Trade show season in the adult industry feels a bit like the winter holiday season in the civilian world. It’s a flurry of activity in a short time, you see a number of people you don’t see as much of as you’d like (and some you’d like to see far less frequently), and by the time it’s over, you feel full of joy and utterly exhausted. I’m just coming off of three days at the ANME (Adult Novelty Manufacturing Expo) Founders Show, which I lovingly refer to as “Fashion Week for sex toys,” and I can’t help but notice some similarities between the adult novelty industry and the cannabis industry. Business owners in each face similar challenges, but there are also corollary benefits. In short, we’re more alike than you’d think.
“For nearly a decade, PayPal, JPMorgan Chase, Visa/MasterCard, and now Square, have systematically denied or closed accounts of small businesses, artists and independent contractors whose business happens to be about sex,” wrote Violet Blue in a December 2015 Engadget article. Banking for sex-related enterprises can be hit or miss. Some organizations find success working with payroll servicers like ADP or taking payments via PayPal, while others have their accounts closed or are denied business loans simply because of the adult nature of their business. Cannabis business owners can relate. Many cannabis businesses are forced to deal in cash due to the federal regulations that govern banking systems, although there have been recent developments regarding cannabis banking.
Social Media Struggles
If you keep up with cannabis community-related social media, you may have noticed Lauren Gibbs' campaign called #EndtheSocialCannaBan. Business owners have found their cannabis-related social media accounts deleted without explanation or warning. Those with adult-related accounts are familiar with that experience–it’s widely known that Facebook/Instagram have gender-based nipple issues and genitals are completely forbidden. That makes it a little tricky when you’re selling products that relate to those areas of the body.
From Facebook’s community guidelines:
“We remove photographs of people displaying genitals or focusing in on fully exposed buttocks. We also restrict some images of female breasts if they include the nipple, but we always allow photos of women actively engaged in breastfeeding or showing breasts with post-mastectomy scarring. We also allow photographs of paintings, sculptures, and other art that depicts nude figures. Restrictions on the display of both nudity and sexual activity also apply to digitally created content unless the content is posted for educational, humorous, or satirical purposes. Explicit images of sexual intercourse are prohibited. Descriptions of sexual acts that go into vivid detail may also be removed.”
Censorship and targeting by social media companies is a huge issue for each of these industries, which is especially distressing since social media drives so much lead generation and web traffic.
A Strong Sense of Community
There's an overwhelming sense of “we’re all in this together” in these fields. Going to conferences and events feels a little like going to a high school reunion (if I had enjoyed high school and if the reunions featured an open bar). Both industries are incredibly welcoming of newcomers–my first ANME show was in January 2014 and I barely knew anyone, but in the past two and a half years I’ve developed an extensive network of relationships. I had a similar experience attending the Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo on a Women Grow scholarship back in September 2015. The thing I appreciate most about these businesses is that I’ve never experienced a sense of “You can’t hang with us, you’re not cool/established enough.”
If you’ve ever been to a mainstream (let’s say tech or academic) trade show, you may have come home with some neat branded swag, maybe a new gadget or publication, and plenty of business cards. When emptying your tote bag at the end of a cannabis or adult industry event, the swag may look a bit different. Business cards are universal, but the swag for adult novelty and cannabis is pretty much unparalleled.
At cannabis conferences and trade shows, here are usually product samples and accoutrements like rolling papers, lighters, hemp wicks, one hitters, etc. After the ANME show, my bag housed full and travel-sized bottles of lube, condoms, vibrating keychains, and, my personal favorite, high quality sex toys. Admittedly, part of getting high value swag depends on who you are (do you have an audience that a company wants to leverage?) and who you know (do you have relationships with manufacturers/retailers/business owners?), but the neat thing about both of those caveats is that you’re empowered to improve either your reach or your network–it rarely feels like an exclusive club.
What other similarities do you see between the cannabis and sex toy industries? How have you experienced the community aspects of either or both?
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