WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — In their Visionary Keynote, Lovehoney co-founders Neal Slateford and Richard Longhurst discussed the future of e-commerce and the value of branding.
The lively session offered plenty of laughs and provocative information as the pair compared the pleasure products industry to mainstream and discussed the ways it has and can be improved.
Slateford and Longhurst met in the early 2000’s while Longhurst worked as a journalist for a U.K. tech publication and Slateford joined the company to work on its website. Prior to that, Slateford worked as a record producer, and achieved fame in 1990 when he released the remix of “Tom’s Diner” as part of the English electronic music duo DNA.
When they first had the idea of creating a website together, Longhurst said several ideas came to mind when deciding what to focus it on. In 2002, the vibrator episode of “Sex and the City” convinced the duo to create a sex toy retail site targeting women.
Longhurst and Slateford talked about how they came up with the Lovehoney company name and how they set themselves apart from other adult retail sites.
“At the time the competition had names like Adult Mart, Sex Mart 365 and we wanted something that was nice, was memorable, easy to spell and differentiated from the competition,” Slateford said.
While looking around for inspiration for their company name, Slateford said they were inspired by the title of a ‘70s movie called “Mudhoney.” The company then launched Lovehoney.co.uk, but because of their budget failed to register its .com domain — a mistake that Slateford said later cost them $100,000.
According to Slateford, the bar was set so low by the competition that they started with a basic website that was uniquely information-packed.
“We only needed to be half decent to be twice as good as anyone else,” Slateford said. “Notably, the website had no naked women, and we were the first in the market to have full descriptions that described how the products were used. We also had high quality photos — we actually took the products out of the package, which was revolutionary at the time.”
On April 21, 2002, Lovehoney took its first order, and then the next order came six days later.
“But by the end of 2002, we had taken 3,065 orders and about $200,000 in sales,” Slateford said.
In 2010, Lovehoney conducted consumer research in order to improve its branding. The company found that 70 percent of sex toy users are in a relationship.
“Our research showed that sex is also really important but more than that, people that have good sexual experiences tend to have better relationships, are better parents and even live longer,” Slateford said. “It’s one of the many ways that keeps people happy in their lives — like going to the gym or eating right.
“So, we found that the best way to improve your overall well-being is through sex and the best way to improve sex is with sex toys.”
Lovehoney then branded itself as “the sexual happiness people,” and began investing in advertising, including TV. The duo aired their TV commercial during their speech, and noted that since it began airing in the U.K. the company’s sales have consistently grown.
“Branding is vastly important to our success,” Slateford said.
While pleasure products brands are recognizable on a B2B level, Slateford says they are meaningless to consumers. Knowing this, as a manufacturer Lovehoney has achieved success by partnering with mainstream brands, including Fifty Shades of Grey.
The Lovehoney founders also discussed the mainstream success of its high-end erotic retail store Coco de Mer. Renowned photographer/director Rankin directed a short film called “X” for a Coco de Mer advertising campaign.
“Rankin works with brands like Nike, and he wanted to work with us,” Slateford said. “He wants to work with brands that have meaning.”
Slateford and Longhurst also revealed that at the summer edition of ANME, Lovehoney will roll out its latest collection — the Motley Crue Pleasure Collection.
They ended their session by assuring attendees that mainstream will never cannibalize the pleasure products industry because they don’t have the special knowledge that adult retailers do.
“Being in mainstream raises awareness without taking sales,” Slateford said, adding that the industry should try to be more like mainstream, and legitimize itself by making industry market research available.