Nicola Relph has always possessed an entrepreneurial spirit, spending swathes of her childhood selling lemonade from a streetside stall or signing up to young enterprise groups. So, it’s little wonder that she went on to be the brains behind one of New Zealand’s most successful—and revolutionary—online market platforms, Adulttoymegastore.
Recent years have seen the store secure a slew of retail awards—and not just in the adult industry, fending off well-established mainstream giants such as Mitre 10 and Mighty Ape. What’s more, Wellington-based Adulttoymegastore was founded way back in 2009 when online shopping was still in its infancy, a prescient move by Nicola who saw a potential gap in the digital marketplace.
“We were seeing online market sites such as Trade Me, but the segment that wasn’t being done so well was adult toys,” says Nicola. “I wanted people to be able to buy good quality toys safely, and to remove that sleaze factor to allow women—and men—to be able to access them on a platform that was easy. So, doing that online just made sense.”
Perhaps surprisingly, Nicola reveals that since the store’s inception, her customers have been split pretty evenly between men and women. What has changed, she says, is people’s openness about discussing it as the market has grown. I ask what she believes has brought about a change in people’s attitudes.
“It’s the result of a wide range of things,” says Nicola. “Think about all TV programmes about sex and sexuality that didn’t exist a decade ago, as well as the mainstream movies. They’ve made people feel more comfortable and given them the confidence to be more open. Lots of people have lots of sex all the time! It’s healthy, it’s good for your immune system, and helps you to sleep better. People are wanting to educate themselves about sex and sexual wellness more than ever before.”
Was there a ‘50 Shades’ effect?
“That movie definitely started conversations, but I don’t think that a whole load of people decided to become bondage experts suddenly after watching it! It was more of a curiosity thing. Suddenly groups of people were having these conversations, because it had been a catalyst to talk—it had a positive effect on a global market that opened good, positive discussions.”
With this shift in culture, Nicola says it’s also more important than ever to educate the public, something her company promotes via the likes of articles, blogs and the recently introduced Toys on Tour.
“A group of us visit regions around the country holding events where people can learn about our toys and sexual health,” says Nicola. “They always sell out fast. It’s an opportunity to have some fun with friends—an educational evening in a safe environment. The feedback has been excellent.”
Nicola does lament that the fact that her business is classed as part of the wider adult industry it fuels misconceptions. “We are a global business no different to any other online department store,” she says. “We are selling products that enhance people’s sex lives just as a cosmetic store enhances your skin. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, and we provide a platform to do that with discretion.”
While it has historically been an overwhelmingly male-dominated industry, Nicola says that things are fast realigning.
“One of the many great things about gender equality is that we are seeing so many more companies, from designers to manufacturers to purchasers of sex toys, owned and operated by women. In fact, it is changing so speedily that I would no longer consider it male-dominated. And now we’re seeing these beautiful objects that women really want, and love.”
The products are even bagging design awards outside of the adult industry, and there’s also been a shift in terms of sustainability.
“We have just begun a recycling packaging programme that means all of our parcels are sent in an environmentally friendly way,” says Nicola. “It’s something that I’m really proud of.”
Though what brings most satisfaction is the team she has built around her.
“The team was always key, having the right people in the right seats to ensure that the business grew and that we all remain motivated,” she says. “We have faced challenges together and learnt from each other, and it has been a journey we have all taken together.”
A History of Play
There is some dispute over the origin of the word ‘dildo’, some believe it to stem from the Latin dilatere which means ‘open wide’; others argue it comes from diletto, which is Italian for ‘delight’; while some say is comes from the Old English ‘dill-doll’, which is from the Norse, dilla, meaning ‘to soothe’.
It’s probably of little surprise that the ancient Greeks and especially Romans, prone to the occasionally orgy, used sex toys, usually fashioned from leather or wood.
The wonderful story about Cleopatra inventing history’s first vibrator by instructing her servants to fill a box with buzzing bees is likely nothing more than an urban myth. US physician George Taylor is generally credited with creating history’s first vibrator, in 1869—not for sexual pleasure, but to relieve women of hysteria!
Up until the mid-20th century, vibrators were generally marketed as massage aids to relieve sore muscles, but the sexual revolution of the 1960s sowed the seeds of their social acceptance.
The world’s oldest known sex toy was unearthed in 2005 in a German cave. The polished, 20cm-long prehistoric stone piece is an astonishing 28,000 years old—way to heat up the Ice Age!