The 2016 ETO Show – the 12th incarnation – had high hopes and expectations put upon it by the previous year’s event, which was the largest in the show’s history. Paul Smith casts a critical eye over the most recent running of the UK’s only dedicated trade show for pleasure products… [pictures from the event can be found on our Facebook page]
Summer 2005 feels like a very long time ago – a full two years before the original iPhone launched. And those 11 years have seen massive changes and challenges within the pleasure product industry, quite apart from the recession. Legislation, Fifty Shades, straight male anal play and pegging, huge leaps forward in design, packaging and toy-tech – especially rechargables… The dozens of covers of ETO’s past editions on display around the magazine’s stand at last month’s exhibition are testament to change, and the ETO Show has also adapted over the years: added a day, changed venue, grown, shrunk and grown again.
Alongside the ETO Awards – which you can also catch up on in this issue – the ETO Show has carved a singular place in the calendar, alongside European events, UK adult retail shows (past and present) and various US expos. It remains the UK’s only pleasure product trade event. Home has always been the NEC but a big change this year was the addition of Resorts World, the giant hotel/spa/bar/casino/cinema/shopping complex next to the current ETO Show venue, the Pavilion.
So, how was the 2016 ETO Show? Sunday Washout weather started things off on the grey side and Monday’s rain wasn’t much better, but inside the show things were bright enough and comfortably cool when the doors opened at 10.30am and a fair few filled the fair to enjoy the fare. And after a slowish start, it fared well.
By the second catwalk show at 1.30, the event was buzzing with attendees. Retailers, etailers, gift-boxers, party planners and more mingled with exhibitors hopping from stand to stand to catch up with industry friends and people to be friendly to. When I bumped into the ElectraStim guys talking to the E-Stim folks I began chanting “fight, fight, fight!” but rivalries were kept strictly friendly. In reading other reports from the ETO Show as I write this one, that’s what I keep taking from them; a friendly and fun business to be in, and show to attend.
Spending most of my first day catching up with people and taking photos of the show, stands, people, products and models (they’re too beautiful to be mere ‘people’) it did occur to me there was a lack of eye-candy for the ladies (not exclusively) this year. The catwalk show has featured some great male models in the past and they seemed lacking. With great male attire on the Mister B and Dusedo stands among others, where are the oiled boys?!
Which brings me neatly onto Alan Gordon-Freeman of Alterego, this year’s ETO Awards sponsors, who I met on their stand. With him unable to attend on Monday I took my chance to get an early interview. He told me: “We’ve about the same size stand as last year, but it’s narrower and longer, which is great as it means we span two end-of-aisles. It’s worked a treat. We’ve also had really good feedback on our catwalk models, and on our two new collections here. The Shirley of Hollywood Temptress collection – a bondage-inspired range with chains and wetlook fabrics – and a new UK brand, YesX. Pronounced Yes-Kiss. That’s been a massive hit. Blown away by the response – people love the satin bag packaging. It’s the fun, bedroom end of the market, but amazing value for the quality. They’re ideal for mail order as there’s no box to get squashed. It’s debuted here and we’re thrilled with the reaction it’s received. The other, more established brands we carry also have new collections or additions. We’ve had lots to talk about which always leads to a good show. It’s now mid-afternoon and we’ve not had a ‘tyre-kicker’ all day, or had a chance to sit down. There’s four of us and we’re all very pleased with the quality of the buyers we’ve been meeting. I’ve been talking about Shirley of Hollywood’s new HOT collection, Provocative – from France – Beauty Night – from Poland – those are both boxed ranges with great images. Images sell! We’ve also Roza in proper lingerie sizes – no S,M,L – and that range goes up to 38E. Irall Erotic, Me Seduce in tapered boxes. New packaging. That’s looking brilliant… Lastly, our two hosiery brands. They’ve been getting lots of attention. Especially the plus sizes. With Pretty Polly having gone, Ballerina, a Polish brand, and Gabriella have been filling that-sort-of-quality-at-that-sort-of-price niche. We look at lots of stuff with premium prices and reject it as the quality isn’t there. Our two brands have been filling that gap really well and people are picking up on it. Great news for us!”
I was introduced to Aimie Wilson, customer services manager for Alterego. She said: “It’s been a brilliant show. We’ve met loads of existing customers as well as new customers and we’ve had a great day so far. Also lovely to be able to put faces to names and voices. There’s nothing like meeting customers in the flesh!”
With that, and some more photography, my first day at the 2016 ETO Show came to an end at 5pm. It gave me time for a wash and brush-up ahead of the ETO Awards that night, with half an eye on who’d I’d be congratulating at the show’s second day…
Free entry ensured there was another queue outside as I arrived shortly before the 10.30 opening on Monday. Three people awaited me on the EAN/eline stand, taking about the magazine and eroFame event.
Randolph Heil said, “Our magazine is for the whole of Europe, all erotic trade, from Norway to Spain. We work hard to find new trends, people, products, companies, ranges and brands to talk about and to show the market as a whole. We want retailers to get a great overview of the European market from us.”
Huda Lutz commented: “The eroFame show is coming in the first week of October, building on the success of last year. We’re very busy working on developing the show further and attracting exhibitors and attendees. We’re very happy and hope to see everyone there!”
Matthias Poehl added: “We’re regular exhibitors at the ETO Show as we’ve a close relationship with the British market. All the distributors here, and the ETO Magazine of course. Always happy to be here, meeting clients, new clients, readers – just great to stay in touch with the UK market, talking about the magazine and eroFame.”
Tim Brown of Bathmate was demo’ing on the ABS Holdings stand and he commented: “Hydromax is perhaps our best known brand but we’ve been here talking about all our range. We know most of the UK customers we’ve seen here but met more international folks too and it’s been great to talk to everyone. Met some new UK customers too, so it’s good. We’ll be launching some new lines at ANME but brought them along here to give a sneak-peek. They include the Xtreme X50, the biggest pump we do. It’ll replace the Goliath and comes with an additional hand-ball pump and hose. We’ve also got a world-first. It’s a Jelqing Enhancement Serum that overcomes friction, without the disadvantages or water or silicone-based lubes. It’s also got ingredients to help boost the Jelqing effect by aiding bloodflow and caffeine to improve absorption. There’s nothing else like it on the market, for the Jelqing community.”
