(Note: This story appears in the June 2022 issue of SE Magazine)

They’re the unsung heroes of the adult retail industry, rarely getting the attention that their efforts deserve. Until now, that is! This issue’s Special Focus isn’t on a product line or an emerging technology, it instead highlights the important individuals who contribute mightily to the success of the companies that they call home. Now, find out more about the unsung heroes of adult retail!

Denise Young

Denise Young

Answers courtesy of Diana Trejo, marketing assistant for Blush

Denise has always been a role model salesperson. She came to Blush with a strong sales and education skill set. Denise’s background allows her to do an amazing job representing our lines. She attracts new business for the company and continues to grow her existing accounts.”

She is honest, warm, funny … and knows her stuff! She genuinely believes in the importance of sexual health and wellness and the role Blush products play. Her sales technique is education-based. She does not tell people to buy Blush — she helps them learn and understand the features and benefits of Blush products. She focuses on the qualities of products that can make a difference in people’s lives so customers want to pick up the line.”

Denise cares about her customers and it shows. If she needs something for someone, she does not stop until it is all put to bed. She does not drop the ball. She wants them to be happy with their selections. Denise goes above and beyond to make sure all is well. She takes whatever steps necessary to pass on her enthusiasm to buyers and retail staff.

Denise is a great trainer — she is very detailed and strives to highlight any and all details. In addition, her passion and knowledge of both the industry and products allows her to bring valuable feedback to the company for future products. Denise always brings back information that contributes to marketing ideas, products, packaging and more.

It has not been an easy couple of years to be a sales rep for any company. Denise worked hard cultivating her existing relationships and building new ones. We all had to get creative and she did just that.

We are very lucky to have Denise on Team Blush. We consider ourselves a family here, and she is an important part of this family. It is with so much pleasure we can give her some love and share the great job she does for Blush!

From Denise Young:

Being an effective salesperson during and after the pandemic has been an interesting journey. During the pandemic, travel was halted and all meetings were done virtually. We were all learning new ways to spend our newfound time. Fast forward — post pandemic in 2022, we have evolved to a new type of salesperson.

What did we learn to become better? Some of the key elements that have worked for me to be the most effective salesperson are:  Listening to your customers; being empathetic; and understanding your customer’s needs.

Successful selling is a happy combination of being well versed in product knowledge, knowing what your company can provide to your customers to help them, and reading the room (even virtually).

Keeping an audience captivated on a computer screen can be challenging. Pay attention to your audience and notice how they react to you during a presentation. They have something important to say and those are the “magic” moments where you and your customer can connect.

• Well-versed knowledge on your products will give your customer the space to ask questions and learn more. This is also an opportunity to learn from your customers — they are a bounty of experience and knowledge.

• Read the room. Know your audience and follow that energy. Stay positive and your passion for what you do has to exude in a virtual presentation. They may not remember everything you said, but they will remember how they felt. Check in often with your audience to make sure they don’t leave with any unanswered questions.

• Follow up in a timely manner — especially during virtual shows. Your customer may have multiple meetings in a day while working at the store and amid all the daily distractions. Taking good notes and sending a thorough recap to your customer is very helpful.

In summary, be authentic, honest and listen to your customers- they have such valuable information that you can learn from. It is so important that you leave a good impression, since it may be your first and possibly last!

Austin Ferdinand & Lupe Martinez

Answers courtesy of Susan Colvin, founder and CEO of CalExotics

At CalExotics, our “unsung heroes” are two senior members of our sales team: Austin Ferdinand and Lupe Martinez. Austin and Lupe have been with CalExotics for almost two decades, helping the company grow and flourish. Each person has their strengths, and our customers love working with them. Austin is known for his merchandising skills. He works tirelessly with our customers to ensure they are set up for the most success. Lupe is known for her people skills. She always has a smile on her face and has an incredible way of making people feel welcomed, seen and heard.

A great salesperson has it all. They are well versed in their product knowledge and can offer assistance whenever it is needed. They are also brand advocates, championing the brand every chance they get. And lastly, they are great with people — they can have a conversation with anyone and make them feel at ease.

Our sales process shifted during the pandemic, and our team had to adapt. This meant using Zoom, offering different ways to showcase product capabilities and adjusting our business procedures to overcome supply chain issues. Austin and Lupe both worked diligently to help their customers during these trying times and enhanced their communication efforts in order to keep everyone up to date on what was happening. They made phone calls constantly, had multiple Zoom meetings a day and continued frequent email communication. They put their customers first, and it truly helped ensure our customers’ continued success.

