Steven Lane always felt that there weren’t enough quality sex toys for men. And when he met several trade members who also complained about the lack of innovative male-oriented products, he had an idea. Steven left the apparel industry behind and focussed all his energy and efforts on this new plan, the result of which was Oxballs, now one of the most popular brands in the segment of male-oriented toys. To learn more about the evolution and the future of Oxballs, we interviewed the company’s owner and Lead Designer, Steven Lane, a.k.a. the “Ox” (on picture right), and the Director of Sales & Marketing, Ryan Fraga (left).
Would you mind telling us about the early days of Oxballs? When was the company founded and what was your motivation to take this big step?
Steven Lane aka Ox: The idea came about because I was in the apparel business and it was falling apart. I started to turn my attention to another passion of mine, adult toys, but when I looked around at the selection for men, it all seemed sort of sad and uninspired. When I asked the owners of some retailers what they needed, they all responded with, ‘We need better, more creative toys for men.’ Shortly after this, I realised I wanted to make a change in my career and I created the idea behind Oxballs. I then moved to LA to start making my own brand of toys.
Where did you work before Oxballs? Did you already have experience working in the sex toy industry or did you analyse the market before deciding to start your own company?
Ox: I worked in men’s apparel as a designer. I worked for a lot of really big names and also the down and dirty type companies, like the Walmarts and Targets, where it’s all about appealing to a mass audience and mass market. I had a good feel for the type of design where you create something for an exclusive audience that wants to pay top dollar, as well as the stuff that looks like it should be top dollar but appeals to a mass audience. As far as experience goes, I’m a very sexual person. I think sexuality is something that needs to be explored. You should enjoy it and have fun with it, adding toys to sex simply makes sense to me.
Is there a philosophy that you have been following since you founded Oxballs?
Ox: Any consumer product, of any kind, should be engineered with the end user at heart. A designer should go as far as they possibly can to ensure the consumer’s experience is a superior one. I want to make people want to use or own the toys that I sell. I live for the experience when somebody acts like a little kid at Christmas when they open a box with an Oxballs toy in it. I really like the idea that I am giving somebody their money’s worth and they don’t feel like they are being ripped off. I want people to say, ‘Wow this is really cool, how did you think of this!?’ That’s the biggest thrill in the world to me.
What can you tell us about your product range?
Ox: We try to appeal to a wide audience with some of our products, but we also like to have products that push buttons. We go as far to the edge as we possibly can. We don’t do this because it’s provocative, but because there is a customer out there that wants these things. Men are very fetish oriented; they get very fixated on very specific fantasies. We’re not afraid to create products that cater to very niche kinds of play.
The Oxballs Crew
What are the strong points of Oxballs and the Oxballs product line? How are these products different from the competition?
Ox: There is a lot of good competition for us currently. Lately, we’ve been seeing some really cool stuff that wasn’t there when we started this 8 years ago. I’d like to think this is in part because we are doing what we are doing. Our products are truly crafted down to every last detail. We always design with comfort, performance, and visual appeal in mind. We are different than any other manufacturer in that we focus strictly on creating products for men. This is not a commentary on women at all, but rather that there are too many pleasure products for women and a lot of repetition. Focussing on men allows us to explore a really uncharted area of the market. Our products are built for the way men want to play; they’re durable and tough looking.
What inspires you? Where do you get the ideas for new products?
Ox: I’m always thinking of things men can use to play or play even harder. Ideas just happen, most of the time we’ll be talking at work and someone will say something like, ‘I was fucking someone and then they wanted me to piss on them.’ Or, ‘I wish there was something that could do this or that,’ and then I get an idea. In a way the market research for us is actually being part of the market. We are not outsiders looking in. We test our products in house and try to hire men and women that are into toys. That could be the problem with other companies; they are not invested like we are.
What can you tell us about the pricing of your products?
Ox: Oxballs is a premium priced brand. There are a lot of development costs that go into our designs. Product goes from sketch, to 3D, to cad, then back to us. We want the products to be the way we want it to be, not the way a factory interprets it. We always try to create solid new designs for the market. If you bring a vague design to a factory, they will find a way to make the product make sense to them…regardless of your vision or the consumer. It’ll go into production but that alone doesn’t make a good product.
Who is the target audience for your products?