“I love the ruched bum on that,” I heard one model call back to another between catwalk shows.
Happily not three sheets to the wind (a lot of drink got drunk at the ETO Awards dinner and afterwards), Mark Boulton of Sheets of San Francisco said: “We’ve been really busy. Yesterday especially, but I think everyone’s recovering from last night, this morning. A gentle start to the day! Here on my own at the moment but there were three of us on the stand yesterday, kept busy from 11 to towards the end of the show, without stop. Good quality people coming through too, which is nice. Spending time to really investigate the product on the stand, which is always good. The product in a sentence? Fluid-proof sheets for the adult market, which are really easy to wash and last for a long, long time.”
Also on the Sheets of San Francisco stand, a miniature Behind Barz bed, in metal, showing one of their bed designs which can be transformed into a cage with side-panels which live below the mattress on a shelf when not in use. A nice way of showing how SoSF product might look in use, on a bondage bed. Mark added: “The combination of their unique, hand-made-in-the-UK beds and our quality sheets; two quality products making the ultimate bed, we like to think!”
Louise Boote of Planet Earth (which sounds like the start of a great sci-fi romp) told me: “Really busy show for us. We were kept going right up to the close of the show yesterday and it’s been great as we’ve seen new customers and had a lot of new brands to talk to existing customers about too. The ETO Show’s been a great platform to show the changes we’re making within Planet Earth. Monday’s been quieter, but still quality through the door, so we’re happy. I’d say this has been a more successful show for us than previous ones as we’ve had the right things to show. They’ve been very well received. They include Pipedream and Jimmyjane, and we’re pushing those brands hard to get them into retailers and onto their online offerings. We’ve access to their entire catalogue, so we can always bring in products that aren’t usually available in the UK. We carry 4,500 SKUs though, so we’ve a lot of stock-holding to pick from. Pipedream are giving us a lot of support to ensure we have what our customers want, when they want it. Slube has also been a big hit on the stand. Have you spoken to him yet? It’s a great product. People haven’t seen anything quite like it before and it’s already shaping up to be a really great product for us. Something a bit more traditional in the lube-world for us, we’ve taken on Wet…”
Alan Cooper from Wet, took over, saying: “It’s great to be in the UK to talk about Wet, the number one US silicone brand. We’ve reintroduced our Naturals range in three different versions. They’re enriched with five botanicals and the packaging is great. The line is Ph-balanced for women, and the one you have there has a mild strawberry favouring added. Very pleasant. There’s also a silicone version, which is based upon our popular Platinum product. A real premium lube range that’s enriched with aloe vera. A great feel on the skin. The displays come free with a set of testers , when loaded with four each of the products. It’ll work as countertop or hooked into slatwall.”
My thanks to Steven Sav of Pipedream for talking me through their products too.
It was nearly 4pm before I was able to intercept Richie Bowles of Creative Conceptions on the stand right by the doors. Reflecting the refreshed look of the show, they firm had left its usual stand at home and brought something new.
“The whole show’s been good again,” said Richie. “It really has. Excellent. We’re really pleased. We’ve made the stand more open and displays easier to navigate and the feedback’s been really good. Really pleased. New brands for us include PowErect – male enhancement cream – and PowerAct – a daily-use supplement product that can boost sperm activity. They’re Skins products under a sub-brand which are launching in the US first. The packaging on that’s great. The Skins range has also developed with the performance bands and rings, in single and three-packs. Also Sexual Health Shots, for him and her, another booster product, with a countertop stand. They retail for £3.99. A great product at a great price. Another consumable at a ‘try it’ price to bring customers back. Big volumes expected for those, with repeat business. Sportsheets are with us on the stand too. But I must show you Satisfyer Pro2. We’ve given samples out on this to bloggers and reviewers, and stores too. They’re patented and use air pressure to enhance the vibrations by drawing the clit into the device with a small pump to suck on it. It feels every bit as good as that sounds! It’s waterproof too, so bathtime fun too. The feedback’s been amazing at £70-£75 retail. So yep, a great show.”
Another Rich’, Richard Harris of Blue Moon Lingerie, often forced at camera-lens to pose with the stand’s exceptional models, said:“Another good show. On the quiet side at the start of yesterday. We were wondering, is this going to get going? And then it did and everyone relaxed! It got really busy actually, and nicely, that continued pretty much until the end of the day. So, pleased. We met regular customers, some good new people – a couple of especially good leads in particular. You know, if you can leave with one really good new customer, that’s great. When you’ve been in the industry for a while, as Blue Moon has, finding those new people is a challenge. You know everyone, and you’ve got a relationship with many. When someone new comes on the radar, with a few shops, that’s brilliant. Overall, pleased, happy. Coquette has some great new designs and graphics and as our lead brand, it’s been doing especially well here. Helped in part by our amazing models on the catwalk, no doubt. The new Darque range has generated a lot of attention as it’s brand-new and people haven’t seen it before. Good timing for the new catalogue! A strong positive reaction to the beautiful, sexy new styles. No shortage of love for G-World, Escante, Anais and Fantasy either. Pleased!”
Glenn Wilde of ABS Holdings was found with a spring in his step on the firm’s sophisticated new stand. He said: “The world has never seen its like before! It’s very modern. We’re upping our game. The old stand we loved but this was built specifically for us. It’s ‘just stuff we need’ now, plus some lovely details like the under-lighting. There’s a lot of LEDs in this baby! Really subtle things, little details. The stand has caught-up with where we are as a company; attention to detail. There’s a bar and chit-chat space, plus enough room for lots of displays, all with the corporate colours. It’s very welcoming. As befits the Best Pleasure Product Distributor, 2016. Huge thanks to everyone who voted for us. Very happy to receive that, for doing what we do and doing it well. The show’s been good too. Perhaps slower and steadier than some of our more frantic years, but once it got going it’s been a good pace. The ABS stand has always been a bit of a place to be, and we’ve seen lots of existing customers, which is brilliant to catch up with them. A friendly chat as we take them through the new stuff. New customers too, looking to see they can get a lot of what they want and need for their business to grow through us.”
