Pleasure Product Manufacturers Talk Global Strategies for Success

From branding to shipping, companies with international reach talk to XBIZ about how to appeal to consumers worldwide.

At LELO, trade marketing manager Zabrina Law says there is not a lot of variation in product design by geography. The company engages with customers regardless of locale. “No matter what the location, we get feedback from our customers. We’re in nine different languages. We do a sex survey internationally at least twice a year with the content varying from campaign to campaign. For example, around the World Cup, we will ask questions about the frequency of masturbation or intercourse while a major sporting event is going on. We ask not only about preferences and products, but also usage, and we try to deliver something that is going to serve our customers well over time,” she relates.

The further our reach and the more Screaming O products are sold worldwide, the more active and proactive we must be with regard to communication among our supply chain. -Dan Holman, The Screaming O

LELO itself is a Swedish-based company that originated in Stockholm, and then established offices in Australia, the U.K., and the U.S. To serve these international markets, the company has built global offices around markets that took on their products. “We evolved to serve the international marketplace by supply and demand from people in a specific region. The U.S. has been the aspiration market for us since we first started, but regardless of the region, there is always a difference in the business-to-business relationship, retailing and merchandising from place to place.”

To create an internationally recognizable brand, LELO relies on no one specific formula; rather the company relies on its trade partners and information taken from trade shows to promote the brand on a universal level.

Law explains that it is through trade shows that the company enters each market. “We talk to people, we see their reactions in real life, in real time. We talk to buyers and retailers, we hear what has been selling for them, and what their challenges are, as well as what they like and don’t like.”

She notes that the challenges any international brand faces, not just in the pleasure products category, are primarily practical considerations such as awareness of trade and tariff regulations, due diligence in listing ingredients on the outside of packaging, and other packaging requirements. “They’re not really challenges per se, but rather things that have to be intentionally acted upon to be successful.”

Looking to the future, Law believes Asia is the region that’s up and coming for LELO. “We have an office in Shanghai, and we’ve worked hard to engage the market there. In 2010, China became the largest market second only the U.S., so really all industries are looking at East Asia as an important region. We’re also growing in the U.S., and America remains the biggest and strongest market for us.”

At System JO, product ed specialist Ryan McCrobie and his regional managers note that the company’s entire product line has been recently re-branded to appeal to consumers worldwide. “We created a high-end, sleek and sophisticated looking product with packaging call-outs and symbols that appeal to all nationalities,” he notes. “With our new labels we were able to include product descriptions, indications for use, directions, and warnings in English, French, German, and Spanish on all of our products.”

McCrobie and his team believe the company has evolved well to serve international markets, and not only due to the improvement in packaging helping consumers understand the products.

“We have heavily invested in on-the-ground support, and our distributors in multiple countries. Over the past 18 months we have hired a regional manager, account manager and brand ambassador to oversee our international markets in Europe, Australasia, Asia and Africa. We also have three permanent staff members located in the U.K., Russia and Australia, and we’re looking for more.”

Over the years, System JO has formed strong partnership agreements with distributors and major retail chains in order to help support the growth of the JO brand. “I put our growth down to two points: first, the quality of our product, and second, the reinvestment in these partners. We are always looking to give back.”

According to international regional managers at the company, the biggest challenge with the international market is being able to keep a finger on the pulse of the industry. “Without having people on the ground, it’s extremely difficult to do so, but we are fortunate enough to have found some great people to manage those territories for us. It enables us to be able to react quickly, recognize trends in the market, and continue to educate on our product.”

With the pleasure product industry being small, comparatively speaking, System JO finds the best way to establish relationships and communication with international distributors and retailers is to “leverage existing relationships to find new ones. It’s all about connection and people.”

As to which international region has shown most growth for System JO, the answer is Australia. “Over the last five years, from being an unknown brand to competing for the No. 1 spot in the country has been an exciting process. Our strong relationship with Topline and the Sexyland chain of stores was the platform for this. Metro Interactive, whom we just announced as holding the exclusive distribution rights to Australia, has been highly effective. We are looking forward to continuing this growth with both of these partners.”

Like LELO, System JO finds the strongest up and coming market internationally to be China. “I believe we have set a very strong platform to take advantage of a market that’s trending strongly towards online retail.”

By employing fun, clean, consistent branding that is universally appealing and can be conveyed without cultural barriers getting in the way, The Screaming O’s products have gained traction with consumers all over the world.

“By focusing on these brand tenets and committing to using only the highest quality materials possible, our products are easily recognized and desired worldwide, no matter the language or location,” Screaming O Account Executive Dan Holman said. Much like other companies, The Screaming O partners with its trusted distributors who “understand our message and can successfully promote it and our products throughout their regions,” Holman says.

“We depend on this kind of distribution partnership both domestically and internationally in order to maintain name recognition on a global level,” he continued. “And to support these efforts we’ve also teamed up with respected and renowned sexual health educators to assist in promoting our brand’s commitment to quality, transparency and consumer trust.”

According to Holman, The Screaming O focuses on ensuring its brand message doesn’t get lost in translation.

“The further our reach and the more Screaming O products are sold worldwide, the more active and proactive we must be with regard to communication among our supply chain, especially with our strategic partners, to keep everyone current with our marketing and support initiatives, as well as the key features and benefits of our newest releases.”

Jimmyjane President Robert Rheaume says that all of his company’s products are designed to appeal to a worldwide audience. “Our rechargeable products include universal charging options, and we add multiple languages to all of our packaging. We also go beyond U.S. regulations and adhere to the stricter international certifications such as RoHS,” he explains.

Jimmyjane has not so much evolved to serve international markets as it has always considered itself a brand with worldwide appeal. “Our strongest market is our home base, in the U.S., but we also work closely with our international distribution partners to help stretch our reach and representation abroad. In Europe, we have a dedicated education specialist who visits retailers and helps educate staff on Jimmyjane’s unique appeal,” Rheaume adds.

To achieve an internationally recognizable brand, Rheaume says the company looks at their international reach in two ways. “We focus on our distributor relationships, to ensure we are represented at the retail level and that international retailers know about Jimmyjane and our products. We also work with international press to drive interest in our products at the consumer level.”

According to Rheaume, one of the biggest challenges to international expansion is getting to know the market. “In order to be successful, it’s important to understand the retail landscape and the customer profiles which can be different and unique in each market. It takes collaboration with our distributors and time to be well-versed in international markets.”

In regard to the current trends in the international market for pleasure products, Rheaume notes that taboos are seen falling away in some of the more conservative markets. “People are now more inclined to try pleasure products, which is something we love to see.”

Topco Sales COO Autumn O’Bryan says that regardless of the country, the need for quality products made to enhance pleasure is the same everywhere.

“We work hard to create products that appeal to all cultures — from materials and color palettes to functions and features,” O’Bryan said. “Universal eye-catching packaging is also essential, as well as accurate and effective translation in order to assure that our brand message remains true across all languages.”

In addition to trade shows and one-on-one visits, Topco Sales reaches its customers via trade publications and social media.

“If the product is of good quality at a competitive price point, it will make an impression on the end user, and once rapport and trust has been established with our brand, people anywhere in the world will spend the time, energy and money to find it and take it home,” she said. “We find that especially true with our CyberSkin, which has become synonymous with hyper-realistic pleasure experiences.”

Overall, the international market is booming, and companies who can connect with a variety of regions hold the key to continued success.