In 2018, we saw sex toys establish themselves as lifestyle products among mainstream consumers. More than ever, the industry’s most progressive brands have made their way into the public’s consciousness by promoting sex-positive, inclusive messages that appeal to an ever-growing demographic.
As the perception of pleasure products evolves, the discussion surrounding the sexual proclivities dives deeper into many once-taboo fetishes.
Pegging, the act of anal penetration with a strap-on dildo, was once a very underground subject — even in the adult industry. The inclusion of a pegging scene in the 1976 porn classic “The Opening of Misty Beethoven” was incredibly daring for its time, not to mention controversial. But these days, pegging is commonly discussed in mainstream lifestyle publications, as well as at sex education events and on social media. Veteran BDSM brand Sportsheets International recently modernized its branding and marketing approach to appeal to today’s savvy, sex-positive shoppers.
Sportsheets Marketing Director John Turi says, “Beyond the usual suspects — vibrators and wands — we see strap-ons becoming a top-selling item in 2019, as pegging is becoming part of the zeitgeist. We see this by keywords that surround it trending up. By mid-2019, we will be expanding our strap-on products to meet the growing movement.”
In 2019, Turi noted, a high priority for Sportsheets will be its Saffron Collection, which he described as “12 new products” and “sexy positioning and bondage items with a rich, deep, red color.” And according to Turi, Sportsheets will be “adding to our Sincerely, Sportsheets line” in 2019 “with more unique vibrators.”
CalExotics’ Nichole Grossmann is bullish on anal products for 2019, telling XBIZ, “Anal is a category that has been growing in popularity over the last few years. Each year, we see tremendous growth, and it is not slowing down. To ensure we’re meeting this demand, we have a new batch of anal play products for 2019. These new products cater to a wide range of consumer preferences and experience levels.”
Vibrators have long been a staple in the pleasure products market, and their popularity will not be slowing down any time soon. The fact that vibrators are so popular and so many companies are manufacturing them makes this category hyper-competitive. Pleasure product newcomers in 2019 will be up against established industry bellwethers like Doc Johnson, CalExotics and a slew of others.
To circumvent the crowded market, some pleasure product companies will be making their mark with niche products in 2019. Ducky DooLittle (marketing manager for Blush Novelties) told XBIZ that she expects to do some niche-oriented promotions in the New Year.
“Here at Blush, we foresee growth in a number of niche categories,” DooLittle explained. “There are definitely consumers clamoring for items like our super-cute ‘The Collection’ vibes.”
DooLittle added that, “our LGBTQ items like Avant Pride and Performance Plus are expected to grow in sales.”
The BDSM niche category has experienced tremendous growth in recent years, and that is reflected in everything from the abundance of kinky erotica that is being produced to the vast array of floggers, paddles, ballgags, restraints, blindfolds and masks in countless colors and materials that are becoming increasingly popular among consumers. Today, pop stars don fetish gear in music videos and dominatrix attire can regularly be spotted on fashion runways. And, no doubt, the “Fifty Shades of Grey” series of novels and movies left a permanent mark in mainstream.
British pleasure products manufacturer Lovehoney found immediate success with its “Fifty Shades of Grey”-themed collection of BDSM toys, which was approved by “Fifty Shades” author E.L. James herself. In 2019, the BDSM category is expected to see a continued growth in popularity.
BDSM, however, has a broad range of participants, from hardcore players to novices — and the pleasure products sector will no doubt continue to cater to many different tastes in 2019. From braided cat o’ nine tails to electro-stim and chastity to lighter, playful bondage accessories, BDSM is slated to continue to flourish with a wide variety for every type of player.
One of the keys to Sportsheets’ success has been its appeal to soft BDSM players and ability to grow their interest in kink. Some pro-dommes will spend $200 or $300 for a whip; on Sportsheets’ website, one can easily find floggers selling for only $9, $10 or $12. In 2019, the types of BDSM pleasure products manufacturers offer will continue to reflect the full spectrum of desires of their customers.
In the ecommerce world, pleasure products are not only being sold on adult websites — top brands such as Doc Johnson, CalExotics and many others have found their way onto mainstream giant Amazon.com. The onslaught of third-party resellers on Amazon has been blamed for driving prices down as well as flooding the marketplace with counterfeits and low-quality products.
“Having Amazon in your life is like having a child: you must watch it at all times,” Turi stressed. “Never take your eyes off of it. When it does something wrong, you must discipline it.”
Turi, however, quickly added, “a company with a strong brand will have no problem with Amazon. The good thing is that we have that. Also, a team of lawyers with big, sharp, pointy teeth is always a good backup.”
John Fraga, director of sales and operations for Oxballs, told XBIZ that “Amazon and other third-party platforms” can “be amazing channels when managed properly.” In 2019, Fraga noted, pleasure product consumers will be “looking for better prices, more convenience, privacy, or a combination of all of these” whether they are shopping online or in a brick-and-mortar store.
