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April 18, 2017

Redesigning, Restocking, Rethinking: Retailers Share Their Secrets

This article originally ran as the cover story of the April 2017 issue of AVN magazine. Click here to see the digital edition. When a customer wanders into a store or starts poring over a website, one of the first things they say or think about is “What’s new?” Constantly creating products to satisfy that unquenchable desire for something to prod and poke, tease and stroke, poses challenges to both the manufacturer and the retailer. For the brick-and-mortar stores, this means going far beyond just what sits on the shelves: it also translates into making a store look sleek, modern, and appealing to a wide variety of customers returning to see “what’s new.” Innovation is a word that can be tossed around on every platform of this industry. For the manufacturer, constantly reinventing the sex-toy wheel means staying creative and clever to embrace the newest technology while still being aware of the customer who may be buying a toy for the first time. It may be applying a popular technology to their product (app controls, anyone?), utilizing a new, rechargeable battery type, or designing something that one can leave out in plain sight without being obvious as a device for pleasure. For the retailer, maintaining a steady flow of the newest and most innovative products means bringing in inventory that may or may not be a bestseller, no matter what the wholesale or retail price point. Some new and innovative products sell well, but many times they wind up collecting dust on the store shelves. But the gamble can also be lucrative when the product gets rapid social media attention, which then quickly translates into sales followed by shortages for both the retailer and the distributor. Manufacturers often provide the first step in innovation, creating the new designs that can get traction far beyond the sex toy retail industry. Take Crave’s Vesper, for example. The Vesper is a tenpenny-nail-shaped silver or gold vibrator that is crafted to hang delicately in the center of a woman’s décolletage and can be discreetly worn to work, out for the night, or even as a tease to foreplay. With a hidden microcharging port in the nail head, this necklace/vibrator discreetly combines form and function on one beautiful and seemingly delicate crafted piece of art. The well-established We-Vibe became a sensation simply because it was a groundbreaking design when it was first released almost ten years ago. Able to be worn internally and externally by a woman while her partner was penetrating her, the We-Vibe has withstood many new updates, from a remote-controlled version to, most recently, an app-controlled device, the Sync. Although there have been many copycats throughout the years, the We-Vibe still remains a best seller. And oh, did I mention it also vibrates and pulses? Of course it does! Innovations throughout the years have included Lovehoney’s Sqweel, Jopen’s Intensity, Topco’s Twerking Butt, Pulse’s Hot Octopuss, various types of tongues, applying rechargeable technology to sex toys, and two recent ones: the UVee ultraviolet-light adult toy cleaner and the Womanizer. The latter, a gentle, clitoral vacuum pump, created a booming market for a type of stimulation that used to only exist during the best person-to-person oral sex. Among the products that followed is the Satisfyer, which has diversified with several new models and offers extremely competitive pricing. Satisfyer’s parent company has also moved into couples toys with its Partner line. Erin V. of the Cloud 9 line of toys said, “Technology is always innovative and air pulse technology is a game changer. The Satisfyer series of products as well as Cloud 9 Air Touch Rabbits best fit this bill as industry standouts.” Customer demands also drive the innovation wheel, and manufacturers are constantly racing to address those requests. Nowadays, the requests frequently venture into the VR world—incorporating not only toy technology but also adult content. “Every week, there seems to be a new product on the market that takes people to new heights of pleasure,” shared Morgan Panzino of Huntington Beach-based SexToyDistributing.com. “A perfect example is the iFuk. With VR becoming an ever more popular way to entertain oneself, we are happy to carry something that is more intimately entertaining. With this being the first generation for VR pleasure products, we cannot wait to see what the future will bring and how the technology will further develop.” When it comes to stocking the shelves, two factors that are just as important as innovation for retailers are offering variety and uniqueness. A good adult distributor can help retailers refine their product mix. Asked about what products it offers exclusively, Eldorado Trading mentioned Diogol, Magic Motion, Puramour and Malesation product ranges. An expert in lingerie inventory as well, the Eldorado staff recommends stocking Pink Lipstick, Escanté, G World, Shirley of Hollywood and Jack Adams. “With its distinct packaging and recognizable branding, Dreamgirl has an extensive boxed collection that saves space and displays nicely on a wall,” said Allison Travers, Eldorado's director of marketing. “Their diverse range of styles truly have something for every fantasy whether it is fetish, bedroom costumes, wedding lingerie, hosiery or panties.” But how do retailers stand out from other stores when incorporating innovation in their approach to gaining and maintaining repeat customers? Patrick Jagos, the founder and owner of the Phoenix-area store Groove, shared his perspective on the competition in today’s market. “Specialty retailers are recognizing the challenges posed by multi-channel retailing. They are besieged by competition from the likes of Amazon, Walmart, Alibaba, Etsy, and an array of sticks-and-bricks operators all reaching out to the same consumers. Smart and nimble retailers are ensuring that their stores provide an entertaining experience while shopping. Stores that are interesting and unique will be better prepared to weather the storm of increased competition.” Jagos added, “Experience-enhancing elements should be built into every forward-facing part of your business from guest service style, vernacular, and practices to product selection and display to store design. It used to be enough to make an attractive retail store. Not anymore. It needs to be unique and have an unmistakable character. That is all a LOT of work, but it is what we are trying to do at Groove.”  