LOS ANGELES – An elite group of retail professionals gathered Wednesday to discuss the salient trends, concerns and future directions for online and brick-and-mortar markets at the 2014 edition of the XBIZ 360 Retail Conference, presented by Adam & Eve Stores, which kicked off with the glitz and glamour inherent to the W Hotel in Hollywood, Calif.
Leaders from diverse retail backgrounds -- including Good Vibrations, PriveCo., Pleasure Chest, Gamelink, the Stockroom, Adam & Eve, Castle Megastores, Eldorado Trading, Babeland, Feelmore, East Coast News and others – headlined hot-button seminars on "Adult vs. Mainstream Outlets: The Growing Competition for Shoppers," "Online Retail – Trends in E-Commerce," "The Future of Adult Retail" and "Sex Ed: A New Competitive Advantage for Adult Retail."
The annual event culminated with a heartfelt keynote address by Joel Kaminsky, CEO of Good Vibrations, who was introduced by Castle Megastores CEO Mark Franks as “the real deal.”
Kaminsky stressed that Good Vibrations is first and foremost a company fueled, not by profits, but by the mission statement to provide accurate, sex-positive information. Tearing up slightly, he explained that, despite falling on hard times in 2007, Good Vibrations persevered because those behind it “would not let it fall.”
“I have never been so happy in my life,” Kaminsky said resolutely. “I just love what we do.”
Early on, Kaminsky established that he did not feel comfortable claiming to know the future of adult retail, and even took the liberty of renaming the seminar: “I think the name should be 'The Future of Customer Behavior.”
He explained that each Good Vibrations establishment (the eighth store opened this month in downtown San Francisco), is tailored to its immediate neighborhood. He noted that its recently launched Palo Alto location pandered to luxury, featuring items that retailed for $15,000, and were not expected to sell, simply to establish a high-end atmosphere expected by its well-to-do patrons.
A talking point reiterated several times during the seminars, Kaminsky said that the key to competing with online undersellers is to provide customers with an in-store experience that leaves them “feeling good,” citing a study in which 92 percent of respondents reported that they would rather have “a really good personal experience than get a good deal.”
Exclusive to Kaminsky's address was the future role of the so-called “millennial” generation in the marketplace, who he said would arise as the strongest buying power by 2020 and should be strategically courted.
While specific discussion of millennials was absent in the seminars, many panelists touched on tangential topics, including the looming competitory force of Amazon and the role of social media in marketing.
Opinions on the warehouse juggernaut Amazon differed significantly across the featured companies. While some bemoaned its cutthroat prices and low shipping costs, others insisted that their clientele differed so greatly from that of Amazon that its competition was incidental.
“We compare apples to apples,” said Kristen Tribby, director of education and marketing at the Pleasure Chest, clarifying that her company aims to woo “loyalists” rather than deal-seekers. Echoing Kaminsky, she said that Pleasure Chest begins the process of creating an enticing store environment by first instilling its staff with a cohesive vision based on sex-ed and expert product knowledge.
Others had a vastly different take. Stockroom founder Joel Tucker, Lovehoney co-founder Neil Slateford, SexToy.com owner Dave Levine and Jeff Dillon, vice president of business development at Gamelink, said that they reckoned with Amazon (to varying degrees) by learning from it and adapting its techniques.
“The best thing I can do is copy what they do,” Dillon said emphatically. “There's no reason to reinvent the wheel.”
Sexual education was also highlighted as an innovative means for adult retailers to combat online monoliths, as well as mainstream companies like Walgreens, Walmart and CVS, that have begun to offer pleasure products at a discounted rate.
Emissaries from Babeland, Good Vibrations, Feelmore, Pleasure Chest and PrivCo discussed their belief in sex-ed as an ethical standard and marketing strategy.
“My North Star is the customer,” said Good Vibrations Executive Vice President Jackie Strano. “We genuinely love people and genuinely want to help people. I have heard directly from people that I changed their lives – saved their lives – and that's the most important thing to me.”
Discussion of social media cropped up in almost every panel, but the emphasis lay squarely on the “how” rather than the “why” aspect, solidifying its position as an integral marketing tool for business health.
Speakers again differed in their approaches to optimizing social-media-as-marketing, suggesting that there may not be a “one-size-fits-all” model for businesses. Levine pledged his allegiance to Google Plus, while many found it irksome. Many panelists were wary of Facebook and other large platforms due to their uneven policies on adult content and the consequential risks of account deletion.
There did, however, seem to be a consensus that a well-tended blog with unique content was a reliable way to improve Google ranking and garner exposure. Tribby referenced Pleasure Chest's recently launched SexIsBack.com, a site dedicated entirely to storytelling and that the “mainstream can reference without seeing buttplugs.”
Other recurring topics included the dramatic rise in mobile, mastering the ever-changing Google algorithm and customers' increasing reliance on peer-reviews to guide purchases.