“At Oxballs, we have maintained the integrity of our pricing by enforcing solid MAP policies with the help of our amazing partners,” Fraga observed. “If a customer is shopping at a brick-and-mortar retail floor, they would be hard up to find the same piece seen in that store at a lower price on their phone in hand. This allows a consumer to shop wherever they are getting the service they are looking for, from a great in-store experience or the privacy and convenience of browsing from their home computer.”
One entrepreneur who made it clear that he won’t be selling on Amazon in 2019 is Brian Sloan, inventor of the Autoblow. Sloan told XBIZ that he is “happy to be off of the platform” because he considers Amazon “a dangerous company that treats its sellers very unfairly.”
Sloan said of Amazon, “The platform allows rampant cheating by foreign sex toy vendors who also do not pay U.S. taxes, which makes it even easier for them to undercut U.S. sellers. I decided that the best way for us to deal with Amazon is simply not to sell on it. We prefer that our customers buy our product from our own website, where they can have the full brand experience and we can have their email address — or from an offline retailer.”
Deborah Semer, founder and CEO of Passionate Playground, is critical of Amazon as well — complaining that the ecommerce giant “is becoming synonymous with low-quality and endless problems.” And in order to promote her company’s sex toy storage system Joyboxx in 2019, Semer said, she will be emphasizing the Joyboxx.com website “as well as other marketplaces.”
The pleasure products sector — including manufacturers, retailers and distributors — will be out in full force at the next Adult Novelty Manufacturers Expo (ANME) event, to be held January 13-14 at the Los Angeles Marriot Burbank Airport in Southern California. The ANME Show offers excellent business-to-business networking opportunities and showcases for lingerie, personal lubricants and a wide range of sex toys — and a who’s-who of pleasure product companies will be attending.
Grossmann noted that at ANME, CalExotics would be showcasing its California Dreaming line.
“ANME brings a fresh batch of new products that we are so excited about,” Grossmann explained. “Staying true to our California roots, we have new California Dreaming styles. Each product gives users a unique experience they will be dreaming about.”
At ANME, Grossmann added, CalExotics will also be showcasing “all new Kegel sets that offer a workout that’s fun and pleasurable” as well as “a new collection that puts a little kink in your playtime. We’ve added to some of our best-selling collections, including Eclipse, Her Royal Harness, Optimum Series, Remotes and more.”
Oxballs, according to Fraga, will be showcasing the new Hunkyjunk collection at ANME. Fraga described Hunkyjunk as “edgy and playful men’s toys, with vibrant packaging of bright red lacquer, simple and austere graphics. On the reverse are many great elements to help at the POS, like the Huj-man diagram of how to wear the product.”
Hunkyjunk, according to Fraga, “launches with 12 unique new and original designs in 26 SKUs of color options, across a range of style and price points. It’s the 12 design categories that we know men buy and use most.”
Turi noted that in January, Sportsheets looks forward to showing off its “all new packaging” for “our flagship Sportsheets line.”
Turi observed, “The diversity of models on each box is beautiful, from age, race, gender to sexuality. We mentioned these changes last July for our 25th Anniversary celebration. The new five-panel box follows the updated Midnight to Sincerely packaging. The goals for 2019 are continued growth and innovation.”
January is often a month in which companies assess their goals, ambitions and priorities for the New Year, and that is certainly true in the increasingly competitive pleasure products sector. This January, the ANME Show in Burbank will give pleasure product companies a chance to show that they have given thought to their goals for 2019 and are hitting the ground running in the new year.
According to Fraga, Oxballs “is starting 2019 off having just expanded our office and warehouse capacity.”
That expansion, Fraga asserts, underscores Oxballs’ growth.
“We’ve needed more space for some years,” Fraga observed. “Our explosion of growth meant that we had to keep adding staff. We had three and four people sharing an office before this expansion; it was nuts. We added a second location, tripling our office space and doubling our warehouse square footage.”
Efficiency, Fraga added, will be vital for Oxballs in 2019 — and the additional space enhances its ability to work efficiently.
“The new sales and showroom spaces are stunning, modern and beautiful,” Fraga commented. “It fits what this company is all about: design and creative spaces. This allowed us to expand our platinum-cure silicone production, which is manufactured entirely on site from raw materials.”
Fraga added, “We’re known in the industry for our incredible fill rate and fast shipping turnaround. We’re rarely out of stock, and the added warehouse space allows us to maintain our fill rate while we add a lot of new products coming in 2019. Both our sales and design studio teams now have the room to explore new products, new brands — and we have room to grow in the trajectory we’ve been on.”
