Adult Retail Industry Experts Discuss State of Post-Pandemic Market

For those in the business of selling pleasure products, life after COVID is a mixed bag that the sector is still navigating. However, listening to leading figures in the adult retail industry provides a compass to better understand COVID’s positive and negative impacts as well as how retailers plan to evolve with the return of in-person shoppers.

Often, it is difficult to determine whether the impact of a particular event or trend is positive or negative for retailers. There are typically too many externalities and downstream consequences to factor in. In regard to pleasure products, however, it is clear that business has mostly benefited from COVID, drawing new consumers as mainstream’s embrace of pleasure products grew.

Reflecting on how COVID impacted his company and the industry at large, Ken Sahn, president of Holiday Products, took a moment to first point out how the pandemic harmed the country in general.

“In my opinion, the pandemic has inexorably changed all aspects of life in our country,” Sahn said. “The fact that we recently passed 1 million COVID deaths in the U.S. alone has had a profound effect on the economy, how we conduct business, and the mental health of our nation.”

Sahn feels that changes from COVID are here to stay, and that the positive changes pleasure product companies have experienced are permanent.

“During the pandemic, while we saw major hits to our brick-and-mortar retailers and much of the home party segment, we saw massive increases in our ecommerce business. This did not go unnoticed to many of our retailers as they strengthened their websites, mailing lists and ways they did business,” Sahn continued as he discussed specific changes to Holiday Products. “As the pandemic has subsided, many of our retailers have gotten much stronger and focused on all areas and potential areas of their stores and business.”

Glen Buzzetti, the CEO and managing member of New York’s chain of Romantic Depot stores, said that the pandemic made his business stronger than ever.

“All of our stores have been remodeled and during the pandemic we actually opened two more new stores in Brooklyn and Queens,” he said.

Sometimes when it rains it pours, and sometimes it happens both literally and figuratively. Michele B., the manager and buyer of CK’s Secrets and Condom Knowledge in Panama City, Florida, said that — conveniently — the pandemic hit while the company was attempting to rebuild its location following a Category 5 hurricane that destroyed its building.

“We were closed for 600 days, finally reopening on June 1, 2020, during the beginning months of the pandemic,” she said. “It worked out to our advantage; we have been busy since that day. We still offer curbside pickup for clients that are uncomfortable coming inside.”

Though the pandemic pushed retailers to quickly adapt, Love Shack’s Breanna LeFevre said that the company benefited overall.

“Our ecommerce site now has seen huge growth compared to pre-pandemic,” she said. “To our surprise, our ‘Buy online, pick up in store’ option is still producing great numbers for us. What we notice is that we have attracted a different range of customers. The shy customer that was nervous before to walk in and buy something now can order online and pick up without leaving their vehicle. Most of the products we see being bought for pickup orders are more of the fetish-type items and larger male masturbators. We also have the moms that want a new vibrator, that can’t come shop without a babysitter, so they place their order and can pick it up easily while running errands. Something that was a quick fix for us being shut down during the pandemic has now evolved us into a whole new way of business.”

Andy Green, the CEO of Xgen Products, called the impact of the pandemic “very positive in regard to our industry and business.”

“We gained new end users, and those will stay with us for a long time to come,” he said. “Many people who had never used a toy or accessory tried them for the first time and liked the experience. Hopefully, this new wave of customers continues to participate.”

With most businesses throughout the sector doing well, it is important to ask: What are people anticipating for life after quarantine?

The New Normals

One of the many reasons the industry did so well during the pandemic is that online sales skyrocketed. While quantitative information was hard to come by, Romantic Depot’s CEO Glen Buzzetti offered some data.

“Sales are about 59% higher than prepandemic levels at our retail stores and our website has seen immense growth due to low prices and fast shipping,” he said.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. According to an Annual Retail Trade Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau, online sales increased by 43% during 2020, the pandemic’s first year. Specifically, ecommerce sales went from $571.2 billion in 2019 to $815.4 billion in 2020. Simply put, online sales are now a substantial part of the pleasure products industry.

Anne Meunier, Lovely Planet international sales director, notes that while online shopping might be more convenient, adult retail shoppers that walk into a physical store receive much more added value that is increasingly becoming crucial for stores to provide.

“The customer will only go to the store if there is a real added value such as advice, product testing, and flexible returns and refund policies,” she said.

Yet, the increased importance of e-sales has not erased the value of physical stores. Instead, digital sales have forced brick-and-mortar stores to offer a better experience. LeFevre says she and her team have worked to make visiting their stores fun and exciting.

“We like when customers come in and see all the fun displays and products, while learning about products they didn’t know about walking in,” LeFevre shared. “We try and create an exciting shopping experience for everyone. This includes good music, a clean environment and even fun ‘Instagrammable’ areas which all add to the experience.”

Creating a space that encourages customers to share their shopping experience on Instagram and other social media platforms has become a key aspect of many non-adult stores. It is an approach that not only encourages sales, but helps link the shopping experience to a sense of community.

For LeFevre, this approach to in-person shopping is a new necessity. As she explained, “If brick-and-mortar stores want to continue growing in today’s world, they need to set themselves apart in person while also maintaining a strong online presence.” This is especially good advice if one wants to benefit from the influx of new customers.

Increased Interest and New Consumers

Another new normal is that more people are more comfortable with and interested in sex toys. Jessica DellaMonica, a purchaser for Playtime Boutiques, explained why this is: “I have seen an increase in the sales for my stores. I think people have explored and were happy with the results. This interruption from everyday life gave people the opportunity to embrace their sex lives and desires.”

Or, as Svakom sales manager Alexandro Feynerol put it, people with nothing to do needed some way to make things more exciting. “More people staying at home getting bored equaled to a huge increase in the demand of items that could ‘spice up’ the daily routines,” Feynerol said.

Paolo D. Griffo, the key account manager for Danamedic APS, says that while the sales boom that the pleasure industry experienced during the pandemic may only be temporary, the long-term benefit is that it ushered in a new wave of consumers that are anticipated to become regulars.

“For sure, it positively impacted the conversation about such topics, and the long-term goal of bringing our market out of the closet,” he said. “The major challenge now will be that of maintaining the attention of the customers high, and to help brick-and-mortar shops implementing new strategies (online and offline) to stay relevant.”

According to Kheper Games CEO Brian Pellham, the pleasure products sales boom still hasn’t completely tapered off.

“Retailers that I have spoken to are still noticing a sizable sales increase month to month versus pre-pandemic similar time frames,” he said. “With all the extra time people were spending at home during the pandemic they had time to learn about spicing things up in the bedroom.”

Not only did people become more interested in pleasure products during the pandemic, but as Zondre Watson — the GM of technology and analytics for Secrets Adult Boutiques — pointed out, the industry witnessed more men becoming consumers.

“We’ve seen a significant increase in male toys, especially higher-end strokers, butts, torsos and even dolls,” Watson said. “I think men are becoming more comfortable with using toys.”

Moreover, these increases are not only localized to North America. As Raj Armani, the COO and co-founder of Besharam explained, people in India entered the sex toy market in massive numbers.

“In our specific observation of the demand in the India market, we notice that the pandemic has overall raised the revenues by 150% to 200%,” Armani said. “When compared year-over-year and factoring for dips and peaks, consumer demands as measured by visitors, inquiries, tickets, social media buzz and chatter, this has probably been the highest we have seen in the last 10 years of operations.”

While it is impossible to know how norms about sexuality will evolve, these new consumers are a global opportunity for every pleasure product company to create new long-term clients.

Leaning Into Digital

The enhanced success companies found with online sales is likely to continue if they further invest in building out their digital presence. This not only means posting new content and being active on social media, but also embracing new payment systems and online marketing.

Sweet Release Agency’s CEO, Jett Black, highlighted how important it was for businesses to embrace new payment systems. For instance, with budgets tightening, Black found success with “pay-in-four options such as AfterPay, Sezzle and ClearPay.” These layaway options and similar financial technologies help consumers purchase items that might otherwise be out of their budget.

In addition to new payment technologies, Black praised using programs that rewarded loyalty and better marketed towards consumers. These customer-oriented activities help create an online/in-store hybrid experience, and also enable stores to better keep track of what their customers want.

Despite the positive changes that came out of the pandemic, some remaining obstacles have been compounded by new challenges. Three of these concerns are staffing, logistics and inflation.

For Andy Green of Xgen, inflation is not just a market correction but a genuine problem.

“Inflation is really hurting our customers,” he said. “Mentally, seeing the price of gas every block when you drive, paying more at the grocery store, paying more for vacation and travel, the list goes on and on; it has a cumulative effect. Where do we as an industry rank in someone’s hierarchy of spending their disposable income?”

Ken Sahn echoed Green’s concerns about inflation.

