2016 Retail Report: Trends in Distribution

Alex Henderson

Whether their focus is physical or digital — or a combination of the two — distributors remain an important part of the adult entertainment industry. And that certainly holds true in the sex toys/pleasure products sector, which in 2016, benefits from a combination of physical and digital systems. Brick-and-mortar stores and online websites both fuel the sale of sex toys, and in 2016, distributors are thinking in both physical and digital terms as they discuss everything from smartphone apps to sex toy materials to shipping options.

Larry Garland, founder and CEO of the Colorado-based Eldorado Trading Company, asserted that before and after Valentine’s Day, distributors of pleasure products will be especially mindful of items made with high-quality materials. “Obviously, Valentine’s Day is huge,” Garland told XBIZ. “Bachelorette is right on its heels. We anticipate a continued growth in Pride products going into the summer of 2016. Consumers are looking for purer ingredients in both toys and lubes. Another thing: products have been adding high-tech features like app-enabled devices.”

We see it as our responsibility to create a strong portfolio of brands that we carry, and to offer our retail partners all the support that they need and ask what works best in their countries or with their customers. —Elcke Wieffering, Eropartner Distribution

Jon Vogt, Eldorado’s director of purchasing, told XBIZ: “The high-tech stuff must be easy to understand and easy to use. There is also a trend that is happening — or that we are trying hard to make happen — of products that promote sexual health and wellness.”

Elcke Wieffering, head of purchasing for the Netherlands-based Eropartner Distribution, emphasized that while technology can be great for business, customers should not be made to feel overwhelmed by it. “We have noticed the rise of interest in virtual reality technology and related products as well as the increasing use of interactive technology in pleasure products,” Wieffering told XBIZ. “For us, this means that we have to find a balance between tech and sexy. You want to offer products with cutting-edge technology, but that also comes with the challenge of translating that to our retail customers and from them, to the end-consumer.”

Wieffering observed that in 2016, one of the challenges for distributors is comprehending the ways in which different countries vary in their use of pleasure products. “As we operate in almost every European country, we have to translate a brand into each specific market,” Wieffering explained. “This requires us to understand a brand as well as we can and work with our retail partners to introduce that brand in their home countries. We see it as our responsibility to create a strong portfolio of brands that we carry, and to offer our retail partners all the support that they need and ask what works best in their countries or with their customers. We have noticed that retailers look at their distributor when it comes to being introduced to new products and brands. These days, there are a lot more brands than, let’s say, 10 years ago, and we expect the number to continue to grow — which is a good thing. But at the same time, it poses challenges for us as a distributor to monitor media and trends and find those products and brands that are a true addition to our offerings.”

Tony Gonzalez, managing director for the U.K.-based Net 1on1 Wholesale, predicted that the demand for speedy dropship services will accelerate this year. “Retailers in the worldwide sex toy market are demanding good value, speedy delivery and most importantly, a convenient service which integrates with their business,” Gonzalez told XBIZ. “As a result, dropship services — where wholesalers such as Net 1on1 fulfill the orders of their customers for them — are becoming increasingly popular. I predict that these distributor services will adapt and offer better convenience to meet demand in 2016. We are pioneers of the dropship service in the U.K.’s adult toy industry, and we recently expanded our offerings to retailers along these lines by redeveloping our website with automated API technology. This means that we can automatically receive, package and deliver orders placed on the websites of our retail customers, saving them time and sometimes, the cost of holding stock.”

According to Gonzalez, the mainstreaming of sex toys will continue as 2016 moves along — and that will be beneficial for distributors. “Popular culture is making sex toys fashionable in the mainstream, and as the worldwide sex toy industry is now worth an estimated £15 billion, it is inevitable that the market will grow and distributors will feel a knock-on effect from retailers,” Gonzalez noted. “To add to this, Valentine’s Day and buoyant worldwide economies mean that people are likely to be feeling a little more flush with their money in the coming months.”

Gonzalez added that in the coming months, widespread interest in BDSM will continue to benefit distributors of sex toys. “Another interesting and growing trend is bondage,” Gonzalez observed. “Our Bound to Please and Bound to Tease product lines of bondage sex toys performed exceptionally well last year, boosted by the phenomenal success of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ — and we expect this to grow as the saga unravels.”

Glenn Wilde, senior sales executive for the U.K.-based ABS Holdings, stressed that innovative smartphone apps will continue to make their presence felt in the sex toys/pleasure products sector in the months ahead. “I think the market on the whole is looking very strong,” Wilde told XBIZ. “Sex sells and always will. Both suppliers and wholesalers need to be aware, though, that our end customers need new thrills to keep them interested. We must all ensure that innovation, quality and availability are the bywords for the year ahead. Last year, we saw a massive increase in toys that can link couples together over vast distances thanks to phone apps, etc., and this sector will continue to grow. Due to advances in technology and the relative costs going down, we will see many more toys — both couple and solo toys — take advantage of these advancements. It will be interesting to see how the base, emotive desires of humans and the cold, yet functional actions of this new technology can be combined to create amazing new products that bring new or enhanced sensations to us all.”