Our salespeople are involved in every aspect of the business so they can better serve and support our customers. They are on the front lines every day, which directly affects our daily operations and our bottom line. They are making sales and deals with customers, which then translates to orders and dollars. Our salespeople are also our eyes and ears for the industry. They are seeing trends firsthand and hearing what the customers need and want — this allows us to better serve our customers and be ahead of the curve for new products.

WOW Tech
Kim Card

Kim Card

Answers courtesy of Marley Ransom, trade marketing specialist for WOW Tech

WOW Tech Group’s “unsung hero” is Kim Card, territory lead, We-Vibe and Womanizer, North America. We wanted to give extra recognition for Kim’s efforts to showcase what people do not see. It is no secret that Kim is a phenomenal account manager and a valuable resource for all pleasure product professionals. She gives 110% to everything she does. She empowers the industry, including retail associates and buyers, with her wealth of product and sexual wellness knowledge.

Behind the scenes, Kim is a positive, productive engine that drives the entire sales team. She consistently moves the dial on campaigns and offers mindful advice or solutions to her colleagues in all departments. She is the first to arrive at a trade show and the first to lose her voice after a day of engaging conversations. Her attentiveness and meticulous memory are revered by her co-workers who are blown away by her ability to recall minor details.

Kim has her finger on the pulse of the entire business — her valuable input is sought after by her colleagues cross-departmentally in the Americas and abroad. Whether it’s marketing campaigns or inventory, Kim is an integral sounding board. It is a rite of passage as a new employee to be trained by Kim, or to have an on-boarding chat to learn more about our regional partners, the industry, and WOW Tech Group.

Kim is laser-focused on customer relationships and fulfilling the needs that best services their business. She makes lasting impressions at any stage of the sales funnel with her product, sexual wellness, and consumer knowledge. She listens thoughtfully, and gives her authentic feedback, keeping in mind her customers’ goals. It is her intuitive ability to create programs, implement campaigns or recommend products based on feedback from partners that makes her a great salesperson.

Setting up retailers for success is an essential ingredient as a salesperson in 2022. Kim is a captivating trainer, offering relevant sales tips and unique selling features to frontline staff. Her sales knowledge and effervescent personality are engaging for store employees who are looking to upsell and become more confident with consumer interactions. Kim is dedicated to making the world a happier place, one pleasure product at a time, and that starts with empowering sales staff with relevant knowledge.

To stand out as a salesperson, you must listen. Product knowledge is important in this industry but making recommendations based on understanding the needs of buyers, sales associates and consumers is pivotal. It is essential to create bespoke sales proposals and programs because there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Over the years, Kim has documented the tips, tricks, and anecdotal stories that she’s heard during in-store trainings and passed this knowledge on to new members of the WOW Tech sales team. This information is used as a learning tool and the sales team share this knowledge in their own virtual trainings and events. Training over Zoom has been an effective tool for delivering information to attendees, but it was (and still is) difficult to gather feedback; feedback we rely on to explain how features translate into benefits for users. Kim’s tips and stories have become part of a library that can be accessed by our teams when they plan and script for virtual events.

Kim routinely goes above and beyond for WOW Tech to help the company succeed. She regularly meets and travels with all team members to ensure the in-store training sessions are addressing relevant topics. Her ultimate goal is to make retail staff members feel prepared at the highest level to speak to consumers regarding our products and brands.

Kim handles several key accounts directly, allowing her to continue the relationships she has established and keep her informed on the opportunities, challenges, and issues that are taking place in the industry. This allows Kim to apply these touch points and address them as needed.

Kim is a regular member of key meetings with our Berlin, EU, and UK teams where global issues are discussed. This allows Kim to have a high-level view from a global perspective on relevant issues that she can then relate back to the Americas team.

From Kim Card:

It is important to be aware and recognize that every retailer is important. It should not matter if a retailer is the proud owner of one, three, eight or 30 stores; this is something I aim to do everyday while also instilling this mindset into my team members. Time and energy invested in accounts of all sizes will strengthen the relationship between the store owner/manager and the salesperson, which will translate into opportunities that are beneficial for everyone involved.

Valerie Kunau

Valerie Kunau

Answers courtesy of Lily Wang, VP of sales and marketing for Entrenue

We are celebrating Valerie Kunau’s 10-year tenure with Entrenue this year! When you’re at a desk and there’s not much physical movement to be seen, all her accomplishments are completed via email and phone connections with special clients. She successfully sells a lot of products by keeping her head down and working diligently behind the scenes.

