Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Carolyn Eagle and I am the co-founder of Betty’s Toy Box and Naughty North, a leading eCommerce network focused on adult pleasure products and accessories. The primary focus from the start was to create an online space where people could shop in a comfortable, safe, and non-judgemental environment.
Our goal is to normalize the use of sex toys and remove the stigma surrounding them through education and open discussion. Traditionally, adult pleasure product websites, as well as brick-and-mortar stores, have been intimidating and confusing places to shop. Our brand was designed to appeal to people from all walks of life, and ages, with varying levels of experience and comfort with pleasure products.
The business grew over 60% last year with sales of approximately $125,000/mth. With people spending more time at home during Covid, we have seen a larger than normal increase in sales. More people are trying sexual aids for the first time and people who have used them in the past are expanding their horizons and trying new things.
Couples are using pleasure products to stay closer and more connected even across continents, with Bluetooth and app-enabled items at the forefront of a new surge in pleasure technology. A silver lining of the pandemic has been people spending more time focusing on their sexual health and pleasure.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
Before Betty’s Toy Box, we had built a healthcare marketplace pairing patients with doctors who were accepting patients. Over the 5 years, it became one of the most visited health-related sites in Canada. In 2014, after 5 years of operating the marketplace, we sold it to a digital media company.
After selling the company, my partners and myself knew we wanted to stay in online marketplaces and wanted to continue to match people with things of personal and health-related value. It did not take us long to settle on pleasure products. Our feeling was that, although there seemed to be an increased comfort level with sex toys amongst our peers, particularly with my female friends, there were few online shopping options that were not intimidating, overly sexualized, or non-representative of our own demographic. That was when we knew we had to build Betty’s Toy Box.
While we didn’t have direct professional experience in this area, we did have an understanding of eCommerce and online marketing from our previous start-up. We had also been tinkering with Shopify and knew this was a wonderful platform for us to try out a store without a massive capital investment.
Deciding on the brand and the face of the site was a stroke of inspiration. I had recently watched a documentary on Bettie Page and loved the classic pinup aesthetic of innocent sexuality. I felt that it would appeal to customers and convey the playful, fun, and non-threatening feel that my partners and I wanted for the website.
Researching distributors was critical. With our drop-shipping model, it was important to find reliable distributors who carried high-quality products and shipped them with the utmost discretion and reliability. We were able to find a distributor who fit the bill right from the start and has since taken on more distribution partners as the business has grown.
The success did not come overnight. It was a long and slow build that involved an incredibly steep learning curve. We made it a priority to focus as much on educating ourselves and our staff as we do our customers. With each customer email, live chat, review, or social media comment, we learn how to be a better resource for those who visit our store.
Now, with three consecutive industry nominations for Online Retailer of the Year, we feel that there is no limit to what we can achieve. We have built a community of customers, educators, staff, and pleasure product industry experts who all help us grow and make us better daily. That is our proudest achievement over the last 7 years.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
From the start, we have always been focused on connecting with our customers through education and information. In our very unique industry, many people come to us for advice and we are often the first source of information when people are confused or in doubt.
Keep learning as you go and keep looking at others in your field for inspiration but never forget why you started in the first place.
It became apparent early on that the persona of ‘Betty’ resonated with people and let them know that there were human beings who cared at our store. From the beginning, we installed a live chat on our website so customers can come to us in real-time with their inquiries. It has built fantastic and trusting relationships with our customers over the years.
This kind of community building is critical in such a niche industry. Unfortunately, pleasure product retailers are often grouped in with pornographic sites which makes traditional marketing difficult. We have created social media platforms on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook that focus on sexual education and wellness. Our Youtube channel has over 20k subscribers as well.
We also have a thriving affiliate program and work regularly with experts in the field of wellness and education for blog guest posts. SEO and great content marketing have helped us build in this tough advertising environment.
I would also credit great platforms like Shopify for making it easy for people like us to build a great business. Their support and plugins have allowed us to build a beautiful and functional website that is as easy to navigate as it is to maintain.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
What began as a single website has now grown into a company that is well respected and award-nominated within our industry. We continue to grow by double digits and we are currently looking to purchase new websites in the adult space that we think could benefit from our community and provide value back to them.
We have also begun creating our own private label products, Betty’s Blasters. This has long been a dream of ours and the success of the business has allowed us to invest in these products. Although they have just launched, sales are far beyond our initial projections and we are making plans to expand the product line.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
There has never been a better time to start an online business. Shopify allows even the most non-technical person to become a business and their support and product plugins are world-class. In addition to this, many businesses support the Shopify platform which has popped up, and no shortage of designers to help you build your brand.
I would also suggest trying out different email partners. We have used MailChimp and are now looking at others. Email remains a wonderful sales tool but there's a science to it. Understanding and reading your results and creating targeted offers can help you increase sales. These companies have great tools to help.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I wouldn’t say there is anything specific I have read. I love reading books on entrepreneurs who have built products/businesses which inspire me. Anything around Jeff Bezos or Elon Musk are must-reads.
I would also say Podcasts have become my new favorites. This week is Start-ups and the All In Pod are wonderful and inspiring and Shopify also has a great podcast where their interview average people like you and me who have built stores. I highly suggest this.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Just do it. When we launched, there was still so much we needed to learn but if we kept waiting until the perfect time, we never would have done it. Keep learning as you go and keep looking at others in your field for inspiration but never forget why you started in the first place.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Betty’s Toy Boy and Naughty North
- Betty’s Instagram and Naughty North Instagram
- Betty’s Youtube Channel
- Betty’s Twitter and Naughty North Twitter
- Betty Facebook and Naughty North Facebook
- General inquiries: [email protected] or [email protected]
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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