Glenn was particularly proud of and enthusiastic about The Rabbit Company range, and took me to see it. “In pinks and purples, at first glance it’s ‘yep, rabbits’, but take a longer look. All your favourite rabbit elements are in there. There’s such a thing as ‘too many rabbits’ and offering a choice of 30 can turn the customer off, which really isn’t what you want from rabbits! Too much Watership Down is a bad thing. So this is a compact range with great branding, with all silicone, all rechargeable toys. There’s a beaded one, a rotating version, G-spot, Classic, Ears-Alone, a Come-Hither model, the Lay-on Rabbit, extra stimulation nodules everywhere, and the Pocket Rabbit too. Something in there to do exactly what it was meant to do, on a great stand with excellent POS. Without wanting to sound like a stone-cold salesman, it has been flying out the door. When I first saw it, I thought ‘that’s nice’ but we’ve not believed how popular the range has been because they’re priced right. You called it ‘more rabbits’. I’d say of course it bloody isn’t! They’re next-gen rabbits.”
Five-time Best Lingerie Distributor, ETO Award winners Kevco Wholesale were pretty pleased with themselves, with smiles nearly as bright as their orange polo shirts. Kevin Wooldridge told me: “We’ve improved our stand on last year’s, with new graphics and more lighting, and we’re delighted. It’s been very welcoming and we’ve had a lot of compliments. Disappointed not to win Best Stand, but we got two this year, and that’s never bad. We’re thrilled with the Brand award as we tend to split our vote on that, which happened in the previous two years as well, but this time, still split, but a win. Delighted! To win the Distie award five times on the trot is a huge compliment and I’m thanking everyone who voted for us. Fingers crossed for 2017. We’ll be doing our utmost to retain it again. We’ve been kept busy with a steady flow of visitors onto the stand and the girls have been kept busy. We’ll analyse it all in the office next week but the feeling is maybe we’ve seen fewer people, but the quality is up. The reality is, while lots of people fill the show up and look good in photos, if they’re not buying, that’s good for your photos but not good for us. The right people have been here though, so well done to Jonny and the team, as always. Happy.”
David Rennison added: “We’ve a brand-new brand on the stand; Exposed-stroke-Magic Silk and Male Power. All of our brands are solid sellers and we aim to be that one-stop-shop, giving customers great service and brilliant choice. The stand is a great setting for all our brands, but it’s been provided for us again by Fever, one of our playwear and lingerie brands. They’ve done a fantastic job with it. All the graphics are something we can provide shops with, so what you’ve seen here, you can have for yourself, in-store. Window displays too- POS is one of Fever’s real strengths.”
Showing five very distinctive colours of Slube, the firm made a big splash with a warm full-size bathtub of green goo that pretty much sold itself when you dipped a hand into its welcoming embrace. It was like being back in the womb, but just for your hand. I imagine. Something like that. It comes as a powder in a box, and with the addition of water, transforms into a goo which wouldn’t be out of place being dropped on Noel Edmonds (more of whom later!) on a Saturday night. Condom safe, it’s in five scents and colours, fine as an internal lube as well as a body-to-body lube and if you’ve ever wanted to wrestle in a pond of sexy slime, this could be the product for you. I think it might be my breakout product of the show (with no disrespect to Doxy’s sparkle wands, or the dozens of other cool goodies I saw).
“We’ve never been here before,” David Powley explained. “It’s our launch event. We only discovered the product six weeks ago and raced to get the graphics and so on done. We’ve raced to get everything sorted to bring here. If we couldn’t launch at this ETO Show, we were going to miss out. It’s the right place to get Slube in front of the right people in the UK. The reception, after all that hard work, has been great. We have Planet Earth on as a distributor but we’re open to other deals across Europe and also into the US market if we can. We’re able to supply direct to retailers too and they’ve especially been excited by Slube. We’ve seen the biggest names in the market and it’s not needed hard-sell to get a fair few to say, ‘we’ll take it’. Which is perfect. We believe in the product but we’ve needed to pinch ourselves from time to time as the reception has exceeded all hopes and expectations. Putting it out there is a leap of faith, and we’ve landed on cloud nine, not with a bump. It’s a very broad appeal product. You can sell it as a bit of fun, or to serious players for a hardcore club night. At £14.99 retail for a bath-tub’s worth, it’s an impulse purchase, triggered if you can get customers to feel it, play with it. Sell it alongside scented candles as an erotic product, or push the Black Leather version – we also have Emerald Green, Custard Yellow, Erotic Blue and Risqué Red – to the BDSM market alongside big toys. It’s gay and straight-market appropriate, non-toxic, non-staining, scented… The show’s been good for us. Fantastic, actually.”
Sabine Kirchner of Scala Playhouse became available at a good moment and gave me a tour of the firm’s vast stand, chatting as we circled. She began: “Caresse by ToyJoy you know, and Cute. The Luz collection of light-up toys I think you’ve seen at the Scala Playhouse fair too. Aura and Zare are coming soon. Mae B, and prostate massager you’d have seen then too, but hopefully we’ve things many in the UK are seeing for the first time. For us the ETO Show has been very successful. We’ve seen many new customers. The stand has helped as it’s in smaller areas, broken up, so friendlier than last year’s I think. More cosy. Our lubes have been popular here. Great for add-on sales, always. Lots of new things though, like Fleshlight, which has new performer models in the Fleshlight Girls range. Baci, Envy, the CalExotics kits, which are a great product, and Inspire has been very well received here. Lots of interest.”