“As a distributor, we used to see manufacturer price increases relatively infrequently,” the Holiday Products exec said. “Today, we sometimes have a dozen or more vendors with across-the-board price increases monthly. Of course, this translates to significant cost increases to the consumer. And while those increases may not put off buyers to a great extent, the fact that our customers are paying exorbitant prices for gas, food and almost everything else in their lives is having a tremendous impact on our businesses in all segments of adult retail.”

For Svakom’s Feynerol, inflation has been a return to a sense of normality; he explained how “in the recent months, due to inflation, war, gas prices, the whole industry growth has finally reached some more normal numbers.”

However, he doesn’t think the industry is at risk of losing the new customers it gained. “Even if everything slowed down, the world has already opened up way more sexually in the last two years alone compared to the last decade, and nothing will take it away from us,” Feynerol said. This is because even if people have to make budget cuts, the genie is out of the bottle in regard to sex toys.

Luckily, it seems that this industry benefits from customers who are understanding of inflation’s impacts, especially if they shop with a company that is clearly taking steps to keep costs down. As Love Shack’s LeFevre pointed out, “Like every other industry, I think our customers understand that inflation is something we all must deal with currently.”

“We do our best to keep our prices from jumping exponentially, but are still constantly making slight increases as our supply price increases,” LeFevre continued.

Evolving With the Supply Chain

Of the many issues that arose during the pandemic, logistics and supply chain issues are still a burden for the industry. For Sahn, production and distribution problems are further evidence that “the effects of the pandemic are far from over, even as hospitalizations and deaths decrease.”

However, despite many agreeing with Sahn that COVID’s shadow will continue to disrupt supply chains for a while, many leaders in this sector see it as an opportunity to rethink problems.

As Feynerol pointed out, “Supply chain issues are a problem now, but it’s an easily solvable one with some adjustments to restocking plans. Both vendors and clients have to start planning a month earlier than the usual.”

While discussing the hardships of the pandemic’s supply chain issues, Sportsheets CEO Julie Stewart also noted how they served as valuable lessons.

“We are resilient and have a well-seasoned team who continue to face these challenges head on and keep our inventory in high quantities which keeps our customers well supplied,” she said. “To us, more challenges means more opportunities to think outside the box to solve the problem.”

Patricia López, CEO of MyHixel, provided a specific example of how one company is adapting to these concerns.

“In our case, we try to minimize the impact by assuming the increase in the unit cost of the product,” she said. “As a company, we make provisions when placing orders, acquiring greater supplies, and taking into account the times, as well as assuming the increased cost of our product so that customers are not affected — and taking into account that we are a startup, it is still a great effort.”

MyHixel and other retailers learned to adapt by figuring out what consumers want, and figuring out suitable alternatives if the original is out of stock. This openness to alternatives has enabled stores to keep their shelves stocked.

LeFevre, for instance, shared how she has “become accustomed to finding similar alternatives to products and will steer customers toward something as close as possible to what they are wanting.”

Additionally, she continued, “It’s become my new normal when placing orders to have multiple tabs open with different suppliers and finding who has what available when I need it.”

López noted that it isn’t just the availability of materials like silicone, rubber, and plastic that is impacting prices; a decline in microchip production has also made a big impact. Microchips are not only crucial for many new state-of-the-art toys, but also necessary for the machines that make the items. Until the chip shortage is resolved, the industry should anticipate continued disruptions.

We are now nearly three years into a world that knows COVID. For industry leaders such as Kimberly Faubel, COTR’s sales director, it is crucial to remember that the virus isn’t gone and we need to learn to live with it responsibly. Instead of being apocalyptic about the situation, Faubel shared that the industry could build off its success with STIs and promote COVID testing as well as prevention.

“From my experience, this includes a much more open dialogue about folks’ statuses, which can be super beneficial when relating COVID testing and protection to that of sexually transmitted infections and protection methods, and I think this is a very encouraging outcome from a most discouraging source,” Faubel said. “We’re also seeing brick-and-mortars taking cleaning practices to a new level and engaging product testers with their guests on a more personalized basis.”

Focusing primarily on the economics of the industry, Sweet Release’s Black stressed that businesses need to accept that customers are now more informed about these products than ever before.

“The permanent impact post-pandemic has been consumers are savvier than ever when it comes to researching adult retail pleasure products online,” Black said. “Gone were the days where price competition was the only thing that consumers considered. Smart consumers now look at reviews of products as well as reviews about retail stores.”

Staffing Tribulations

Another major negative effect of the pandemic that many companies have experienced has been termed “The Great Resignation,” which saw droves of employees not returning to their jobs following mandated workplace closures.

“For a while, I have been saying that things would get back to normal after the pandemic calmed — however, this seems to be an enduring problem,” said Zondre Watson of Secrets Adult Boutiques. “It’s not just trying to select the right candidate; it’s getting people to show up for interviews. And many people walk off the job. Initially, it was because the pandemic forced people to reevaluate their careers and lives. Many people decided to move to make major life changes. Now, it seems there are very few people left looking for work in fields like retail and the service industry.”

Watson says that while the stores can’t offer the social media stardom that he thinks a lot of people are chasing today, Secrets Adult Boutiques are doing market research to ensure that they are offering appropriate salaries based on the cities where the stores are located.

Holiday Products’ Ken Sahn also believes that the reason behind issues with staffing and retention is the pay structure and benefits offered to employees.

“The unemployment rate is extremely low, which means the market is very competitive for qualified workers,” he said. “Those that ‘step up’ do not seem to have major issues. I believe there is not much difference as a distributor, retailer or manufacturer in retaining and motivating staff. You must first hire right, pay well and treat every employee with respect, dignity and as a professional. More times than not, you will be rewarded with strong, dedicated, long-term employee/partners that are essential in building and maintaining your business. I have been very fortunate and very lucky to have accomplished this at Holiday.”

LeFevre said that despite up and downs with staffing, Love Shack has retained a core group of employees, all of which have been with the company for at least a year.

“Before COVID, we had longer hours and are slowly getting back to those operation hours, but we have managed to continue to produce the numbers that we need while utilizing fewer employees and shorter hours,” she said.

A few theories have been suggested as to what is driving people to abandon their traditional 9-to-5 jobs, including pervasive social media-driven fantasies of quick money and living in luxury, as well as deeper reasons.

“This may be controversial, but I think a lot of folks took stock of what was important to them over the last few years — and for a lot of them, work wasn’t it,” COTR’s Kimberly Faubel said. “We’ve seen quite a few people shift roles within their company, reduce hours or leave altogether. On the flip side, some people have moved up in their company, taken on a new role in management or leadership, and I think it’s all landing where it’s supposed to land. When faced with a global pandemic, isolation from loved ones, undeniable inequities in our communities and the very systems we are meant to rely on, we are all given the opportunity to play a role.”

Jessica DellaMonica said that when Playtime Boutiques reopened following pandemic closures, the retailer had trouble finding staff willing to work despite the fear of COVID, especially when the roles revolved around working with the public.

“I see a lot of change in overall work ethic,” DellaMonica said. “People are putting their wellness first, which is understandable. I try my absolute hardest to keep this a fun and healthy environment for my team. We have fun contests and I encourage them to expand their knowledge. One thing I really look for in a prospective employee is a passion for the products they’re selling. That naturally creates a motivating environment for my staff. I treat them in a way that they’re excited to come to work every day and constantly reassure them how important our jobs are as retailers and sex educators. There’s something about the experience we provide people that the staff tries to perfect daily — and I love it.”

Jett Black views the kind of adaptability and hybrid working models originally conceived in response to the pandemic as being here to stay, and believes that embracing these approaches will be key to retaining employees.

“At Sweet Release agency, our retail clients have begun recruiting digital sales consultants and personnel worldwide, as well as incorporating Zoom, Skype and WhatsApp into their communication and sales strategies, to stream product experiences to customers and encourage sales, especially among customers who have not felt safe returning to physical retail stores. Retail stores with physical shop fronts are adapting to incorporate online retail to mitigate staff shortages while customer demand continues to increase,” Black said.

As an ecommerce company, Raj Armani noted, Besharam was already accustomed to working with a remote team spread over multiple countries and time zones. Nevertheless, the company still faced challenges when trying to hire new personnel.

“The pay scale has shot up and pay expectations are up by 40-50%,” Armani said. “This appears to be a knee-jerk reaction in demanding post-COVID recovery, and we think in a matter of few months, the market should stabilize. We keep looking for a quality CTO, webmasters and a new COO to take over my responsibilities as well.”

Michele B. also says that the rising costs of living is making it difficult to afford the caliber of employee that CK’s Secrets and Condom Knowledge stores look for. She explained how she expresses appreciation for her team.

“We cherish the employees that we do have and try our best to accommodate them,” she said. “On Fridays, as long as we don’t have any serious staff issues, we play games in our group chat where they can win prizes. We always reward those that deserve it on an individual basis. Surprise pizza parties help too!”

LeFevre also believes that retaining good employees requires rewarding them and keeping them motivated.

