XBIZ 360 Pleasure Products Conference Explores Evolving Marketplace

LOS ANGELES – The XBIZ 360 Pleasure Products Conference was held yesterday with a series of panel discussions exploring the tech innovations and current trends shaping the marketplace for women and men’s sex toys.

The conference kicked off with the sex toy tech panel featuring Michael Topolovac (Crave), Brian Dunham (Ohmibod), Robin Elenga (Revel Body), Kristen Tribby (Fun Factory), Lafe Spietz (Orgasmatronics), Alicia Relles (JeJoue), Tristan Weedmark (We-Vibe), and Michael Goldsmith (Dr. Clockwork) as moderator.

The panelists shared a wide range of views regarding the adoption of high tech pleasure products by consumers.

While discussing his invention, the Hack-Off, a DIY sex toy motor control board that allows users to create vibration patterns for their own sex toys, Orgasmatronics’ Lafe Spietz said, “There’s a huge overlap within the tech and sex toy world. There are millions of coding people out there that are kinky.”

Nevertheless, for some consumers incorporating advanced technology can hinder the experience.

“If the user isn’t too tech-savvy it could create a barrier,” Fun Factory’s Kristen Tribby said. “Products have to be accessible to the average consumer. Fun Factory thinks about this a lot when designing products.”

According to Tribby, rather than remake a similar product Fun Factory will create a whole new category such as with its pulsators.

“Retailers need manufacturers to make new products not re-make the same designs,” she said.

Je Joue’s Alicia Relles seconded the opinion, noting that Je Joue designs are body-inspired.

“All of our products are well-researched,” Relles said. “We’re constantly trying to find those designs that satisfy people.”

Crave’s Michael Topolovac discussed the inspiration for his company’s designs.

“At Crave we spend a lot of time on the ‘why,’” he said. “Our latest product, the Vesper was created to be worn [as a necklace] and spark conversation.”

Among the current trends of sex toy technology is the incorporation of mobile app-operated toys, such as the We-Vibe 4 Plus.

We-Vibe’s Tristan Weedmark discussed the data that the app has revealed, including that 18 minutes is the average time users spend with a We-Vibe and that We-Vibe users were the most active on Christmas Day.

“Privacy is extremely important to keep in mind when dealing with technology,” Weedmark said. “Chosen anonymity should be preserved. The info that the app provides us only offers a global, general view of consumer data.”

Ohmibod’s Brian Dunham said that smartwatch category is rapidly developing.

“Within the next five years, smartwatches will be as common as the iPhone,” he said. “We received a really positive reaction when we showcased our blueMotion app with smart watch connectivity at CES.”

Although there was plenty of speculation about the impact of 3D printing on the pleasure products industry, the panelists weren’t too convinced.

“3D printing helps but it’s frustrating,” Topolovac said.

Weedmark added, “It’s more of an exercise of the imagination. It allows you to hold and have a tactile experience."

The “Next Big Thing” panel analyzed the evolving male pleasure products market with speakers Toon Timmermans (Kiiroo), Perfect Fit Brand (Steve Callow), Brett Drysdale (Fleshlight), Tony Levine (Big Teaze), Keith Caggiano (Rock On), and CT Schenk (Aneros) as moderator.

“The male products category has evolved from a few niche products to a full industry,” Schenk said.

According to Perfect Fit Brand’s Steve Callow, the Internet is one of the driving forces behind the success of the male sex toy market.

“The strap-on also has made a big difference,” Callow said. “It has changed the perspective of a lot of men regarding anal play. At one time all of the male sex toys were in the gay section. Where products are displayed in a store can change the view of the consumer.”

Rock On’s Keith Caggiano said that packaging could also make a product appear more acceptable.

“Make it look fun for women and the men will follow,” he said. “With Rock On, we’re selling the psychology. We’re selling the confidence that men want to feel.”

Fleshlight’s Brett Drysdale advised that companies take the opportunities to align themselves with mainstream brands to boost acceptability.

“Canada is more sexually liberal and we’ve done an excellent job up there expanding the brand when we sponsored North by Northwest last year, which is similar to the South by Southwest festival in Austin. Our brand was alongside other sponsors like Red Bull and Toyota. The opportunities are out there.”

The “Future of Pleasure Products” panel offered a comprehensive forecast of the industry. Panelists included Scott Watkins (Doc Johnson), Tristan Weedmark (We-Vibe), Rebecca Cook (Sinclair Institute), Alicia Sinclair (JimmyJane), Dennis Paradise (Paradise Marketing) and Dee Dennis (Catalyst Con) as moderator.

“I don’t think that there will be many changes except that FDA and other policies are going to be more proactive,” Dennis Paradise said. “I think that the labeling and the claims are going to be scrutinized.”

According to the panelists, much of evolution of the industry is based on consumer education.

“As the industry grows and evolves, consumers are becoming more educated,” We-Vibe’s Tristan Weedmark said.

Sinclaire Institute’s Rebecca Cook added, “Sinclaire has always been all about education and knowing who your customers are and what they want.”

Shoppers also are favoring products that are made in the U.S., said Scott Watkins of Doc Johnson.

“Made in America is very popular right now,” he said. “We control our own destiny. We don’t have to wait for products to arrive from China. We’re extremely proud to say that 99% of the products at our last trade show were made in the U.S.”

Jimmyjane’s Alicia Sinclair discussed the brand’s mainstream penetration,  noting that the designer brand has been sold in stores such as Fred Segal, and Sephora in France.

“I would like to see our stores more mainstream,” she said. “I hope that the future is us. We create the experience and let’s collectively develop it.”

Cook discussed the growing demographic of baby boomers.

“Sinclaire Institute has been on the AARP agenda for years,” she said. “It’s a market that has been growing consistently for years, and the older generation doesn’t know anything about sex toys.”

Panelists agreed that in order to cater to older consumers the brand must focus more on sexual wellness.

The visionary keynote address by Ron Braverman, CEO and founder of Doc Johnson, offered attendees a glimpse at the industry legend’s past and inspiration.

“When I first started I worked as a clerk at a store in Amsterdam,” he said. “People were coming in as couples  – they were years ahead of their time. It was something that didn’t exist in America and is the concept behind Doc Johnson.”

Braverman also elaborated on Doc’s dedication to manufacturing in the U.S.

“’Made in America’ is a personal thing,” he said. “I know what the consumer gets. If it is a bad product, that’s my fault and they shouldn’t ever get a bad product, and I hope that new companies that come into the business follow our lead.”

As one of the industry’s founding companies, Braverman discussed Doc Johnson’s groundbreaking developments, including releasing the first porn star masturbator, and establishing the first-ever video-novelty collaborations with Doc Johnson’s Vivid branded line of toys.

“In 1978 we molded John Holmes and it still sells today,” he said. “We recently created a line based on James Deen and I think he’s the modern representation of what’s going on in the biz today.”

Braverman also offered a forecast of the future.

“We have risen as a whole to face any challenges together,” Braverman said. “The fights that I have fought are done but I think there will be new ones. The more we educate, the more people will accept pleasure products.”