Ox: Dirty men, kinky men, adventurous men, and even men that have never tried anything even close to the dirtiest things we make. Just because we are gay does not mean that we focus solely on gay men. We are focussed on men in general. Gay men and straight men play the same way, we all have a dick and balls.
“I live for the experience when somebody acts like a little kid at Christmas when they open a box with an Oxballs toy in it.” – Ox
What do your customers expect from Oxballs products in terms of quality, design, materials, packaging, etc.?
Ox: They expect us to push the envelope. They expect us to create new and creative items. Some of our products become fan favourites so people look to us to create their next new favourite. We work mainly in silicone and TPR. We make a lot of products in silicone because it is the safest, most sanitised, and durable material around. Silicone will also really last if it’s treated well. We always use high quality liquid platinum cure silicone. We can’t make all products in silicone so we use TPR because it’s one of the safer plastics for toys.
Which factors determine whether or not a consumer buys a product? The quality? Packaging? Price? Or is it a combination of all of these things?
Ox: A combination of all these things. Our high quality of design, materials, and creativity has pushed our brand forward, rather than how it’s presented in a package. We are not marketing-focussed, we are product-focussed.
Oxballs is a well-established name in the erotic industry. What do the consumers associate with the brand and how much work is it to live up to the brand promise again and again?
Ox: Consumers look to us for unique new designs that speak to their specific fetishes and fantasies. My biggest fear is creating product that’s just ‘normal’ or generic. The fear is becoming complacent. Like any designer, I have a fear of losing my art. We always want our products to ‘wow’ people.
How important is it that the consumers perceive Oxballs as a brand? How much weight do brands carry and are they more valuable in a high-saturated market?
Ox: I am extremely brand-orientated. The most exciting thing is when you are creating an image that goes with a brand and a brand that goes with the image. The two go hand in hand, people spot a product and they know that it is a certain brand. Our product speaks for itself, you know its Oxballs. People go into stores and ask for us by name, and our logo has become an icon. We want people to use a toy and after they are done go, ‘Holy shit, that’s Oxballs! I want more…’
Are the consumers becoming more aware of brands in the erotic market?
Ox: Oh, totally. If you have strong product you create a core audience that will seek you out by name. That’s what happened with us.
Which channels of distribution do you use to get your products out there?
Ryan Fraga: We work globally with wholesale distribution partners, as well as directly with some retail chain stores. We’re very careful to protect the retail value of our brand, and shy away from 3rd party web sellers, or other avenues where discounting off retail is the standard. This means a consumer can’t price shop a lower price on a cell phone while standing in a walk-in retailer.
Where can interested retailers get your products in Europe? Which sources should they turn to?
Ryan: Our most prominent distribution partner in Europe is Dusedo.
What criteria does a potential trade or distribution partner have to fulfil for you to let them distribute your products?
Ryan: We take every new potential customer on a case by case basis, particularly distributors. It truly depends on what markets a potential partner is servicing, and how that will affect our current distribution footprint. I’m a huge advocate for setting up new customers for success. Part of that is making sure there isn’t immediate competition already in place with a current partner, creating a price race to the bottom. We’re interested in creating relationships that are long lasting and rewarding for both our customers and us.
What type of support can the trade members expect from your company and the Oxballs distribution partners? Which tools and materials do you provide to make sure that your products are as successful?
Ryan: Our sales team is focussed on ensuring there are education and guidance tools available, which are tailored to every customer and their offering. This is a vast brand, and it really takes our assistance to help make choices that make the most sense for our customers. We also have strong graphics and design behind our company. Our design team is available to our customers, and we co-brand many marketing campaigns.
How should walk-in stores and e-commerce shops present your products to generate as much turnover with Oxballs as possible?
Ryan: I find the most successful retailers merchandise Oxballs in its own branding area, rather than separating out the pieces with similar types of products together. Put testers out on display for people to touch and experience our materials. I also suggest making room to display some of our larger more eye-catching dildos and toys, to tell a full story of our brand. These draw people’s attention to our products, and promote sell-through with the smaller pieces. It also becomes a memorable experience for a customer browsing a retail floor.
I am sure you have lots of plans in the pipeline. What can we expect from Oxballs in the upcoming months and years?
Ryan: We’re launching new packaging in 2016, which will create a clearer and more cohesive message. We will do our best to make sure this packaging shift happens as seamlessly as it can for retailers, so there isn’t mixed packaging on display. As always, we will continue to release new products regularly, and are slated to release roughly 50 new products in 2016.