Ecommerce Age columnist Glynn Davis speaks to Ben Foster, co-founder of ‘sustainable intimacy brand’ The Natural Love Company…
Can you tell us a little about The Natural Love Company?
The Natural Love Company is a Cornwall-based sustainable intimacy brand which was founded in 2020. I run the business with my co-founder Barney Walters and we specialise in offering a highly curated range of aesthetically pleasing, eco-friendly sex toys and sexual wellness products. Barney and I have been lifelong friends and we have previously run several business ventures together which also currently includes a UK-wide property investment firm. Since our launch we have been delighted with how much interest there has been in our product ranges. We’re currently experiencing 400% year-on-year growth and we don’t see this slowing down any time soon.
What were the key drivers for creating the business?
Whilst I was a student at Cardiff University over a decade ago I first had the idea of launching a sex toy company with a contemporary feel. Back then the industry was notorious for its use of overtly brash branding and its environmental credentials were also pretty poor. Unfortunately at this time many sex toys were often low-quality and designed for single use which in turn had a huge impact on waste. I was studying for a degree in Environmental Protection at the time so this also felt very personal and I became determined to try and figure out a way that could help to reduce the vast volume of waste that was being generated through the proliferation of sex toys. After several years of working in event filming, I revisited this idea in 2020 when sex toy sales were booming as a result of the lockdowns. I also realised that there was a significant opportunity to ‘Millennialise’ the industry and breathe new life into perceptions of sex toys.
Who are the key competitors and how are you differentiated?
In general, we don’t let ourselves get too caught up in checking our competitors’ progress as we are so committed to delivering on our short and long-term goals. As we continue to grow our customer base we’re motivated by the idea of recruiting new customers at the fastest rate we can afford. We are proud of our offering and we are the only sex toy manufacturer to offer carbon-negative worldwide shipping. I firmly believe that The Natural Love Company’s emphasis on creating beautiful designs and non-intimidating sex toys also helps us to stand out from other retailers. We’re also unique in offering all of our customers 100% recyclable, plastic-free packaging with every purchase.
As interest in sustainable sex toys continues to grow consumers should be vigilant and sceptical of brand claims that seem too good to be true. Manufacturers in the sex toy industry should ensure transparency about their manufacturing processes and the materials used in their products. It’s the responsibility of every company in the space to strive to improve the sustainability of their products and supply chains.
How do you recruit new customers and who are your core customers?
To recruit new customers we rely on Google Ads, which helps us reach a wider audience who appreciates our aesthetic and tone. Our core customers are those who prioritise sustainable living in all aspects of their lives, including intimacy. They love our visually appealing products and appreciate our commitment to sustainability. Our aim is to continue attracting people who share our passion for the brand.
How important is sustainability/environment to the model?
Sustainability is at the heart of our business and it genuinely does inform all of our decisions and planning. Our ultimate goal for The Natural Love Company is to never compromise on sustainability for profits and this is something we’re working hard to achieve across all areas. We also want to ensure that we are having the largest possible impact on the sex toy industry’s environmental footprint. As a brand, we’re by no means perfect but we’re of course proud of how far we’ve come up to now.
As we look ahead to the next few years we have some exciting plans concerning domestic manufacturing, which will help us to improve sustainability within our supply chains. We will also be launching new product lines that will include sex toys made entirely from recycled ocean plastics and a new bondage range with products sourced from sustainable cork tree bark. These are just a few key developments and we have lots more in mind – customers should watch this space!
What are the main challenges in building a business in this category?
One of the biggest challenges is the ongoing stigma that still exists surrounding the sex industry. Despite progress in de-stigmatising this industry, there are still significant restrictions in media buying and advertising. Large gatekeepers in the advertising space, such as Meta, have taken a hard-line approach by banning any ads related to the industry. This presents a significant challenge to businesses like ours, as advertising is a critical component of reaching new customers.
However, despite this challenge, there is a growing movement towards sustainable and eco-conscious practices in the sex industry. More and more people are seeking out products and services that align with their values, and businesses like ours are responding to this demand. By focusing on transparency, sustainability, and ethical practices, we can continue to build a successful business while staying true to our core values.
Can you share some key numbers – revenues, repeat customers, AOV – and best-selling items?
As a company, we are seeing an average of 400% year-on-year growth, which is incredibly rewarding. One of our most popular sex toys, the Jasmine, has also seen a 375% rise in sales over the last year. Figures like this are great to reflect on but they can occasionally present difficulties in areas like stock management and outgrowing systems. As a business, our main key performance indicators are revenue, profit margin, customer satisfaction and sustainability impact, which we review weekly and monthly.
Would you consider opening physical stores?
One of the obvious advantages of e-commerce is the lack of physicality, which allows us to reach a global audience without the limitations of a physical storefront. This has been a great, low-cost launching pad for the brand. However, physical stores could provide us with an opportunity to create a more immersive brand experience for our customers. We could create a space that aligns with our brand values and mission and offer events or workshops to further engage with our community. Additionally, having a physical location could help to build trust with our customers, who may feel more confident in making a purchase if they can see and touch our products in person.
But for now, we are committed to offering a high-quality, sustainable shopping experience online, while continuing to explore ways to engage with our community and build our brand, but the idea of having physical stores in the future does excite me.
What are the major opportunities for the company?
There is a growing demand for sustainable and eco-friendly products, as consumers increasingly look for ways to incorporate sustainable practices into their lives. There is also a movement towards de-stigmatising sexuality, breaking down taboos surrounding sex, which when combined, is expected to double the size of the industry by the turn of the decade. With innovative technology, there are opportunities to create new products that enhance the intimacy experience, such as VR, AI, and other ways in which haptics could be incorporated into sex toys. We have an exciting future ahead.