When some sales’ personalities are fast and short, Val has a professional polish and attention to detail. She represents our manufacturing partners’ brands and products with product knowledge, specifics, and personal care. Our clients do buy our array of assortment, but people buy from people they like — Val is not scared of picking up the phone and calling.

The initial innate personality is what will make the connection, and as Val shares her vast knowledge of brands and product education, she builds strong relationships that have worked with her from the very beginning.

Val adapted quickly to learning how to work remotely and digital video meetings versus processing all orders via hard copy papers. We do still have clients who fax their orders in, so Val processes those, too!

For 10 years, Val has been and still is a true team player — making sure to assist and support internal team members whenever anyone needs it! We appreciate Val’s kindness, positive can-do attitude every day, dedication, and her focus to growing her clients’ businesses.

Maia Toys
Zach Smith

Zach Smith

Answers courtesy of Gib Pallay of Maia Toys

Zach Smith is not only a sales person, but he also wears many other hats. What makes him a great sales person is his versatility and ability to do whatever we need done. Zach does everything from designing trade show booths and new packaging, to running social media, or doing in-store or Zoom trainings. His extensive product knowledge is also what makes him a great sales person.

I think a great sales person has to be a go-getter. They have to be hungry for sales. A good salesperson doesn’t clock in or out when it comes to sales — it’s an all-day thing.

If you’re bland, but know a lot about the products, you’re going to have a hard time keeping an audience or selling the product. On the other hand, there are too many extremely intelligent people in this industry to not be an expert in your products. If you have a great personality, but lack the knowledge, you will also have a hard time selling the product.

Zach has an incredible way of explaining the products to customers. I don’t think we would have been nearly as successful through the pandemic if it weren’t for Zach’s extensive and in-depth explanations of the products. Without the customers being able to touch and feel the toys, we knew we really had to give super detailed and extensive presentations in order to sell the products. Zach did just that.

With Zach’s knowledge and skills, he has been able to build the relationships and drive additional growth in existing accounts, while also taking on many other responsibilities. Zach also has a way of connecting to people that are younger in the industry and has created strong bonds with many of them. His fresh outlook brings a really nice energy into the company.

Suzy Contreras

Suzy Contreras

Answers courtesy of Suzy Contreras, sales representative of Nasstoys

I think I was chosen because of the way I handle all the Spanish-speaking and international accounts — I grew up in a bilingual home — and my relationship with them. I’ve definitely picked up some new customers thanks to my Spanish — doesn’t mean they didn’t speak English, but maybe Spanish was their first language. Elliot Schwartz (Nasstoys president) also told me he chose me as an unsung hero because I battled breast cancer throughout this whole pandemic — I was working from home so it wasn’t too hard. I was able to schedule my treatments so that it didn’t negatively impact my job with Nasstoys.

Not only was Elliot good and patient with me throughout this whole thing, but this battle gave me a renewed sense of appreciation. Everyone that followed up — industry people — it made me see the whole industry in a different way. People do care and it made me incredibly thankful. I finished my treatments in October 2021 so right now I’m waiting for my hair to grow back!

I come from a customer service background, and that’s always been my strongest trait. I do well with follow-ups, checking in and nurturing my relationships with customers. Now that things are getting “back to normal,” I’m so relieved getting to see customers’ faces in person. We’re still doing Zoom meetings, but I much prefer face to face — especially if you’re showing off a product. It translates better if people can touch and feel a product and see more explicitly how it works. Don’t get me wrong, working from home has its perks, but I feel you don’t get quite the same response from customers as you do working face to face.

Product knowledge is crucial to selling because the more you know your product, the easier it is to sell. You train the people, you let them know the finer points of the product and they pick up on that and use it, in turn, to sell to their customers. An example would be the Nasstoys Princess Heat-Up Thruster — it’s one of my favorite toys we offer and because I love it, that comes across in my salesmanship.

I can’t stress how vital the relationship with customers is — as a salesperson, sure you want to sell but establishing a relationship makes all the difference in the world and it leads to repeat business, which is great for all parties involved. Having a relationship makes the customer feel special and it makes me feel special, too! Like I said, when I was going through my cancer battle, it was rejuvenating to hear people checking on me.

Rock Candy Toys
Luke Martin

Luke Martin

Answers courtesy of Tracy Leone, sales director for Rock Candy Toys

Rock Candy Toys’ unsung hero is our creative director, Luke Martin. Luke has been a member of our team since the company’s inception and has truly led the creation of many of the products and packages you love from the brand. Luke deserves recognition for his hard work, creativity, and dedication to our mission at Rock Candy Toys.

