It's Showtime: U.S. Novelty Companies Shine at Overseas Tradeshows

Dan Cameron

Arthur Calamaras has been in the adult business for 37 years, and most of his relationships are with American companies. But it’s no surprise to him — the United States has had an influence in many global industries, so why should it be any different when it comes to international adult tradeshows — where the stars and stripes are flying high?

“(The American) market is massive and has been established for a very long time; the South African market really only flourished 20 years ago when (Nelson) Mandela come into power and wrote the new constitution that gave people freedom to buy what they wanted,” says Calamaras, managing director for Platinum X Distributors’ Sexpo tradeshow (held in Johannesburg Sept 26–29).

Asia is the fastest growing economy in the world, and the adult novelties industry market in this area is a multi-billion dollar business. -Wilson Tong, Fairs Director, Asia Adult Expo

Africa’s largest adult expo is now in its seventh year, the fastest growing expo in South Africa with a growth of around 20 percent per year. “We are expecting 55,000 people to come through the doors this year, and it’s a complete sellout,” Calamaras says. “The market has been changing dramatically over the last few years, with women being the driving force behind the look and feel of the show. We believe our show is the greatest adult expo in the world — there is no adult expo that puts on non-stop adult entertainment on the main stage.”

An outdoor beer garden featured close to 40 South African bands appearing daily, while the main hall featured bondage lounges, swingers clubs, male and female lounges and the show’s first erotic festival and red light district. “It is a show to end all other shows. We also have one of the founding members of the Pussycat Dolls as our special guest.”

Calamaras notes that all the major American companies are represented, with California Exotic Novelties being the major sponsor. Also scheduled to appear were Doc Johnson, Pipedream Products, Nasswalk, Magic Silk, Baci Lingerie and other American companies.

“Pretty much all the American companies do well,” says Calamaras. “I think because of the great packaging, pricing and marketing material supplied. We don’t have any local products; everything is imported from overseas. American companies seem to be very well marketed, and American brands seem to be very respected for the quality.”

The Venus International Fair in Berlin (Oct. 17–20) has been presenting trends and innovations from the erotic and lifestyle sectors on an annual basis since 1997. With more than 250 exhibitors and about 2,000 specialist visitors from 60 different countries, it is the largest international trade fair of its kind — expected to draw some 32,000 attendees.

“Today, most of the erotic entertainment business is done via the internet, so exact financial figures are really hard to estimate,” says Walter Hasenclever of Borgmeier Public Relations. “Typical sex companies with shops and DVDs are losing sales volume. The new market on the net with free content, streaming sites and amateur cams keeps growing. Compared to the German gross domestic product, the estimated total revenue of the German erotic business of around 1.9 billion Euros seems rather low. The adult industry is offering new services, mostly in the internet, and consumers are happy.”

And they are frequently happy with American products in their horny little hands (and other body parts): “We always had big U.S. production, toy and other companies there. There have been changes in a normal way compared to the general market — like everywhere, there are less companies than 10 or 15 years ago.”

Hasenclever notes that this year, Berlin attendees will include (among others) Ben Wa International, Evil Angel, E.A. Productions, Karo’s Shoes Inc., Sara Jay, SDC.com and stars like Christy Mack.

“U.S. porn films are still very popular, because mostly they are produced in a very high-end quality. I think the budgets in the States are higher and they invest more, and they are more open for a risk. And sometimes they are more creative — compared to a sometimes more conservative market in Europe,” he says. “Otherwise, I think the trend to high-class, high-priced and fashiondesigned products — especially toys — comes from the European (especially German) market, and was adopted by U.S. companies. Of course, there is a big difference in marketing and the public notice. Europe and especially Germany have very open minds to erotic themes, and a lot of things are allowed.”

Further across the globe at the recently finished Asia Adult Expo in Hong Kong (held at the end of August), the American fruit was equally ripe for the picking.

“Asia is like a virgin land for local brands and high-quality products,” says Wilson Tong, fairs director for Vertical Expo Services Co. LTD in Hong Kong. “Sex is still taboo in some peoples’ eyes, but there should be no argument that Asia will be a new battlefield for international brands to enter. The AAE series are offering opportunities for B2B (Hong Kong) and B2B/B2C (Macau) for U.S. suppliers.”

The AAE started in 2008 in Macau, and is the first adult industry B2B show in Asia and Hong Kong — an important business hub in the Asia Pacific. Tong notes that Pipedream Products has participated in three AAE series and is focused on trade business, offering a wide range of products covering almost all adult product collections; it was the Platinum Sponsor of AAE Hong Kong 2013. Svakom also found success debuting its unique wireless video camera vibrator Gaga.

“Asia is the fastest growing economy in the world, and the adult novelties industry market in this area is a multi-billion dollar business. Annual growth rate is estimated for 5 percent in the next five years, and most importantly there are no remarkable local brands in the market. Foreign brands and foreign-produced products can no doubt add value in this market,” Tong says. “Asia has increasing consumption power but a lack of good choices for adult products. U.S. products are understood as good design and high-quality products — and the quality issue is an element that the Asian market is seriously concerned about. Also, U.S. companies exhibiting at AAE are offering a wide range of product choices — this is why the existing competitors in Asia are not competitive.”

Tong adds that U.S. suppliers’ major competitors are some European brands. “The U.S. is a mature market with many years of history. Some brands have built good customer relationships and keep customer loyalty going well.”