“Consumers are drawn to our brands because they’re looking for quality and durability.”

Raymond Houtenbos talks about Evolved Novelties’ success in trying times

The current global situation is complicated, to say the least, with crises seemingly smouldering anywhere you look. Raymond Houtenbos, Evolved Europes’ VP of Sales, tells us how his company manages to stay the course in the choppy waters of the post-Covid phase, and how dedication to the consumers’ wishes fills their sales – as evidenced by the success of Evolved Novelties’ inclusive product line Gender X that launched at the end of last year.

The first six months of the year are now behind us. How was the first half of the year from Evolved Novelties’ point of view?

Raymond Houtenbos: It’s been a good year for Evolved so far! Despite the conflicts in the world and ensuing inflation, consumers are drawn to our brands because they’re looking for quality and durability. It’s a comfort to people to buy something that’s truly reliable – and a great value for the price. Plus, we’re fortunate to be in a secure stock position to meet the industry’s needs, both online and offline. I would also say our investment in training store personnel on a regular basis conveys confidence to consumers and reflects our focus on the importance of education.

How has your product range changed in the last few months? What new products and/or product lines have been launched?

Raymond: We continue to release 12-14 new unique products every single month between our signature lines including Evolved, Gender X, Adam & Eve, Zero Tolerance, and Barely Bare lingerie. Currently we’re not as focused on collections as we are on debuting individual products that really dazzle. For example, products with more than one use like our Tantalyzing Teaser (EN-RS-8713-2), a great example of this kind of innovation, with low rumbly vibrations and fast, pinpoint buzzing. Or the Rabbit Hole (EN-RS-8805-2) that has a suction element paired with a dual stim vibe. These two-toys-in-one products are very popular because people want to expand their definition of play time without giving up their tried-and-true favourite sensations – and let’s face it, they also want more value for their money!

What has been the focus of your most recent product launches? What trends and developments in the market are reflected in these latest products?

Raymond: Innovation is at the heart of our product releases, so I’d say technology has been leading the way with inflatables, thrusters, spinning, licking – to call this year’s offerings a diverse line up of products is an understatement! We’re expanding our products for men with the Zero Tolerance line – Evolved has some ground-breaking new ideas here. And of course, there’s the introduction of a brand-new category with Gender X, which has been really exciting for us. Gender-neutral marketing as a concept has translated into a lot of new business for us.

Speaking of which, you launched Gender X at the end of last year as a line that is completely inclusive. What has the feedback been like? Is inclusion, along with sustainability, the big trend of the future in the sex toy market?

Raymond: Feedback for Gender X has been overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic. Retailers were ready for a new category! And the world was ready to for a gender-neutral space where toy marketing by gender does not apply. Everyone from toy bloggers to shop owners loves the idea that Gender X offers the option to keep male/female binary choices out of the equation. It speaks to the future of inclusivity – and we love the idea of ‘toys for everyone.’ We’re in the business of making people feel good! Not excluded. That was the genesis of the idea, and it’s absolutely being embraced industrywide. We’re very proud of that.

How do you manage to deliver on your brand promise with each new release?

Raymond: Our products are a premier brand for stores. Store associates know that we deliver quality and back it up with our 5-year warranty. Every single release is guaranteed for full replacement, and we’ve gone 13 years without ever denying a replacement request! On top of that, we’re carrying ten months’ worth of inventory on all 900 skus and have not shipped an order with less than a 96% fill rate in 8 months. We’re all the prouder to be able to make this claim in a climate where supply chain issues have loomed like a dark cloud.

Which factors determine whether a product becomes successful or collects dust on the shelf? Have these factors changed in recent years?

Raymond: You know, there will always be items that get dropped for one reason or another as customers seek new technology, new features and functions. Our job is to anticipate the needs and desires and deliver products that satisfy on every level! Sounds easy, right? Sometimes you miss the mark, but we haven’t found any particular ‘failure’ trend; it’s often a surprise – and thankfully usually an anomaly.

How important is brand loyalty in the sex toy market? To what extent do the brands we know play a role in the minds of consumers?

Raymond: Brand loyalty is extremely important in this industry. I’ve seen customers go straight to a specific shelf when they walk into a store, and why is that? Because they’re happy with the last item they bought, and they want to be satisfied again! That’s the whole raison d’etre of the industry anyway, isn’t it? I think for Evolved’s family of brands, people rely on us for innovation, high quality, and full replacement warranty – they know there’s no risk with us, ultimately, which is definitely attractive.

Now that we are in the post-Covid phase, it is easy to look back and assess how disruptive the pandemic has been to our market. Is coronavirus worth a whole chapter in the annals of the sex toy market or just a footnote?

Raymond: Obviously the pandemic disrupted the supply chain, but for companies like us who had product, it was a boom time. We’re so grateful that we have been in a position to fill orders and keep our retailers happy throughout the lockdowns and beyond. Of course, we have been affected in other ways – experiencing the huge move to online sales & zoom meetings – and that’s a worldwide impact that is partially here to stay.

In the wake of the pandemic, there has been much discussion about distribution channels. Quite a few are of the opinion that direct-to-consumer business models are the future. Do you share this opinion?

Raymond: We believe that the retailer, wholesaler, and online reseller will remain indispensable as value-adding entities in the marketplace. Consumers will always crave informed, seasoned opinions, and curated experiences because it’s a market that has specific needs like no other. Speaking the specific language of toys is not something that will go away or become less necessary or valuable to the uninitiated – and even the old pros! The toy community is strong with bloggers and experts everywhere you look – people want that communication – they don’t just want to click a button and buy something with no context.

There were predictions that a golden age would begin for the sex toy market once the Covid crisis was over – instead we are talking about a war in Europe, rising cost of living, collapsing supply chains… what will all this mean for our market?

Raymond: Evolved will weather the storm along with the rest of the world and deliver to consumers as our top priority. Those ‘golden age’ predictions are not something we focus on with our business decisions. We want to be sensitive to people who are under pressure and fill their needs as much as we can. There are always ups and downs, so we try to keep our ‘big picture’ thinking in the foreground and focus on how to make life better in the world with the products we sell.

How is Evolved Novelties addressing the challenges created by the current situation?

Raymond: We listen carefully to our customers and monitor the markets to try and respond in the best way possible. In terms of supply chain, we opened a warehouse in the Netherlands a few years ago that has been a tremendous help for our European partners and customers, so that’s made a big difference for us with keeping up supply across the ocean.

Of course, we also want to talk about your plans for the future. What can we expect from Evolved in the second half of the year?

Raymond: We will continue to meet our customers in their home countries, present new releases, train, and above all listen to their store associates. These in-person gatherings are where we gather some of our best information about how toys are performing and what people are looking for in retail. And of course, now that eroFame will be on again this year, we’re looking forward to seeing our partners outside of the US.

It’s still a few months away, but eroFame is already casting a shadow. What significance does the event have for you and can you reveal your plans for eroFame?

Raymond. It will be wonderful to be able to see and talk to people face to face again! Having the chance to demonstrate our amazing toys in person means everything to us, and the eroFame trade convention brings us all together. It’s a unique and powerful opportunity for us to tell the world why Evolved is so different and deserves their attention! Really looking forward to it.