Luke’s biggest strength is 25 years of experience in the adult industry and knowing the brand and envisioning the future of the company. This branding has sold our company’s many products from the quality of the physical product design to the catchy, upbeat packaging and displays that Luke has a lead role in creating. Constantly striving to create new and exciting products and marketing for Rock Candy Toys, Luke can usually be found sitting at his desk, watching “adult entertainment” on company time and acting like he isn’t panicking in the face of looming deadlines, but what HR doesn’t understand is that this is all part of the creative process and he doesn’t want to hear any guff about it.

Product knowledge and knowing the reasons why a product is great is key. Equally as important is realizing that you have to be flexible in developing the direction of the look for a line, while adhering to the elements that make your product unique. Under the leadership of Luke, Rock Candy Toys always has top notch marketing and creative assets to keep customers interested and invested in the company. Having a personable, fun-loving personality, as our team does, is definitely the icing on the cake

Luke has been hard at work throughout the pandemic continuing to innovate through branding, marketing, and product development. During the pandemic, Luke was diligent in developing our most prized collection yet, Rock Candy Refined. This dedication and adaptiveness has resulted in a successful entry into a new category of product to the brand.

We think that more salespeople should be invested in all sectors of the business to better understand the brand and product. While Luke is not technically a part of our sales division, Luke is just as invested in our sales success as anyone in sales. We feel the best teammates are well-rounded and well-informed about the business in all facets. Luke truly embodies this for Rock Candy Toys.

Luke has continually improved our bottom line at Rock Candy Toys by continuing to create captivating assets, products, and marketing for our brand. From product boxes and promotion, to trade show booths, to ads in industry magazines, Luke touches all communication by the brand and has done an exceptional job with all he does.

Frank Kok

Frank Kok

Answers courtesy of Ashton Egner, marketing operations & communications manager for Kiiroo

Frank Kok is the director of sales for Kiiroo, and as such, he is responsible for global B2B sales. Frank has more than 12 years of experience developing international sales in the adult industry and has built an impressive network in both the novelty and adult content/cam industry.

One of his greatest strengths is his ability to communicate with customers at every level, from distribution to wholesale to DMU’s (decision-making units). Customers appreciate his enthusiasm and do-what-he-says mentality. His direct approach has led him to success in doing business with customers of different nationalities and backgrounds.

Hard work and establishing relationships with customers are very important to any sales role. While communication skills and professionalism make a good sales rep, passion towards the work and industry is the main component to his success. Other skills that have helped Frank achieve higher sales include being organized, creative, adaptive to the changing world and being willing to learn.

Selling a product requires a combination of both personality and knowledge. Particularly as products become more high tech with more complicated features, sales reps must have both product knowledge and an attractive approach to presenting to be able to deliver sales points. The company puts a lot of time and effort into sales trainings and education both in-store and offline to ensure salespeople have a thorough understanding of products’ technology and interactive features.

We began adjusting our sales processes right away, not only did we transition our sales communication to Zoom, but we also helped customers who were not as familiar with the platform make the shift. We participated in virtual trade shows that helped boost our sales and focused our efforts in developing our online sales which led to a huge sales increase especially for interactive products

Following up with potential customers is a tough but important part of the sales journey. Even after a successful meeting, it can be challenging to reach customers. There is also a lot more salespeople can do in terms of marketing and training with the stores.

Frank not only leads sales but is also involved in product development and marketing. His direct work with clients provides a deep understanding of customer needs which helps find new solutions to satisfy our clients. Despite working with clients globally and working in multiple time zones, Frank is always available for customers to answer questions or provide trainings day and night. At Kiiroo, all members of the team listen to each other and collectively make decisions, Frank’s knowledge and vision help to make the company a success.

Williams Trading Co.
Ron Kohls

Ron Kohls

Answers courtesy of Scott D., director of sales and marketing for Williams Trading Co.

Ron Kohls is our senior sales representative and carries more than 30 years of experience within the adult channel — he knows his customers’ needs. Asking about his strongest skill, he doesn’t have just one. He is an all-around excellent salesperson whom customers know they can rely on and trust. He constantly advises Williams Trading accounts with new selections, recommendations, and best practices.

With the large number of items offered weekly, it’s difficult to pick out winners constantly. Ron’s in-depth knowledge of what sells well in individual stores gives customers the confidence they are selecting the right products for their customers, and the long-term trust, confidence, and loyalty his customers show him is well-earned.