DooLittle, reflecting on Blush Novelties’ goals for 2019, commented that “more than anything, our goal for 2019 is to dig deeper with our trusted partners, take good care of our customers and friends, and keep listening to the retailer and consumer feedback.”
DooLittle elaborated, “We are so fortunate to have amazing partners in our distributors. Together, we are experiencing amazing growth. In 2019, you will see Blush producing affordable favorites that have become our signature. We also employ a strong team of creative minds and engineers; so, the world can expect new leaps in technology.”
DooLittle stressed that Blush Novelties is “a global brand.” And in 2019, she said, Blush’s international marketing efforts will be a high priority for its team.
“We are a very diverse company in terms of language and employees,” DooLittle observed. “It’s natural for us to have a very expansive view of pleasure. We are looking forward to spending more time with our international customers and meeting the needs of consumers worldwide.”
For 2019, Sloan is planning the release of a new addition to his Autoblow series: the Autoblow A.I.
The Autoblow inventor reported, “We are solely focused on the summer 2019 launch of the product and making sure our first manufacturing round goes smoothly. My goal for 2019 is that the thousands of retailers who sell Autoblow 2 will also sell the new Autoblow A.I.”
According to Danielle Seerley (senior sales executive for Shibari Wands), the brand’s top priority in 2019 will be launching its new Voodoo line of pleasure products. Seerley said of Voodoo, “The packaging has a very retro look.”
At the ANME Show, one is reminded of how international the pleasure products sector is: attendees come from all over the world to take advantage of ANME’s B2B networking opportunities. Because pleasure product companies do business internationally, they need to be aware of regulations not only in different countries, but different regions or states as well — and in California, an important law that has been on the books since 1986 is the California Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, a.k.a. Proposition 65. Effective August 30, 2018, Prop 65 was modified to require new warning labels.
Though the news of the new requirement sent an initial wave of concern throughout the industry, most manufacturers reminded their customers of their already careful labeling and stringent quality control.
DooLittle asserted, “The Prop 65 requirements have had no effect on Blush” because the company “already had high health and wellness standards established, before the requirements took effect.”
“We have an advantage because we are a manufacturer,” DooLittle stressed. “We source all of our raw materials. We then also have Bay Area Laboratories do third-party independent testing reports on each item. This means we have control over our materials from start to finish, and we have the paperwork to prove our products are body-safe and Prop 65-compliant.”
According to Turi, Sportsheets will have no problem meeting Prop 65’s requirements in 2019 because it “has been one of the first in the industry to deal with Prop 65.” Turi elaborated, “For over five years, we’ve had standards and practices in place. This included listing all of our ingredients on our packaging. We have very detailed documents regarding all of our materials. Sportsheets is certified with USDA. We hold a certificate and are registered with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Department of Interior — and we are an FDA-registered facility.”
Similarly, Fraga asserted that Oxballs has always only used Prop-65 free chemicals in the manufacturing of all of our products. We conduct annual reviews of this and other regulatory legislation to ensure our company and our partners remain completely compliant under the law.”
Seerley told XBIZ that in addition to promoting its Voodoo pleasure products in 2019, Shibari Wands will be pushing its Gender Fluid collection of lubricants. Describing lube shoppers as a “continually evolving clientele,” Seerley predicted that an emphasis on health and wellness would play a prominent role in the lube market in 2019.
“Lube is such a go-to add-on item for any platform,” Seerley observed. “Customers are inundated with choices. Shoppers that were looking for a certain product benefit now expect that benefit along with a matching ingredient deck. Buzzwords around any health or beauty category will always translate over to our market. We need to be reactionary so our lube products make sense to the consumer as a health item.”
In 2019, personal lubricants will continue to be profitable for a variety of pleasure product companies, but different brands will profit in different ways. Some companies offer lubes as a side dish: while their lubes are of a high quality, they might be better known for their selection of vibrators, dildos or lingerie.
CalExotics manufactures everything from vibrators, dildos and BDSM toys to lingerie. But the long-running company also features a collection of lubricants and massage oils. Similarly, Doc Johnson is another well-known pleasure products brand that isn’t specifically lube-oriented but offers an attractive variety of lubes, gels, lotions and creams, such as its ever-popular GoodHead Oral Delight Gel, or CandiLand assortment of flavored lubes. The brand, which is celebrating its 43rd anniversary in 2019, carries everything from vibrators to strap-on dildos to BDSM toys, and the company’s name has been synonymous with sex toys for decades, while garnering a following for its selection of lubes as well.
Regardless of their area of focus, manufacturers are entering 2019 knowing that consumers have numerous options. And this year, CalExotics’ Grossmann asserted, it is imperative for companies to show customers how much they value their business.
“Our goal is simple: to enhance the lives of the people that use our products,” Grossmann asserted. “Every year, we strive to do better, and 2019 is no exception. We’re working on exciting products and new ideas. We can’t wait to share them with our customers.”