This S’pore model is making intercourse toys mainstream, retails in 4,000 shops

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Where do you usually go when you want to buy sex toys? Shabby sex toy shops in the hidden alleys of Geylang? Or online sex shops that have a number of confusing products with expensive price tags that you hesitate to buy before trying?

In view of these concerns, Peder Wikstrom and Mattias Hulting from Sweden want to break the taboo and stigma of female sexuality products.

When Wikstrom tried to buy a vibrator for his then girlfriend (now wife) in the past, he found that the buying experience was very uncomfortable, intimidating and shameful. Even in Europe, female sex toys were not sold in mainstream retail stores.

The two saw this void and wanted to normalize the sex toy buying experience in a way that was simple, spontaneous, and more accessible to all. The Asian market became their initial focus because they felt the sector was less competitive.

They raised $ 4.4 million from angel investors as well as venture capitals like DSG Consumer Partners and Nouvago Capital to eventually launch a sex toy brand called Smile Makers.

Make the best sex toys in the world

Image Credit: Smile Makers

Their mission is uniquely clear: to normalize female sexuality and create the best sex toys in the world.

Since none of them had a design or technical background, they conducted focus groups and market research, and worked with a strong product development team as well as sexology and gynecology experts to develop their products.

They repeated their prototype and received multiple trials and feedback to perfect the shape and design. They recorded stories and personalities for each of their sex toys, inspired by the common western and eastern female erotic fantasy.

Sex toys in mainstream retailMainstream Retail Partner Example / Image Credit: Smile Makers

After perfecting user-friendly, cute, and engaging vibrators at an affordable price of S $ 70, they targeted retail stores to sell their products.

They avoided stores specializing in sexual products and turned to pharmacies, grocery stores, fashion and cosmetics stores, and department stores.

Conquering mainstream retail stores

The biggest challenge Smile Makers faced in their early days was penetrating the retail mainstream. Their approach was new and unprecedented, which made it difficult to convince customers and partners to jump on board.

They kept receiving rejections from mainstream outlets who felt that their products were inconsistent with their business image. Until 2015, they were still struggling to work with mainstream brands.

Smile makerFirst rejection from mainstream stores / Image Credit: Smile Makers

Her breakthrough came from Watsons, who eventually supported her branding mission to normalize female sexuality – it was the first brand to come on board.

Despite positive reviews from satisfied and curious customers, there were still obstacles. Initially, the products were not allowed to be presented on the packaging and there were restrictions in the usage guidelines contained therein.

Smile toy sex toyImage Credit: Smile Makers

Today, Smile Makers has grown into a global brand with presence in 4,000 retail stores in more than 25 markets including Malaysia, Hong Kong, South Korea, Australia, Taiwan, Mongolia, South Africa and the USA.

They are available in stores such as Watsons and Guardian pharmacies, Isetan department store, and fashion retailer Cotton On.

They also promote sex education

Along with persistent and relentless requests to mainstream retail stores, Smile Makers also pushed for universal sex education.

They have worked closely with governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to launch sex education campaigns and drive legalization in conservative countries in the hope of educating people about the importance of female pleasure in general wellbeing.

They started the Vulva Talks Program, a pleasure-positive sex education program developed by Smile Makers with sexologists to answer questions about sex and anything vulvar related. They believe that in addition to developing top quality sex toys, it is important for women to understand their bodies in order to experience sexual satisfaction.

Smile toy sex toyImage Credit: Smile Makers

In conservative markets like Malaysia, they have partnered with NGOs like the Federation of Reproductive Health Association, Malaysia (FRHAM) to launch sexual education campaigns. FRHAM is Malaysia’s leading non-profit service organization committed to and promoting sexual and reproductive health (SRH), including family planning and reproductive rights of women, men and young people.

Slowly but surely, all of her efforts and determination bore fruit.

With the rise of the female tech industry (femtech) in 2016 and the viral spread of the #metoo movement in 2017, empowering women to claim their sexuality has become mainstream. Beauty and fashion brands also began advocating women’s wellness and body positivity messages, including prioritizing sexual wellbeing.

In late 2018, they were featured by a lot of mainstream media outlets and retailers ended up saying yes to them.

In fact, the demand for their products has changed dramatically in recent years. They have seen high demand in the mainstream marketplace, and their revenues grew 123 percent from 2019 to 2020 in the US alone.

Smile toy sex toyImage Credit: Smile Makers

In October 2020, they conducted a customer feedback survey that collected data from 7,000 women in seven markets. They found that more than half (56 percent) prefer to buy vibrators in mainstream retail, while 63 percent prefer to shop in beauty shops.

This is proof that their foray into mainstream retail has been the right move all along.

The ultimate goal is to legalize the sex toy industry

Smile Makers are constantly improving their product design and branding to make them more accessible, reliable and easy to use, and to ensure the ultimate female satisfaction.

They will be relaunching their original collection of innovative vibrators with a number of improved designs based on user feedback.

Smile Makers added 150 percent to the overall weight of the product for more vibration and feel. They have embedded the latest and greatest technology available to deliver stronger yet more even vibration, while the magnification makes the products more comfortable to hold and allows precise use.

Commenting on the product design, Cécile Gasnault, Brand Director at Smile Makers, said that customers love the accessibility of their designs, so they intend to keep it that way.

“While we’ve increased the power of the engines and the size of the products, we’ve kept the responsive proportions and, as originally intended, we want to appeal to a first-time audience,” added Ariel Chen, Asia Brand Manager, added Smile Maker.

They developed simple, ergonomic designs with a cute pastel color palette that are very appealing. They branded and personalized every product with erotic fantasy personalities – like The Firefighter (formerly The Fireman), The Billionaire (formerly The Millionaire), The Tennis Pro, and The French Lover.

Smile toy sex toyImage Credit: Smile Makers

The new packaging includes body-positive graphics, while the product names have been updated to include hip, fun, and relevant descriptors.

In an interview with Vulcan Post, Ariel said that Smile Makers remains committed to their original mission of normalizing the perception of female sexuality around the world.

Their ultimate goal is for smile makers to become ubiquitous, and their sexual education campaigns would help normalize perception and advance the legalization of the industry around the world.

They want to reach as many countries as possible, including countries where the sex toy industry is illegal, such as Arab countries, Thailand and Vietnam.

Selected image source: Smile Makers

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