Shopping for sex toys and products has gotten much easier in recent years. Brick-and-mortar stores have shed their previously seedy reputations (mostly) and evolved into friendly, sex-positive spaces. Web-based retail has also greatly benefited sex shopping. Some folks are just too far away from stores that specialize in sex products, while others prefer to do their intimate shopping from the privacy of their own homes.
From Pet Play to Fancy Feet: Selling Specialty Sex Online
At the same time, sex product manufacturing seems to be at an all-time high. Between established, big name companies and smaller start ups, there are new playthings coming out all of the time. And while there are lots of basic toys, there are also some very cool, very niche specialty products thriving out there.
Specialty Sex Toys
Most of the sex toys out there fall into some basic categories. You’ve got your many different vibrators, your many different stimulators, your many different masturbators. You’ve got some different kinky BDSM equipment. It feels odd to say, but the sex product industry does have a bit of a homogenous feel to it.
And this is great for many people who are looking to bring toys and devices into their sexytimes. Yet, as in all types of retail, there are those who want something unique. It is one thing to say kink or fetish and mean collars and whips, but kink and fetish take on an entirely different meaning when the items you’re looking for aren’t readily available in most sex retail outlets.
Now that the path has been paved by more mainstream sex product outlets, however, there is tremendous opportunity to establish spaces for more specific sexual fare. There is a running joke on the internet called Rule 34: If you can think of it, there is porn of it online. Well, with the help of some dedicated community members and entrepreneurs, here’s an addendum to that rule. Let's call it Rule 34a: If you can have sexual fantasies about it, you can buy sex toys for it on the internet.
For most folks who start a specialty sex retail site, they get into it hoping to sell the products they wish were available for sale.
“I wanted to sell something that I was familiar with, and also make it easier for people interested in these specific fetishes to have access to good-quality products at reasonable prices,” offers Sophia LaPlug, owner of BuyTailPlugs. Her site offers mostly DD/lg (Daddy Dom/little girl) apparel and equipment, as well as pet play products. Sophia found that these types of products are often too expensive, both in product and shipping. She wanted to be an alternative to this different, but according to Sophia, “way more popular than you’d think,” form of sexual expression.
Justin from MedFetUK started his site in the fall of 2017 and is quite pleased with the progress the site has made so far. His desire to sell fetish medical kink items grew from the difficulty medical kinksters have in finding the play products they want.
“There were adult shopping websites with maybe a page or two of medical items, which seemed to be added as an afterthought,” Justin remembers. “And the very few that were more specialized we found to be outdated, hard to navigate and not exactly inspiring trust-wise.”
Because medical kink items are not specifically for sex, it seems reasonable to think they might be available from other sources. Unfortunately, as Justin found out, this isn’t so easy. “Medical wholesalers often have large minimum order requirements or restrict sales to professionals and institutions, and even these have gaps in their ranges, which could mean placing multiple orders and paying multiple shipping charges to get a selection of supplies.”
Despite our increasingly positive attitudes toward people who have particular sexual interests, people live in fear of being found out by friends and family. For that reason, discretion is a big deal and Shawn from Foot-Fetish-Toys understands how important keeping customers' shopping habits secret is. In selling his specialty silicone toy feet, Shawn notes that those who have such a strong foot fetish are part of a circle and do try to maintain some secrecy while still fulfilling their needs. “They need a secret way to do their jobs on feet, and I offer [another] way. The best way is to find a real girl and work on her feet, but my products are the second best choice."
Shipping and Marketing Niche Sex Toys
When it comes to the business side of things, all three retailers I talked to agree that issues related to shipping are a continual concern. Shawn ensure all of this packages are as discreet as possible to maintain the sanctity of the foot fetish circle. Justin notes the cost and logistics of sending international packages and that he is transparent about costs to all customers. To deal with shipping costs, Sophia ships product directly from the manufacturers.
Another concern when starting up a niche sexuality retail site is getting the word out. To make a go of these businesses, existing fetish communities play a significant role as an already established customer base. Justin has long been involved in the fetish scene and has found the medical fetish community overwhelmingly supportive of the launch of MedFetUk. Shawn finds that many of his customers come over from other foot fetish or foot fetish hobby sites.
Sophia points out an unfair advertising situation: BuyTailPlugs cannot purchase Facebook or Google ads. Instead, she runs very successful giveaways through her site’s Instagram page. She also wields the site’s stature in the community for good. “We give 10% of our profits to RAINN, a U.S.-based charity that works with survivors of sexual violence. As a team we're interested in and care about the intersection of kink, queerness, and societal violence/oppression, and we are reasonably explicit about those politics.”
It is these connections to community that help make specialty sex retail possible. While more mainstream sites are doing good work as well, the opportunity to really connect with people who adore the products you sell makes a huge difference. Both buyers and sellers experience a relationship through shared interests. And that brings a better satisfaction to the transaction for everyone involved.
Jon Pressick is a sex-related media gadabout. For more than 20 years, Jon has been putting sex into our daily conversations at his long-running site SexInWords—as a writer, editor, publisher, sex toy reviewer, radio host, workshop facilitator, event producer and more. These days, he focuses on writing for Kinkly, GetMeGiddy, The Buzz and PinkPlayMags and editing Jason Armstrong's series of Solosexual books. You can find him on Twitter at @Sexinwords.