“We do weekly team bonuses based on sales goals and individual employee bonuses for accomplishments such as a good customer review, being on time consistently or them just putting extra effort into cleaning fixtures,” she said. “We also like to get input from employees when it comes to decision-making. If one of our employees is more knowledgeable in a certain area, like social media for example, then we like to get their thoughts on how we can improve. This helps everyone to feel included and benefits us all.”

Romantic Depot’s Glen Buzzetti touts his business’ retention of its staff, which include employees that have been with the company for up to 21 years. He attributes it to offering competitive salaries.

“We keep our employees engaged by treating them like a family, with dignity and respect,” Buzzetti said. “Every year, we send our managers and supervisors away on annual vacations, offer plane tickets, buy lunch and dinner on a regular basis for our staff members, give them free products and much more. We will always be there for them, and they know it. If anyone needs a loan or has an emergency, we are there for them with interest-free loans, no questions asked. We have a proven track record of 22 years with no bad incidents or legal situations with any of our employees. Plus, everyone has received a holiday bonus and annual raises even over the past couple of years with the pandemic, although it was difficult being closed for 90 days in 2020. We also have company parties every year, up until COVID, and will continue to later this year. This means an awful lot to the workers as they feel like they are part of a family and have a common goal.”

Alexandro Feynerol explained how manufacturers like his company, Svakom, can play a role in keeping retail staff engaged.

“As a manufacturer, we always need to come up with newer ideas in order to motivate thousands of employees from hundreds of different stores and cultures,” he said. “Some of the ways we use are through cash prizes — very effective in the short run — or through product prizes. I believe the product prizes are way more exciting for both parties because, at the end of the day, anyone would sell better what they love most and what they have an experience of.”

Anne Meunier, the international sales director for Lovely Planet, urges employers to offer the work-life balance that workers are calling out for.

“We promote team cohesion through daily communication,” she said. “Every week, we organize a meeting to move forward on issues, and once a month the entire company meets to discuss strategic projects. We also offer adapted training so that everyone can develop their skills. Employees have access to an outdoor garden with deck chairs to take a break, and one Pilates class per month. Sometimes during the year, everyone is brought together to celebrate the holidays. We have spring and summer parties, or fashion shows with our lingerie brand, with a food truck in a festive environment with music and cocktails.” Faubel shared how COTR places an emphasis on self-care, mental wellness and diversity and inclusion with training and consideration in all aspects.

“We motivate each other when we can slow down and connect via Zoom, including a channel we have entitled ‘Smile,’ which exists purely for us to share uplifting and silly things with one another,” she said. “We are also expanding our sales team this year because we have experienced such growth and that means we need more hands on deck so no one burns out! When it comes to our partners, we are putting our feet back on the ground for IRL trainings, and for folks that we may not be able to physically visit, we are implementing practices to continue Zoom trainings and recordings because no one deserves to be ignored. Collectively, as a company, we believe the salespeople in retail stores are the true heroes.”

Xgen CEO Andy Green also has suggestions for motivating staff.

“We have a program that, when you refer someone for a job and they stay for 90 days, you get a gift card,” he said. “This keeps it all in the ‘family.’ The long-term effect is a happy place to work, and everyone feels connected to some degree. We bring in food many days of the week, whether it’s a snack, bagels, soft pretzels or a full lunch. I just renegotiated our medical coverage, and now it is less than it was last year; the staff is always appreciative of those kinds of savings. I look to the sales staff for ideas on what items to manufacture. The list goes on, but as you can see, we hit it from many different angles to make sure everyone is included and, most importantly, they are heard.”

Nichole Grossmann, director of marketing for CalExotics, also stressed the importance of making staff feel included and engaged.

“One key way we do this is through profit sharing,” she said. “Every individual that works at CalExotics is included in the company profit sharing plan. The goal with this is to reward our employees for their hard work and to ensure they are set up for success once they retire from CalExotics.”

Big Competitors

The mainstreaming of pleasure products has been met with mixed reviews as more big-box stores have started selling them to the wide range of consumers that they draw, including people who might otherwise be too embarrassed to walk into an adult store.

“More and more, I notice that huge retail stores are starting to carry specific brands and getting involved in sexual wellness products,” DellaMonica said. “Although I’m happy that adult toys are getting the attention they deserve, I think people find it easier to run to Walmart for a cheaper vibrator than to walk into an adult store, which hurts sales a bit. I have mixed feelings about the presence of sex toys in big-box stores, and I do my best to encourage my customers and people in general to support their local adult stores as we have higher-quality products and will give the proper education on them.” Michele B. says CK’s Secrets and Condom Knowledge stays vigilant about brands and prices that it can’t compete with.

“Mainstreaming sex toys in big-box stores hasn’t really impacted our location too much,” she said. “We try not to carry a line once it becomes available at chain stores or online retailers. We also try not to carry brands with ridiculous MSRPs that sell their own product online for lower than we are able to. It takes a lot of research to stay up to date on these issues.”

Considering the much more expansive selection that adult retailers offer, many don’t see mainstream outlets as competitors.

“I’ve always said we sell the same thing as the boot store down the street; it’s just shaped different,” Secrets Adult Boutiques’ Watson said. “In other words, we sell tools just like any other store. It’s great to see this industry become more mainstream. It means that many more people are having more satisfying sex lives. I think it has just made people more comfortable shopping in our stores.”

Love Shack’s LeFevre also sees no problem with big-box stores carrying pleasure products.

“The small number of items that these stores do carry, we just make sure to closely match prices on those items when possible. And even though it may seem intimidating to keep up with big-box retailers, I do not see my local Target carrying a realistic dildo in the near future,” she said.

Sweet Release’s Black offered some suggestions for how retailers can stay competitive with the mainstream, while drawing new and returning customers.

“Smaller adult retail store establishments need to adapt the way they engage their target market and audiences,” he said. “This has included the resurgence of loyalty programs where customers earn points or dollars towards their next purchase, as well as strategic email marketing campaigns that build loyalty and entice customers to repeat their spending patterns. Mainstreaming of adult toys has also contributed to customer considerations on price versus quality, as well as ease of access, anonymity in the purchasing process and speed of delivery.”

The more consumers get friendly with pleasure products, the more they’re learning about how to choose the best quality. Today, manufacturers are delivering on the demands of consumers, with more products made from body-safe, clean ingredients and materials.

“The adult industry has a huge presence now,” Jessica DellaMonica said. “Whether it be on social media or products being endorsed by celebrities, even sex work is up front and center. It’s everywhere. And the more that happens, the more sexual wellness is being recognized. The industry has evolved so much in the use of their materials and being environmentally conscious. I remember seeing the Gaia biodegradable vibrator and thinking it was the coolest thing ever! The upcoming generations care about the wellness of their bodies, the wellness of our planet, and they’re more aware of the do’s and don’ts. This is why education is so important. I’m in love with the fact that organic materials, high-quality lubricants, high-grade silicone and overall sexual health is trendy.”

The growing availability of pleasure products in stores and online also means that consumers are making their opinions about products known through reviews. The internet enables customers to dive deep into the details about the products that they’re buying.

“Customers now are more willing to spend the extra money on a good product if they know in the end it is worth the cost compared to multiple less expensive options over the same time frame,” Watson said. “I’ve noticed that customers have become more knowledgeable when it comes to lubricant as well. Years ago, when I first started in this industry, a customer would come in and ask for ‘a good oil’ and when I would ask whether they meant a massage oil or lubricant, they would look at me questioningly. As of lately, customers come in and ask about specific ingredients and have done their research prior and know what they want and what works for them.”

Savvier customers are not just more demanding of the quality and price of products, they’re also looking for quality customer service.

“Customers are wary of buying products from adult retail stores they cannot contact by telephone or email and get a response within 24 to 72 hours,” Black said. “We have seen that after introducing call centers, sales systems and retention strategies into adult retail stores, there was an increase in customer retention and sales of 300% compared to other retailers who do not adopt these same sales systems and strategies and/or versions thereof.”

Calling All Shoppers

Advertising pleasure products or an adult retail location is a challenge, with so many platforms forbidding adult-related content. Nevertheless, companies are working around these obstacles and getting creative with social media marketing, as well as embracing more traditional formats.

“Social media is very restricted as META has introduced new restrictions around censorship of adult entertainment and adult business,” Black said. “SEO, paid advertising and public relations strategies empowered by customer retention, empowered by email marketing and SMS Marketing that solicits personal relationships with customers, is the silver bullet to increasing sales and maximizing revenue, customer generation and market penetration for adult businesses including retailers worldwide. At Sweet Release Agency, our legal, risk and compliance team constantly monitors international laws around marketing, advertising and digital media to maximize the efficiency of our clients’ marketing, digital advertising and publicity strategies.”

LeFevre noted that despite the restrictions, social media is still Love Shack’s best way to reach new customers.