The problem is Scala Playhouse offer so much product, we had to whip around the stand but it still took eight minutes to do a full circuit. If we’d talked about everything on it, I’d have been there all day. Sabine continued: “We’ve We-Vibe, Colt Gear, Vivid Raw, and ah, this is great, the Get Real by ToyJoy dildos are going to be with retailers in July. Also NS Novelties. The Pride Dongs there have been amazing, and also the Risqué range of Fantasy Lingerie. A boxed range. Plus-size and playwear. Always popular. Great designs. Also, unicorn tail plugs! Those are something a bit special. In blue, pink, purple… Naughty Bunny – I see we’ve had some of the little ones stolen… That’s popular products for you. People will do anything for a small bunny with a big cock. Ok, here’s Evolved and Adam and Eve… Lots of interest in the jewelled plug range from Dolce Piccante too. Marco dressing up helped. Our own Roman hero on the stand! It’s been a perfect show for anyone who wasn’t able to make our spring fair in Almere. Cobeco also have new product here. Scot Watkins here [busy with customers] for Doc Johnson is happy with their ETO Award I know. He’s always been very busy here, introducing new lines to the UK market. If the Scala Playhouse Fairs are tailored towards existing customers, the ETO Show brings us new people. It’s been another good show for us.”
On the ft (FunToys) Anatomical Massagers stand, six models awaited me; G-eisha Balls, G-balls2 (app-controlled Kegel balls), the G-jack and G-vibe2 vibrators, G-plug and G-ring. The last two can be used in conjunction, with the finger-vibe G-ring transforming into a wireless remote controller for the G-plugs. G-enius!
Marco Tortoni, the Roman from the Dolce Piccante range on the Scala Playhouse stand was also here, but in civvies. He told me: “The range is a collection of fun toys by designer Jack Romanski. It began with the original G-vibe four years ago, in silicone, and it’s gown to the six products you see now. This is our first ETO Show and the stand is only little but it’s great-looking and has always been busy. Very busy. The look of the product and marketing is very important to us. We’ve worked in partnership with a great Siberian artist to make a very memorable look. I must tell you, the G-plug is the smallest rechargeable vibrating plug in the world, and that’s been amazingly popular here. Especially with the addition of the G-ring, which can be a controller for it. The G-balls2 are also remote controlled, but with a smartphone, and the app gives a workout program for the pelvic muscles. That’s something very special.”
By the BlogSpot stand, which was never less than full of activity, Nippleicious’ George Eyre (pronounced Air) was another hard man to get to speak to. When I caught him, he said: “Another busy one for us. Very pleased with the two days. Speak to me in six months’ time, when we’ve seen the expected business boost and I’ll tell you how successful. It is about raising our profile, but that’s not much use without more orders! If we get all the ones we’ve been promised, it’ll have been a brilliant, brilliant show for us. As you know, I was sorting an order when you came by earlier. Sorry to shoo you away but we were up to our eyeballs in it. A big order. Very pleased. People like our stuff as it’s unusual, colourful and something a bit different.”
Tony Gonzalez on the ETO Award-winning Net 1on1 stand said: “It’s been another great show. Really really busy. The Deal or No Dildo game has been really well received. That’s been amazing. He’s pretty topical at the moment. Glad it wasn’t Operation Yewtree. That might have meant a last-minute change of plans! On the stand, we’re showing the new products we’ve taken on recently. Very happy to have Svakom, which is a fantastic, innovative range of products to have. It’s a beautiful collection of products and the quality is up there with the best of them. The look of them rivals Lelo I’d say, and who else has a video-camera vibrator? Beautiful satin-soft silicone finish to those. We’ve the exclusive on Svakom in the UK. We also have the sole rights to distribute Sliquid here, plus Organic Lubricants, which slips very nicely – sorry – into our sexual health and wellbeing category. Along with Femintimate. They’re new to our inventory and filling a developing market segment as it grows. While our bread and butter is sex toys, we felt there was a need for a company to champion sexual health products within our industry. We’re trying to be those guys. Lingox is also exclusive to us. You’ll have seen pictures of these. The licky-mouth masturbator. There’s a twist-to-tighten ring, the far end of it is an insertable silicone feature. It makes it a triple toy. Masturbator for him, thrilldo for her and a multi-use toy for a couple. Even anal use. Within the Lingox range is also something called The Poker. It’s a caseless sleeve masturbator which comes in cool ‘All In’ tube packaging which looks like a stack of poker chips. We’ve the regenerating powder for those in the range too. So, yep, another good show. It’s always a great thing to be part of for us. We’re just the right exhibitor as we get to see people who are interested in our dropship service, and the Shop in a Box, which is a fully-featured website people can buy direct from us. Those have been especially good at the show this year, to talk about. Very successful. We like to support the ETO Show because ETO supports the industry. It’s important to be involved.”
Joost Hensen, international commercial sales manager for Mister B, said: “It was so good to get the award last night. It’s been another fun long weekend for us. We’ve been talking about our new Vac Rack and showing video of that, plus our new sling stand we’ve had on the booth. It’s been easy to bring and show as it packs small and only takes five minutes to put up or take down. Very strong, it’s good up to 150Kg, so a big guy or girl in it. Here’s the Vac Rack… Retail of €395… It is niche niche niche but it’s a great product at 2m by 80cm. You attach a vacuum cleaner to it and it shrinks around you to hold you tight. It has all the safety features, like earplugs. Safety first. Have a look on YouTube for Mister B Vac Rack for some video of it.”
Joke Groen added: “Also the Urban range of clothes – socks and underwear here – and the day-glow clubwear that was a test line when we met in Amsterdam in March, but is a regular line now. Also foam-insert inflatable dildos… The show’s been ok. We’ve met a lot of contacts and had useful meetings. The three of us on the stand have been busy. We’re satisfied.”
Seven (times ten)
I ushered Clive Gore to a seat when I met him on the Scala Playhouse stand, where he, Neil and Matt Gore, his son, were sharing space as GG &G Distribution. It’s a long show for those in the first flush of youth and despite Clive being 70 now, strictly speaking it was me who wanted a sit down for the interview.
