Meet the sex toy retailer where the idea for its existence “just happened”: Couples Playthings from the USA. Co-Founder Liam McKenzie answers the questions.
Catering to a purely US clientele, Liam talks candidly about melted sex toys, patience, personal and corporate ethos, and sex toy marketing.
BRIAN GRAY: Do introduce yourselves, and tell us a little more about the history behind Couples Playthings.
LIAM McKENZIE: We are a happily married couple that are passionate about all things sex related. Better yet, we’re passionate about all things that lead to a healthy relationship.
Couples Playthings didn’t start out as a specific idea, it just sort of happened. One thing that lead to forming the business was finding some old sex toys from Robin’s days as an independent sex toy consultant all melted together. We did some research as to why they would melt. Our findings indicated that the toys were made from harmful, and unstable materials. After that, we started purchasing new body-safe toys and started having some fun with them together.
The second thing that led to our business was taking part in conversations about sex, and sex toys, with our friends. Many of our friends didn’t think too highly about using sex toys nor doing things that were considered “kinky.” After partaking in so many kinky activities ourselves, we honestly felt sorry for our friends as they were missing out on so much fun and enjoyment. From a personal standpoint, we found that sex toy play and sexual exploration resulted in a stronger and more meaningful relationship. And, our communication improved as well as our trust in each other.
One day we were out to dinner, just the two of us, reflecting on one of the many negative conversations we had with our friends. It was at that moment we decided to start a blog to educate couples about sexual exploration and sex toys. The idea morphed into Couples Playthings as we decided it would be fun to provide body-safe products in addition to educating the general public about sexual exploration.
What other possible names did you consider and why did you settle on Couples Playthings?
We actually didn’t consider any other names. We knew almost immediately that we wanted to tailor our services to couples. Additionally, we often refer to our own sex toy collection as our “playthings.” With that said, the proverbial “light bulb” went off in our heads and Couples Playthings sounded simple and appropriate. Before finalizing our name, we reached out to several of our friends and it was a unanimous “I love the name” response.
There’s no shortage of sex toy retailers competing for a slice of the market. Why should people buy from Couples Playthings and not the others?
First and foremost, we want to give “kudos” to our competitors. Now that we’ve been in business for nearly one year, we truly understand the hard work involved to become successful. “Great job” to all of you out there trying to make the world more sex positive!
We set ourselves apart from many competitors through quality content on our site. Many competitors that we’ve researched simply sell sex toys without including product reviews or providing other valuable information. We’ve spent hundreds of hours writing product reviews and informative articles. And, we do it from a personal standpoint sharing our own experiences and perspectives. We want customers and visitors to our site to understand we’re not just some corporate entity. Instead, we’re “real people” trying to make a difference by helping others.
We’ve also partnered up with Dr. Chelsea Holland with the sole purpose of giving visitors a way to connect with a certified/licensed sex therapist. Additionally, we’re not selling 50,000 products…we constantly focus on providing high quality body-safe products only.
Lastly, we work extremely hard and take pride in providing excellent customer service before, during, and after each sale. Our business is not just “a job”, it’s our passion.
Your ethos is “Live together. Play together. Love together. Explore together.” How did you arrive at that?
We’ve both been in prior relationships and many of those relationships lacked a true connection. Our ethos are true “tenets” of our own relationship and have helped us in forming a very unique and strong bond to each other. We wanted to share our ethos with the world hoping that we’re able help other couples form a deeper connection. When we say “live together”, we’re not simply living under the same roof. We’re doing things together and forming new hobbies together…and without losing who we are as individuals.
“Play together”, at least for us, includes lots of laughing and playfulness which has helped reduce much stress in our lives. When it comes to “Love together”, it’s not just about awesome sex. It’s about putting each other’s needs before our own. In doing so, we’ve found our love for each other to be much stronger. “Explore together” is one of our favorite tenets. To us, it covers a lot of new ground. Whether it be traveling to new places, or sharing a fantasy or desire (and acting it out), we find fulfilment in exploring new possibilities together.
Who is the typical Couples Playthings customer, and what three adjectives would you want your customers to associate with your brand?
We get lots of emails on a daily basis from potential customers. A vast majority of the questions sound similar to this: “My partner and I are looking for a new sex toy, do you have any recommendations as well as tips on use?” Or, we see lots of comments like this: “Thanks for writing this article! My husband and I read it and it’s helped us out.” After receiving these types of questions and comments time after time, we believe our typical customers are curious, explorative, open, and intelligent.
The three adjectives we’d like our customers to associate with us are: luxurious, trustworthy, and provocative.
A well-positioned company seeks to ‘own’ one word in the minds of consumers (i.e. Volvo and ‘safety’). What would be yours?
The design of our website was built around this exact word and we’d love it if this word jumped into the minds of our visitors.
What has been the highlight so far in your entrepreneurial journey, and why?
The greatest highlight so far is meeting so many wonderful, and like-minded, people. Whether we’re speaking with customers, industry bloggers, or manufacturing reps…people have made our journey both positive and enjoyable. Living in a world where so many people find sexuality to be “taboo”, it’s nice to have people we can reach out to and discuss any sexual topic without being judged or ridiculed.
Good marketing is important for any company, not only to thrive but just to survive. What have been your key marketing learning points and observations so far?
So far, we’ve learned that marketing is so much more than just pay-per-click advertising or posting your logo on a third party’s website. We’ve spoken with (and watched) several competitors go out of business for this very reason. We’ve learned through our own experience that networking and connecting with industry influencers in various ways works a lot better. We’re also finding out first-hand that word-of-mouth marketing is still possible.
What has been your biggest marketing challenge so far, and what steps are you taking / have taken to overcome it?
Our largest marketing challenge thus far has been the ability to expand to an international market. In many situations, we’ve found that international shipping costs can be higher than the actual product itself. In addition to high shipping costs, many countries have strict import regulations. Due to these circumstances, we’ve decided to cater to the U.S. market only. Although we’ve limited our sales and marketing to the U.S., we’ve found amazing online shops on every continent and have redirected international buyers to those respective websites. Our goal isn’t always about “making the sale.” Instead, we want all consumers to find happiness in their purchase and enjoy the product.
What are the most valuable things you’ve learned so far both about competing in the adult retailing industry, and as an entrepreneur?
We’ve learned lots of things. Here’s some of our most prominent things we’ve learned:
- Have patience. As a new business, sales don’t just fly in. You have to work hard for them.
- Follow through on your promises and policies.
- Embrace criticism and build a better business from it.
- Don’t get discouraged over rejection.
If you had to think of just one thing you’d like to see change in the adult retailing industry, what would it be and why?
We would like to see more regulation regarding sex toy materials. With so many body-safe material options now available, we cringe every time we see manufacturers still making new products from unsafe materials.
And what does the next twelve months hold in store for Couples Playthings?
We’re really excited about the next twelve months! We’ve been seeing exponential growth in both sales and site visits month after month which is going to allow us to expand our sales channels. Very soon we will be starting in-home sex toy sales consultation and hoping to recruit independent consultants. Assuming our growth continues, we also plan on making donations and sponsoring events that promote sexual freedom and anything of a sex-positive nature.
ARE YOU AN AMBITIOUS, MARKETING-LED, COMPANY IN THE SEX TOY, LINGERIE, FETISHWEAR AND EQUIPMENT OR DATING / EVENTS SECTORS?
If you’d like to be interviewed about your entrepreneurial journey and associated marketing issues that will be interesting to the Lascivious Marketing web fraternity, then get in touch!
Until next time!