“We are unable to use the paid advertising features, which is frustrating, but we have managed to grow our audience organically and still see results from it,” she said. “Facebook has become our go-to when reaching local customers, whereas Instagram has been more of a wider range of audience from all over. We are very careful when posting content on social media that will cause issues for us, such as nudity, graphic illustrations or words and any realistic-type products.”

Navigating social media restrictions can be tricky and one false move can get an adult retail brand’s posts removed, their account suspended or even banned altogether. Besharam’s Raj Armani said that even with imagery that is mostly conceptual, educational and without nudity, his company is used to taking hits from time to time.

“In our ecommerce business, social media is everything,” he said. “It’s where conversations start, communities engage and followers/ visitors take home values based on practical sex ed, better information for improving sexual health and to learn about how to enjoy better sex in bite-sized, digestible pieces of content. We also believe that social media will not just be for boosting or promoting, but a real possibility for your brand to go from zero to hero in matter of days.”

DellaMonica credits social media and word of mouth for driving traffic to Playtime Boutiques, with Instagram being particularly effective in promoting the retailer and its products.

“We use Instagram the most and that seems to be the one that reaches the most people,” she said. “Tik Tok is effective also, but the guidelines are so strict we don’t put too much effort into that platform. We navigate the restrictions very carefully. Some packaging we know we can’t post pictures of, so we try and advertise the fun things instead. Things that catch people’s attention. One thing that I noticed is you can’t boost your posts or do a paid advertisement to reach more people if you’re advertising adult products, and that should absolutely change.”

Tami Rose, the owner of Mississippi-based brick-and-mortar Romantic Adventures, says she’s found success through advertising on the radio. However, the store’s most effective method for marketing is through offering sex education and advice.

“In my business, I focus on the steak, not the sizzle — I provide quality products with a good selection, we offer helpful advice and I create good content for the website,” she said. “Mediums change, it’s the message that matters. Our message is about accessibility for everyone to have a good time — whatever that means for them.”

Future Plans

With half the year now behind us, retailers are back into the swing of things and refocused on their plans for growth that may have stalled due to COVID. The pandemic also has persuaded more retailers to build and perfect their online presence.

“Our main goal for the rest of the year is to tie our website into our inventory management system and then work on more SEO and local search optimization,” Watson said. “Then we will work on social media; it’s an area where we have a lot of work to do. We are also looking at opportunities to modernize our arcade business.”

Armani said that his company also is focusing on SEO, along with email marketing.

“If we can master these in the right way, our brand is here to stay and our customers will find us,” he said.

Though expecting consumer spending habits to go back to normal, LeFevre said that she is hopeful that Love Shack will continue to thrive as it plans to expand its reach.

“We hope to grow our online store even more and are in the works now for another brick-and-mortar location that will be more boutique-style and focus mainly on lingerie and a small assortment of quality toys and lubricants,” she said. “Although this industry is becoming more mainstream and accepted, we believe there is still a market out there for a large group of customers that may be intimidated by walking into an adult store. So, we plan to figure out a way to open the door for these customers to make them more comfortable.”

Glen Buzzetti said that Romantic Depot will turn its focus to social media and YouTube as the company starts to franchise store locations throughout the U.S.

“Twitter is by far the friendliest when showing adult products. However, a YouTube channel is fine as long as you are 100% educational, with humor, consistent, with funny hosts and you have to post almost every day,” he said. “So, if we as a growing retail chain get a talented team together, we will give it a shot.”

DellaMonica is focusing on increasing her stores’ success with a carefully chosen assortment of offerings.

“The more experience I get as a buyer, the better I become at putting the best of the best in my stores,” she said. “Our plan for the rest of the year is to keep up with growing trends and the newest products on the market so we can offer a revolving inventory. We plan on focusing on bringing in the highest-quality products, supporting up-and-coming businesses and learning more ways to better our customers’ experiences when they shop in our stores. We also plan to focus on new collections of sexual health and wellness products and promote sex positivity and inclusivity on every level. We’re planning for our best years yet!”

Rose also is planning to make more room for growth.

“I have created more warehouse space on the property, and I will make sure I have a three-month supply of the top 20 products at least,” she said. “I’ll keep my nose to the ground for good wholesale opportunities and make large buys so I can incur fewer shipping costs. I’ll try to negotiate to get better deals so I can keep things affordable for my customers.”

The pandemic may have created multiple challenges, some of which are still ongoing, but it also served to reinvigorate adult retailers’ passion for this ever-changing industry. The enthusiasm and determination of the retail pros we spoke with suggests that they are ready and willing to take on those challenges, plus whatever new ones may arise along the way.

Adult Retail Industry Experts Discuss State of Post-Pandemic Market by Ariana Rodriguez originally appeared in XBIZ

Industry Etiquette Tips for Adult Retail Newbies

If you are a micro-retailer or a small manufacturer in this industry, chances are you may have felt overlooked or underestimated at some point simply based on the perceived size of your business. New small businesses are often dismissed, disregarded or viewed skeptically, mainly due to historically high turnover rates for aspiring retail entrepreneurs in adult novelty.

Before online ecommerce platforms like Shopify became available, white-label turnkey sex toy websites were efficient solutions. Many people with little to no experience in adult retail saw big dollar signs and wondered how they could get a piece of the pie. A white-label store was a quick, low-cost option to get up and running fast. Some white-label sites are still cashing in on their early adoption of this model, but many bailed when they realized that achieving ROI required more time and effort than they had anticipated.

After watching new businesses die time and time again, it is not surprising that product suppliers and sales reps focus less time on startups or low-revenue businesses, devoting more time and energy to accounts generating rapid, repeat revenue that positively impacts the bottom line. As a result, new ecommerce businesses today often receive the “I’ll believe it when I see it” treatment from people who are supposedly there to help them.

For instance, along with small ecommerce startups without SEO or influencer budgets, home party business owners are frequently considered low on the wholesale account hierarchy because many have started their businesses as a side hustle. I have watched many passionate home party business owners step away from their businesses because time commitments for their primary jobs and/or their families eventually outweighed their entrepreneurial aspirations. Abandoning a business doesn’t necessarily indicate that someone is thin-skinned or incapable of executing their goals. Receiving a call from a supportive account rep can make all the difference in the follow-through.

Unfortunately, the dismissive mindset towards small and micro-businesses has entrenched itself in our industry’s culture — “culture” being the unspoken rules that drive certain behaviors. It can manifest during trade shows and/or at various stages of relationships with product suppliers.

For newbies, navigating this culture requires decoding the nuanced language of B2B adult retail. However, this is no quick or easy process. This industry is tightknit, but it can also be tight-lipped when it comes to the ins and outs of industry etiquette, best practices and business relationship dynamics. Unfortunately, those who enter adult retail don’t have a handbook to guide them. Many of us learn through first-hand experience, by observing colleagues, befriending an industry veteran or through the classic gossip grapevine. Still, there are times we all want to press “fast forward” during different stages of the learning curve.

 

I don’t claim to have all the answers — unless the topic is cats — but I have found the tips below to be helpful for my wholesale accounts and my personal experiences while serving as a wholesale account manager. Decoding some of the subtler cues should help new retailers save time with sales reps, alleviate common frustrations on both sides and/or enhance long-term business success for all parties.

Suggestions and insights for new adult retailers:

For those establishing their first business, it is perfectly fine if you’re doing everything at once to get up and running, including acquiring a wholesale account. However, do your best to come with a tax EIN number in hand and/or a resale permit. Tax EIN numbers are free to obtain online. Also, depending on your region, some states do not require a business license.

Be as detailed as you can in your wholesale application. Aside from your EIN, a website domain and at least one business social media channel indicate that you are making active progress. Some vendors prioritize applicants with EIN numbers, a website domain and/or a physical store location, for example.

Identify your target audience. Develop a profile for your target customers to learn their motivations and their pain points. Identifying a core ecommerce audience will be helpful for navigating the product curation process, leverage your business in a very crowded market and serve as an anchor for your long-term business vision. For new brick-andmortar owners who will carry a little bit of everything, organize your store product sections so that you’re equipped with a roadmap by the time your account is set up, if you haven’t done that yet.

Learn the ABCs of Minimum Advertised Price policy and how it supports retailers and a brand’s integrity. Determine if you want to sell non-MAP products. For both physical and digital retailers, non-MAP products can quickly devolve into a race to the bottom with customers looking for the lowest price. This can affect your margins. Always — and I cannot state this enough — mind the MAP if it is required by a brand. Undercutting is typically perceived as a distasteful practice. Authorized sales are sometimes extended to retailers by a manufacturer during a holiday or for a limited time. Violating MAP can get your wholesale account revoked by a supplier.

Once your account is established, commit to meeting your rep halfway. Let them know your preferred method and frequency of communication. Be respectful of and efficient with their time. If you are looking for product suggestions, try to avoid broad inquiries like “What products should I carry?” This is why knowing your audience is helpful for your success and to ensure your sales rep can deliver the best guidance for you.