Ron also has the stamina and focus to travel extensively as a road warrior, visiting customers and building relationships with them that last. Not only does he build long-term relationships with customers, he is known to also build great relationships with our vendors. He acts as a strong advocate for his customers at the same time, ensuring they get all of the support they need to run their businesses successfully.

The ingredients for an effective salesperson are excellent product knowledge, consistency, integrity, and an ability to build solid relationships with both customers and vendors. One of the most important ingredients, however, is possessing a customer-service mentality, as being able to serve the customer is the most crucial aspect of a salesperson’s job. It’s also important to be able to handle any issues a customer might have quickly and effectively, which is an ability that comes naturally.

Consultative selling is a mix of product knowledge, understanding customers’ needs, and understanding which brands will work best for each store. Customers are unique, and so are their needs. And while stores can fall into different types, they are all unique. Consumer demographics, location, store type – they all have to be taken into consideration when making  product recommendations. But personality is also a very big part of selling – you have to be customer-oriented, friendly, and confident in your approach, all of which Ron excels at.

Ron and all of our sales reps quickly adapted during the pandemic, learning how to Zoom, the limitations of not being able to meet in person, and how to adapt to the new digital world. He picked up Zoom fast, and was taking part in the virtual trade shows throughout the past year-and-a-half. The industry had to evolve during the pandemic, but the most important thing was — and is — staying in constant contact with and meeting the needs of our customers, something that he has always done incredibly well.

Sales reps today need to take a more consultative approach with their customers. Not every item will fit into all stores. Understanding which items are successful, and why they are successful with individual customers is very important.

As our senior sales rep, Ron is responsible for the largest base of customers, and is on top of every new release. He has very strong relationships with vendors and does a great job of staying on top of industry trends, bringing these opportunities to our customers.

Metro Distributors
Ryan Landie

Ryan Landie

Answers courtesy of Justin Costa of Metro Distributors

Ryan Landie was the first new regional sales manager hired following Metro Distributors’ 2021 strategic reorganization. Ryan has an extensive understanding of multiple sales areas, contributing to his overall market knowledge and outstanding reputation. Ryan was promoted to his current position because of his unwavering devotion to doing what’s right for his retail partners.

“Ryan has demonstrated extensive industry experience, passion, and understanding of the brands, stellar customer service, and we are glad to have him on the Metro team as our Midwest regional sales manager,” says Brad Owings, Metro’s vice president of sales.

Ryan would probably say his strongest skills are not “skills.” Ryan is humble, kind and always follows through on his promises — and customers love him for it. Ryan has so much passion for his career and for Metro, but he is just as easy to speak to as a single-store customer or 100-store customer. Most “unsung heroes” never sought the limelight in the first place — that’s Ryan!

The ingredients of an effective salesperson in today’s world are not a lot different than before. The foundation starts with being a good listener, understanding, and taking the time to investigate multiple solutions and recommendations for problem-solving. It’s truly all about relationships!

Of course, effective salespeople must also have extensive product training, tenacity, innovation, passion, and the discipline to make it happen every day.

Selling is only one part of account management. Here at Metro, we pride ourselves on supporting our retail partners with fully engaged account management. We are here for more than just “selling-in;” we are more concerned and focused on our retail partners’ “sell-out” performance. We know if we focus on “sell-out,” our sell-in will only grow stronger, as well as our long-term relationship with our customers.

Fortunately, here at Metro, we have phenomenal sell-out performance. We love to share data with our retail partners; it gives everyone a sense of proven consumer engagement.   

Ryan, like many of us, evolved with the times. All professionals need to have the ability to change and grow with evolution. Ryan rose to the occasion better than most; he instituted multiple triggers for best-in-class customer experience. Ryan tightened up his call cycle, respected everyone’s boundaries with in-person meetings, mailed professional sample kits before his pre-scheduled Zoom meetings, and made sure he followed up extremely quickly.

The focus for our salespeople, and the industry should be, leading by example with transparency, dependability, honesty, and solid follow-through.

Customer service is our No. 1 focus at Metro. We are hyper-focused on being customer-centric. Ryan’s efforts to solve challenges demonstrate our company culture perfectly and serve as a powerful example of how to make a positive difference in the workplace. This approach to life is contagious. Ryan is Metro’s “unsung hero” because he is a leader that we can all respect and learn from daily.

The bottom line, Ryan Landie helps make Metro the kind of company our retail partners like doing business with. Ryan is our hero!