“GG&G now,” Clive began. “Within that is Consume, our range of consumables. We’ve always done well with room odourisers and so on. Some are unique to the UK due to legislation. We’ve had our close shave and I’m sleeping well again and we’re very glad the right people got involved to sort it out. John’s [Addy] award last night was very much deserved and I’m proud of how we came together as an industry to defend a safe product. All pulling in the same direction, for once! A lot of retailers rely on what used to be called poppers to bring people back to the store time and time again, and it’s more than just the turnover in primary sales, it’s the repeat business also triggering impulse purchases and boosting footfall. If sex shops were supermarkets, odourisers are bread. Or milk.”
Clive added: “Although we’ve parted from Scala Playhouse and are now an independent company, we’re still acting as their super agents. The same people, doing the same stuff, just without the Scala UK name. We’re in the business of getting them orders, which are passed back to the Netherlands, and they ship direct. We collect their money for them. For our customers not much more than the name on the invoice has changed, but it’s a whole new structure for us and one that will make for better relationships all round. Consume is all ours. It made sense on a legal basis, with former-poppers being illegal in the Netherlands, and we’re standing on our own two feet now. Paying our own bills! We’ve a great team with so many years’ experience, and we live in interesting times. The industry is evolving ever faster and we keep on our toes.”
Clive added: “I wasn’t here last year as I was recovering from an operation so I didn’t see the previous stand but I understand it was a bit of an aircraft hanger. It’s worked well this year though, broken up into themed areas, and everyone’s seemed to like it. Free beer may have helped with that! The show has evolved too. I think we’ve seen fewer people this year compared to last year’s busy one, but better quality again. I’ve said the same thing for a few years but that’s the general trend. You’re attracting the right people. We’re not overwhelmed by people, but everyone is serious and knows what they’re doing. The numbers aren’t important if the people who are here are the right people. In the very early days of the show you attracted the wrong crowd. The aisles were mobbed but many were only here for freebies. It’s much better now. The ETO Show has always been a useful place to meet up with everyone and it’s that focal point for the industry. The social side as well as the work, with the Awards night and meal. It works well.”
DVM Enterprises’ Mike McGee was chatty when I passed, telling me: “We’ve DVDs here for those who want them, but they’re not on display as we want visitors to realise we’re about a lot more than films. We came hoping to pick up some new shops, perhaps unlicensed, boutique ones, who don’t know us apart from our R18 movie business. It seems to have worked as we’ve had quite a bit of interest on the range. Sunday was a bit slower, but it had its moments, and the quality was good. We’ve picked up some new store owners who’ve a couple of shops, which is great, plus interest in the pills for vending, so it’s all good. Another product that’s going well for us is the embossed bondage range, which we’ve been doing for about four months now. That’s the Aphrodisia range, which is something a little different. The cuffs are on neoprene backing and soft to wear. We’ve been taking them around in the van to the trade and moving well. We sold several boxes off the stand yesterday, which is always nice.”
Kevin Mirarchi of Shibari Wands told me: “It’s our first toe-dip in the waters of the UK market and we’ve been overwhelmed. It’s been a tremendous success.”
Terry McGowan added: “We’ve 10 and 20-speed Halo wands, the 10-speed Mega Wand, the 7-speed Orchid… The emphasis is for clean, non-threatening packaging and great, powerful products. Aiming to appeal to the female aesthetic to make sexuality more comfortable and empowering. Our wands are all rechargeable, so we avoid many of the problems other US wand manufacturers have trying to import 110-volt mains products into Europe.”
Eight may be a lucky number in China, but you can’t trust your business’s future to luck. Which is where a specialist insurer like Adult Insure comes in. James and Lucy Thornhill, brother and sister, were at the ETO Show to spread their word. Lucy told me: “We’re a specialist commercial insurance broker and we did our homework before moving into this sector. We use open-minded underwriters… We saw a niche and opportunity to offer insurance to a market that hasn’t been well served in the past. We began with saunas and entertainment venues and have now opened that up to include retail and manufacturing. We can cover anything from package policies to stock liabilities, covering export in the US. No policies are off the shelf, we tailor everything to meet individual clients’ needs. It’s all bespoke. We get asked what makes us special. It’s down to taking the time to listen to customers and knowing that while insurance is a naturally conservative market, matching the right underwriter and policy to the client makes for a good partnership. There is perhaps a perception of risk around adult business which isn’t backed-up by the figures. In the event of a claim, by using a broker such as ourselves, you get much more understanding support than you would getting a product off a shelf, so to speak.”
James added: “The show’s been busy for us. We’ve a game of chance on the stand – naturally – called Pig, where you roll a dice until you get a one. That’s been an entertaining way to attract people onto the stand to chat. Insurance isn’t fun, it isn’t glamorous, but the game has helped us meet people and we’ve created lots of new contacts and people know our faces now, which makes the business a lot more ‘human’. We’d a really good time at the awards last night and met a lot of people there. Everyone’s feeling that little bit ropier today, and a few croaky voices out there!”
KinkCraft I’d met before, at last August’s Sexhibition. Andrew Binstead told me: “You can buy KinkCraft ready made, as you see samples here, or as a kit, and follow the instructions to make a wide range of kink products for yourself. The kits come with everything you need and a video to guide you through the whole thing. That comes on a memory card, so you can hang onto it and make more items. We sell lots of different kits, but with something like the cuffs for example, the way it often goes is someone will make a simple pair in a single colour, enjoy the experience of crafting them as well as the resulting product, and then remake cuffs but as a more ambitious project. Perhaps multi-coloured. We also do floggers, nipple-stick clamps, and more. We like to take some of the old ideas out there and give it a modern slant with modern materials. More body-safe, more hygienic materials that you can simply do more with. More interesting, fun stuff. Colour is very important to us. We’ve also got bigger floggers – we’ll be teaching people how to make their own wooden handles for those – and latex clothing. Teaching people how to cut and glue their own clothes – and lingerie is coming too – in latex. The joy of crafting is a big part of what we love. Sure, you can buy finished pieces from us, but the education side is as important. Learning how to make them. Think of us as the Blue Peter of sex toys! It’s a therapeutic, calming process making these things, and you end up with a product you’ve great confidence in, as you made it with your own hands. It stops products feeling in any way scary. The show – our first time here exhibiting, so no direct comparisons – has been really good. A lot of people yesterday and a bit quieter today, which is always the case I’m told. The ‘hand-crafted-in-the-UK aspect people have warmed to. Each piece is unique and it’s not all coming from a sweatshop in China. We can bespoke-it-up for customers. If you want corporate colours on bondage cuffs, that’s something we can do. Our product is full of character and colour and people have really been engaging with that.”
