The business of pleasure
The UK market for adult toys currently stands in excess of £400 million. It’s lucrative, practically recession proof and fast growing, so it makes sense that a local company should try to tap into the potential rewards. Rebecca Kincade went to meet with the people behind SeGzi, a County Antrim based online provider of adult toys.
I didn’t think that my foray into the illicit world of this particular industry would lead me off the beaten track, down a long road and into an unassuming house in the middle of the Northern Irish countryside. There was no fanfare, no signage, nothing at all to give away what is going on behind these closed doors. I actually drove past it three times before accepting defeat and phoning for directions.
SeGzi commenced trading in July 2013, after almost a full year of market research. Borne off the back of an idea which had been considered for some years prior to ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, it eventually came to fruition thanks to the transformative power that this book has had on how we as consumers perceive the industry.
What was once covered up and hidden away from public view, is now out and proud and part of our mainstream culture. From Sex and the City to Mills and Boon, this has been a gradual shift, but one that is now being embraced by high street retailers such as Boots, Tesco and Superdrug, who all now stock adult toys.
A little known fact which will have a lot of people blushing into their cups of tea today is that adult toys are quickly becoming one of the world’s most popular gadgets, rivalling even the sales of smart phones.
The demand is clearly there, particularly in Bangor, Newry and Newtownards if a recent survey is anything to go by. So why is SeGzi so secretive about what they are doing?
The people behind SeGzi don’t want to reveal their identity, but a spokesperson for the company, Amanda Brobyn, says that this is just one of many companies that they run and it is very much an operation run for business rather than pleasure.
She said: “We operate several companies all of which have direct links to product manufacturers in China. We wanted to develop a new offering and it is through these links that we were able to recognise the power of this industry. The products offer great retail margins and the UK market is worth in excess of £400million annually. There are currently only two companies dominating in the UK and we want to take a share of this market.”
This is no seedy operation. While it is being run behind closed doors, it doesn’t take away from the fact that SeGzi is a professional business, adhering to the same regulations that all others in the UK must follow. I asked what would happen if they recognised a person who placed an order.
Ms Brobyn said: “Everyone in the office has signed confidentiality agreements, so what happens in SeGzi stays in SeGzi. This industry is very heavily regulated. We have decided to go down the online sales route because it is much easier to navigate than a bricks and mortar shop. You need to have a license to open a shop. We have to be very careful with our advertising and we are limited in what we can do. We aren’t allowed to have pop up ads or run leaflets through print media. Compared to other businesses, we aren’t able to reach our target audience using every platform. This is why we are focusing on our digital marketing strategy and developing our Facebook and Google + accounts.”
As the only woman in an office of four, Ms Brobyn has the enviable task of helping with the product selection, designing the packaging and putting together the marketing strategy. SeGzi is aiming for the high end level of the market, for people who want more luxury with their products.
She continued: “We’re trying to establish a foothold in an industry which is already dominated by two giants, and the term ‘market share’ means exactly that – it’s a market to be shared and we fully intend to carve a segment in favour of SeGzi. We spent a year undertaking market research before launching the company so we knew what the potential for success would be.”
Now just a couple of months away from their first anniversary, there are big plans in the pipeline. Already there are 4,000 products available on their website, for men and women. Further down the line they hope to develop their own products and already they are in the process of researching a toy to bring to the male market.
Ms Brobyn said: “The male market is certainly picking up. The industry has been heavily dominated by women over the last few years but we are now seeing a shift taking place. We operate on a price sensitive business model, always looking at ways to undercut our competitors.”
The hope is that one day SeGzi will be able to have its own products developed locally, but for the time being this simply wouldn’t be cost effective. Every other element of the business, from photography to graphic design, is carried out by local companies.
She continued: “Northern Ireland is small. People ask us why they haven’t heard of us and it isn’t that we are trying to keep the company a secret. It is that we are aiming to reach the biggest market we can, on a national and then a global basis. Our marketing efforts take place outside of Northern Ireland for the most part, however we will be actively participating in more promotion in July for our anniversary. We’re going to run some local campaigns to try to engage a local audience. There’s clearly a market here and we hope we can get full support from this region.”
Trial and error
The team admitted that their forecasts for Year One haven’t exactly gone to plan, and they have pulled back a number of times, reflecting on the original plans and changing them as they have learned more about the market place. This is an industry that relies on trial and error. SeGzi have been working to get the costs of their products right, their supply chain correct while building up the trust of their customers.
This is a fast growing and changing industry. What was once a taboo subject is now coming to the forefront of our culture, and the companies leading the way are adapting to this change.
SeGzi forecast that at the end of five years they will be generating just under £5million turnover. Whatever your opinion of the industry is, this is a business carefully selected because of the large market share that is waiting to be tapped into. The products are sellable and the demand is there.
All it really comes down to in the end is that this is the business of pleasure.