Suggestions and insights for new adult retailers selecting a wholesale supplier:

Apply for a wholesale account with multiple distributors. Having options is a good thing, especially for drop ship ecommerce models. The amount of time it takes to process your application and establish a point of contact can set the tone for the long-term business relationship. First impressions are often telling of how invested a vendor is in small business support. Two weeks or less is a reasonable amount of time to receive a response on your application or to hear from your sales rep.

Attend a trade show. Notice reactions when someone reads the criteria on your badge. Take note of those who acknowledge you, value your business, and ask questions about your story. Spend five minutes in the booth. You’ll know what I mean.

Ask what each vendor’s drop ship fees are. These are separate from actual shipping costs. A drop ship fee of $2-2.50 is average but some may make exceptions and reduce the rate for consistent high volume accounts. Great! Note that both distributors and manufacturers may implement wholesale order minimums.

Create a test drop ship order and a test bulk wholesale order. How long are their processing times? Most distributors process and ship drop ship orders within one or two business days. Note that a quick turnaround won’t always happen on a Monday when they are catching up from weekend orders. On average, a large stock wholesale order should take no longer than three to four business days to leave the warehouse — though this does not apply during major holiday seasons. Some will say that anything over two days is too long.

Take note of wholesale prices across multiple distributors and vendors. One may list the wholesale price of a product at $10 while another may list the same item at $8. So when you receive a “20% discount” on the $10 price, it’s not a “discount.” It’s a padded price that becomes equivalent to the standard wholesale price once it has been “discounted.” Regarding distributor dynamics, each wholesale supplier operates differently. While individual reputations for service and efficiency are more or less the same year after year, there are times when things shift for better or worse depending on how staff and management evolve over time.

Qualifying or denying B2B account leads shouldn’t be centered solely around the immediate needs of a distributor’s or manufacturer’s business, yet that is what it is often reduced to. It would behoove vendors to leverage targeted small business support to help new micro-businesses, most of which are traditionally under-served.

Regardless of former business failure rates, there is no justification for the inferior treatment and discrimination that many micro-business owners have experienced before they get their businesses to a profitable point.

This is not to say that wholesale suppliers operate with zero integrity. Sales reps are typically the hardest working people in the business. Sales rep life means there is virtually no such thing as being fully caught up before today ends and tomorrow begins. They deserve grace because they are often overloaded with balancing so many priorities that there is no time to communicate with new businesses, as much as they may intend to. Between servicing existing accounts and putting out figurative fires on a day-to-day basis, it can be near impossible to think about anything beyond the current moment. A normal day in the life as a sales rep is demanding, to say the least — and now that travel is starting to pick up again, communication is even more difficult for the road warriors.

The word “inclusive” is a hot buzzword in this industry when it comes to consumer marketing. Let’s not leave it out of our vocabulary when we are referring to new retailers and small manufacturers who are putting in the work. Despite time limitations, there are different ways to validate new business owners who are braving the industry alone:

At shows, big spenders get a lot of love with invites to private suite parties, dinners and events. Small biz owners who made the expensive trek to attend a trade show with the hopes of buying products deserve to shoot golf balls out of cannons and race go-karts in space, too. Calling all sponsors! Time to host a small business mixer for newbies. If someone is invested in attending a show, they are likely invested in the short- and long-term growth of their business. Small spenders today could evolve into key accounts in the future. A memorable experience can determine whom they choose to order from. Dollars aside, how about that “inclusivity”?

Spend time with people you don’t know during lunches and networking events. Befriend unfamiliar faces who may exhibit timid body language while occupying a table. Break the clique tradition. And try to avoid the cringey “badge glance.” It’s time to drop that like phthalates. It is a hefty ask for reps to balance serving existing accounts while also going deep into helping new micro-businesses. Perhaps it’s time to explore the idea of employing at least one B2B sales rep who provides specialized, tailored service for new and/or small adult retail businesses.

“There is no way that will ever be profitable for a distributor or product supplier,” some may think. Yet between more access to small business capital, accessible resources for entrepreneurs, consumer demand for more sexual wellness products, the Great Resignation of 2021 and post-pandemic resiliency, we will likely see more people take the leap into entrepreneurship. Adult retail is no exception, and establishing profitable relationships with those new entrepreneurs will be important.

Changing the culture of any organization or industry must trickle down from the top. That applies to management and mindset. For now, the best place to start may be simply shifting perspective from “When will their business die?” to “When will their business take off and thrive — and how can we help make that happen?”

Industry Etiquette Tips for Adult Retail Newbies by Casey Murphy originally appeared in XBIZ

Why Retailers Should Look at Distributors as Collaborators, Not Middlemen

When I first started my business back in 2015, I was ordering products from a single wholesale distributor, and directly ordering products from a handful of companies. Back when it was only me managing inventory and selecting products, I quickly learned how much knowledge I was missing — knowledge I needed in order to run an online retail business smoothly. I was over-ordering products that didn’t sell, not ordering enough of something that would fly off the shelves, and wanted to avoid drop-shipping at all costs — I wanted my shop’s packages to be custom-made with love.

Back then, I even hand-wrote thank you notes for each order. Times were different! I quickly stopped having the time for all the cute personal touches I’d had the energy for in the early days. In the first space I shipped out of, incoming packages were stolen. In the second space, incoming packages were locked away in a mailroom that I could only access via a building manager who was very hard to reach. In my third space, and the last space I personally managed, we often had to call the mail carriers to remind them we needed them to pick up our outgoing mail. A lot of energy was spent on logistics, order fulfillment, and all the mundane annoyances that come with running an online retail store that no one thinks about when they’re starting a business.

Given my skill set, I was not meant to be a warehouse manager. When I began Spectrum, I wanted to have a business I could really be proud of — but my love of sex toys, sex education and interacting with customers completely eclipsed my ability to realize how many logistical skills I lacked. Still, I refused to rely on drop-shipping; I had too many special requests and customizable aspects of my orders to ever envision someone else helping me fulfill orders.

As I began working with more wholesale distributors, and many more product brands directly, I realized that a lot of what I needed lay a mere five miles from my space in Detroit. I’d been working with a local distributor for just under a year, carting product from their warehouse to mine in my CR-V. It was convenient, yet I’d be doing this run multiple times a week, still spending my energy on logistics, not education and sex toys.

Speaking with the distributor’s team, I quickly realized that we had shared values when it comes to the pleasure products industry, and I decided to go for it. At first, it felt like I was dropping my firstborn off with a new babysitter for the first time. There was certainly a learning curve in the first few months as I worked with the distributor to have their team fulfill orders in the specific fashion we had established. It took a lot of communication and physical time at the warehouse to get everything set up, but two years later, I can’t imagine how it would be possible for me to scale up without larger systems in place for my inventory and order fulfillment.

All of this is to say, I think more small businesses would massively benefit from working with a wholesaler to create a shipping fulfillment partnership that isn’t simply “drop-shipping.” I have found it has been a very mutually beneficial partnership, and as a result, I never run out of staple products like lube or Magic Wands.

There is a fear that having a wholesaler as a go-between takes away from our margins and prevents us from getting better deals that might be available if we purchase directly from a brand. While that may be true in dollars and cents per unit, it is all made up for in the time and money I am not managing warehouse staff, or receiving a massive amount of inventory by hand, or needing to calculate inbound shipping as an additional cost. I value the time it has freed up so my team and I can do what we do best: talk about sex and sex toys!

Ultimately, every retailer is going to want something different, but I think this collaging together of practices helps small business owners avoid having to reinvent the wheel, as I did while trying to wear the hat of warehouse manager among my many other hats. It is natural to resist entrusting your customer-facing final product, the order, to someone who isn’t you or working for you directly, but there are so many ways to strike a balance where the retailer and wholesaler can support each other through a partnership like this. While I am an online-only retailer, I can only imagine how helpful this model could be for physical brick-and-mortar stores whose priority is in-person sales and who don’t have the time or staff for a full-fledged shipping operation on top of that.

Despite giving up a bit of our margin, the value of working with a wholesaler is even more instrumental to our success. When I look back at the success of the business, I know we wouldn’t have been able to achieve this without a solid distribution partner.

Why Retailers Should Look at Distributors as Collaborators, Not Middlemen by Zoë Ligon originally appeared in XBIZ

How to Discover Your Brand Archetype in a Pleasure-Based Industry

Think of a brand, any brand. Got it? Now, ask yourself, what is it about this brand that is memorable? Is it humorous commercials or a catchy campaign slogan? Think of another brand, but this time think of one within the pleasure industry. Which brand came to mind?

The question then becomes: How do companies, whether in the pleasure industry or outside of it, turn themselves into a first-to-mind brand? More importantly, how can you do the same? It starts with discovering your brand archetype.

