Pleasure Products: Beyond Pleasuredome

Dan Cameron

Virtually every day, Bob Wolf receives an email proposal from a factory asking about going into production on high-end, organic looking silicone toys. But it’s a trend Synergy Erotic will steer clear of.

“For the time being, it looks like the high-end ‘luxury’ items — retail of $100 or more — are prospering, but it’s a market quickly becoming over-saturated,” says the company president. “At some time in the near future, the over-saturation will crash the market. I’ve seen it far too often in my 35 years. Instead, Synergy Erotic will focus on entry- to mid-level toys loaded with features because we believe there are far more potential buyers for toys under $100.”

We are constantly looking for ways to grab the customers’ attention in the store as we know they are bombarded with stuff as soon as they walk in the door. -Andy Green President, Xgen Products

More specifically, Wolf says they continue to see a strong market for waterproof toys, which brings up another issue — many toys are marketed as waterproof, yet truly aren’t.

“They’re really just ‘splash proof’ enough so the consumer can try and keep them clean. We differentiate Synergy Erotic from the competition by making truly submersible toys the consumer can take in the shower, the hot tub, the bath, wherever; if our packaging says ‘100% submersible’, we mean it. Our displays at the recent International Lingerie Show included water tanks with toys submerged for the entire show, and not a single toy failed!”

He notes that functionality is still a key, but not nearly as important as it once was because the widespread availability of the necessary circuitry, at very reasonable costs, has made functionality much easier to attain. Synergy’s “bread and butter” pieces continue to be its 5” Vibe-Me Petite (a powerful, little personal vibrator that has a long history in the adult industry) and the Excite-Her Bullet (which is 100% submersible, battery pack and all).

Despite Wolf’s prediction, Steve Bannister, president of BMS Factory, sees a continued trend of luxury items taking the main stage with consumers. “A well-built item that will last instead of the disposable ones of the past are more of a priority in today’s markets. These days, end users are looking for something that isn’t as graphic and more so something that would fit into a spa environment, like a luxury wand massager or other item with nice, gentle curves.”

Of Masters and Men

At Pipedream Products, Sabrina Dropkick says the Fetish Fantasy items are always in demand. Bestsellers include everything from classic cuffs to its Shock Therapy line, while its alternative materials collections like Icicles, Ceramix and Pure Aluminium have also piqued interest. The new Pipedream Extreme Dollz have also stirred up lots of excitement being the first of their kind on the market in years, Dropkick says.

“Consumers are becoming more and more educated about materials, and they want it at the cheapest price. The internet makes it really easy to find anything and everything at competitive prices. They want the safest, nonporous materials, and they also just want to see something new. The more innovative and the more eye-catching, the better.”

At California Exotic Novelties, President and CEO Susan Colvin has also noticed the fetish trend.

“We’re still riding the wave for light BDSM and fetish play gear. Now that women and couples got a taste, they can’t get enough of products that explore role playing and fantasy scenarios,” she says. “We’re adding six new toys to the Scandal Collection, which will be unveiled at the July ANME Show. The amazing Entice Accessories — which take nipple play to a whole new level — are already on their second shipment.”

Popular pleasure products also include the dual-stimulator Jack Rabbit, with new styles also coming out at ANME: Passion Pals (available in Jack Rabbit, Diving Dolphin, Fluttering Butterfly and the Humming “G”), slim versions of the waterproof Jack Rabbit made for beginners, intermediates and advanced users. Also getting a makeover at the show will be the Pocket Exotics: “Modern, cohesive packaging and a rounded-out selection of products will make the line into an easily merchandised collection.”

While women and couples have long been the primary target demographics, Colvin says that men are rediscovering sex toys — with strokers, enhancers, pumps and lifelike toys leading the charge. “This is why we’ve seen great success with Adonis, Apollo, COLT, Precision Pumps and others,” she says. “These are muststock items as men are becoming more comfortable with toys. We have a new generation of men who are more open with pleasure products. We hear it all the time as men are starting to ask questions and are more willing to explore than previous generations.”

That’s why CalExotics teamed up with Vivid Entertainment to unveil the Vivid Raw Collection (a “revolutionary collection of men’s toy”) at the ANME Show. “We all know that the novelty industry had its beginnings alongside DVDs in retail stores. As trends shifted, many stores became more women and couples friendly,” Colvin says. “However, there is still a need for toys that guys want! Men still buy sex toys.”

CalExotics isn’t the only company on board the testosterone train. Krista Arendsen, social media marketing executive for Lovehoney Ltd., says its Tracey Cox EDGE range is also doing strong. It’s a range of rings, a stroker and a pump designed with male performance in mind. “The packaging is masculine and mainstream. It looks like it could sit alongside any male grooming product in a drugstore/chemist. Men are becoming more concerned with being at their physical peak, so they’ll go to the gym for their abs and use a penis pump to strengthen erections.”

Kathryn Hartman, sales and marketing director for Nasstoys, notes that their Ram Collection for Men feature some of the hottest inflatables on the market — and says that across the board, online shopping (especially when there is free shipping) is enticing to consumers.

Doc Johnson sports a collection of men’s health and wellness aids called OptiMALE that is selling well, “which is no surprise considering the current market trend towards high-quality materials and designs,” says COO Chad Braverman.

