Q&A: Lovehoney's Longhurst Talks U.K. E-tailer's Success

LOS ANGELES — It may have been simply fortuitous, or brilliant strategic planning to secure the official worldwide rights for the “Fifty Shades of Grey” sex toys, but even without the powerful brand in its pocket, leading U.K. e-tailer Lovehoney is experiencing unprecedented growth in just over a year’s time.

Inking key distribution deals with U.S. and global companies, creating a Netflix docu-series about the inner workings of the company, doubling its staff, and issuing it’s own sexual research studies, the pleasure products giant is on a roll that sets an exemplary role for online retailers.

What also sets the company apart is that it operates more like a brick and mortar brand than a purely online destination by not resting solely on Internet SEO methods and random seaches to get customers to its site. Lovehoney engages its customers with contests and promotes its products through various stunts and licensing deals.

One of the prime driving forces behind the company — co-owner Richard Longhurst — took time to talk to XBIZ about the company’s success from its Bath, England headquarters.

XBIZ: Lovehoney appears to have been on an expansion roll since late 2014 with new deals and hires. What precipitated the growth?

Longhurst: Lovehoney has developed through organic growth — essentially by keeping our customers happy. We deliver fantastic customer service so we have great repeat business and word-of-mouth recommendations. We’re very savvy when it comes to online marketing and have great PR campaigns like ‘Design A Sex Toy,’ the ‘U.K. Sex Map’ and ‘Rabbit Amnesty.’

We also benefited from obtaining the exclusive worldwide rights to manufacture and distribute ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ sex toys, which is massive. Our six-episode series ‘Frisky Business,’ which aired in 2014, also did wonders in getting our name out there and solidifying Lovehoney as a household name in the adult industry.

XBIZ:  Are there particular challenges or benefits of being a U.K.-base adult e-tailer?

Longhurst: The beauty of being an e-tailer is that you are not limited by location. Our Customer Care telephones are manned 24/7 thanks to our Australian office and all of our international websites are run from the comfort of our HQ in the beautiful city of Bath.

XBIZ: What sets Lovehoney apart from other online adult destinations?

Longhurst: We are totally committed to spreading sexual happiness and the idea that having a fun and fulfilling sex life is an important part of a person's health and well being. This is a message that resonates around the world.

Our focus is always on customer satisfaction, whether providing brands and products that people love or websites that are easy and enjoyable to use. Our level of customer service is unrivalled by any business in any industry.

Customer affection is fostered within an 84,000-strong community, who create user-generated content, interact on our forum, review products and assist with product selection. No other company in the market has anything like it. Our loyal, confident, educated and experimental customer base gives us a strong competitive advantage.

The Lovehoney community keeps our business friendly, human and approachable. Thanks to our dedicated community, we now have the largest database of sex toy reviews in the world (more than 100,000), receiving around 700 reviews per week. Customers writing genuine reviews, submit pictures of themselves wearing our lingerie and in our discussion forums they are debating everything about sex and share tips and advice with each other.

XBIZ: Does the company have a pre-determined strategy in place for 2015?

Longhurst: Yes — watch us go, it's going to be a very exciting year.

XBIZ: How big a part was the “Fifty Shades” licensing deal?

Longhurst: ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is very important but it is only one part of Lovehoney’s success. To be at the eye of the ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ storm is an honor and incredibly exciting. It's a privilege to be able to deliver the opportunity to other businesses in the adult industry. ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ is the only true brand in the industry. It's a permanent fixture now — and there are still two movies to come.

XBIZ: What are your gross revenue numbers for the official “Fifty Shades” line to date?

Longhurst: That information is not available. [Ed. Note: In March, 2015 the company reported that it had sold more than a million “Fifty Shades of Grey” items in 2014 alone and expected 2015 to exceed expectations.]

XBIZ: Are you seeing more global orders than in previous years? If so, please explain?

Longhurst: Global orders have been fantastic and we have a lot to thank ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ for. No other brand in the adult industry has had this kind of global reaction. We are seeing strong growth for all our products in all regions.

Our ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ collections have enjoyed a mainstream media blitz around the world, unprecedented for the adult industry. It’s the biggest name in the business.

XBIZ: When nominated for a LIMA licensing award you’d said it's a real sign that Lovehoney is making more inroads to the mainstream. Please explain.

Longhurst: There has been a growing acceptance of sexual wellbeing and sex toys as a mainstream product category. Lovehoney has changed perceptions so that now sex toys are regarded as being a fun and healthy part of a relationship, rather than being something you use on your own because you don’t have a sex life.

Sex toys are quickly becoming the go-to gift for people to get their partner's for birthdays, Valentine's Day and Christmas and this trend, coupled with the immeasurable hype for ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ means that items which were once considered unusual or 'kinky' will soon become commonplace in many people's bedrooms.

XBIZ: Do you think the acceptance of pleasure products by mainstream will continue?

Longhurst: Sex is about as mainstream as it gets, sex toys becoming mainstream is just a matter of time, but it will have to be done right. While many people are happy to buy and use sex toys, they don’t want to see them in unexpected outlets.