We do things differently than everyone else, are principled in our approach, and have a high level of community involvement,” Goldsmith says.

But Bodi Spa’s Elmaleh believes that up-andcoming companies will face even more challenges in the months to come. He sees a consolidation in the toy industry that will materialize faster than what was experienced by the DVD sector because the industry by nature is “a more sophisticated business, where there is very little room for amateurs.”

And like all start-ups, budding entrepreneurs must have the substantial finances required to stay afloat—and that’s no novelty at all.