Positive brand recognition and association help form a genuine connection with a customer while building their trust and allowing them to gain confidence as they convert. Ultra-recognizable brands like Chanel, Apple, Nike and Coca-Cola all have a clear understanding of their brand archetype and use this understanding to meticulously build out a strategic approach that branches their archetype into every touch point.

Brand archetypes: What are they and why do you need one?

Margaret Mark and Carol Pearson introduced brand archetypes to the public in their book, “The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes.” Derived from psychologist Carl Jung’s ideas about universal themes and characters that embody human drives and values, brand archetypes have become one of the keys to developing positive brand recognition and association.

That’s because understanding brand archetypes and integrating them into your marketing strategy can:

  • Define and guide your company.
  • Increase returning customers.
  • Influence which emotions you evoke for customers.
  • Increase your brand awareness and recognition.
  • Guide your brand’s content, voice, product decisions, and expansion opportunities.
  • Develop a unique selling point through brand personality.

Let’s review the different archetypes, identifying a well-known brand as an example for each:

  • The “Innocent” archetype, of which Dove is a great example, creates a safe space for customers and is a humble and honest brand.
  • The “Everyman” archetype is a friendly and authentic brand that focuses on belonging and support. Ikea is a popular example of this archetype.
  • The “Hero” archetype, embodied by a brand like Nike, uses brave and honest messaging to evoke the ideal of mastery through hard work and determination.
  • In the “Outlaw” archetype, seen in a company such as Harley Davidson, the brand is bold and rebellious, with messaging that encourages customers to believe in revolution and breaking the rules.
  • The “Explorer” archetype is a daring and adventurous brand. As with Jeep, for instance, its messaging focuses on freedom and exploration.
  • Crayola is an ideal “Creator/Artist” archetype example because its brand is inspirational and captivating while being centered around creativity and innovation.
  • In the “Ruler” archetype, companies like Rolex — often focused on wealth, luxury and success — present as articulate, commanding and alluring to empower customers to feel in control.
  • There is no better match for the “Magician” archetype than Disney. The Magician is about power, and the brand tends to encourage a love of mystery and magic in a reassuring and comforting way.
  • When you look at Victoria’s Secret, the structure of the “Lover” archetype is clear. This brand archetype is soothing and passionate, with a focus on intimacy and sensuality.
  • The “Caregiver,” seen in Campbell’s Soup, is centered on service and care. The brand is nurturing and warm and often leaves customers with a sense of “home.”
  • Ben and Jerry’s is an excellent example of the playfulness and humor you’ll find within the “Jester” archetype. The focus here is on pleasure and the brand is consistently optimistic and light-hearted.
  • The “Sage” archetype, of which Google is a classic example, is all about knowledge and understanding. The brand is guiding and assuring.

How to find your brand archetype

One of the greatest advantages of finding and settling into a brand archetype is consistency. Everything about your company, from design elements to vendor correspondence and customer care interactions, should be on brand. Consistency, especially in branding, breeds success.

So, how do you discover your brand archetype? The process starts off very simply. First, ask yourself, “Which archetype do we most identify with? Would our customers agree?” From there:

  • Examine your company values and mission. Who are you today, what do you represent, and why do you do what you do?
  • Be honest. Does your audience connect to your current archetype?
  • Answer the question, “What do we want to do? Is our goal to provide structure, connect with others, entertain, leave a mark, or take our audience on a spiritual journey?”
  • Determine your brand emotion. What emotions do you want to evoke in your audience or customers?
  • Do a deep dive. Does your company embody the same archetype everywhere that you do business? Is there anyplace where customers may be unsure of who you are, what you want to say, and what you represent?

Narrowing down your options

Here’s how you can narrow down your archetype options by quickly linking your company’s mission with an archetype’s purpose.

  • If you provide structure, or want to, you may be the Caregiver, the Artist or the Ruler.
  • If your focus is on “the journey,” you could be the Sage, the Explorer or the Innocent.
  • If your goal is connection, the Lover, the Jester and the Everyman/ Neighbor archetypes might fit best.
  • If you want to leave a mark or encourage your customers to do so, then you’re probably either the Hero, the Rebel or the Magician.

Once you have a better understanding of your brand’s archetype, you can start introducing archetype-specific strategies into every element of your branding. Identifying an archetype may also help you realize that your brand is recognizable in some respects, but not in all of them.

For example, your branding may carry well through emails, but fall off at checkout or only really come through on certain pages on your website. Do your ads read the same way that your emails do? What about your packaging? How do you communicate with your investors? Your vendors? Your audience wants to know who you are, but you must “know” you first. If you’re confused about who your company is, your audience will be too. Without a clear-cut brand archetype, you’ll likely find yourself struggling to make connections, build brand loyalty and increase conversions.

Every brand needs a clear direction and, ultimately, great branding is one of the keys to success. An archetype gives you a direction for growth and change by establishing guidelines, best practices, and branding strategies that you can lean into. With effective branding, you can lay down strong roots and create stability in the otherwise rocky world of the sex and pleasure industry. Most importantly, brand archetypes can help you connect better with your customers, which can increase customer loyalty and, by extension, your company’s growth.

How to Discover Your Brand Archetype in a Pleasure-Based Industry by Shaneika Jeffrey originally appeared in XBIZ

What Is the Best Toy for Travel?

 

When asked, “Do you travel for business or pleasure?” I always say pleasure, and I do some work while I’m there. Recently the topic of travel came up and I was asked what I think the “best toy” for travel is. These types of questions remind us of the impact we can have on someone’s life experience or quality of life — and what better time to elevate both than when we are on the go?

However, answering this question isn’t about what I think the best toy for travel is. It’s about what someone’s perception of their ideal travel experience is.

Those of us who travel frequently become incredibly efficient in carrying maximum content in minimum space. Does this impact the toys we would personally carry? I would venture to guess most industry reps would agree small but powerful toys are the likely go-to option. We all know someone who knows someone who has hooked us up with the perfect small vibe. As sales reps, it’s our job to translate how these products could fit into a travel-friendly category that could be sold to retailers. Do you have something in your assortment that could present itself as travel-friendly? Or do you have designated products deemed travel-friendly?

At the retail level, this conversation totally changes. When someone asks, “What’s your best toy for travel?” there needs to be a conversation about what travel looks like or means to that person. The right questions not only delivers on customer needs but can provide the sales associate with an incredible opportunity to build the sale.

Take a minute and pick your three favorite people and think about what going on a trip with them looks like. What are their travel habits and go-to items? My sister travels with the preparedness to hit all four seasons and at least five serious emergency situations over a two-day span. A good friend travels with a backpack and nothing more. They are annoyed at taking anything over the absolute bare minimum of one set of clothes. A colleague packs 17 suitcases no matter where they go or for how long. Anything less than two pieces of luggage for footwear is unacceptable. The point being travel looks vastly different for everyone. There is no way to truly assist a customer in finding the right toy for their travel without asking the right questions.

It’s not just about what someone is packing for their trip; it’s about the expectation the customer has regarding their product experience. Hotel rooms — and let’s be honest, elevators — seem to allow people the ability to shed the inhibitions they may have otherwise had at home. Travel gives us the opportunity to experience other people and places, but it also gives us freedom and anonymity.

Each customer’s circumstance is going to mold their shopping expectations. Maybe the customer has a home situation making it hard to be private with their partner and they have opted for a weekend getaway. Perhaps two lovers live a thousand miles apart and travel to see each other and connect when they can. Let’s not discount the staycation as being travel. Creating time and space for yourself is possible anywhere. Each of these situations describes not only a realistic travel scenario, but a potential perspective a person might have about what travel means to them.

When you have a real conversation with the customer and ask the right questions, your impact on someone’s experience is vastly heightened.

Open-ended questions will help the customer articulate what they are looking for.

“Where are you traveling to?” If that feels too personal, “What type of climate will you be in?” is also a good option. “Do you have any limits on space or sizing?” “How will you be transporting your goods?” “What special occasions do you have planned?” “Is it a surprise?” “Do you have a lot of experience with adult health and wellness items?”

These aren’t the only questions out there to ask, but they give retail associates a good start to building a successful sale. Why are these simple questions important? Besides establishing rapport, they are giving you clues as to what the customer’s needs versus wants are. You would not make the same recommendations to someone traveling to NYC for a work conference in January as you would to someone honeymooning in Bali.

At the end of the day, it’s important to reach our fiscal goals — but more importantly, we are helping our customers reach their intimate personal goals.

Ask America’s Sex Toy Sweetheart: What Is the Best Toy for Travel? by Danielle Seerley originally appeared in XBIZ

Defining ‘Wellness’ in the Pleasure Products Industry

If you look around the media (and our industry!) these days, there’s a word you’ve probably noticed coming up repeatedly in reference to a whole bevy of different things. That word? Wellness.

So, what does “wellness” really mean? What is it? How is it used (and sometimes misused) in marketing? How can our industry make a positive impact on it? Buckle in because we are going to cover all of that and more! Get ready to get to know wellness pretty well!

