Fierce competition, untapped potential, the industry’s failure to gauge certain demand, the acceptance of sex toys, mainstream distribution channels, brands, product development, new technologies and sex toys, couple-friendly products … This interview with Eric Kalén, Managing Director of Tickler Europe, covers pretty much every topic that is relevant in the industry and the market right now.
Some people say, that the year did not go so well for many companies. What could be the reasons for this in your opinion?
Eric Kalén: Competition is getting more and more intense and I don’t think the market is expanding.
What are the biggest obstacles for the erotic market in Europe on the way to reaching its full potential? Or is the potential of this market exhausted?
I think that we’ve only scratched the full potential of this market. What´s holding us back is that we don´t meet the retailers’ and consumers’ demand on all levels.
What’s the situation in Europe regarding the acceptance of erotic products? Is it just wishful thinking that vibrators will become a normal product of our everyday lives soon?
I think the overall interest and acceptance have increased and there´s a demand for erotic products, but we don´t manage to adopt to the markets requirements.
There is a lot of talk about the merging of erotic and mainstream – because of Fifty Shades for example. How do you judge the results of this phenomenon? Flash in the pan or game changer in the heads of many consumers?
I think that FSOG has been a door opener for many people and it has definitely helped to create greater acceptance and interest for erotic products. But mainstream has also become some kind of undefined threat that nobody really knows what it is. I personally don´t think there´s a threat at all. What’s important to me is to make great products that meet my customers’ expectations and are available wherever they would like to buy my products.
“We as an industry don´t meet the demand from the mainstream channels.”
Only a few erotic products made it into the mainstream. Is the end of the story already reached? Will intimacy, sexuality, and related products remain something for a niche market?
Sex is mainstream; it´s a basic human need and that will never change. The main issue is that we as an industry don’t meet the demand from the mainstream channels. Many parts of the industry are mainly short-term driven and product responsibility is very low. We will not become accepted and I don’t think that there will be any change as long as the industry itself does not decide to change and take responsibility for what we produce, or that the consumers start to request more information or if there are new regulations that control what we produce and sell.
This also raises the questions how distribution channels have changed or if they have. Did you see any changes in this regard in the last ten months, or is it the case that erotic products are primarily sold through specialty retail stores and specialised online stores?
I think it has remained pretty much the same?!
There is a lot of talk about brands in the erotic market. But does that also reflect the reality of the market? To what extend do brands – if they exist – influence the consumer?
No, this industry tends to believe that being a brand is just about putting a product in a nice box and having some nice images. Being a brand is all about living, breathing, and communicating your company to the market, (it could include a nice box but not necessarily). The general public has very low or no knowledge when it comes to adult toy/erotic market brands.
Shops handle brands differently. Some retailers value them highly while others take them out of their range since their prices can be compared too easily on the internet. Instead of global brands, they try to promote their own store brands. What is your take on this development?
I think that stores should retail products that are requested by their customers. Some are more brand conscious and some are more function/price-oriented. You have to listen to your customers and what they request. That’s how you build a long term relationship with satisfied customers that return to your store.
Fittingly, we have seen that the traditional supply chain is coming apart more and more. How will this development influence the market in the long run?
It will adapt to the market’s demands.
Let’s talk about your favourite topics: the product development and product design. What has been done or changed here this year? Do modern technologies, which are added to the products, outshine this area completely today?
There has been a trend and revival of traditional old school realistic dongs. I think that’s quite interesting in comparison to the focus on all new technologies. The consumer might be looking for something else than what we think …!
Technological progress is usually welcomed by all. Also by you, or do you have a more critical view of app-controlled vibrators and long-distance-relationship products?
I think it’s important that you as a manufacturer have a clear idea of who you develop for and what their demands are. It’s so easy to develop product using new technology just because you can, but we forget to ask what problem or demand these products should target.
“New technology certainly allows us to control products from afar, but that does not necessary mean that they are couple friendly!?”
Is this part of the trend towards more couple friendly products, or has this trend already been replaced by something new?
New technology certainly allows us to control products from afar, but that does not necessary mean that they are couple friendly! I think that the term “couple friendly” has become overused since everyone uses it for basically all new product they bring out just because someone has been successful using the term before. It´s the same thing as with “pleasure objects” a few years ago. I think that we in the industry are looking too much at what our competitors are doing and being successful with rather than being consumer-oriented.
With respect to consumables, we can see trends like sustainability and environmental impact etc. playing an increasingly important role. When will this become a trend for vibrators, too?
As soon as we take responsibility for what we’re producing or when the end consumers put pressure on us or we get new industry direction from the authorities.
”Anybody can be a designer today“ – do you agree with this statement?
Well, it depends on what you mean by being a designer. New technologies lower the barrier and give us easier access to design tools which I think is a great thing that can stimulate and inspire people to be creative. But being a designer is so much more than just making nice looking products. You need to have an understanding of developing products that meet the consumers demand, that can be efficiently manufactured, and retail at the right price point.
When you look back on the year 2015, what were the real innovations for you? The womanizer for example?
The womanizer is certainly a product that stands out and added something new and ground- breaking this year!
Gimmicks, gadgets, lifestyle products, fashion accessories, products for promoting health and well-being … how are Love Toys marketed today?
A bit of everything, it seems to me. It is getting more and more difficult to define and explain what we are selling.