Kinky Monkey had been busy, showing bondage and impact products alongside the company’s main offering; strap-on harnesses. The firm had made a version with holsters for toys as a bit of a gimmick for the catwalk, but reaction had been so favourable they’re to be offered as an option. I was told the show had been good and sales had been made on the day, but quite correctly, only time would tell just how promising those promising leads spoken to would become.
William Garland of Doxy told me: “It’s been a fantastic ETO Show for us. I think it’s been my favourite show. It’s funny isn’t it? Who knows why? It’s been better than expected. Weirdly, it might be down to stand design. We did a real open one this time, open on three sides, and I’ve been delighted with it. Better than any layout we’ve tried before. We’d a lot more new product to show – like the sparkle Doxy Die-Casts, the Don, the new bullets and the Gmi – which made it that bit more exciting. All the new colours – and to be honest, winning the Best New Female Product award last night didn’t hurt my mood! Both days have been equally as busy for us, which I think has been unusual and now I’m exhausted. It’s time to go home. A long drive back to Cornwall, back to the factory. We’ve more orders to fulfil so time to make more and get shipping out! To recap, the Doxy Don was originally called The Doxy Skittle but it’s been repackaged and renamed to be sold as an anal toy, which is how it worked best. The sparkle wands are definitely a line now, in a big range of colours. They’ll be shipping in the next week or two. They came here as prototypes but we’ve been selling so it’s an easy thing to add to the range. Easy to make, for us. The bullets have the great name of The Doxy Bullet and will be out in a couple of months. The USB model will be the first out. Use it in your car, at the office, into your laptop, even camping with a pocket charger you might use with your phone. The most powerful bullet I’ve seen. The power of a mains product, miniaturised, in your tent! One test product we’ve had here are accessories from Godemiche. Silicone sleeves for the Doxy.”
Wayne Allen of E-Stim Systems also had a number of new products on display: “Our big one is the new ‘Pebble’ power box or controller. The response to that has been phenomenal! Based on our experiences using our boxes, we’ve decided to move on ergonomically, as well as looking at the features, functions and sensation. It’s the sensation people want when they buy e-stim equipment. They may buy on features, but to be a happy customer, they’re going to want the sensation to deliver. Since we play with this kit as well as design and manufacture it, our insight is that bit sharper, I guess. The Pebble has nine program modes and a built-in microphone for audio-triggering. The sound of voice, or music, or spanking is reproduced as stimulation. Stepless level controls with twisty knobs is great for quick reaction. A great feature are the lights, which pulse in different ways with different settings. That the audio mode looks like Knight Rider is a personal favourite! Retail is £149, between the Series One at £109 and the 2B at £299. We also have our Electro-Eggs, being seen for the first time at the ETO Show. People have been trying to take those away with them. We’ve only demo ones with us, but we’ll bring stock to sell in future on some lines as we’ve been batting here-and-now orders away all day. Converting them into ‘We’ll send them to you’ orders, of course! We’ll need a bigger stand for the stock boxes, which might mean the Pick ‘n’ Mix has to go and I know that would be an unpopular move. We had a small riot yesterday when several models decided they’d have our sweets for lunch. Empty calories!”
Wayne added: “As for the show, quality-wise it’s been fantastic. It’s perhaps been slightly quieter than last year’s very busy show. There is a benefit to that though, in terms of having time to chat properly, with people here to buy. I’ve never liked to rush someone to get to the next person in the queue. That’s not how we prefer to do business. Another successful ETO Show for us, plus the addition of more silverware last night. Thank you to everyone who voted for us.”
Carnal Creative’s Nina Saini said: “The show’s been really good. Busier than expected for us, as a service-based company with a desk and chairs to lure people onto the stand! It’s been really good. We’re an agency which provides services to the adult market. Web design, graphic design, PR, marketing support… Basically talk to us about your needs and we’ll tell you what we can help with. It doesn’t include selling Ferraris or vodka or Armani water on commission. We do get some odd invitations at the ETO Show but at least you spelled my name right on my badge. I’m Nini at the hotel! But the colourful characters are part of the fun of the show.”
John Hubery of The Bondageman took a moment out to tell me: “We’ve lots of BDSM product on the stand, but wax play is the main part of the business. Originally we were just going to bring our amazing, colourful, low-melting-point candles for wax play, but we secured some extra space so brought a broader range. Candles are the mainstay of the business though and as you’ll see from the video we have running, a great erotic product. This has been our first ETO Show and it’s been brilliant. We’ve been thrilled with the organisation and communication – we’ve been to other shows which haven’t been anything like as professional as this. This is your twelfth? I guess you should be getting it right by now! But yep, it’s been brilliant and we’ve done a lot of business. It’s been well-worth coming. We’ll certainly be returning. Really good.”
Naughty Originals was showing Mojo and the MaXXX ranges. David Wills, returning to the ETO Show after a break last year, said, “We’ve a large range of products under the Naughty Originals banner, but we’re at the show to promote two; the MaXXX supplement range, including Pink MaXXX as the new variant, and also Mojo Pheromone. That’s in two types, to attract men or women. We don’t market it more specifically than that. It’s an important point. We don’t say ‘for men’ or ‘for women’ and assume they’re wanting to meet the other gender. We’re a little more modern than that. Most of the other pheromone products out there are a lot more assumptive! Ours aren’t musky either, which many are. Ours is closer to what I’ll call Kevin Climb, for legal reasons! A unique feature, as far as I can discover, is ours is ok to be posted by Royal Mail or air, as it contains no alcohol. Great for the mail order market. The show? It’s been great. Very busy yesterday and the girls have helped. We like to draw attention to ourselves.”
