An inside look at the latest and greatest in the adult pleasure product expo of the year
By Saskia Vogel with Adrian Peterson
UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. - Leading manufacturers and buyers of adult toys and novelties from across the United States and around the world began the first of two days of networking and business Monday morning at the AVN Novelty Expo at the Sheraton Universal and Universal Hilton in Universal City.The convention, the adult novelty industry’s premier business-to-business event, brought together close to 150 of the market’s biggest players and qualified, large-volume buyers for distributors, retailers, mail order companies, and large home party organizers into venues at both hotels. The expo, sponsored by AVN Novelty Business, California Exotic Novelties, Doc Johnson, Nasstoys, Pipedream Products, and Topco Sales (and attended in high numbers) was strictly limited to B2B professionals. It gave everyone on site a chance to strike a deal, expand inventory, and capitalize on the latest niches in the ever-growing adult novelty industry.
Established Names, New TrendsLeading manufacturer California Exotic Novelties’ new products seemed to take a turn towards glitter (Glittered Obsession dildos with a “full contact clitoral scoop”), glam (the Platinum collection of Cal Exotic’s signature Jack Rabbits), and youthful whimsy (the brightly colored Envy line with reliefs of hearts, bows, and other feminine touches along the vibe’s shafts). Also notable was the chic Hide-a-Vibe, a slender vibe in a black case that Coco Chanel would have been proud to display on her boudoir. Of course these are just selections of their extensive product launch at the show.President Susan Colvin observed that the trend with dildos seems have to moved away from life-like phalluses. She said, “Life-like limits where you can go,” referring to the increasingly mainstream destinations of Cal’s novelties.Cal also expanded their sensual attire offers by adding packaged items such as the unique Party Time nurse (a sort of sexy, suspendered teddy), the shimmery fabrics of new Decadence bedroom delights, and the Diamond collection (crystal adorned slinky something’s).A returning hit was the Toy Time video line for retailers. Show-goers saw that couples toys and men’s products are now included in Toy Time 3: Selling the Fantasy, along with a range of all-new products. Colvin also noted that the black and white Zen line of sleek, discreet personal massagers and Oui, slender plastic vibrators that look like sleek, skipping stones each in a rich color, did wonderfully. Both were in incredible opaque packaging that departed from the shimmer and sheen of acetate boxes.As for men, several Optimum Power Strokers were added (the Hummer, Viper, and JakOff), each boasting a unique stroke sensation. A particularly delightful detail of the men’s line was the gun-shaped handle, where users control the suction of the automatic Sta-Hard penis pump. Fellow manufacturer Nasstoys also garnered positive attention. Kathryn Hartman, sales and marketing director, said, “Specifically, the Life Forms line was a huge hit. It’s new, made in the U.S.A., non-toxic, red jelly. They’re individually packaged in clamshells that are guaranteed not to arrive smashed. Customers found these far superior.” Customers also responded well to the separate wall section displaying Nasstoy’s 69 best-sellers, which gave a quickly intelligible, impacting overview of the brand.Company spokesmodel/adult star Taylor Wane added, “The show always goes great. Nasstoys always puts out a lot of great products that get a lot of attention. I’m thrilled to have my own line of toys with them. The treat me very well, and I personally use many of their products.” Unlike at the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo this past January, manufacturer Doc Johnson showed more Doc-branded items, and fewer offerings from lines related to adult film, such as the Belladonna, Titan Men, and Mr. Marcus lines. (Chad Braverman, director of product development and marketing, cited the reason being the difference of the shows focus). Still, Doc’s vast, diverse product selection was out in force, shining on the walls of the elegantly curved booth. “At the end of the day, we’re a one-stop-shop. We want to be able to provide product for all customers,” Braverman said, going on to list notable new additions: a sensual, artistic glass line; Harmony, sleek polished vibes in black and white (Yin and Yang, as they are called on the box); the Wireless Wonder Rabbit, which features a remote control; and a new Club Jenna toy: Lela Star’s Puff Puff Pocket Pal. Braverman also noted that at this show they displayed many products from January’s AEE in their boxes for the first time so customers can see how well the toys work on display. “This is very successful. Sometimes people see it with packaging [in person] for the first time and can’t pass it up,” Braverman said. Across the aisle from Doc Johnson, adult stars Ron Jeremy, Sean Michaels, Hannah Harper, and Monica Mayhem promoted their lines from Pipedream Products. The company also promoted its new Sex Water, an 8-ounce, sexual energy enhancer aimed at building stamina