How The Niche Sex Toy Market Grew Into An Unstoppable $15B Industry

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From July 17th to 19th, a four-star Marriott hotel overlooking Burbank’s Bob Hope Airport will play host to one of the most whopping sex toy round-ups of the year, and perhaps of the industry’s decades-long history, too.

Now celebrating its 20th year, the semi-annual Adult Novelty Manufacturers Expo (ANME)* has been in the business of connecting retailers with the latest lubes, vibrators, RealDolls and muchmuch more since before Sex and the City‘s Charlotte York famously tumbled down the Rabbit hole. Today, the internationally attended event boasts an elongated list of exhibitors representing all the latest in sexy toys and tech from old-hand brands like LOVEHONEY and fresh-faced companies like female-focused OhMiBod. And according to the event’s founders, the industry’s customer base and bottom line are both going strong.

“This industry has continued to gain more mainstream acceptance and availability through the world’s biggest retailers [that] have turned the business ‘front and center,’ as a major profit center for retail” said AMNE co-founder Susan Colvin in an event release. “Now it stands as a $15 billion market segment, with projections that it will surpass $50 billion by 2020.”

In honor of the event’s platinum anniversary, the trio behind AMNE Founders, LLC agreed to divulge just a taste (via email) of the insights they’ve gained from helping fulfill our fantasies for decades, and from transforming the once ‘niche’ sex toy market into an unstoppable industry worth billions.


How has the business of adult novelties progressed over the years, and where do you see the industry heading?

Chad Braverman, COO, Doc JohnsonWhen we started in 1976, we were one of a half a dozen pleasure products companies in the world. There really wasn’t an erotic market in America at the time, at least in the traditional sense. Sex toys were being lumped in with other types of novelty products, and they weren’t being packaged or branded in any real way. Items were being stuffed into plastic bags and sold as is. Doc Johnson was the first American pleasure products company to put items in a clamshell, and was also one of the first pleasure products companies in the world to introduce branding concepts like packaging art, logos, product names, and a cohesive brand voice into our business strategy.

The difference between the pleasure products industry when we started Doc Johnson in 1976 and the pleasure products industry today is night and day. Today, sex toys are a $15 billion industry. There are hundreds of manufacturers and distributors, and thousands of retailers around the world. Based on what we’ve seen, we can expect nothing less than rapid, continued mainstream success and growth for the pleasure products industry in the years and decades to come.

Susan Colvin, Founder and CEO, CalExoticsWe’ve experienced some inflection points over the years; some may not be so obvious. After the Reagan era, primarily under Bill Clinton, we started to see some social attitudes change towards sex. However, in 1998 Alabama began to criminalize the sale of sex toys and we experienced a challenging regulatory environment in Texas until 2008. [But] the changing cultural norms in the late 1990’s characterized by such shows as Sex In the City were mostly positive for the industry. Women emerged as self-sufficient and in control of their lives, all the way into the bedroom. Women’s sexual empowerment became so pervasive that we even experienced an embrace from more mainstream media.

Most recently, 50 Shades of Grey created another wave of growth for the industry. We don’t recall ever selling out of Kegel balls before the release of this book, but it happened. The introduction of the movie brought, even more, focus to the industry along with expanded mainstream retail interest. Looking to the future, we expect that the sexual health and wellness conversation will continue to expand further into mainstream channels as people realize that there are many benefits to maintaining regular sexual activity.

What have been your priorities in terms of growing and guiding your business?

Colvin: We’re committed to building high quality and safe, intimate products that help people reignite the romance in their lives. This vision is a priority in every aspect of the business. In respect to manufacturing, my company ensures we provide the highest quality products that exceed expectation. Concerning product development, we make it a point to listen to our customers. We take their needs, wants, and suggestions into consideration when developing new products.

Employees and causes charitable causes are [also] crucial to CalExotics. The rights of the underserved have remained a priority for over 22 years; CalExotics donated over $1.5 million to charitable organizations during that time. In addition, CalExotics maintains a substantial commitment to the employees that have built the company by offering a substantial profit sharing plan that can be as much as 20% of an employee’s base salary. [We believe] that a healthy community is a key to a healthy business.


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