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

Retail Customer-Friendly Tips, Toys for Sensation Play

One of the most erotic ways a couple can slow down and reconnect in the bedroom is with sensation play. Although it’s often associated with BDSM, this type of play doesn’t have to be painful or intense. If soothing and sensual is more your thing, sensation play has plenty to offer; in fact, many who engage in it don’t consider themselves kinky at all. Because sensation play has so many possibilities, it lends itself to the use of countless products — and that gives retailers quite a few options to generate sales.

WHAT IS SENSATION PLAY?

The purpose of sensation play is to elicit physical sensations that heighten the body’s senses. Although that sounds simple, there is a bit of an art to it. It involves exploration of the entire body as opposed to only the genitals. Awakening erogenous zones often passed over during lovemaking is a key factor in achieving toe-curling results. It is crucial to concentrate on areas like the soft underside of the arms and thighs, the stomach, neck and feet.

The tools that are used and the specific combination that they are used in can also make or break a sensation play session. Opposing feelings like hot and cold, smooth and rough, or soft and sharp are best at awakening the senses. It’s also important to warm up the receiving partner as opposed to using something too harsh too soon. With sensation play, couples can raise each other’s adrenaline and endorphins at a gradual pace.

Sensation play can stand alone or be incorporated into a scene with other kinks like bondage or sensory deprivation. In fact, these two complementary activities are recommended, as they also help ignite the senses — but only when all partners involved have consented to each method, of course!

SENSORY DEPRIVATION

Disabling one or more senses can amplify the others, which is the appeal of sensation play. Whether with a simple mask that covers the eyes or something more elaborate like a bondage hood, removing the ability to see can cause the remaining senses to be magnified. This can make a simple touch, sound, smell or taste feel new and unfamiliar as if it’s being experienced for the first time. This can bring about an explosion of unanticipated erotic reactions.

SENSUAL SENSATION PLAY

Temperature manipulation is a great introduction to sensation play. It’s also ideal for those that aren’t particularly into kink but are curious to experiment. Insertables can double as temperature tools that can be used on any part of the body. For customers who are interested in exploring sensation play, suggest setting a waterproof toy in warm water for five to 10 minutes before rubbing and rolling it all over their or their partner’s body for a sensual warm massage.

Additionally, users can alternate a warm dildo with touches from a cooled toy that has been sitting in the refrigerator. The quick switch from hot to cold is particularly intoxicating when used on nipples, inner thighs or stomach.

There are different types of sensations that can be explored. From the tickle of a feather to the satisfying pinch of nipple clamps, to the pleasurable suction sensations of a clit pump, there’s a whole world of sensual sensations to explore even for users that are just starting out!

ADVANCED SENSATION PLAY

A Wartenburg pinwheel should be in everyone’s naughty toolkit. Among the most common sensation play items, these spiky wheels can take an experience from playful to intense depending on how they are used. This device can also be placed in the refrigerator or cold water for an icy, sexy chill. Suggest to shoppers that they start by running the cooled flat end of the device over a partner’s body. When it’s time to turn up the heat, the prickly end can be used along their skin for a sensually biting surprise.

Tools like a flogger or a paddle are great choices for impact-based sensation play. Add a prop like a bondage table to level up the power play, and keep in mind how perfectly suited electrosex items can be for sensation play. E-stim toys are available in a variety of styles like plugs, cock rings, vibrating eggs and dildos to deliver satisfyingly intense zaps, making ordinary toy use into an extraordinary electrifying experience.

Although sensation play is most often related to skin sensations, it doesn’t have to stop there. In addition to using touch tools, suggest playing with the sense of taste. Sweet, decadent foods like strawberries, chocolate and honey can be alternated with bitter lemon.

You can help your customers explore sensation play by suggesting several tools with opposing effects that can be used in succession to gradually ignite the senses. Creatively thinking outside the box and finding alternate uses for toys is important, too. Done properly, sensation play will have your customers returning to find the next stimulating form of titillation.

