<a href="http://www.xbiz.com/news/news_piece.php?id=189924&mi=all&q=raj+armani">XBIZ 360 Explores Current, Upcoming Retail Trends</a>

LOS ANGELES – The XBIZ 360 Retail Conference offered a wealth of information and tips for new and established retailers to succeed online and with physical retail store locations.
The XBIZ 360 Retail Conference kicked off with “The Edge of Retail” panel featuring Erik Van Riper (Honey's Place), Dave Levine (SexToy.com), David Keegan (Adam & Eve), Samir Saraiya (ThatsPersonal), Raj Armani(Besharam Co. USA), Ken Hershkovitz (ECN) and Gamelink’s Jeff Dillon as moderator.
With two panelists with businesses that serve India, a portion of the conversation explored the region’s shopping trends.
“Why India? It has 1.3 billion people 65 percent under the age of 30 who are prominent shopper who will spend an estimated $16 billion online next year,” said Raj Armani, the founder and CEO of Besharam (ImBesharam.com).
Samir Saraiya of ThatsPersonal.com pointed out that “the one major difference with online in India is that they do not want these products shipped directly to their house.
“It might be the parents or the kids that don’t want their family to know what their buying or multi-family homes,” he said. “What we do differently is that we’ll pinpoint locations based on our logistics partners in their area where they could pick up the item. The end user receives an SMS message with the address and can discretely pick up their purchase.”
Saraiya also discussed the prominent use of “cash on delivery” for online purchases in India, while East Coast News’ Ken Hershkovitz said that in the U.S. he’s seen an avalanche of Paypal users lately.
With a focus on technology, the panel of adult retail experts also discussed how to adapt to the latest tech trends and digital solutions.
While discussing the use of customer data mining by mainstream companies, Honey’s Place’s Erik Van Riper said that it’s different for adult companies.
“They don’t want you to know too much information about them,” he said. “It’s more anonymous.”
SexToy.com’s Dave Levine suggested creating segmented newsletters based on shoppers’ previous purchases as a way to follow up with customers without making them feel exposed.
With next month’s release of the “Fifty Shades of Grey,” “The Kink Boom” panel discussed the impact of the film on the pleasure products industry, as well as what to expect following the release of the movie. The panel featured Neal Slateford (Lovehoney), Tom Stewart (Sportsheets), Desiree Duffy (California Exotic Novelties), Coyote Days (Good Vibrations), Kim Airs (BubbleLove), Michael Goldsmith (Dr. Clockwork) and Robin Jennings (Pleasure Chest) as moderator.
When the kink community first heard about ‘Fifty Shades,’ we were terrified,” Dr. Clockwork said. “Everyone was worried about being ‘found out,’ exposing our lifestyle, but then once we became more familiar with the story, we started calling it Fifty Shades of bad education.”
CalExotics’ Desiree Duffy added that E. L. James may have gotten some sex toy facts wrong within her story, however it is up to the industry to educate consumers. The other panelists agreed, adding that the popularity of Fifty Shades allowed several companies to establish synergy with their local kink community.
“Everyone has that one kinky person in their town,” Bubble Love’s Kim Airs said. “Have them come to your store and teach a simple rope tying class.”
Neal Slateford, whose company Lovehoney acquired the license to manufacture the official Fifty Shades pleasure products line, said that based on the scenes he’s exclusively had the opportunity to see, the Fifty Shades movie is reminiscent of “Twilight."
“Ninety percent of the people that read the books were in it for the romance,” Slateford said. “The kinksters were never going to like it.”
The panelists agreed that the movie draws new mainstream audiences – women in particular – who will bring men along with them.  
The third panel of the day, “The Future of Retail,” featured panelists Jay Scheinberg (Liberator), Larry Garland (Eldorado), Bob Christian (Adam & Eve), Dan Freedman (Pink Cherry), Sarah Tomchesson (Pleasure Chest), Bonnie Feingold (Honey's Place) and Ken Herskovitz from ECN as moderator.
Honey’s Place CEO Bonnie Feingold said that while her distribution company is innovating, the main goal is to simplify.
“The way we do business is to simplify,” she said. “We’ve streamlined the entire company to make it easier to succeed as an online retailer.”
According to Sarah Tomchesson of boutique retailer The Pleasure Chest, succeeding in retail is all about giving shoppers a unique experience.
“Customers wanted us to get back to our roots,” she said. “We’ve done a lot of redesign this year to incorporate a new look. While other stores are focused on creating a couples or female friendly experience, as a specialty retailer we focus on what we can do to differentiate ourselves."
Thanks to social media and technology, Liberator’s Jay Scheinberg said retailers have a unique opportunity to connect with their shoppers.
“Technology is enabling people to connect in new ways,” he said. “We have an opportunity to connect with our customers and best serve them.”
Adam & Eve’s Bob Christian added that while technology offers several benefits, brick and mortar retailers should not forget about the “analog folks.”
“For some people DVD isn’t dead, brick and mortar isn’t dead,” he said. “Don’t abandon traditional media as it appeals to baby boomers.”
Technology also can be seen as a challenge for retailers, however. Labeling Amazon a competitor, the panelists offered advice on how to overcome the online retail giant.
Pink Cherry’s Daniel Freedman said, “When customers come into a store, they probably already know more about the product than your own staff. You have to empower your staff and allow them to be more flexible on the show floor. Throw in free lube, a discount – keep the customer in your store.”
Christian added, “’Satisfaction guaranteed’ is the bottom line answer. Knowing that someone cares is more important than the price. We’re not focused on that as much as the experience.”
With an introduction from his friend and colleague, Good Vibrations’ Joel Kaminsky welcomed Mark Franks to the stage for the closing keynote of the XBIZ 360 Retail Conference.
“I respect him as a person and as a businessman,” he said. “He’s the kind of person that always wants to help out.”
In his keynote presentation, Franks discussed his career and revitalizing the Castle brand after taking over its leadership in 2003. His presentation included several before and after photos of the retail chain’s rebranding.
“Castle Megastore was rebuilt with many things in mind,” he said. “We set out to raise the bar and went from operating ‘super stores’ to ‘mega stores. We focused on the five Ps – people, processes, products, passion and perseverance."
Franks discussed the various training opportunities it offers its staff, including Castle University and the annual Castle Expo and Awards show. “It allows employees to connect better with the brands.”
Castle Megastore also hosts several customer events including a Halloween costume fashion show, in-store signings, sex education courses and ladies nights.
“Everybody has an opinion about the future,” he said. “I think the industry in some ways is at a turning point. A lot of our product categories are evolving. If you want to have a business that you want to grow, find something that you specialize in and really specialize in it. There’s a lot of identity crisis in this industry – don’t be afraid to sell adult products and be an adult store.”
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