Sue Walsh of Rocks-Off was chillaxing on a white sofa during a rare quiet moment when I visited the firm’s bold stand, but sprang to life as I waved a voice recorder at her. She said into it: “What’s new for us here? The bullets haven’t been to ETO before. We do a lot of licensing and territorial exclusivity deals across Europe and beyond, but the ten-speed Bamboo bullet, the squared-off one, is now available into the UK. We know all the ladies love these for all the usual reasons – Rocks-Off quality and design, pure power, reliability, that they’re quiet, discreet and pretty. They’re perfect for women who enjoy more contact area, thanks to their shape. Hints of Chanel Lipstick case, dare I say? The rose gold, the gold-and-black, the pink, lilac and the Rocks-Off purple. Funkier colours. The other exciting thing is what we’ve done with Good Housekeeping recently. A fantastic thing to happen, with them doing a group test, and ITV too. We’re super excited with the results of that positive media exposure. The sort of thing you can’t really pay for, and seen by an older age-group who are getting switched onto adult products in a way they’ve not engaged before. As the editor said, this is a magazine for women, and if there was ever a female-focus product that’s not a cosmetic..! So pleased with that.”
Turning to the show, Sue added: “As a UK Manufacture, it’s always great to do the UK show and try to bring the full range of what’s available here with us. Also on the stand, the two Awards. Best Pleasure Products Brand. We’re always up against top-flight competition and to win, against those big, big players, feels pretty good. To pay homage to them, we know we’re in the company of the cream of the industry but to float to the top is always awesome. What can I say? Love it! Thank you voters, and thank you to the guys back at the office. They don’t get seen, but they’re the ones doing the development, pulling all the artwork together, the QA team and the designers. It’s for them really. We worked with Tabitha Rayne on Ruby Glow so we’re minding her Best Erotic Author award for her, but we also won with RO-Duet [pronounced Row, like a boat, not R.O., I was corrected] for Best New Couples Product. Wonderful. The show’s been good for us. As a UK manufacturer it’s always great to meet up with our disties like Net 1on1, Lovehoney and Bondara. All the UK companies we supply. This is home turf for us, so always good to come along and wave the Rocks-Off flag.”
Shots Media, close to the doors, was a busy stand it took a while to get to chat on. Hein Schouten broke from meetings to say: “Very busy! Yesterday was an especially good day. It seems quieter today – but – it’s about the quality, not the quantity and I have to say the quality has been especially good this year. We’re not far from the end of the show now so I’ve a good idea as to the results, and I’m satisfied. It helps that we have cool products to show. Like the Sono screw-in and puppy-tail plugs in 4” and 6”, which is a fetish that’s getting more popular, plus extensions sleeves. The booth is all about new releases for Shots, so big sellers like Vive, which is a very high-end vibrator range. Our number-one seller at the moment. Sophisticated, classy, beautiful boxes. Every item in the range has a story. Every one has a special feature, as well as that silky soft silicone finish. Powerful and quiet too. The wand is multi-use, with clitoral and penetration options as it’s dual-motor; one at either end. That’s quite special. Ouch is well known as our bondage and BDSM range, and Shots Toys vibrators are always popular too. The dolls are new. They’re 3D moulded with realistic nipples, a vibrating pussy and they moan. Great packaging. You couldn’t walk into a store and not see those if they were on the shelf! Real Rock Extreme, from 12.8”. to 15.5”, are an outsized range of giant dildos and various fists. Even a softer contour model with the ‘foreskin’ pulled forward. Something different. Also metal plugs in our new Rich range, and PharmQuest lubes and a fisting product which now comes in one litre size. Lastly we have Pipedream with us too because we’re not just an amazing manufacturer, but one of Europe’s largest distributors too. Over 10,000 different SKUs are held in the Netherlands by us.”
ETO-Show-sponsors XR Brands’ stand was one of the larger ones, in which to show the firms’ many lines and ranges. Some of which I’d not previously connected with the business. Director of strategic planning for XR Brands Lynda L. Mort gave me the tour. She began: “We’ve been kept very busy on the stand. We’ve been slammed! We’ve seen some great new customers and really pushed the brand so we’re very excited with what we’ve seen at the ETO Show. XR Brands is about 16 years old, and it started as an e-commerce company before slowly switching to manufacturing. We’re very well distributed within the United States but we’re building our profile and distributor base in Europe. We put a plan together last year to really develop the European market and push the brand to get a measure of the response we get to it. The results have been incredible!”
Lynda continued: “We’d a large booth at eroFame last year and that was a great place to meet distributors and also go full-line with existing distributors in Europe. The purpose of following that up with exhibiting at the ETO Show – and supporting you with sponsorship – was to further build that profile and reach into the UK market by supporting our distributors here. It’s a first time here for us but where better to show our full width of products to the UK industry? Our wholesale customers are here but so are retailers who maybe don’t get to hear about everything we do. Retailers have walked in and been able to see our whole range and we’ve had a great response to that! Master Series is available through EDC, they carry all the XR Brands ranges, and we also work closely with Shots. XR is known for our bondage and fetish – that’s the heart of who our company is. Master Series is our largest line, serving beginner to advanced users. Then there’s Frisky, which is a couples range of soft bondage. A great intro range, and one of many we’ve created and grown based on customer feedback. We’re very responsive. From basic vibrators and plugs in the Trinity Vibes range, to Inmi, which is a small range of high-end products. Beautiful glossy gold packaging for those rechargables. Wand Essentials everyone knows, those have been phenomenal. Especially the attachments, which that range is maybe best known for. Tom of Finland is something we have the exclusive licence for. Hyper-masculine and amazing quality. There’s also our machines which I see ETO Magazine were tweeting about earlier. Love machines under the Love Botz brand. It’s a market we dominate. The new machine that’s coming is something I can’t tell you about. It’s going to be a big surprise.”