Retail Customer-Friendly Tips, Toys for Sensation Play by Rebecca Weinberg originally appeared in XBIZ

Catering to a Diverse Customer Base With Gender-Fluid Products

The term “gender-fluid” has been buzzing around the industry lately, but what does it really mean? Gender-fluidity is essentially about removing labels that limit one’s identity and letting people be who they are. Acknowledging and using whatever pronoun a person chooses to express their gender — like she, he or they — demonstrates respect and inclusivity. But so does recognizing that some people may not identify as any gender, or else their gender identification and expression may shift in ways that seem more, well, fluid.

Letting people choose products they want for their bodies, regardless of sex, is a new concept but one that deserves attention. For so long our industry has made products specifically designated for men or women. Now, as we are designing instead for bodies and to help people fit together, gender-fluid items are starting to become their own category. Having items for men, women and gender-fluid customers creates a diverse shopping culture and experience for everyone. Inclusivity in products takes time and work, but with patience this can create such a beautiful experience on your sales floor.

Gender-fluid products allow customers to express and celebrate the full spectrum of gender identities. These products can empower customers to affirm how they want to be seen and they will be forever appreciative of that. Such items can include harnesses and packers, as well as gear such as the stylish T-shirts offered by Thank Me Now with pronouns printed on them.

So how do you incorporate these products into your current assortment? Create a new category or a new display section. These products deserve to be in the spotlight! You are not only offering a more diverse selection of toys but are also creating an environment that is inclusive of all shoppers. This doesn’t just include gender but also being body-positive and size-inclusive. End caps or front-of-store displays are an excellent way to introduce these products to your shoppers. I personally would keep these products in a high-traffic area for a few reasons: the packaging is beautiful, the products are unique and they support an important audience in your store. I don’t see this category ever going away and I expect many other brands will begin to offer selections geared towards this important audience.

What about displays? These products don’t require any special merchandising supplies outside of what you already have in your store. Work with your manufacturer to create a display that is unique to your store. Retailers, please be vocal about display needs; it truly helps manufacturers create the brand support that will make the most impact in your store. Not able to give up a full display area? That’s OK. Continue to merchandise the products in their given categories, but perhaps include a designer sticker or sign that lets the customer know how the product transcends gender stereotypes.

Pride season is coming up and this will be a great way to demonstrate to your customers that your store offers solution-oriented products for all customer needs. Work with your manufacturer or distributor on promotional supplies for Pride events or in-store promotions. What better way to let people know you have products for them than to get involved in local LGBTQIA+ events and community opportunities. Partner with manufacturers’ marketing teams to get signage that engages and educates customers at Pride events, parades or in-store events.

When it comes to gender-fluid products, the goal is to have offerings that don’t make the audience feel like they are buying a toy that’s not designed for them. With the Gender Fluid line by Thank Me Now, we’ve created lifestyle imagery with a diverse group of models so that the customers can literally see themselves using the product. Nothing feels more disheartening than buying a product that you can’t identify with. Show people you care by offering products that are diverse and unique, just like their own special selves.

If there is any industry that should support being inclusive of all gender identities, it’s the adult industry. We are in such a unique and special position to help people when they are feeling vulnerable. Use your wholesale-buying power to create diversity among your toy, lingerie and fashion items. Show your customers real people in the marketing that you display in your store. And lastly, create a store culture that does its very best to be inclusive of everyone.

Catering to a Diverse Customer Base With Gender-Fluid Products by Danielle Seerley originally appeared in XBIZ

What It Means to Be a ‘Product Geek’ in the Pleasure Biz

A lot of us love shopping and keep our eyes peeled for the newest products. Some of us are even collectors or product aficionados, able to list off every available version of a certain type of product and explain the differences between them.

There is another type of product lover, however, who takes things to a whole other level. This person knows the what, when, where and why of each product they are interested in and can happily discuss it all for hours. I like to call these people — including myself — product geeks.

