The sex toys/pleasure products sector of the adult industry is thriving not only in the United States and Canada, but in many different parts of the world — and companies that create or manufacture erotic toys are forming alliances with distributors and retailers internationally. A company might have a U.S. or Canadian address, but maximizing profits often means seeking partnerships in Europe, Latin America and Japan as well as Australia and New Zealand.
Michael Bassett, managing director of the Australian distributor LonBrook, stressed that pleasure product manufacturers seeking to broaden their scope internationally must have savvy allies in the markets they are hoping to penetrate.
Succeeding in your own country is one thing, but tapping into international markets is a whole new ballgame.
“If the manufacturer doesn’t have the strategy to open their own subsidiary companies internationally, then they require competent local partners,” Bassett told XBIZ. “Distributors/importers/agents all survive financially, depending on their abilities to sell other people’s products in their local territory. They are chosen because of their track record and ability, and that performance is constantly monitored by both parties. That’s the beauty of non-contractual relationships: if it’s not working, it’s quite easy and reasonably painless to move apart again — unlike a divorce.”
Modern digital technology, Bassett added, has made it easier than ever for pleasure product manufacturers to network with distributors in different parts of the world — although they should still make a point of attending trade shows, he advised.
“There is nothing better than the face to face to establish trust and worthiness; then, it’s phone calls, Skype and e-mail,” Bassett explained. “This business doesn’t rely on written contracts, and it’s become rather competitive; so, regular communication is key — and at least one annual meeting in person is desirable. The trade shows offer a wonderful opportunity to meet personally and also, view products and strategize. Highly recommended.”
Based in the Netherlands, Eropartner Distribution has provided European distribution for many North American manufacturers. And Chris Bakker, Eropartner’s CEO, emphasized that it is crucial for manufacturers who want to broaden their reach in European countries to ally themselves with companies that know Europe inside and out.
“The stores need promotional materials to promote the product and explain the concept,” Bakker told XBIZ. “It is important to create a demand for the product. In Europe, we as a distributor are using several tools to create that demand. We know our market very well. Most important is to have a product that is unique, innovative and that a certain target group is willing to buy — and that satisfies their needs.”
Bakker added, “We meet at trade shows in person, face to face. On a regular basis, we have Skype and/or telephone meetings — and, of course, 1,000 emails. Our online platform, called VendorPlaza, gives insights in the commercial results, forecasts, returns and sales channels.”
Looking ahead to 2018, Bakker predicted that director James Foley’s film adaptation of British author E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades Freed” — the third film in the BDSM-themed “Fifty Shades of Grey” series — will be great for the sex toys/pleasure products market internationally.
“The third ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ movie is coming out early next year,” Bakker noted. “‘Fifty Shades’ has had a big influence in the last years and will still have in 2018. We will see more and more virtual reality and app-controlled products.”
Raj Armani, co-founder and COO of IMBesharam.com (which caters to the Indian market), asserted that building relationships in other parts of the world has been an important factor in the company’s success.
“We were able to advance our philosophy of American brands for Indian hands by partnering up with local influencers and logistics providers and extending free shipping from the U.S. to India — a service unheard of from international merchants — all in an effort to win the hearts of the audience,” Armani told XBIZ. “That helped us build not just a store, but a story of success in waters treaded by few and trust earned of a nation with the largest middle class in the world.”
The Flensburg, Germany-based Orion Wholesale has been in business for more than 30 years — and Hake Christiansen, Orion’s senior key account manager, noted that internationally, the sex toys/pleasure products sector has come a long way since the 1980s and 1990s.
“The consumers are more open to sex toys,” Christiansen told XBIZ. “The mid-life and the younger generations like to have some additional kicks for their sex lives — for example, with toys, which both can use together. The market is still growing. Love toys have been developed to a much higher level.”
Christiansen added, “Today, it is much easier than 30 years ago, as we have Skype, email, etc. But we see the manufacturers a few times personally during the year.”
Nicola Relph, owner of AdultToyMegastore — which distributes pleasure products in Australia and New Zealand — asserted that in 2017, it is imperative for manufacturers to be tech-savvy on a global scale.
“Perhaps one of the greatest aspects of the 21st century is the technology that is available to us,” Relph told XBIZ. “The internet is a powerful device and enables AdultToyMegastore — which is based in New Zealand at the bottom of the world — to reach customers worldwide. Having a user-friendly website that makes the browsing and purchasing process as pleasurable as possible for customers is paramount. On top of this, your logistics need to be perfect. Customers want their products, and they want them now. That means you need to stay at the top of your game when it comes to finding the best possible shipping providers. You also need to tell the world why they should choose you over any other provider. What makes you different? What can you offer your customer that no one else can?”
Relph continued, “AdultToyMegastore makes an effort to attend industry events wherever possible because these are opportunities to form important relationships with manufacturers as well as providing a chance to see new products that would interest your customers. Not to mention, they’re an unbelievable amount of fun. Once you’ve introduced yourself, it’s important to touch base regularly. What new products have they released or are in the pipelines? Can they do a Skype training on their products with your team? Keep those communication lines open ... Succeeding in your own country is one thing, but tapping into international markets is a whole new ballgame.”