But really, what is wellness?

This can be a complex question, especially when the answer varies based on who is giving it. A doctor, an educator, an activist, and a manufacturer might all define it differently. But in the simplest terms, wellness is about looking beyond basic health to an overall sense of well-being — emotional and mental, especially.

But be careful not to conflate wellness with healthy! Health is relative and often defined by unrealistic and biased standards rooted in white supremacy, fatphobia, sexism and transphobia. And while wellness can include practices and products designed to support physical, emotional and mental well-being, experiencing “wellness” is not dependent on outside purchases. Wellness in marketing and manufacturing Before we talk about how wellness can be successfully addressed in marketing and manufacturing, let’s take a moment to look at how it is often misused. Like with anything that gets a bit of buzz around it, wellness can sometimes be inappropriately used to pressure consumers into buying unnecessary and often expensive products that may hold no benefits whatsoever.

For manufacturers who wish to serve consumers on their quest for wellness, it’s important to offer products that are beneficial in terms of physical, mental and emotional well-being — but also to price those products accessibly and to advertise their benefits clearly and transparently without exaggerating or over-stating their benefits. Evidence-based advertising is ideal, though evidence is not always available because many of these topics are under-researched. Following these introductory ethical steps can help your company benefit from promoting wellness while also potentially becoming a trusted source in a sea of snake oil.

Pleasure-inclusive wellness

Because wellness is so closely associated with health, it can be stripped of the fun and exciting parts of the wellness journey — like experiencing pleasure. Avoid this! At Blush, we believe that pleasure, joy and fun are vital to well-being and thus must be part of the wellness conversation. Cultivating pleasure in our lives is beneficial to mental and emotional health and is a basic human right often stifled or shamed out of us! In a world that often devalues pleasure and fun, the adult retail industry can help keep the wellness conversation well-rounded by validating pleasure practices. True wellness should always be pleasure-inclusive.

Adult retail and wellness

Because pleasure is such an important part of the wellness conversation, it is valuable for adult stores to provide consumers with products that support a variety of wellness practices and meet people where they’re at in their life. Pleasure products can be a great way to match pleasure with well-being and give shoppers something to complement their current wellness journeys — or even get them started!

Inspired by users with specific sexual health needs, sexual wellness products like dilator sets are inspired by a desire to offer options for cancer patients and are made for anyone looking to support their vaginas with gentle and gradual opening and stretching. Kegel training products can help users relax their pelvic muscles and enhance sexual experiences. Toys with thoughtful touches like a long handle that is firm and easy to grip for users with arthritis, carpal tunnel and other dexterity limitations.

Not only is it important for adult retailers and manufacturers to offer products that support shoppers’ pleasure and wellness needs, but they also need to make these products as accessible as possible — meaning quality construction at wallet-friendly prices.

In addition to offering specific products that support the wellness needs of a variety of consumers, adult retail manufacturers need to make those products accessible which means offering quality products at wallet-friendly prices.

Centering pleasure in the wellness conversation — and keeping it transparent, ethical and realistic — can help shoppers feel supported and trusting as they explore the brands and products available to them. Adult stores and their hardworking staff are often shoppers’ go-to (or even exclusive) source of information and recommendations, and by tapping into that need and addressing it effectively, you will likely reap the benefits for years to come.

Defining ‘Wellness’ in the Pleasure Products Industry by Verna Meng originally appeared in XBIZ

How to Maximize the Impact of Adult Retail Staff Training

We all know that the adult retail landscape is constantly shifting, evolving and expanding, regularly leaving retailers to wonder what they could be doing better or how they can cultivate and maintain a competitive advantage.

The answer, however, may be easier than you think. There’s one surefire way to ensure your establishment shifts and grows along with the industry, and that is investing in consistent trainings for your staff.

Your store’s staff can be its superpower if you take the steps necessary to keep them knowledgeable, both about what you sell and how to create the experience consumers crave.

The right trainings can help build your reputation, boost your bottom line, and take your establishment from just a store to a sought-after retail destination. With that in mind, let’s talk about the impact and importance of providing ongoing training for your adult retail staff — what it means, the purposes it serves, and where you can find the kind of training that will set your store apart.

WHAT IS RETAIL TRAINING?

Retail training is focused on providing sales staff and management access to skills and knowledge that have been proven to create positive customer experiences and boost sales, including but not limited to:

  • Product features and benefits
  • Brand knowledge and expertise
  • Merchandising and display tools
  • Assisting customers in a manner that is both efficient and welcoming
  • Communication and answering questions
  • Maintaining in-store cleanliness and safety
  • Cross-sales, upselling and closing sales

The goal of retail training is to cultivate and nurture a staff of personable, knowledgeable sales associates. Having a staff of well-trained associates can not only increase your sales but also create the kinds of positive customer experiences that make for repeat business, loyal relationships and referrals.

EXAMPLES OF RETAIL TRAINING

There are several training categories that retailers can focus on to optimize their sales associate fleet — everything from new associate onboarding, floor sales and safety, to brand knowledge, pleasure, sex education and more.

Ideally, retail trainings should help sales associates develop skills so they can feel confident on the floor while benefiting from information and knowledge that can improve customer experiences.

However, many stores stop at product knowledge. This is understandable, of course, because some of the most accessible retail trainings come from product manufacturers themselves. It takes a bit more research, but seeking out training opportunities that focus on more than just product details can give your staff a well-rounded experience and access to even more tools to use on the job.

For example, Blush has created a multifaceted retail education initiative called Blush U to help retailers stay up to date on product knowledge while also accessing sexual wellness and pleasure education from our in-house sex educator, Tawny Seren. Other companies offer these kinds of trainings too. You just need to look and ask around for them!

TRAINING YOUR TEAM

When it comes to providing quality training that effectively addresses the product knowledge piece of the equation, one of the best assets available may be the manufacturers you work with.

Blush U offers easily accessible online training sessions, including prerecorded and live assets as well as education sessions, webinars and more. Because our live workshops are hosted by our in-house sex educator, training attendees also can ask direct questions and get even more information about the subjects they’re curious about.

This kind of training not only gives your employees the opportunity to ask questions and learn new information in a comfortable environment, but it can also help you provide your customers with the ultimate shopping experience. Additionally, it can serve as valuable team-building time as staff members work together to stay in the know about new products while earning together.

This type of multifaceted training benefits brands and retailers alike. When you work with manufacturers that demonstrate a dedication to working with retailers in this mutually beneficial way, you will ultimately be able to provide better service to everyone who walks through your door.

When you provide your staff with the trainings they need for an optimal customer experience, you will see results not just in sales numbers. The service your associates can provide when they are up to date on what each brand offers — and how to incorporate education and knowledge into the sales conversation — will pay off in customer loyalty, referrals and overall brand recognition for your establishment.

If you want your store to be the best it can be, take advantage of the trainings available to you because, in this case, knowledge truly is power.

How to Maximize the Impact of Adult Retail Staff Training by Verna Meng originally appeared in XBIZ

How to Establish a Go-To Brand for Sexual Wellness Consumers

Recently I was asked, “How do you get your clients to open up and talk about their sexual challenges?” I’m going to let you in on my response. It’s something I believe can be translated to any business model to lead more consumers into your stores, both brick-and-mortar and online. Here it is:

I am the authority in my field. At each intake session, I begin by asking all my clients to tell me about the sexual challenges they have experienced or are currently experiencing. Most people are so eager to begin enjoying their sex life, they quickly open up and share their vulnerabilities. Why? Because they came to me specifically seeking my expertise. With many years of education and experience in the sexology field, I have become the authority figure they are looking for and can provide them with education and clinical techniques to help them live their best sex life.

It is not as easy as it sounds. Getting someone to open up about their sexual challenges can take just the right kind of language, but it also requires establishing an overall lifestyle brand. There is a lot of behind-the-scenes work I have done to prepare before the vulnerable discussion with my client even takes place. These prior steps help the client feel comfortable and take full advantage of their clinical treatment. In the end, it is all about confidently letting clients know that I have solutions and know how to provide them with value. Again, the major reason clients feel comfortable and confident in disclosing such vulnerable experiences and challenges is that I am viewed by many as an authority figure in the sexual health field. I provide an added layer of confidence to my clients because I have the education, experience and ability to help them live their best sex life.

This level of authority is reinforced by my brand content. Throughout my website, social media channels, YouTube videos and the like, I am constantly breaking through taboos and providing the answers to many questions people are asking or secretly experiencing. Ultimately, I am opening the door for my clients to feel comfortable in sharing because I have already discussed so many challenges publicly, normalized them, and delivered the message that they can trust in me to help them. Overall, this creates trust in my brand and the level of authority to set societal norms that encourage people to make the call and start therapy with me.

