The State of the Gay Novelty Nation

2007 was a big year for the gay novelty market. In the summer, PHS International, FalconGEAR and Manline by Sportsheets came together with a unique marketing campaign that provided a shop within a shop for gay consumers. Shane Nelson, the brainchild behind the campaign, says retailers who implemented the concept have all seen a much higher percentage of gay customers.


"Even retail stores in conservative areas who have implemented the Castro Street walls have all reported back an increase in gay market share and very little complaints from their regular or traditional shoppers," he explains. "This program has given me insight as to the future of the adult market and who will still be around in the next 20 years."


Nelson also shares that he's seen an influx in the number of "big" manufacturers who have started to realize that brands sell in the gay adult market.


California Exotic Novelties in 2008 will expand its selection of offerings from its COLT line of novelties. Among the newest products-which will be released throughout the remainder of the year-the Luke Garrett Cock, The Guyser Anal Douche, Beaded Stroker and 10-Function Vibes are sure to be fan favorites.


Another eagerly anticipated line is TitanMen Tools, which manufacturer Doc Johnson introduced at the Adult Entertainment Expo in January. The response was so big that Keith Webb, vice president of TitanMen, says the release of the line was pushed up by a month or two.


TitanMen's president and CEO, Bruce Cam, said that they were careful about choosing a manufacturer to produce its first line of sex toys. "For 16 years we've said ‘no, no, no' to other novelty companies when they wanted to partner with us to create a toy line," he explains. But we finally said ‘yes' and are pleased to partner with Doc Johnson."


In the fall of 2007 Topco Sales introduced Chi Chi LaRue's Rascal Toys, after a year in development. The lengthy process was due in part to the research Topco performed, gathering input from retailers to develop products that resonate with the gay consumer, according to director of marketing Desiree Duffie. "The packaging reflects the Rascal Video brand and will certainly catch the eyes of savvy gay consumers," she explains. "They are truly works of art-collectibles even."


Topco also offers in-store signage that tie in to the black-and-red color scheme of the products' packaging as well as Rascal DVDs.


Debra Peterson, director of marketing of East Coast retail chain Fairvilla Megastores, says that she has seen positive changes in the gay novelty market in recent years. "I spoke with our Orlando store manager, JoeAnn Adams, and we're in agreement," she explains. "We're seeing a change in packaging and expanding product lines. Sportsheets' Manline and the Toys Just For Boys products by Tantus are just two specifics that come to mind. These changes are making it easier for us to merchandise more effectively and enhance our gay customer base."


Sportsheets' director of sales and marketing, Todd Carter, says that Manline sales were up 47% in 2007 compared to 2006. Carter credits the success of the Castro Street merchandising program to the line's increased success.


"Gay novelty can be successful and profitable for retailers if it is treated as a category," he says. "If gay novelty is treated like every other product - whether from a manufacturing or retail perspective - the chances of success are severely diminished. Manline is a great example of using specific marketing, branding and merchandising to have success in the gay [market]."


Michael Smith, president of Tantus, Inc., says the offerings on its ToysJustForBoys website are handpicked due to the manufacturer's stringent quality standards.


"There's really no one that introduces a line of toys specifically for men with the quality that we do," he says. "We also offer plenty of educational information, tips and in-depth descriptions on each page. It's kind of a unique site that way."


Another avenue Smith says has proven to be successful is by dispelling the myth that just because a consumer is gay it means they want an unusually large toy. "Everyone who manufactures toys for [gay] men thinks that they need to be huge plugs, and in reality that just isn't the case," he says. "Men basically have a choice to buy a pink sparkly plug or something oversized. ToysJustForBoys is specifically designed for those who aren't able to handle toys that are that large."


Another company that recently decided to cater its marketing to the gay community is Interactive Life Forms, which found success five years ago with its Fleshlight masturbation device. Public relations representative Brett Drysdale says that up until last year no major effort had been made to distinguish the product in the gay market.


"There were obviously gay men going to the Fleshlight site to purchase them," he says. "The company realized that although the product wouldn't be any different per se for gay people, they deserved to have their own marketing efforts directed to them and appealing to them. Instead of just labeling it the ‘gay Fleshlight,' I believed the market deserved their own Fleshlight-hence the Fleshjack. The whole design of the site [] was created to appeal to the gay consumer."


On the other end of the spectrum is the lesbian market. Jacquelyn Jones of Sugar, a lesbian-owned-and-operated retail store in Baltimore that's committed to safety, says it's important to create a safe space for women and lesbian shoppers.


"In the queer community, there are still those folks who would prefer that all of us fit into the gender boxes that we all grew up with," she explains. "Many of us just don't fit there. Shopping for sex toys can be challenging, and it's our responsibility as folks who own stores to make sure that it's a welcoming experience for everyone, young, old, punk, suburban, butch, femme, whatever!"


Jones goes on to say that many mainstream sex toy stores are sorely lacking in quality harnesses and dildos and that lesbians tend to shop online without enough access to lesbian owned and/or women-friendly stores.


"Frankly, no matter how good your website is, it's hard to buy a harness or dildo online," she explains. "It's difficult to get a real handle on size and texture from a website. So women will wait until they are able to access a friendly, well-stocked store for these purchases."


Jones recommends harnesses made by Aslan Leather and Spare Parts as well as offerings from Tantus, Vixen Creations and D'Vice out of New Zealand when stocking your store for lesbian/women-friendly merchandise.


As for the future of the gay novelty market, Ari Suss, president of XR Wholesale and, says he sees growth. "I have seen more and more companies specializing in and catering to the gay novelty niche since he started his adult business in 2000," he says.


"There is a great demand for quality gay sex toys. I predict that more companies will jump into this market over the next few years with products that challenge the gay community."


Similarly, Shane Nelson says that he sees more and more stores jumping on board once they see the purchasing power of the gay market and find a correct way to merchandise the products.


"I think we are still several years away from finding a gay section in all adult stores nationwide," he says. "I do think we are closer to seeing this than ever before, though, especially as we see the DVD market slow and the novelty market grow. Thank God for the mom-and-pop gay stores as they are moving more gay product as a whole than the traditional adult retailers."