At the end of this interview, Raymond Houtenbos of Evolved Europe announces his three wishes for the year 2021, and most industry members out there probably share those wishes wholeheartedly. Or do you know anyone who thinks that we haven’t been plagued by the corona epidemic long enough? The effects of this crisis on the erotic market and the outlook for 2021 are among the main topics of our conversation with Raymond.
Raymond, you are a ‘veteran’ of our industry, and you have already seen a lot of ups and downs in this market. When you think back on the year 2020, which images and feelings come to mind?
Raymond Houtenbos: It won’t be surprising, but the first images and feelings are related to the Covid-19 pandemic. The whole world is suffering right now, and people are reflecting on what’s important in their lives. My motto has always been ‘live as if it were your last day,’ and this pandemic underlines the relevance of this motto once again!
Would you say that the market has changed due to the pandemic?
Raymond: Since the March lockdown, my experience is that the market has not changed that much. People have moved online for the bulk of their shopping, but I really believe that after the pandemic, they will be happy to visit bricks and mortar shops again. Working from home is being encouraged now, but that’s a temporary situation for our industry. In-person visits to customers remain essential to understanding the specific needs of each local market.
Bricks and mortar retailers have suffered and still suffer extremely, e-commerce is booming and interest in – and demand for – sex toys is growing and growing. How would you break down the year 2020 based on these three developments?
Raymond: In general, these three statements are true. E-commerce has seen a surge because of the pandemic, and people stuck at home are buying more sex toys without leaving their house! This means physical retail shops are suffering, but let’s not forget that this was a trend long before we had even heard of Covid-19. Do I think 2020 will wipe out stores altogether? No. I think once the vaccines have been widely distributed, you’re going to see people excited to walk into shops without fear again.
For many years, we have been discussing the disintegration of the traditional supply chain and the effects that come along with it. Has the corona crisis accelerated these developments?
Raymond: In my opinion, no. I see the traditional supply chain continuing to evolve and change to meet the requirements of the market. As long as we are able to successfully predict demand and flow and exercise some flexibility and imagination when it comes to problem-solving, the current model can keep adapting, even with the unexpected challenges of the coronavirus. And now that it’s been almost a year living with this pandemic, we’re getting used to the ‘new normal.’
What are your expectations for the year 2021? What challenges will our market have to overcome in the new year? And how will Evolved Novelties face them?
Raymond: In terms of in-person interactions, much will depend on the release of the vaccines, naturally. We’re hoping to get back to business as usual in terms of physical retail, but of course we’re monitoring progress and predictions at store level because there may be surprises there that we haven’t foreseen. We’re paying close attention to which stores are struggling and try to figure out how to help the retail landscape move forward when the crisis begins to wane. At Evolved, we’ve always distinguished ourselves with a personal touch and will continue to do so. Don’t forget that in every crisis, there is also opportunity! We see 2021 as a chance to further expand our market share – safely – and advise and assist our customers as they adapt to what’s coming next.
The fusion of modern technologies and sex toys has continued throughout 2020. Will this trend continue to take over product development in 2021 or will there still be room for ‘standard vibrators’ without app control?
Raymond: There will always be room for traditional vibrators! Our approach is to stay connected at the customer level, and we’ve learned that there is a steady demand for the classics, just as there is demand for the latest technology. Is there a way to rev up an old classic with a modern twist? Let’s re-visit that basic battery bullet and offer it with something new. People who haven’t bought a vibe in a long time want to see toys they recognise, but that doesn’t mean they don’t appreciate the upgraded technology. And then on the other side, we’re always developing for the connoisseurs who have a drawer full of toys but want the latest innovation – out-of-the-box concepts and app technology. Evolved will always be on the cutting edge in this department because our development department is focused on surprising and delighting these seen-it-all customers. Basically, that’s a very long way of saying that I predict ‘old standards’ and new app-based toys will both continue to be popular well past 2021.
Can you already give us a little taste of your plans for 2021? What can the market expect from Evolved?
Raymond: We’re very excited about 2021! We’re planning monthly lingerie releases for our award-winning brand Barely Bare, and we’re also creating more bondage items for Adam & Eve. Our rechargeables will keep rolling out in all shapes and sizes, and we’re developing a metal anal plug that’s been long awaited. Last but not least, our dong and stroker lines are updated with multiple colours, which is something people have been asking for. So, the pandemic is not slowing us down in terms of rolling out new products for our customers.
Nowadays, what determines if a product becomes a success or simply gets lost in the shuffle. Or, put differently: If all products in the market are bodysafe, waterproof, etc., how difficult is it to stand out?
Raymond: As far as we’re concerned, it’s not just one thing that makes our products stand out. Of course, the high-quality materials and motors are essential to grab attention, but it’s also the full support we provide as a manufacturer. Through training and marketing assistance, we make sure our customers really know the products, and that’s what makes the biggest difference. You can have two body-safe, waterproof toys that look the same on the outside, but when a sales person speaks confidently (or puts detailed information on their website) about the Evolved toy – how it was developed and created with the customer in mind, not to mention our five year warranty – which one would you buy?
Back to the topic of distribution: You work with several distributors and wholesalers in Europe. However, we also see more and more exclusive distribution agreements in the market. So, the question arises: Will you stick to your present strategy?
Raymond: We’re happy with our current distribution strategy, but we’re always open to changes that can lead to greater success. Our priority is getting the products out successfully in the most efficient way, and for us, that means partnering with the right distributors to cater to each market. We monitor our operations carefully and will make changes if we need to, but our priority is to keep our customers happy!
If you had a magic lamp granting you three wishes for 2021, what are the three wishes that come to mind first?
Raymond: 1. Let Covid-19 disappear. 2. Let Covid-19 disappear. 3. Let Covid-19 disappear.