Let’s look at what makes a product geek, what a day in their life looks like, what they know that the rest of us don’t — but probably should — and why you want them making your products. In other words, we are about to geek out about product geeks!

What Is a Product Geek?

A product geek is someone who knows the products they are interested in inside and out. They don’t just know what they are made from; they also know the process. They don’t just know how something works; they know why it works that way.

That’s why I call myself a product geek. I lead product development and design at Blush and use my focus to help shape Blush into a pleasure products company that is both design-centric and tech-focused.

A prime example of my product geekery at work is Blush’s focus on working with the newest materials. When we choose suppliers, we do not initiate collaboration until we have seen the testing certificates for the materials. Then, my team and I work closely with the chosen suppliers to meet and exceed legal regulations for quality. This includes ensuring Prop 65-compliant practices, following ISO-9001 guidelines, testing ingredients and finished products.

Life as a Product Geek

How does one become a product geek? For me, it began in childhood when instead of buying a bicycle, I insisted on building one, choosing every component — from the spokes to the pedals and sprocket — in a quest to build something better. When I look at a dildo, it’s not simply a product for me. It’s the materials, the durometer, the color and all the ingredients involved.

When consumers noted a plastic smell from the company’s PVC products, I worked with raw material suppliers and the production department to figure out how to make the material better. As a result, Blush now uses a PVC made with phthalate-free plasticizer sourced from a European plastics manufacturer.

This is what life looks like for a pleasure toy manufacturer who is also a product geek. Fixating on the specific details, ones that some might think are small or less significant, allows a product geek to anticipate issues beyond just functionality. It has certainly served us at Blush, and it can serve and benefit other companies in the industry.

What Product Geeks Want You to Know

There are many firmly held beliefs about what products and materials are inherently “good” or “bad,” which we’ve discussed in previous columns. A product geek’s perspective on PVC — a material that often gets dismissed as low-quality — is much more nuanced. Being involved with the manufacturing process of the material itself has allowed me to tailor it to Blush’s specifications, including finding a way to reduce the scent usually associated with PVC.

Product geeks take great satisfaction not only in finding ways to create better versions of familiar materials, components like motors and batteries, and patterns of vibrations, but also in creating new materials that are unique to the brand.

At Blush, we work with compounders and raw material suppliers to create materials that are unique to us. For instance, our Puria silicone may look like any other silicone, but it’s not. The ingredients are different, and it’s developed differently.

Product geeks know to look closely and make sure you really understand what goes into the products you select rather than choosing and dismissing products based on preconceived notions.

Why You Want to Work with Product Geeks

Product geeks are passionate, and when they set about creating products, they apply that passion to every part of the process, from conceiving an idea to executing it and presenting it to the world. This passion brings the best, most innovative products to you and your shoppers.

Working with product geeks can help you choose and offer products that are better than you could have imagined, because true product geeks find ways to improve elements that you didn’t even know could be improved.

If you want safe, innovative, quality products that are beautifully made with attention to detail in each step of the process, from conception to packaging, find yourself some product geeks. You, and your customers, will be glad you did!

What It Means to Be a ‘Product Geek’ in the Pleasure Biz by Eric Lee originally appeared in XBIZ

How to Develop Your Online Brand Identity

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or in a cave for years, you can’t have ignored the hullabaloo around “personal branding.” The young, hip and trendy have all been jumping on the bandwagon, “developing” their “brand identity” as have some older peeps for good measure. But is it all hype and not enough substance? Is it another online fad to be kept at arm’s length by less-swayed souls?

Like a great many things in life, the truth is probably to be found somewhere in the opaque middle ground.

While some people are completely gung-ho with the idea of building their own personal brand (probably a great many of these are smartphone-carrying members of “Generation Selfie”) and see it as completely natural but nonetheless essential, there are others who couldn’t care less about picking up a camera phone and waxing lyrical about what’s on their mind, all in the faint hope that it’s going to somehow transform their business.