That feeling was echoed by Dave Goldman, founder and owner of Palm Desert’s Skitzo Kitty—particularly on the topic of store design. Open for 16 years, Skitzo Kitty recently expanded to a new location across the street, going from a 900-square-foot space to a very enlarged 2600 square feet. Goldman mentioned, “I switched all the lighting to LED, which keeps it cooler here in the desert and provides great lighting. I also added a high-efficiency AC for the comfort of our customers. I installed chandeliers in our dressing rooms and have the dressing rooms walled with floor-to-ceiling curtains. This way, two friends can simply slide the center curtain over to show the other friend what they are trying on without having to step out into the store. Our customers love that!” Goldman continued, “During buildout, I added designer touches throughout the store, including hardwood floors, stacked stones, installed gently sloping handicapped ramps to the many levels of our store. We also have a public restroom. And the best thing to keep in mind when doing a buildout is to use good contractors!” (Below, photos of Skitzo Kitty.) Jagos also did a complete buildout when he designed Groove two years ago. “The store design at Groove is cool, hip and comfortable,” he shared. “We used muted wall colors, wood floors, exposed brick and lots of warm tones to create a comfortable, almost home-like environment. Then we added street art and graffiti to accent the urban-cool feel of the store. Many of products are colorful and they pop against the muted, earth tones. Our guests love it and they spend a good deal of time exploring the store rather than just shopping. Guests need to find different items at Groove than they find at competing stores.” Groove also got an upgrade in other areas, too. “There is the music, the actual layout of the store, our guest service, the way we package purchases—we could go on and on about this,” Jagos said. “There are a lot of elements to making your store unique, and we are continually trying to improve Groove and differentiate ourselves. We see it paying off in a growing store clientele with 50 percent of our daily guests being repeat shoppers.” (Below, photos of Groove.) But innovation in retail goes beyond just the literal bricks and mortar. Many of the newer boutiques are focused on personalized customer service and product training by manufacturers, areas that many traditional adult-oriented stores are lacking. Carol Gesell, of Oh My! Sensuality Boutique in Northampton, Massachusetts, stressed how important customer service is in the adult toy world. “We have the best, most knowledgeable staff in the area at Oh My! Our staff is also a very diverse group that allows us to meet our clients’ needs that encompass every gender in the spectrum. It forces us to be constantly aware of what our customers wants and needs are, and we are happy to listen to them and bring in the most innovative products for their pleasure.” Groove’s Patrick Jagos also stressed the importance of manufacturers’ support when it comes to innovative products: “True innovation is rare. There have been some great intimacy product advances and I believe it is the industry that drives that forward more than customer demands for innovation. I think our customers/guests are well served by the creative minds behind those product advances. I think they would be even better served by educational improvements by the manufacturers.” Skitzo Kitty’s Goldman added that manufacturers who support smaller retailers with product training and support for new and unique items definitely add to the bottom line of the store. “When the manufacturers take an interest in Skitzo Kitty to show us what’s the latest in their product line as well as provide testers for our customers to touch and feel, that benefits all of us in the pleasure supply chain.” Eldorado’s Travers also mentioned the importance of letting consumers try before they buy. She pointed out Dorr, a modest line-up of toys that includes the newly added Mystic, a wand-style vibrator that serves as four toys in one through the use of a rechargeable control handle that attaches to different head with a simple twist. “Quite simply, it is a top-notch quality and straightforward line,” Travers said. “It’s a fabulous product line that caters to nearly any demographic because of the great quality for the price. It offers users super smooth silicone and intense rumbly vibrations. As most store owners know, testers are very important to help make a sale, and fortunately Dorr offers testers to retailers. An affordable luxury line is a no-brainer; the Dorr line is truly that.” When it comes to innovative products and the response to the customer question, “What’s new?” Jagos provided his personal insight to this never-ending question and found it difficult to choose his favorite innovative product. “Do I have to pick one?,” he joked. “How about a short list? The rabbit-style vibrator changed many women’s lives. The We-Vibe made huge waves when it first arrived and it continues to improve the lives of couples around the world. The Womanizer is on the list for sure. The use of Velcro on a restraint cuff should be on the list (thank you, Tom Stewart of Sportsheets). The Hitachi Magic Wand has got to be on that list, too. I don’t think picking one toy is possible for us.” Staying on top of innovations in the adult products world takes perseverance, listening to customers’ requests, talking extensively to your distributor rep to find out what’s new, contacting the manufacturers to get the latest training, reading trade journals (and don’t forget popular magazines such as Cosmopolitan and Men’s Health) and attending adult product trade shows such as January’s annual AVN Novelty Expo in Las Vegas. There you will find cutting-edge, innovative products that either are in development or just hitting the market. It’s up to all of us for this industry to stay relevant, modern, and yes, innovative.

 
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