The decision to sell dildos and cock rings is fraught with many of the same questions of specificity that plague any retail shop. Does one focus sales on a particular segment of the buying public, refining that demographic as narrowly as you can and be perceived not only as working for that community but being of that community?
Or, conversely, do you widen your scope and appeal to as wide an audience as possible, so as to attract potential buyers from many communities?
The LGBT market is a strong one — and a retailer that can cater to the community in a discreet, professional and informative way is going to win out every time against a retailer that is uninformed on the LGBT market, trends and needs. -Josh Ortiz Accounts Manager, Eldorado
For the performer, director and entrepreneur known as Chi Chi LaRue, the answer to that question was obvious.
Five years ago, LaRue, born Larry David Paciotti, was a well-known gay porn director and personality. She had been intimately involved in both sides of the porn video industry — straight and gay — and decided, at that point, to open her own Los Angeles retail front called “Chi Chi Larue’s.”
“Basically I’m a brand,” she said. “When we opened the store in West Hollywood, because of my notoriety in the gay community, calling it anything other than ‘Chi Chi LaRue’s’ wouldn’t have been a good idea.”
She only sells videos she produces, though her biggest retail sellers are the dildos modeled after male porn stars — Aron Ridge, Adam Killian, Brent Everett and Johnny Hazzard are four of her top items.
True as well for California Exotic Novelties, whose president and CEO, Susan Colvin, said a brand name could help drive a product.
“We’ve found that a big brand name, like COLT, has a bigger impact on sales,” Colvin said. “People recognize the iconic name in male entertainment and that’s ultimately what helps propel them to make a purchase. That coupled with offering high-quality, durable, reliable products, is why COLT Gear is a winner.”
LaRue, as a personality, is unequivocally of the gay community, a necessity, she said, when she just started out.
“When I got into the business 30 years ago you had to deliver your promotion to people to see it. You would go to gay bars,” she said. “Now it’s like lube companies are sponsoring big gay parties, cock ring manufacturers. They’re all jumping on that bandwagon.”
Colvin agrees. Getting your product in front of the audience is of prime importance.
“Our participation in Pride events happens through the support of our customers,” she said. “We partner with them, since ultimately, the consumer awareness and sales, will be driven to their location.”
Despite her role within the gay community, LaRue does recognize that women are interested in buying what she sells, and she does alter the packaging to include words like “for her,” so as not to alienate any potential customers.
“In fact, a very, very large portion of our customers are women,” she said. “There are so many fan girls out there for gay porn stars, it’s so funny.”
Rob Reimer, vice president of marketing and sales for Perfect Fit, said his company goes above and beyond making sure no potential client is disaffected, holding meetings and focus groups to design packaging that is inclusive, by intention.
“We don’t want to alienate anybody. You’re not going to see pictures of gay porn stars on our packaging, that might scare a straight guy away,” Reimer said.
“We have products that are really popular with straight couples. More than half of what we sell is bought by straight people.”
For example, Perfect Fit sells a penile extender Reimer said has been very well received among heterosexual couples.
“The ‘Fat Boy’ is really popular in the straight world,” he said.
Larry Garland is, in some ways, the polar opposite of Chi Chi LaRue. Garland’s company, Eldorado, began by selling Native American jewelry to record stores back in the 1970s. When the market changed and Native American jewelry became far less of a novelty — Kmart started selling knock-offs — Garland transitioned into a so-called “head-shop,” selling bongs and paraphernalia.
Then emerged the War on Drugs, and Garland transitioned again, purchasing a line called Kama Sutra, successfully completing the triad of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.
“It’s been a good run, and it’s been a lot of fun,” he said.
The government, thinking Eldorado still sold bongs to weedheads, raided in 1991, but once all that was cleared up Garland ramped up the business in part by appealing to as many markets as the company could.
“We target several markets during the year — Valentine’s Day, bachelorette, Halloween — we target as many things as we see a match in,” he said. “The Pride catalog went out on April 4.”
That being said, Josh Ortiz, an accounts manager at Eldorado, said it pays to be informed about the community a retailer is targeting.
“The LGBT market is a strong one — and a retailer that can cater to the community in a discreet, professional and informative way is going to win out every time against a retailer that is uninformed on the LGBT market, trends and needs,” Ortiz said.
Saying you’re marketing to the “gay community” means you’re marketing to a hugely disparate group of people, with many different tastes. As such Ortiz said Eldorado attempts to market to a wide range, within that community.
“Colt, TitanMan, Perfect Fit — all of these are great for the gay male community. On the lesbian front, SpareParts and Wet For Her are amazing products,” Ortiz said. “Some of the best products for the trans-masculine community are Doc Johnson’s Pack it Heavy and Pack it Light packers — as well as the Sailor soft packs.”
Eldorado doesn’t specifically participate in any LGBT events, but in May, the company ran a social media promotion in preparation for Pride on its Facebook page highlighting the Perfect Fit brand.
Interestingly for LaRue, inserted deep into the gay community as she has been for so long, her best-selling retail product is one she believes to be a big hit with women.
Though they do license gay male porn stars’ penises for reproduction as dildos, they do a bit of enhancement. The trick, however, is to not go too far. “If it’s six inches, we make it 6 and a half,” she said.
Nonetheless, LaRue’s best-selling product is the company’s biggest.
“We’ve got this dildo called The Blackballed. It could be a missile. It’s a gigantic huge monster of a dildo,” LaRue said. “It’s almost like a joke but its not because its our best seller. I don’t know who’s buying it, but I think it really sells a lot to women.”