Alas, whether we like it or not, we’ve all got a personal brand. Even if we don’t actively seek to nurture or manage it ourselves, somebody else will be forming an image (accurate or otherwise) of us. Personally, I’d rather be doing what I can (within reason) to manage my image rather than let it be determined by either the world at large, or search engines. Perhaps that’s just me.

But if you’re proud of the industry you’re in and you’re intrinsically attached to it (perhaps you’re a sex toy store owner or Etsy-selling artisan dildo maker) then if you’ve not already taken steps to create “Brand You,” perhaps it’s best to get started. You’ll possibly be already running a corporate brand, with Instagram and Twitter accounts for each. Now it’s time to do the same with your personal brand. It’s time to officially “invent” yourself. Position yourself. Establish yourself. Then promote yourself — often (but not to the point of obsession — where’s the fun in that?)

Think of branding as the art of making yourself unique so you won’t be confused with anyone else. When differentiating yourself from others, you need to look beyond the obvious qualities that others may also claim to possess.

When your brand is conceived and managed effectively, it makes the second part of the equation — positioning (the hole you fill, or position you occupy, in the minds of others) — simpler.

Establish your brand vision. What do you want to achieve from your adventures in lingerie or sex toyland? Be clear and specific. Scratch your head as often as required to reach your conclusion. After all, if you don’t know what you want, how will you know when you’ve arrived?

Mark your brand territory. If you try to become Jack (or Jill) of all trades, you invariably become a master of none. You cannot appeal to everyone, nor should you try.

Establish your brand identity; sort your name out and how you want to be known as. Yes, of course your real name is absolutely fine. But just like in LinkedIn where there’s room under your name for you to include a quick summary (or if you’re savvy, your own positioning statement), you should be thinking about an accompanying description. If you can’t think of something catchy right now, use a Morphological Box to help you with the process. It’ll work wonders, believe me.

But brand identity is much more than mere names. Your website, social networking profiles, and business card all need to sing from the same song sheet. There must be absolute consistency in the image projected — colors, typefaces, slogan (known as a strapline), memes, pictures — everything!

Think about each time you walk out the door. Do your clothing, footwear and makeup reinforce the brand identity you’ve created? It’s no use positioning yourself as a sexy lingerie designer and putting forward the mantra that you’re “living the brand” if you’re uploading pictures of yourself slobbing out in your sweatpants, or picking your nose. Do you think Dita Von Teese ventures outside wearing trainers (that’s “sneakers” to anyone across the pond) and a hoodie? Of course not. Her enduring goddess-like image would be jeopardized in one fell swoop. The damage to her brand would be instantaneous and incalculable.

And while I’m talking about Dita, look at her Instagram account. There’s not one image of her looking anything other than elegant, glamorous and in some cases, downright alluring. Do you think you’re going to see her uploading pictures of her being drunk and disorderly in a restroom, or a #messyhairdontcare selfie anytime soon? You’re having a laugh, right?

“But it’s being genuine,” I hear you cry. “It’s authentic. It’s people seeing the real me.”

Yes, well here’s the deal. We all burp, fart, pick our noses, and sit on the toilet. We wake up with our hair looking like we’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards (or is that just my particular talent?) That doesn’t mean to say any of this should be documented and shown to the world, does it?

It might very well be you, warts and all, but to what extent is this helping your brands — personal and corporate? Think before you take that (self-validating) selfie in your quest to add some “content” to your social media timeline. By all means be genuine. But that doesn’t mean you have to document every single aspect of your life in a rather vain attempt for attention and perhaps, just perhaps a subsequent sale.

Remember as well: actions and behavior speak louder than words. People can spot fakes. Don’t try to be a larger-than-life extrovert on social media when you’re really rather shy and introverted in person. Be yourself, be authentic. Besides, introverts can be captivating and sexy too. It’s all about playing to your strengths.

