Making The Future: Major Pleasure Product Trends for 2015

Alex Henderson

Although sex toys have been around for centuries, they have never been more plentiful or more profitable than they are in 2015. The business-oriented website The Street has estimated that annual sex toy revenues, which currently total about $15 billion annually, will leap to $52 billion by 2020. The sex toys/pleasure products sector of the adult entertainment industry continues to forge ahead, and important manufacturer trends to keep a close eye on as 2015 moves along include aggressive marketing to female consumers, strong promotions of BDSM related toys, more programs for educating retailers, and a greater emphasis on developing high-quality products.

Tom Stewart, founder/CEO of Sportsheets International, is optimistic about the effect that the new film adaptation of “‘Fifty Shades of Grey” will have on BDSM products.

The benefits of local manufacturing include real-time access to the factory floor, more rapid responses to product or process changes, and better quality control. -Chad Braverman, Doc Johnson

“The ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ movie is really going to kick off 2015,” Stewart asserted. “People have been placing their big orders in anticipation of the Valentine’s Day release of the movie. At Sportsheets, we feel that regardless of whether the movie is any good, it’s going to be a hit because of the curiosity factor. You’re going to have a lot of new customers coming into the stores or getting online and buying these items. In 2012, the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ book gave the entire sex toys industry a huge lift — the book almost doubled our sales in 2012, and I think the movie is going to do significantly more for us and for other manufacturers. The biggest result of the Fifty Shades book in 2012 wasn’t that the regulars came in and bought a lot more stuff — it was all the people who had never been in an adult store before. And with the release of this movie, couples who haven’t been into an adult store before are going to go in and get some sex toys.”

Susan Colvin, president and CEO of California Exotic Novelties, also has high hopes for the “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie and stressed that the company has been aggressively promoting its BDSM items in anticipation. “Obviously, the Fifty Shades phenomenon is on everyone’s mind,” Colvin explained, “and savvy retailers are preparing for what we all hope is a huge renewed interest in BDSM products. California Exotic Novelties has retailers covered in this category.”

Stewart stressed that for manufacturers of sex toys, educating retailers about their products will be vitally important in 2015. “In-store trainings for retailers are far and above the best thing that manufacturers can do,” Stewart emphasized. “When you get in front of the sales staff in the store, that’s one of the most effective ways for manufacturers to explain their products so that the sales people understand what they do and how to sell them. It’s important to talk to the customers and listen to their questions and understand what the consumer is asking, but as much as I love doing that, I don’t think it’s nearly as effective as coming in and training the store clerks.”

Colvin noted: “California Exotic Novelties was the first manufacturer to send representatives on the road to meet store staff and offer trainings, and we still do it today. We help the retailer with promotions, setting up their store with visual merchandising plans and signage.”

Chad Braverman, chief operating officer for Doc Johnson, predicted that “reshoring” — companies manufacturing their products at home instead of in foreign countries — will be a positive trend for sex toy manufacturers.

“The benefits of local manufacturing include real-time access to the factory floor, more rapid responses to product or process changes, and better quality control,” Braverman observed. “While the cost of labor for American manufacturing is still generally more expensive than outsourcing in the short-term, the value of American manufacturing can no longer be ignored. An additional motivator for reshoring is marketing-based: consumer demand for American-made products is on the rise.

According to a new nationally representative survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, 78 percent of Americans would rather buy an American product when given a choice between a product made in the U.S. and an identical one made abroad. And people would pay extra to buy American. More than 60 percent of all respondents indicated they’d buy American-made products even if those cost 10 percent more than imported versions. More than 25 percent said they’d pay at least an extra 20 percent.”

As sex toy manufacturers evolve, so do the ways in which consumers use their products — and Stewart pointed to pegging (heterosexual women using strap-on dildos on male partners) as a perfect example. “Women have become the main customers for sex toys,” Stewart noted. “The suburban housewife is our new best friend. And one of the biggest shifts we’re seeing is with heterosexual couples pegging, where the woman will put on a strap-on and fuck her husband in the ass with it. We’ve been making strap-ons for over 15 years, and way back when, they were sold primarily to lesbians. But the demographic has shifted, and the majority of strap-on sales now are heterosexual couples.”

Steve Thompson, global marketing manager for LELO, finds that the sex toy consumers of 2015 are demanding higher quality than the sex toy consumers of five or 10 years ago. “Customers are becoming more discerning all the time, which is causing an increase in quality across the board,” Thompson asserted. “As recently as five years ago, silicone sex toys were a luxury; now, silicone makes up the majority of soft toys — and jelly rubber has largely been chased out. This is good for everybody.”

Thompson added: “Sex toys are becoming more and more refined all the time, able to more and more accurately target erogenous zones and please more people more satisfyingly. Product design has come in leaps and bounds over the last decade: if you were to turn the clocks back to 2005, many sex shop shelves would still be stocked exclusively with obviously phallic products and flesh tones. The trend now is toward less naturalistic designs and more modern, abstract shapes and colors.”