and endurance.Jeremy, who sat in front of his Ron Jeremy Wind Up Doll, a caricature model of the star that gnaws at its own pecker, said that the Adult Novelty Expo is great because of the potential B2B opportunities.Summing up the show for Pipedream, company president Nick Orlandino, his feet surrounded by multi-colored penis, bottom, and breast confetti strewn on the floor of his booth, said, “The Fetish Fantasy line is really coming into its own as the premier line for beginner fetish. Customers didn’t even look at the line, they just made orders.” This year, Topco is all about redefining passion and of all the large companies, the manufacturing giant really stood out with a new look that caught the attention of attendees and exhibitors alike. Topco’s ultra-modern, redesigned booth (complete with a hosted bar) framed their exhibit space with graceful curved panels bathed in cyber-blue light. The open-air design would have made iconic designer Philippe Starck feel at home, and created a feeling of welcome and prestige. The company used the opportunity to launch its TLC Private Dancer Stripper Pole Kit and Climax Rabbits Auto Thumper, among 150 other novelties, to much fanfare.Desiree Duffie, director of marketing and public relations, said, “The amount of traffic has been incredible. AVN in general has done a great job.” She cited the Stripper Pole and the Caesar Love Machine 2.0 as particularly notable items.Edgy, alt-adult star Joanna Angel, of Topco’s eponymous toy line, joked with ANB, “It’s really great to see all the exciting things you can stick inside you and still be OK.” But on a serious note, she said, “I’m really pleased with my packaging. With my demographic, you really have to do it right. They do a great job of making it authentic.”In other praise, Topco’s CEO Scott Tucker and Michael Siegel were also honored with a commemorative plaque, marking their 35th anniversary, presented to them by AVN Novelty Business publisher and editor-in-chief, Tony Lovett.Lovett also gave plaques in honor of the 25th anniversary of Vibratex, Inc., presenting to Shay and Dan Martin; to Al Robles of Universal Distributors, Inc., for his 50th; and to Ted Rothstein and Elliot Schwartz, marking Nasstoys’ 30th anniversary. The SeminarsAs for retailers, organizers of the show assembled educational seminars led by an array of guest speakers that offered intensive discussions. The first of three seminars was held on Monday.”The Letter of the Law”, moderated by attorney Brent Dyer (introduced by Lovett), included First Amendment attorneys Clyde DeWitt, Roger Wilcox, and Lawrence Walters advising and educating a group of close to 40 retailers who were in attendance with open ears, feverishly jotting notes on legal pads. The four discussed such issues as the changing political climate, “Sin Taxes,” anti-adult ordinances, and zoning.”Get attorneys involved as soon as possible,” said Wilcox (Lipsitz, Green, Scime, & Cambria LLP), also telling retailers to touch base with the “right political experts” when taking action against zoning regulations and those who issue them. The group also counted several ways to get through roadblocks and obstacles that may loom when opening up brick-and-mortars.”Be realistic. You’re not going to open one up in Beverly Hills or San Marino,” DeWitt joked.Walters (Weston, Garrou, Walters, and Mooney) added that those interested in opening shops should research the do’s and don’ts before diving in and to seek legal advice when needed. He noted that although there are ordinances that may seem to restrict certain actions, it doesn’t mean they are out of the question.”There are different ways to skin the cat,” he said several times, noting that there are often alternatives to problems posed by cities.Later Monday afternoon, another panel featured the discussion “How Green Is My Sex Toy?,” moderated by ANB copy editor, Saskia Vogel, who, in the cover story of ANB‘s July issue, took an in-depth look at the greening of pleasure products and the growing rate of the evolving niche of the novelty industry.Representatives from Good Vibrations, Topco Sales, Sliquid, and Pleasures of the Heart discussed what “green” is all about in the industry to a crowd of 60 and also outlined the actions companies across the board can follow to be eco-friendly. The panelists also explained that there’s a “push and pull” when balancing orgasms and eco-consciousness.”Reducing is the most important thing you can do,” said Jennifer Islas, owner of the San Rafael-based, small eco-retailer Pleasures of the Heart. Islas said that going green not only saves money, but also gets you publicity. She noted that hers is the first adult store to be green-certified, something that landed her on television, in numerous articles, and inspired people across the country to contact her. Her green strategies include a switch to energy-saving lighting and reusing garment bags as garbage can liners.”We took stock of more initiatives to reduce our carbon footprint and decided to make an official commitment to green,” explained Topco’s director of marketing and public relations, Desiree Duffie. She added that the company is exceeding government regulations.President of Sliquid, Dean Elliot, said