Adult Retail Industry Experts Discuss State of Post-Pandemic Market

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.

It's great to see this industry become more mainstream. It means that many more people are having more satisfying sex lives.

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 by many brick-and-mortar 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 out of necessity, 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 Normal

One of the 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 much bigger 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.

Rather than erasing the value of physical stores, digital sales have instead 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, especially if one wants to benefit from the influx of new customers.

“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,” she explained.

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.”

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.”

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: “Based on the increased sales I have seen in my stores, I think people have been exploring and are happy with the results. The 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 engaging 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 has been for businesses to embrace new payment systems. For instance, with budgets tightening, Black found success with “buy now, pay later” 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 methods, Black said, loyalty programs and better marketing help create a hybrid online/in-store experience, and also enable stores to better keep track of what customers want.

The Inflation Factor

Despite the positive changes that came out of the pandemic, some remaining obstacles have been compounded by new challenges. One of these concerns is 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

Logistics and supply chain issues that arose during the pandemic are also still a burden for the industry. For Sahn, production and distribution problems are further evidence that the pandemic's effects are far from over, even though hospitalizations and deaths have been decreasing.

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, has made it a practice to track comparable alternatives for various products and to steer customers toward a replacement when necessary.

“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,” she said.

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.

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 more 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,” 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.”

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 content,” Black said. “SEO, paid advertising and public relations strategies empowered by email marketing and SMS Marketing is key. 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 a 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 is not just for boosting or promoting, but a vehicle for making a brand go from zero to hero in a matter of days.”

DellaMonica credits social media and word of mouth for driving traffic to Playtime Boutiques, with Instagram being particularly effective for promotion of 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.

Watson noted that Secrets Adult Boutiques' main goal for the rest of the year is to tie its website into its inventory management system and work on more SEO and local search optimization.

“Then we will work on social media,” he said. “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,” he said. “However, a YouTube channel is fine as long as you are 100% educational, use humor and are consistent. You need funny hosts and you have to post almost every day. 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 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.

Copyright © 2024 Adnet Media. All Rights Reserved. XBIZ is a trademark of Adnet Media.
Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission is prohibited.

More Articles


Is Generative AI Helping or Hurting the Pleasure Biz?

In her TED Talk “What Will Happen to Marketing in the Age of AI?,” Jessica Apotheker of Boston Consulting Group explains a study conducted by her firm and Harvard University, which revealed that “when people overrely on generative AI, the collective divergence of ideas drops by 40%.”

Casey Murphy ·

A Look at Three POS Scenarios Reflecting Three Stages of Retail Growth

Leading a small-to-midsize adult retail business is exhilarating, yet daunting. Among the gazillion decisions you have to make, choosing the right point-of-sale (POS) system is one of the biggies. Whether you’re just setting up shop or expanding your store footprint, your POS system is the functional backbone of your operations.

Sean Quinn ·

WIA Profile: Blanca Estrada-Gonzalez

Blanca Estrada-Gonzalez will be the first to tell you that she “drops panties for a living,” and she wouldn’t have it any other way. Though Magic Silk’s star saleswoman once aspired to become a medical doctor, the universe had other plans — and those plans involved jock straps, lacy undies and see-through bedroom wear for all.

Women In Adult ·

N69 Founder Kamila Hrecka Brings Sex Ed, Products to the Polish Market

Come for the Catholic cathedrals, stay for the world-class pleasure expertise! While that may not be an official slogan, there is no denying that modern retail boutique N69 is adding a touch of intimate class to the Polish adult products market.

Colleen Godin ·

Canadian Sexual Wellness Brands Nobü, BodiSpa Reveal Goals for Growth

Today’s most beloved pleasure products often blend the adult and mainstream worlds, marketing their sensual designs in boxes that won’t deter vanilla shoppers — or mainstream retail buyers. Canadian sister brands BodiSpa and Nobü aim to embody this vision, bringing adult fantasies to even the shyest of consumers.

Colleen Godin ·

How Gen Z Is Reshaping Pleasure Product Marketing

Gen Z is breaking the customer funnel, and it’s exactly what we need. In the past, figuring out customers’ purchasing habits, both in-store and digital, was relatively straightforward. But Gen Z’s priorities are completely different from those of their predecessors, and so are their shopping habits.

Naima Karp ·

A Look at the Serious Business of Novelties in Retail

Adult retailers put a lot of thought into the products they carry. They want to offer customers high-quality sex toys with the latest technology and features, plus a robust selection of condoms and lubricants — all at competitive prices.

Rebecca Weinberg ·

Retailer Online Engagement Strategies for Pride Month

Pride month is more than a celebration; it is a platform for advocacy, inclusivity and community empowerment. As we celebrate Pride month in June, therefore, it is essential for the pleasure industry to engage with the queer community by embracing thoughtful digital marketing initiatives that resonate with LGBTQ+ audiences.

Verna Meng ·

A Deep Dive Into 'Shallowing' Sex Toys

The term “Shallowing” refers to engaging only in shallow penetration of the vagina, and/or stimulating the vaginal opening and the few centimeters inside of it, rather than deeper penetration and trying to stimulate the G-spot or A-spot.

Carly S. ·

Which Tech Should Retail Businesses Consider Outsourcing?

Since technology is the backbone of almost any retail business nowadays, one of the biggest challenges adult retailers encounter is making sure they have the right technology stack and staff needed to support growth.

Sean Quinn ·
Show More