The Hand Pilot Making Waves in Subscription Services Realm

TURNERSVILLE, N.J.—The Hand Pilot, a monthly subscription box geared toward men and their sexual needs, is relatively new on the scene, but founder Dee Bertino is no stranger to the pleasure products industry and its products.

“I married into this industry in 1999. I was previously an attorney, working as a public defender in Chicago,” Bertino told AVN. “When I met my husband, I learned his family owned adult stores in Minnesota and had been in the business since 1980. I quit my law job and began working with him shortly after we married. In 2003, we moved to New Jersey and opened our stores Fantasy Gifts NJ in the suburbs outside Philadelphia. Now, we have our newest venture, The Hand Pilot.”

A few years ago, it was not easy to find companies that—for a monthly fee—shipped samples of lubricants, vibrators, lingerie and more to consumers. Today, dozens are doing just that, and more are getting on board every day.

Bertino said as a brick-and-mortar adult retailer, she sees subscription services as an enhancement to the existing business models of storefronts and online stores.

“Most subscribers to any subscription box service last for about a year, after that the surprise or need has been fulfilled,” she said. “There will always be a place for retailers to sell direct to consumers the products they want.”

The addition of a subscription service to her brick-and-mortar store made sense, Bertino said, and choosing what type of items to include as well as what audience to target was an easy decision. After noticing a dramatic increase in sales in recent years of pleasure products designed for men, she did more research.

“The range and quality of toys have increased, but we also noticed another trend,” she said .”Research shows that millennial men are living at home longer, dating less, and having less sex. Only 13 percent of men currently admit to using sex toys for solo pleasure, so we knew there was a large, untapped market.”

As a fan of subscription boxes herself, Bertino noted they are experiencing a boon. Currently, she said, there are more than six million subscription box shoppers in the U.S., 40 percent of which are men. 

“No one else is offering what we are—a monthly and quarterly subscription box geared to men and masturbation. It seemed like a great idea!” she said. “We felt men were an overlooked demographic in the areas of sexual health and wellness. We wanted to create a website that appealed to the millennial man, whether he was alone or in a relationship. We also wanted to make a Suitable For Work website that focused on the products, and not naked women.”

The biggest challenge of creating the subscription service has been educating the consumer, Bertino said. Men shop differently than women, she noted: Girls will buy vibrators with their friends, and tell each other what works best for them, but when it comes to male masturbation, there seems to be a stigma or shame surrounding it. 

“It confounds us that men, who are comfortable with being open about almost every other bodily function, are not comfortable discussing masturbation,” she said. “We are also amazed at the number of women who are not comfortable with even admitting that their man masturbates, although she may own 10 different vibrators! 

“So, getting the word out has been a challenge, especially since mainstream advertisers, such as Facebook, have been closed to us,” Bertino added. “Working with a publicist who works in the adult industry and understands the challenges has been invaluable, so we owe a huge shout out to Erika Icon from The Rub PR! The Hand Pilot is still relatively new, but the greatest reward is the daily challenge of doing something different. I've been in the brick-and-mortar business for 20 years, so it's fun to create a new business model.”

Currently, The Hand Pilot offers quarterly and monthly subscription options. Monthly boxes—“We call them Masturbator of the Month Club,” Bertino said—retail for $19, and allow men who use sex toys to enjoy a new experience each month.

“Your hand is always there, it’s steady and reliable, but sometimes you just want something different!” Bertino said.

Quarterly boxes sell between $49 and $79, and feature more high-end products from premium manufacturers, including Fleshlight.  

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