his health-conscious lubricant manufacturer also takes environmentally friendly steps, for example, with its Pizza for Peanuts program, which reuses packing peanuts from surrounding companies in the Dallas area in exchange for pizza.Coyote Days, senior buyer for Good Vibrations, explained that helping the consumer make educated choices and explaining the benefits of green products is a way to promote eco-consciousness at the ground level.On Tuesday, ANB managing editor, Erica Heathman, moderated the ever-popular “Retailer Boot Camp.” Representatives from Freddy and Eddy, Peekay Wholesalers, Babeland, and Paradise Marketing addressed retailers concerns regarding such topics as finding great staff, diversifying inventory, and web marketing. Close to 60 people were in attendance, asking an array of thoughtful questions and seeking heart-felt advice.On questions of store management the panelists offered the following tips: “One thing to look for [when staffing] are people who are positive about sex education” (Rachel Venning, owner of Babeland); pay attention to Baby Boomers, as they will soon be 50 percent of the population; work with what you have, when it comes to your ad markets, as they can be a point of contention for retailers and the media; and that the “USPS is the cheapest way to ship” (Alicia Denchasy, co-owner of Freddy and Eddy). There was also a ping pong of questions and answers regarding the problems of shipping overseas.With regards to web versus brick-and-mortar stores, Dennis Paradise, president and CEO of Paradise Marketing stated, “There are aspects to both sides of the business. However, I cannot imagine running a store without a website. They feed into each other.”In all, the panelists provided hope and sound advice to the fledgling and more experienced retailers in the audience. One of the wisest notions being from Phyllis Heppenstall, president and CEO of Peekay Wholesalers: “Once you get them in the store, you can create a customer for life.”The New Kid on the BlockLast year, Standard Innovation’s ANE-launched We-Vibe catapulted to the top of the 2007 rookie class. The discreet G-Spot vibe won the heart of some of the industry’s toughest critics, earning Top Toy of the Year distinctions by talk show host Sue Johanson and garnering high praises from ANB’s toy connoisseurs and expert reviewers. Following the rubric, this year’s head-of-class appears to be newly minted manufacturer Evolved Novelties.Lead by the tripartite of video-producing companies Zero Tolerance Entertainment, Third Degree Films, and Black Ice, the trio is spearheading the novelty industry’s latest manufacturing company.Adult industry veteran and owner of Third Degree, Joey Wilson, was exuberant about the show’s first day, telling ANB Evolved Novelties’ representatives “enjoyed the buzz as the new kids on the block” at its centrally located booth at the Hilton.”We try to cover the entire spectrum with our beautifully crafted massagers,” Wilson said, adding they will launch an extensive line of cock rings, masturbators, and other male pleasure products every quarter. “It’s going to be a full-service line of novelties.”Wilson said Evolved Novelties will start shipping its first line of phthalate-free products August 7. As far as introducing these toys on the sets of the threesome’s films, Wilson said that’s already in the works. Their contract stars and various other actresses have used the new toy line to much avail. Although Wilson said Evolved’s reusable packaging will not feature images of adult talent.Bath, Body, and AccessoriesFun Factory, manufacturers of silicone pleasure tools, has now added accessories and an all-natural Love Yourself bath and body line. And they sure mean all-natural. The strawberry flavored body paint tastes like summer in a tube, with no unpleasant after taste. They’ve also branched out into accessories, including cuffies and lolos (silicone wrist cuffs and pasties), among others. Their cream and red packaging is most spectacular, with magnetic closures so the consumer can have a look at the product without damaging the box or getting their fingerprints all over the bottles.Classic Erotica, the manufacturer that makes body and bed products with an extra kick of pheromones for seduction, was happy to announce the additions of lavender and plumeria scents to its body and bed sprays. Also, Diva Dust is now edible, allowing customers to give in to the urge to lick the vanilla-scented powder of their lover’s skin.Making it easier for consumers to get to know their products, Kama Sutra, manufacturer of sensual body products with a hint of eastern sensuality, for the first time is offering pillow packs for select Oils of Love (vanilla, strawberry, tropical mango, and original), both Intensify gels, and all flavors of Body Soufflé. Another new product is their Getaway Kit with a branded zipper. Inside are small portions of Body Soufflé, Oils of Love, Honey Dust, a feather tickler, lube, and a soy candle.In the realm of all things slippery, lube manufacturer pjur Group USA saw great success with their anal and enhancement products. Richie Harris, CEO, did however feel the show was too short. With his busy booth, he’d have enjoyed more time to meet