Inquiring minds want to know—and ANB was there to shine the light, which in this case fell on the opening AEE seminar. Hosting the event was publisher/editor Tony Lovett. The guest panel was comprised of manufacturers (Al Bloom, California Exotic Novelties) distributors (Larry Garland, El Dorado Trading Company; Brian Herbstman, East Coast News) and retailers (Rachel Venning, Toys in Babeland; Coyote Days, Good Vibrations). The panel kicked off with a discussion about the contemporary consumer. Hertzman declared a perceptible shift to the female-driven marketplace, noting that a recent survey found that 67% own a vibrator. Says Venning, “now that people [as diverse as] Martha Stewart and Paris Hilton are openly discussing vibrators, old taboos are dissolving.” The panel also stated that both gay and straight men are taking a bigger bite out of the prostate-stimulating pie. The fact that Amazon.com advertises adult toys—and Fun Factory broadcasts TV commercials—helps to make a once-forbidden subject ubiquitous as well as desirable.
Garland cited stats that reveal college women in the 18-23 age groups are target consumers. “A vibrator guarantees a woman an orgasm,” observed Venning. Days added that “a customer must feel safe and their needs are being met. Knowledge is power for both the buyer and the retailer.”
Fortunately, knowledge is only a few clicks away on the Internet… helping savvy customers to reach a comfort zone when discussing their personal needs with a store clerk. “Previously, customers had low expectations. If a toy [became] broken, they’d throw it away instead of discussing it with the retailer,” said Garland. Bloom noted that “Cal Ex products can be registered online [just like toasters!] and are fully warranted.”
Of course, there’s still a market for staples (“Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit!” they all declare in unison) but technology and education are the motors that drive high-end sales. Says Herbstman, “consumers are willing to spend up to $400 for a vibrator with hundreds of functions, as well as hygienic borosilicate-glass dildos and phalate-free silicone products like masturbation sleeves.” At the mention of hygiene and phalates, the conversation took a distinct swing to the greener side. Sure, everyone wants to be environmentally friendly… but three little letters—FDA—were enough to send shivers down the spine of our pontificating panel. “The minute you get the FDA involved, the [products] cannot be labeled as novelties,” said one hardy soul. “It could take up to three years to get a new product to market. I know of instances where [shipping] containers were held back for inspection, and that affects a whole chain of events down the line. It’s better to follow company guidelines… make our novelties as safe as possible and err on the side of caution.” (Good Vibrations posts phalate-free icons on their website.)
To stay ahead of the curve, our panelists agreed—at least in principle—on the notion that consumer-friendly instructions need to take a more prominent place on appropriate toys. As clamshells go the way of the Cretaceous mollusk, boxed goods are providing just such an opportunity. That is, if the retailer has the shelf space to display them. Everyone on stage bemoaned the fact that the market is oversaturated with too many similar items. While novelty manufacturers can’t make specific claims that product X will guarantee an orgasm, instructional information on the box and through well-trained staff members are proving to be the best medicine for consumers with the novelty blues.