Party Circuit

Joanne Cachapero
This is not your mother's Tupperware party.

Then again, maybe it is. Manufacturers and distributors of adult toys and novelties are finding a new source of eager customers in hundreds of American living rooms at "pleasure parties."

Women who might have sold kitchenware 20 years ago are watching their friends fill out order blanks for vibrators, lubricants and even bondage gear. Home parties represent the fastest-growing area of the adult toy industry, bringing in buyers too skittish to visit an adult store or cruise sexually oriented websites.

The in-home events have "definitely opened up the mainstream market for us," says Justina Wolford, a spokesperson for toy manufacturer Topco Sales, adding that home parties "have brought women to the forefront" of what historically has been a male-centered industry.

Laura Sweet of distributor M&M Sales describes home parties, at which participants can ask questions privately after the presentations, as "more personalized and more personal," attracting women who can't get enough information about products from websites or store personnel. Plus, Sweet says, "it gives everybody a chance to party," especially moms who may not get out as much as they'd like.

Intimate Venue
These days, the Internet is chockablock with home party sites offering adult toys; the parties have made for titillating copy in mainstream newspapers and magazines and on TV shows. Toy distributors and manufacturers have long provided product samples and posters to home party "consultants," but lately they've also begun to respond to the burgeoning scene by putting together their own home party catalogs and kits.

For example, after years of gearing its product lines and packaging to retail stores, Topco recently launched its own home party operation, called It's Only the Beginning. The company offers a "universal" catalog of Topco products for which party planners can set their own prices; three different starter kits of Topco items, ready for sale; and a free CD-ROM that includes a database for use in party planning.

Similarly, Sweet of M&M Sales put together a home party catalog last year, a convenience to party planners who would otherwise have to research products, compile data and produce their own catalogs.

"I identified a niche in the marketplace," Sweet told XBIZ. "I wrote up the most ideal party in a 32-page booklet." Being able to offer this kind of one-stop shopping to individual party planners has allowed Sweet to get "a whole bunch of little accounts" that she says are just as profitable as big ones.

Tamara, proprietor of the Home Party Network, developed the Home Pleasure Party Plan Association (HPPPA) in January 2005 to bring owners of home party operations featuring adult products together with distributors and manufacturers. The association's mission is "to help new and existing pleasure party businesses [to] build their business, share ideas and gain product knowledge for the betterment of their business," Tamara explains on her website.

Typical parties under her plan begin with fun and games, Tamara says. For a warm-up, guests might play a variation on musical chairs, passing a dildo from person to person using just their legs, or answer questions about where and under what conditions they've had sex. Then the party plan representative will present the products in categories, explaining what each does and taking questions, with sales handled off to the side.

Commission Payouts
In her network, Tamara says, a rep earns 35 percent-45 percent of gross sales on parties averaging 10 guests, often clearing $250-$1,000 on sales of $450-$1,800. Parties can be as small as five guests or more than 50 for an event on a college campus or linked to a cultural event such as a performance of "The Vagina Monologues."

About 20 percent of Tamara's parties are for couples, and she enjoys the coed sessions. "The men are more fun, more open; they kind of get into it," she says. Women, she adds, can be hesitant about choosing adult toys in all-female settings, sometimes whipping out cell phones to call their husbands in the middle of demonstrations. "They'll sit there and say, 'I don't know,' 'I'm not sure,' but a man knows what he wants."

So couples events make sense. "The whole idea of home parties is to enhance a relationship," Tamara says. "What better way for a couple to buy than buying together?"

Most "pleasure party" planners cite education as an important facet of the home party experience, often distributing printed information about sexual health as well as sex products. Exposure to products in someone's living room can take some of the weirdness out of the edgiest items.

"A lot of people wouldn't be inclined to try a swing until they see one," says Allison Rowe of WhipSmart Toys, a manufacturer of B&D products. "They see that it holds 400 pounds, that it isn't going to put them in the emergency room."

Laura Sweet cites post-menopausal women as a demographic that appreciates insight into products that enhance sex for one. Masturbation, she says, "is just plain old being accepted as healthy."

Along with expanding the market for adult toys, home parties also have had an influence on products, encouraging manufacturers to make some of their packaging less graphic and more appealing to a largely female audience. In addition, Tamara says, toy-makers have developed new products after receiving feedback from party-goers.

Although home parties featuring sex toys have been around since the 1980s, the tens of thousands of adult-product home parties now offered each month reflect a growing acceptance of erotic enhancement during the past eight to 10 years in a sex-soaked media culture. "Home parties are opening up women's eyes," Rowe says. "It's not so taboo and not so dirty."

So don't be surprised if, one of these days, one of your neighbors invites you over to see her latest offerings in vibrators and edible panties — and don't be too shocked if you see your mom there.

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