with clients and peruse the show. Sliquid showed off their finished Organics line, and Empowered Products gave us more reasons to go Pink with their Indulgence Crème. WET repackaged versions of its core line under the name “Comfort.” The discreet, unbranded bottles are perfect for the home party market or for women who need their intimate products to be undetectable if found. This line is offered at a 5 percent discount. Among other innovations, such as an insertable lube, System JO added a dedicated display, featuring boxes with individual packs of each of their lubes for POP sales.As for things that enhance and increase pleasure, BeaMonstar and Stiff Nights were onsite, offering samples for an already amped crowd.Intimate ApparelWith ANB‘s increased coverage of sensual attire, we were happy to have Hustler Lingerie‘s creative director, Wilson Kello, in attendance. Along with his creations for the company’s branded women’s lingerie line, Kello predicts that the new men’s line will also garner attention and enjoy record salesLiberator, with new additions of latex couture and high quality, sexy, retro silky and sheer nothings, have crossed over from pure novelty, and company reps predict that that is the trend of today and of the future.Intimate apparel manufacturing staple Shirley of Hollywood displayed its H.O.T. line of packaged lingerie, showing novelty retailers just how easy it is to create space for bedroom wear in even the smallest store. On a similar note, Forplay‘s national sales manager Scott Funaro proudly discussed the company’s branded racks for packaged lingerie, stating that these free-standing racks add value to the product because they set it apart from items hanging in groups on the wall. “You can also see through these racks, so you can worry less about theft,” Funaro added.NoveltiesOf course, the show’s focus was novelty. With a documentary crew running around looking for examples of how the vibrator is leaving the bedroom, it’s only natural to start with BMS Enterprises booth, featuring the MiVibe, a bullet vibe offered on a variety of necklace chains packed in a box that doubles as a display and is sold in a branded gift bag. Along with this new product was there Breeze line: three-speed, 5-inch, 6-inch, and 12-inch bullet vibes, the largest being perfect for massage. President Steve Bannister enthusiastically demonstrated these products and the Wild Buck sex machine, with interchangeable dildos and an “ejaculation” feature.Another vibrating show favorite was The Screaming O, who launched their Bullet Buddies (animal shaped bullets) with an extensive promotional campaign that included a free Buddy for every attendee, a button with your Buddy’s picture on it, and O-branded t-shirts. The team was overwhelmed by the enthusiasm about this and other products.Oh Mi Bod’s CEO, Brian Vatter was on-site, showing the new Naughty Nano line: vibrators that are compatible and which coordinate with iPods and iPhones. “You can color coordinate with your iPod Nano,” Vatter said. “We’re also launching a condom belt at the show.” The belt features a belt buckle that holds one condom, giving new meaning to the slogan “Buckle up for Safety.”Spartacus, adult novelty manufacturers of BDSM gear, released a number of new products. Notable, updated nipple clamps in black metal with dangling jewels, other updated clamps, and an After Play salve that company owners are excited to hear feedback on. The company also provided a Top 100 Sellers by Volume list for ordering convenience.Adding several new pleasure objects to their line, LELO‘s booth buzzed. The MIA, a lipstick-sized USB rechargeable vibe, ELLA, a G-spot silicone, phthalate-free dildo, and GIGI, like ELLA but with a vibrating feature, were fondled by many intrigued show goers.On the metal toy front, Big Teaze Toys launched their three-speed large rubber Duckie and a line of aluminum dildos in black and red. Metal toy manufacturer njoy was a veteran attendee, showing off a its 11-inch pleasure tool. Not to be ignored, brand-new aluminum dildo makers Vergenza had its reps walking the show floor in 1920s-inspired garb, which reflected the Machine Age aesthetic of their line. Soon to be unveiled is bondage rope with metallic details.Another first was Ophoria, a line of fine bedroom toys, from Lover’s Choice, hitherto makers of kits and games. The company’s representatives were thrilled to be expanding their brand.Last but not least, among the mentions here, Sportsheets drew crowds with their live display of two gorgeous hard-bodies playing around on a mattress, outfitted with restraints that were classic Sportsheets. Anyone who missed this display, or the darling promotional feather slap-bracelets, missed out on a beautifully decorated booth with extensive stock.That’s All FolksThat’s it for the highlights of the biggest adult novelty event in the country. For many the two-day format left people wanting more time to meet with clients and discover new products. As always the team at AVN Media Network will be happy to hear comments and suggestions about the show. ANB can’t wait to see what the novelty biz will have in store next year. For more news and photo galleries from the show, please visit AVN.com/Novelty.