Across the broad universe of the adult entertainment industry, there’s a bifurcation in progress that tracks along the lines of divergent industry sectors. Businesses and revenue models that are content dependent continue to struggle, with some hoping to supplant their once mighty subscription revenues with advertising dollars and making a difficult transition to the ad-supported revenue model.
On the other side of the fence, the pleasure products sector is flourishing, with a seemingly endless flow of new and sophisticated devices and popular pleasure-enhancement products ushering in an era of growth and palpable optimism.
I think whereas there were certain separate regions of the international market doing well before, there is now a definite cohesion with every continent, and you can see it in the trade events. -Tony Gonzalez, Net1on1
Nowhere is this ‘good vibe’ more evident than in the international market for pleasure products, where companies are reporting strong sales, sustained growth, and several important indications of a strong and stable market.
“It’s stronger than ever,” Tony Gonzalez, managing director for Net1on1 said of the international market. “There are some excellent products being manufactured overseas with a great variety of unique selling points to boot. Manufacturers are listening to consumer and retailer feedback more than ever before, resulting in quality product, while investment in strong marketing and PR is also at the forefront of company’s minds.”
Kate Hodgson-Egan, customer relations director for ABS Holding, echoed Gonzalez’s enthusiasm, saying that it’s “a really exciting time to be involved in the adult industry” – and not just for companies that have international reach.
“There are plenty of opportunities for growth, both locally and internationally,” Hodgson-Egan told XBIZ. “Brands that are doing particularly well internationally have really worked hard to develop their customer awareness locally and abroad, ensuring that their brands and products are instantly recognizable to potential customers.”
Gonzalez and Hodgson-Egan both emphasized the importance of good branding, and credited in part some particularly prominent adult product brands for the current strength and growth of the market.
“Brand recognition is now taken seriously as a result with some really strong names coming out of the international woodwork, such as Fleshlight, Ovo, Sliquid, and OhMiBod to name but a few,” Gonzalez said. “I think whereas there were certain separate regions of the international market doing well before, there is now a definite cohesion with every continent, and you can see it in the trade events. The same brands will be exhibiting at them all; everyone is aware that you need to be seen by every market to in order to generate sales interest.”
Hodgson-Egan noted that what sets these companies apart is a true understanding that a brand is more than just a logo or a mission statement; brands are identities, and in order to build and shape that identity, companies have to be consistent and strategic in how they present their products and their corporate personality.
“There really is a fine line between being a brand and thinking you’re a brand,” Hodgson-Egan said. “To really be a brand, you need to have the consumer on board and know your product inside and out. Brands who see the most success internationally have created consumer awareness themselves. Great examples of innovative brands that have done this would be Lelo, We-Vibe and Fleshlight.”
In addition to strong brands, another driving force behind the strength of the international pleasure product market has been the increasing technological sophistication of the devices themselves, adding a ‘techy’ novelty factor on top of the essential physical thrill.
According to Eropartner Purchaser Elcke Wieffering, one particularly strong product category of late has been the remote-controlled vibrators, particularly those that can be controlled by smartphones and other mobile devices.
Noting that previous generations of remote-controlled vibrator devices came with remote controls that were easily lost and served no other purpose, Wieffering said it made perfect sense for developers of remote-controlled vibrators to integrate mobile technology and to take advantage of the smartphone craze among consumers.
“With technology constantly evolving and more and more of us relying solely on our smart phones, it’s no surprise that sex toy manufacturers are looking to making things more convenient for their customers by utilizing Bluetooth technology to control their toys through apps the consumer can download to their phone,” Wieffering said.
The entire international market is not created equal, naturally; some countries simply are denied territory from the perspective of the adult product distributor, regardless of how in-demand the products might be in that country. As such, international distributors are wise to focus their efforts on territories that have the right mix of commercial viability and regulatory permissibility, so to speak.
The United Kingdom, despite its rather difficult recent relationship with “extreme” pornography and a variety of regulations directed at companies that provide content, has proven to be a very lucrative market for adult pleasure product distributors.
In the case of ABS Holding, a big part of their success in the U.K. flows naturally from being U.K.-based themselves, Hodgson-Egan observed.
“As a U.K.-based erotic wholesaler, we really understand the U.K. market, and they’ve always been really supportive of us,” Hodgson-Egan said. “At the moment, I’d say our main market is the U.K. and Ireland. That said, we have seen plenty of positive interest from other regions too, which is always encouraging for the future.”
Gonzalez said that while Net1on1 has seen outstanding success in the U.K., as well, it’s crucial to note that what really drove the company’s growth in the international market has been “strengthened and targeted sales and marketing strategies” outside of the U.K.
“This includes (but isn’t limited to) the like of Cypress, Romania, Russia, Poland, Australia, and the United States,” Gonzalez said. “Expanding our reach is vital for us to grow as a company, so researching cultural market trends is always a good way to stay ahead of the game.”
Going forward, Gonzalez, Wieffering and Hodgson-Egan all emphasized the importance of distributors and retailers keeping a close eye on legal and regulatory developments that could impact their companies, and to be aware that these challenges are going to be different from one geographic market to the next.
“Something which has been an issue for some manufacturers or distributors looking to sell certain herbal medicines, such as arousal tablets or sprays, are the laws to consider on a region or country basis,” Gonzalez said. “Here in the U.K. we have the MHRA which is a governing body that enforces legislation for products such as this, however our laws vary to other countries and we always make sure to check before committing to stocking any herbal products.
“Legislation regarding materials and contents of consumable products differ nationally, and I would recommend these to be double-checked. It’s the small things like this that often don’t get checked and can result in major penalties down the line if not signed off.”