What are your brand values? “Brand YOU” requires that you live, eat, breathe, and other things in this persona. You’re living your brand values. But what are these values? What do you stand for?

And now, it’s time to mention your brand positioning: how you’re perceived by others. This is one of the most important aspects of your personal brand building. Ask yourself what three words you’d like used to describe yourself. What’s the one thing you’d like to be remembered for?

In years gone by, marketers would have told you to have a “positioning statement” (a bit like an elevator pitch) always at the ready for when you bump into someone at a networking event. However, you’d be well advised to go one step further and heed the words of business development guru Michael Port. Don’t just have a statement ready: have a five-step dialogue prepared. After introducing yourself, tell people: who you help; what their biggest needs are; how you help them; the key benefit they receive from this; and other deeper benefits gained.

Doing this is advantageous for two reasons. Firstly, it shows you know exactly what you’re about and what you’re doing. Secondly, it ensures that anyone you mention it to is left in no doubt as to your qualities and capabilities. In other words, what position you’ll now occupy in their mind.

Admittedly, it’s quite hard to summarize all of the above. But if in doubt, be true to yourself and remember those positive brand values both to your followers and to industry peers. And be consistent. And don’t forget: perception is reality.

What’s also beyond doubt is that if you have a distinctive brand and unique positioning, you’ll see the results. You’ll make a bigger impact. You’ll be more recognizable. And you’ll probably be more successful.

Now, just in case you think you’ve got to drop everything in order to start your own personal brand building, a cautionary note to the wise. If you’ve got SEO responsibilities in your company, you’ll have surely come across Neil Patel, whose SEO website and blogs are a go-to resource. You’ll see a video from him all about how to develop your personal brand. And well worth viewing, it is too.

But wait: if you look around his website, you’ll find another long blog post explaining why Neil now regrets the growth of his personal brand arguably at the expense of his corporate agency brand. Why? His personal brand revolves purely around him and his contribution, whereas there’s much more earning opportunities to be had with a powerful corporate brand. Food for thought, for sure.

If you’re responsible for building your own brand and building a company brand, it does make sense to build both. It seems rather prudent too. All you have to decide upon is the level of effort expended on both at any given moment. Welcome to the Brand (new) You.

How to Develop Your Online Brand Identity by Brian Gray originally appeared in XBIZ

Medical Study Reveals Health Benefits of Toy Use

A new study presented this week at the annual meeting of the American Urological Association revealed that use of vibrators and other sex toys could have a variety of health benefits.

The study was led by Dr. Alexandra Dubinskaya from Cedar-Sinai Medical Center, with the researchers reviewing the current literature on the subject, Newsweek reported today.

“As a urogynecologist, I spend my time discussing with women their genital and sexual health,” Dubinskaya told Newsweek. “It is often shared that no medical professional ever spoke to them about their sex life, nor their solo sexual experiences.”

Dubinskaya explained that while there is “a stigma associated with masturbation and vibrators, at the same time the concept of ‘if you don’t use it you lose it’ is well-understood and applied to other parts of the body. This concept has not been applied to the pelvic floor, genitourinary or sexual health. I wanted to learn more information on this topic, thus created the literature review.”

The researchers probed the effect of vibrator use on sexual function, pelvic floor dysfunction and vulvar pain, Newsweek noted, and “identified 558 articles containing relevant keywords and then whittled this number down to 21 papers that met all of their criteria for the issues they wanted to study.”

The relevant studies showed an “overall positive attitude towards vibrator use among women and an acceptance of receiving vibrators from medical providers,” the researcher told Newsweek.

The studies also “showed that vibrator use had a positive effect in several areas of women’s health, including improvements in urinary incontinence and pelvic floor muscle strength, as well as easing vulvar pain,” the article added.

“I am not surprised by the findings,” Dubinskaya told Newsweek. “It is my belief that there are many other benefits of vibrator use which we are probably unfamiliar with yet.”

Medical Study Reveals Health Benefits of Vibrator Use by Gustavo Turner 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

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