OptiMALE consists of 30 pieces, ranging from cock rings made of luxurious black and slate silicone to an array of sexual enhancement creams, sprays and gels made from premium natural ingredients like tea tree oil, aloe and Vitamin E.

“Of course, the trend that continues to dominate the pleasure product market is still the adult-star branded product,” Braverman adds. “We just released a highly anticipated item — the Belle Knox Fresh Meat Stroker, a pocket pussy molded directly from adult starlet Belle Knox herself — and it has already become one of our top sellers of all time. Our James Deen Black and Blue collection — which features a sleek line of BDSM products — as well as the James Deen Signature Cock, is also exceptionally popular.”

Lavi Yedid, director of operations for NS Novelties, says consumers are paying closer attention to quality. “The influx of high-end products is bringing a realization to the market that consumers are looking beyond price point. They’re interested in products that are odorless, perform well and are attractively packaged. Because of this, manufacturers excel when they’re able to offer a superior product at an attractive price point.”

Yedid says more and more bondage toys are being sold. The influence of “Fifty Shades of Grey,” as well as popular media/TV shows embracing sexuality as an important part of our lives, has consumers looking for products to experiment with in the bedroom, Yedid says. Glass products (like the Crystal Glass line) are selling well, as are small beginner anal toys (Tinglers).

Braverman concurs, noting that BDSM items have moved solidly into the mainstream. “I can’t overstress how powerful of an impact the books have had on the sex toy market. Not so long ago, BDSM products were considered ‘niche’ items, but since the massive popularity of ‘50 Shades of Grey,’ more and more consumers are asking for products like whips, restraints and masks. We have two BDSM-centric lines: the James Deen Black and Blue Collection, and a softer, more feminine line called Black Rose. Both are selling like crazy.”

Arendsen says that Lovehoney’s hot-selling remote control love eggs are “the next phase of the ‘Fifty Shades’ effect. People who liked the silver balls are looking for silver balls 2.0 — and a vibrating, remote controlled egg fits the bill perfectly. It’s also a discreet way to take fun outside the bedroom without being an exhibitionist.”

Arendsen adds that glass — both dildos and butt plugs — are popular: “People are looking to invest in a toy they know will last. Glass is also aesthetically beautiful, easy to clean and provides a firmness you just can’t get from other materials.”

Packing it In

“A big change is happening,” notes BMS Factory’s Steve Bannister. “Maybe it’s the weather with it moving into warmer temperatures, but people want lots of vibrant, powerful colors instead of muted-down, more sensual pastel shades. It shows the changing attitude of consumers towards a bold product that makes a statement. The stigma that sex toys once had as something to hide is dissipating. For us, our Leaf+ collection is a big hit on the shelves, and we’re anticipating our new PalmPower Recharge massager to be a home run as well.”

With more items entering the luxury range, Bannister says there’s more pressure for each manufacturer to distinguish their product from the rest. However, packaging is also seeing a chance to be more fun than before: “The most important part is to find that fine line between fun, trendy and luxury.”

Doc Johnson’s Chad Braverman says that sex toys are more accessible than ever, largely thanks to a move toward sleeker, more sophisticated packaging. In the pleasure product market, he notes, females in particular tend to favor a look that is more stylish and subtle, rather than explicit or “aggressive”.

“The packaging for the James Deen Signature Cock is a perfect example of successful marketing in the modern sex toy landscape: the box cover features a large image of Deen grinning at the camera and covering his ‘package’. Customers can then open the front flap to view the product — the actual ‘package’. It’s light, sexy, and fun — and that’s what our customers love about it. Needless to say, it is also one of our all-time bestsellers.”

Krista Arendsen at Lovehoney says the trend for neutral, less “porny” packaging continues.

“There’s definitely been a shift towards making packaging and marketing couple-friendly. While this is great for some products, it’s important that products don’t lose their target market or become bland and generic,” she says. “I think there is still room for improvement when it comes to stating the materials used in products on packaging — the consumer is demanding it, and the industry needs to meet those demands voluntarily to help market their products. It’s the same as food — we’re putting things in our bodies, and packaging needs to be as helpful as possible and make us feel safe and reassured.”

At XGEN Products, President Andy Green says packaging is his favorite area of the business.

“We are constantly looking for ways to grab the customers’ attention in the store as we know they are bombarded with stuff as soon as they walk in the door. We have added four languages to all of our packaging; French, English, Spanish and German. This supports our worldwide partners and also our ever-changing mix of nationalities within the USA.”

The main trend Green sees overall is that people are still flocking to quality over quantity. “They want something that lasts and can be used for years; they are also looking for products with a warranty, which the Bodywand has.”

The line of massagers continues to be XGEN’s most popular product, and this year it has decided to take these items to the next level of performance and safety. “All models will be CE and UL compliant, which no other wand company can claim. Ours go through vigorous testing to achieve these certifications. We are also taking our bestsellers such as the big blue plug in and giving them more features such as massage patterns with corresponding speeds. New displays will also be forthcoming, and tester programs to support the retail push.”

Bob Wolf of Synergy Erotic says the look of the packaging is just as important as the size, so the company uses only bright, bold artwork, colors and graphics “as opposed to what appears to be the industry standard of scantily clad models. Numerous studies over the years have shown female customers respond more favorably to products that avoid female models on packaging as opposed to those that use them, and since women are Synergy Erotic’s primary target market, we make every attempt to develop packaging artwork that entices customers as opposed to embarrassing or intimidating them.”