There are many ways your brand can become an authority for consumers. Engaging your consumers is a great way to directly impact your audience and show them your value. Top brands that have already established themselves as authoritative have identified their value. Consumers know what they are going to gain from following them on social media, purchasing their products, and being a part of the brand community. Identify ways you can engage your consumers to create brand awareness and elevate your store’s credibility in your field. When consumers have questions about how adult products can benefit their lives and pleasure, you want them to turn to you for the answers! In addition, another great way to establish yourself as an authority figure in the pleasure products industry is through partnerships. The impact of the pandemic has made virtual events and meetings a new norm. One way to build value in your consumers’ eyes, ultimately leading to your becoming an authority figure, is to provide exciting new opportunities and experiences for your consumers.

In 2022, I partnered with an adult toy shop in Houston. This brick-and-mortar created a fun event around “Ask a Sex Therapist.” The event drew in consumers from distant towns as well as their regular customers. Once the consumers were in the store, I was answering questions all night about how they can live their best sex life. This event led to the products selling themselves. People came for the experience! The event made this store so much more than just an adult sex store; it created a sexual oasis and a lifestyle brand.

With societal mindsets shifting from solely in-person events to a mix between virtual and in-person meetings, don’t limit yourself to in-store events only. Online or in person, consumers want to gain something from attending your events, following your social media channels, or buying your products. Connect with authority figures in adjacent fields with whom you can partner to provide your clients with an enjoyable experience and a reinforced sense of value.

Many consumers today are looking to lifestyle brands to provide them with amazing products, education, tips and an overall feel-good culture. By establishing yourself as an authority figure, you are creating brand awareness, starting new trends, and ultimately providing an immense amount of value in your customers’ lives.

How to Establish a Go-To Brand for Sexual Wellness Consumers by Melinda DeSeta originally appeared in XBIZ

Tips for Creating Inclusive Imagery That Inspires Shopping

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and in the era of online shopping, we really do rely on images to communicate our message of acceptance and appreciation to our customers. One way to achieve this is to let your promotional images be a literal reflection of your customers, making your imagery more relatable and allowing them to build a deeper personal connection with your product and your brand.

Often, at the corporate level, it is easy to lose sight of exactly who our customers are for each market category. It is important to regularly review sales statistics to continuously reassess your target demographic and what products are important to them. In doing so, you may recognize niche demands that have flown under the radar. In recent years, my lingerie company discovered that our imagery was not necessarily a true reflection of many of our customers and we decided to do something about it. We realized that our women’s lingerie category wasn’t just for size-2 women. In fact, it wasn’t even just for women. We had been excluding many of our customers with our imagery without even realizing it. We decided we needed more variety.

Given an increasing demand for gender-fluid pieces and androgynous looks, consider compiling a style capsule, consisting of transitional pieces styled to inspire your customers to think outside the lines. These looks can range from high-fashion chic to festival, industrial goth and everything in between. The intention is to accommodate everyone regardless of their gender, sexuality or lifestyle choices. The goal is to encourage both retailers and customers to see pieces in a new light and consider all potential styling alternatives. In doing so, you will broaden the marketability of your products while leaving a lasting positive impression on your customers, who will develop a sense of loyalty to your brand. For a consumer, it is not always just about the product itself, but more about the experience. Customers want to feel seen and understood, and for some demographics this can be a rare find that could give you, as a retailer or wholesaler, an advantage over your competitors.

In addition to gender-fluid imagery, it is important to represent a wider variety of women in your marketing photos as well. At Coquette we always strive to include curvy models in our launches, as a major portion of our sales revenue can be attributed to our plus sizes. With the growing popularity of online shopping, it is so important to have product shots on different body types to make it easier for our online shoppers to choose their size and style. It is also worth mentioning here that excessive photoshopping is not helping our online consumers establish what will work best for them. Although lingerie is about creating a fantasy, it is also about feeling confident with your own individuality. We want to encourage customers to feel sexy, regardless of what society may have traditionally deemed as “flaws.” Stretch marks are the new beauty marks and unique features surpass “conventional beauty.” This is not to say we can’t include our size-2 models too. This means we need to work to include both.

Aside from featuring a variety of body types in your imagery, it is also crucial to include as many different looks as possible. Models of different ethnicities are essential for so many customers to connect with and unfortunately this fact is often overlooked in this industry. Statistically, it is harder to measure the volume of sales attributed to each ethnicity, especially online. What we can see is that when we have images available of multiple models with varying ethnicities, we do see a spike in sales. Again, it’s about connection and relatability. The more relatable the imagery, the more consumers will connect with your brand. More consumer connections means more sales and a more positive brand image.

While extensive photo shoots may involve a significant financial investment and may prove to be time-consuming, the numbers show that they do pay off. One way for smaller companies to manage the cost is by sending product to a variety of social media influencers in exchange for content. Another option would be giving your customers some incentive to tag your company’s social media in a post of them wearing or reviewing your product. Be sure to have them consent to your company using the images on your website. One of the benefits to an online retail platform is that there is no limit to how many product images you can include, just like there is no limit to the different types of customers your product may be attracting. If in doubt when it comes to how many images you should have available, more is more. Variety is the key. An aesthetic that is eye-catching to one consumer, another one might scroll right by, so give them everything! If a picture is worth a thousand words, imagine what five or even 10 pictures are worth.

Tips for Creating Inclusive Imagery That Inspires Shopping by Marcus Horea originally appeared in XBIZ

Retailer Tips for Navigating Post-Valentine’s Day Sales

We spend months prepping for our favorite holiday in adult, Valentine’s Day.

It’s the culmination of weeks of buying, receiving, decorating the store, staffing, inventory management and other duties.

Now what? It’s so important to manage this transition before we start hitting Pride season and a few other holidays along the way.

Staffing

Don’t forget how hard your team has worked over the last few months. Most of your stores have been short-staffed, so a lot of your team members are wearing many hats — yourself included. Celebrate in a big way, giving everyone the credit that they deserve. Don’t think that you have a pizza party to celebrate Valentine’s Day and it’s over — you can continually celebrate those wins over the next few months. Rewarding your team for a month or two after Valentine’s Day can keep the momentum going in a big way. Have that traditional party but come up with some other fun ways to celebrate your team. If staffing allows, layer in some extra breaks, or offer coupons to leave early or a few hours of paid time off if possible. You know your team and what they like best; I’m just suggesting extending your normal celebratory period into the upcoming slow months.

Sales Contests

Use this spring and summer to work with your favorite distributors and manufacturers to set up some fun sales contests to rally those post-Valentine’s Day sales. You don’t need to have all the ideas or do the hard work. Most of us have programs in place to easily implement fun and successful store contests without a lot of work. It’s a great way to incentivize people without spending any of your own money. New products are coming out; setting up contests for associates to get their hands on those new items is a total win-win for everyone. Bingo is a fun way to implement a simple contest for prizes or cash. Set up a few spiffs on your top-sellers, and a few slower items to see if you can move some product. Remember, contests aren’t meant to be difficult or add a ton of work to your daily reporting. If tracking spiffs is difficult, pick something that works for you. You aren’t limited to a few options. As a manufacturer, we can come up with a way to support you without adding a ton to your daily workload.

Inventory Management

Now is the time to evaluate your sales floor and mix it up a bit. Freshness on the sales floor keeps your regular customers feeling like they always have something new to shop. Keep those solid top-sellers that perform well for you, but give up that bottom 20% and try some new product strategies. January typically comes with a lot of product releases, so you have options! Don’t be afraid to ask for samples to check out some of the latest and greatest. If you haven’t joined the Facebook group Pleasure Professionals Place, you should do so. It’s a great resource that you can use to learn about new products, as well as inquire how items perform for other retailers, and stay on top of new releases. It’s an excellent source to connect with product and people. XBIZ also features a lot of product reviews on new items; check out the back of the magazine or daily e-blasts for info on new releases.

Trade Shows

We are about to have our first in-person trade show this month at Altitude in Las Vegas. There is going to be hugging, and a lot of it! But there will also be so many new products to see. Think about it: there hasn’t been a live trade show product launch in over two years. Take your time and make appointments to meet with people. There are three full days to walk the show and meet with people, so you have plenty of time to do both. There are also a lot of promotions during the show, and unless you meet and speak with everyone, you won’t know what kind of deals are out there.

Store Decorating

One of the things I love most about Valentine’s Day in retail is how much people decorate and brighten their stores to celebrate the holiday. Keep this tradition going year-round. Think about how motivating and pleasant it was to see everything decorated. The Dollar Store or Amazon have such inexpensive décor to choose from. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but just to see an environment blooming with color around spring is a vivid motivator to shop more. So many toys are coming in new and fun colors, it makes a great impact when you do displays to celebrate these options.

Hopefully a few of these ideas will help resonate in your store and give you some new perspective on old ideas. There is no perfect answer in retail, but having a plan of action is the first way to accomplish big goals. Make this typical slow season one of your busiest by implementing some of these tools.

Retailer Tips for Navigating Post-Valentine’s Day Sales by Danielle Seerley originally appeared in XBIZ