Lynda continued: “Size Matters is our enlargement range, which isn’t just penis pumps and mechanical stretchers, but also nipple, clit and pussy pumps. Anything which enhances and enlarges. Clean Stream line is all about hygiene. Anal douches, enemas, lube launchers, shower sets and so on. Also relaxants, lubes, anal bleaching kits, cleaners, anything for anal. I think you’ve recognised these brands as we’ve gone round and not realised they’re XR Brands’, am I right? A lot of people are in the same group and that’s why we came to the ETO Show. We’re pushing that marketing this year and connecting the dots for everyone. I’m glad you’re getting it now! Ok, Zeus is our electro-sex line. Great fun, with violet wands and control boxes for the shock-market! Some basics in that line, all the way to electro-ball-crushers, cock rings with penile insert, or electro-chastity cages; pretty advanced stuff. Cool stuff.”
Lynda concluded: “Launching at the ETO Show, this is the first time we’ve shown Kink Industries and Strict Leather lines. That’s our high-end leather range, including whips and cuffs. It’s unpackaged and sold in bulk. Loose product that look great displayed just hanging up. Kink Industries is a metal range which was always for speciality customers in the past, but we’re opening it up to everyone as the market for the range has opened up in recent years. Sounds insert kits, aluminium cuffs, speculums, dental gags, Gates of Hell and much more. A great range. Anything metal and super-kinky is going into that line. ”
Also visiting from the US, Randal Withers of Swiss Navy said: “I’ve been busy all day, every day. I’ve had more and better quality appointments than I make at most shows and people here aren’t tyre-kickers. They’re here because they’re serious about finding the right products for their business, and buying. They’ve been excited about the Swiss Navy range here, and we’re giving some lucky shop enough stock to put them in business with Swiss Navy. We’re the number one personal lubricant brand in the US, and now that’s been conquered, we’re giving the UK market some love too. Swiss Navy has been around 15 years, and still growing quickly in 45 countries. We’re all about quality. Our silicone lubes are top notch and everything we do has a competitive edge in its niche. The water-based lubes start with the purest water we can source. The packaging and marketing is orientation-neutral. Who buys our products isn’t as important as the fact they’re fun to use. The packaging is clear and gender-neutral to appeal to all potential users. It should look friendly on the shelf; that’s Swiss Navy. We love you all! Swiss Navy as a name is meant to engage everyone. Swiss- you think of quality. And they’re landlocked so they don’t have much of a navy. One boat, on Lake Geneva. I’ve emailed them but there was no reply! A great great show for us. Thanks to everyone who came.”
If ElectraStim’s equipment doesn’t go up to eleven, it should. I got to admire the ETO Award-winning Jack Socket on the Cyrex stand while Andy Smith said: “Another big night. Thank you to everyone who voted for the Jack Socket. We’re very proud of it. It’s our new product and as you’ll see, it comes with a dust cap for top and bottom which you can reuse to keep it clean in storage or travel.”
I picked the Jack Socket up and was surprised to feel the ‘case’ is soft silicone, not a hard shell. Andy continued: “It’s so you can squeeze to control the sensation and tighten around users who are at the smaller end of the scale. The bumps inside we call our ‘electro-intense texture’ and the ‘Socket works with any of our controllers. It’s ideal to work with Flick, and our electro-conductive gel, along with a good quality water-based lube. Being open-ended, it’s great for couples’ play too, and it’s very easy to clean as it pulls apart to all be washed in the sink. It’s a clever bit of kit! Because the current is flowing from the rubber electrodes, through the conductive gel and across the penis, it allows us to make a very flexible product. There’s nothing else like it on the market. Our other biggie at the ETO Show has been the Rocker electro-butt-plugs, which launched in October. Their special feature is you can sit on them, as the electrodes enter at right-angles to the plug, inside a protective channel. Very neat. They’re conductive silicone too, so very easy to wear and move around with as they’re flexible too. Great interest in those. The show’s been slower today, but yesterday there were moments when we could have used extra staff on the stand as we got busy. A really good Sunday which exceeded our expectations. We had a good day, followed by a good night and two out of three ain’t bad. That said, we have had a very promising meeting today. It’s been quiet but it was the perfect time to be quiet as far as that interesting meeting was concerned as it was an important one. Hopefully some big things will come from that. Happy days!”
Raymond Houtenbos of Pipedream was on hand to talk visitors through the company’s extraordinary large catalogue on the Scala Playhouse stand, and he told me: “Yesterday was quite a good day. For us, the UK is an important market and last year, for the first time, we invested in a big booth. We’ve done things a little differently this year. We’ve broken that big space up into smaller spaces and tried to do that thing of making it look like a regular shop in Europe. In the US all the shops are that big, big warehouse style, but we know in Europe things are on a more intimate scale. There’s no need to bring and show everything. Rather, we wanted retailers to see how displays and product might look in their own shops, and it seems to have been successful. It’s been more effective and customers appreciate it, so that’s good for us too.”
Raymond continued: “As you know, we introduced King Cock to the ETO Show a year ago – I should say, ETO Award-winning King Cock! – but we’ve now launched the King Cock Plus, dual-density. King Cock continues to do extremely well for us, but King Cock Plus has been… off the charts. Beyond extremely well! Consumers and retailers love them, and our new strap-ons too. Plus the Bubble Butt here – our 32lbs big butt masturbator – people love. Again, it’s a big product and we didn’t know how it’d do in Europe, but looking at the numbers, it’s been a big success for a big product. No complaints!”
Dusedo’s Dennis Jansen was a late addition to my list of stands spoken to, as he’d been busy whenever I passed. As he was packing up male-focused products as he told me: “The show’s been good. We’ve met new people we can do great business with, with lots of interest in the Perfect Fit line, with the tunnel plugs etc. Also our new water and silicone-based MOI lubes. That’s available in four sizes. We launched that a couple of weeks ago, but it’s the first time shown here in the UK. Great feedback on that. Also on Oxballs and Cell Block 13, which is the underwear line. So yes, a good show.”
That last line certainly seems to sum up the 12th ETO Show – for almost everyone I spoke to, it was a jolly good show. My apologies to those exhibitors who I didn’t get chance to catch up with. Time always seems to run at double speed on the show floor as I try to get to every stand while they’re not busy.