NEWTON, Mass. — Last 12 months, Jamie Leventhal, the chief government of Clio, a small firm that makes gadgets like private hair trimmers, obtained a name from a purchaser he knew at Walmart.
“What do you think of sex toys?” Mr. Leventhal stated the customer had requested him.
It was a little bit of a stunning query from a retailer identified for its buttoned-up company tradition. But Mr. Leventhal knew that Amazon and different retailers have been having success promoting grownup merchandise and that there was cash to be made. So did Walmart.
Now, 45 years after feminists began promoting vibrators by mail-order catalog, 20 after the Rabbit toy was praised on “Sex and the City” and in a second when manufacturers like Goop are espousing “sexual wellness” to ladies, Mr. Leventhal’s firm has created a line of intercourse toys which might be being stocked and bought by Walmart, the most important retailer within the United States.
Clio’s PlusOne line began showing in four,300 of Walmart’s roughly four,700 shops and on Walmart.com in October. Walmart sells the objects in shops in each state within the United States besides Virginia and Alabama, due to legal guidelines in these locations. The retailer plans to start carrying 4 extra PlusOne merchandise in August.
“This is not a new category for us,” Walmart stated in an announcement, noting that it carries vibrators made by the condom corporations Trojan, Durex and Lifestyles. But PlusOne is a a lot greater transfer into intercourse toys.
The merchandise are designed to be excessive finish. They are waterproof, rechargeable and made with body-safe silicone, options as soon as discovered solely on merchandise bought at intercourse retailers and on-line. Yet they’re priced between $10 and $35, far lower than “designer vibrators” from corporations like Lelo, which might price $75 to $200.
The PlusOne line can be extra identifiably sexual than the opposite gadgets on Walmart’s cabinets. Clio will launch a clitoral stimulator as a part of its August growth, together with a mini private massager, cleansing wipes and a lubricant.
Although Clio developed the merchandise for Walmart and the retailer is its high buyer, the corporate’s vibrators are additionally carried by Target and Amazon. In the final eight months, Clio has bought over 1,000,000 PlusOne items. The firm now has greater than 26 % of the sexual massager market, in accordance with Nielsen.
“I want to become the Kleenex of sex toys,” Mr. Leventhal stated, “the brand that you associate with sex toys.”
Clio is hoping to attraction to ladies who’ve by no means purchased a intercourse toy earlier than, notably moms over 25, however are embracing the concept “sexual wellness” is sweet for you and could be empowering.
“It is like bringing a mini-sex toy store to every small town in America,” stated Hallie Lieberman, the creator of the intercourse toy historical past “Buzz.” “It is very revolutionary in a quiet way.”
“This feels like the tipping point,” stated Chad Braverman, an government on the intercourse toy producer Doc Johnson, which was founded in 1976, when sex toys were still an underground business. “It is another step toward normalcy.”
When developing the line, Clio considered various factors, including price and aesthetic, but especially, Mr. Leventhal said, “how do we do something that Walmart shareholders won’t be offended by?”
Mr. Leventhal, 46, also has to figure out how to market a device that some in the public still view with suspicion. It was illegal to sell sex toys in Texas until 2008, and still is in Alabama. This year, at CES, the largest consumer electronics show in the country, an innovation award given to a sex toy was revoked; a rule prohibits products that are “immoral, obscene, indecent, profane” or do not reflect well on the show’s image.
Still, sex sells quite well. The “femtech” market, which includes the category of sexual wellness, could be worth $50 billion by 2020, according to a 2018 report by Frost and Sullivan. The adult store industry made $9.5 billion in 2018, and sex toys account for nearly 80 percent of that revenue, according to a 2018 report from Ibis World.
Trojan began selling vibrators in 2005, and they soon appeared in drugstores like CVS and Walgreens. By 2008, Walmart carried objects like vibrating rings, which are primarily designed for men.
Mr. Leventhal founded Clio in 2002. At the time, he saw an opening in the market for less expensive grooming products. The company now has five departments: grooming, nail care, skin care, cosmetic appliances and sexual wellness devices. Sex toys will soon become the majority of the products that Clio ships.
Mr. Leventhal admits he is a novice in the sex toy industry. Ms. Lieberman’s book on the history of such devices is in the office, but he hasn’t read it. “I’m curious, but I’m also busy,” he said.
He goes to hot yoga at lunch when he can, and drives an 11-year-old Toyota 4Runner he named Whitney, after Whitney Houston. He plays tennis with his two young children and spends time thinking about innovative retail products like EOS’s spherical lip balm and Method’s teardrop soap bottle. And he’s not sure why selling sex toys in a major retailer would be a big deal to anyone.
“I don’t see it as taboo,” Mr. Leventhal said.
He recognizes that not everyone feels the same way. “I think there’s a group of men that definitely do see a sex toy as a threat to the intimacy in their marriage,” he said.
Clio’s competitors are watching closely.
Alexandra Fine, the chief executive of Dame Products, thinks Walmart’s investment in PlusOne could make it more likely for her company to attract investors, which has not always been easy, she said. Dame Products sued New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority in June for refusing to place advertisements for the company on subways.
“It’s challenging to get people to see the value and the importance of female sexual pleasure,” Ms. Fine said. “It can be frustrating to be fighting for that and then to see men more easily profit from it.”
Mr. Leventhal grew up in Sharon, Mass., and his father and uncles all bought and sold merchandise for retail companies. He studied at the Florida Institute of Technology and Hofstra and went to work for a company in Chicago that made fans.
Mr. Leventhal thinks Walmart approached him because his company is small and works quickly. There are only about 20 employees, including two product designers.
PlusOne’s designers, several of them women, are also new to sex toys and take inspiration from specialty shops, items on Amazon and premium products made by companies like Lelo, WeVibe and Womanizer. One of the female designers said she also got ideas from pornography, though Stephanie Trachtenberg, Clio’s marketing director, said the company wanted to distance itself from that world because of negative associations consumers might make.
“We’re not kinky,” she said. “This is good for you.”
Jason Cornaro, 28, one of PlusOne’s designers, often thought about how he could make the products feel accessible and inviting to a first-time buyer. He wanted to make them attractive, not vulgar, but also immediately recognizable and easy to use.
“It has to kind of appeal to everyone, or at least not turn anyone away,” Mr. Cornaro said.
Clio is already working on a new product that looks like a vibrating silicone feather. Employees are calling it a “tickler.” It was Ms. Trachtenberg’s idea.
“It’s amazing,” Mr. Leventhal said, as the product buzzed. “We’ll launch that in the first quarter of 2020.”