Ever since you have started more players have entered the market, with companies offering more or less the same products, has this led to fragmentation, how do you strive to be distinct in this discreet business?
Raj Armani: Yes, that is true, we see more players now and while everybody has their place in the sun, the advantage we have is that we were there first, in the right time at the right place, we invested heavy in building the brand unlike some in making a quick buck. That effort pays in the short run and long as well. You can have several denim manufacturers come up, but a Lucky Brand or Diesel or Levis, all hold their own because they have played it long, unique and played it well. Our strategy paid of very well, as we command the leading position, with over 1.5lakh subscribers, 250k + fans on social channels, 1.5 million views on our youtube channel and higher traffic on our stores as well as great media publicity, we stand our own ground well. On top of that we offer many unique USP’s like imported products, Free Intl Shipping, Int COD, large and everchanging collection and finally the face of our brand, Sunny Leone.
Are Indian customers aware about the quality of the products they buy, how demanding are they when it comes to purchasing, do they have the same attitude as buying any other product from a retail store? or do they just accept what they get without any complaints due to the shame factor?
Raj Armani: Absolutely, my Indian cousins are very savvy when it comes to shopping online and very conscious of the costs and all hidden charges that other sites trick people into. Our customers are most often knowledgeable about what they want and opinionated if my any error the incorrect product arrives and can voice it well. I haven't seen any situation where they let shame take over their acceptance and if Mr TumTum wala wants the ‘see thru lingerie’, he will make sure to voice it loud and clear and we replace it IF we sent him the wrong one.
Have Indians become vocal in expressing their sexual needs? Do you get feedback on the quality of your products, what are the kinds of feed backs you get? (Who are the major respondents, men/women, how distinct are their views?)
Raj Armani: Some of the questions we hear blow our mind, we have seen ridiculous requests like the sex machine to a customer who answered our call during ahem..ahem..and softly asks us to call back as he is in the middle of pleasing his partner. We get great feedback on our products, they know these brands, they have looked them up on Amazon and Ebay and have already compared shop before buying from us. We also provide a 30 day no question asked return policy and while it being a very generous one, we have rarely seen anybody abuse it. We stand behind our products and brands so well that we have in most cases even replaced products due to warranty or manufacturing defects months after the purchase, this is possible with the strong support we have from our suppliers.
Most of our feedback compliments our quality of customer service, the shopping experience, the way their compliments and issues were handled and how we make all efforts to proactively communicate to customer any interruptions and delays and try to cater to their short terms delivery needs as well.
Most of our feedback is from men but we have seen women audience increase greatly since we have started. We even have some A and B list Bollywood and Tollywood celebrities who have purchased from our store. For obvious reasons we cannot divulge more, but we are very glad to win the trust of the major section of our customer base.
Do you have an Indian presence? Are there any women in your team/other companies? How easy/difficult it is to attract employees/talented graduates from mainstream companies/universities into the business?
Raj Armani: Yes Of course, 75% of our team is based in Delhi & Mumbai. Being that we are India focussed, our partners in social media, PR & other sectors are also from India. Our India office is in Gurgaon and we 3 women in our organization, all of them with us for over 1year each. While getting employees apply for jobs that we list on Linkedin and other places has never been an issue, we are very picky at the kind of people we select and for that matter we are a skinny but very efficient and robust team of people. We have team who have graduated London School of Business to MBA’s from Amity University. At times we have had over qualified professional also apply, but being the nature of industry hasn't come in the way of interest level of applicants as most of them that we network with are well travelled, well educated and at pace with the times. They can understand a business is a business, where supply meets a demand, its no longer a label or a characterization on their part, and for that matter, we all call ourselves besharam, and we know you are too ;)
What are they looking for/creative satisfaction/technological challenge etc when they enter the adult business?
Raj Armani:As i explained above, by working in our team doesn’t equate to entering in adult business as the roles are the same that would be there for example at Amazon.com - customerservice, sales, logistics, web management, content organization, photography, web design etc..And contrary to any assumptions out there, most of the people I interview actyally get attracted to the kind of business as they are prepared to leave the monoyonous tone of their past jobs.
How much of creativity is involved in designing sexual wellness products?( Like furniture that helps you to lean into a proper position etc) what are some of the new sexual wellness products in the pipeline?
Raj Armani: Sexual Wellness products have come of age in the last 2-3 years. Gone are days when they just meant a male or female organ. Today, while the purpose is the same, their form, materials, quality, presentation, packaging, branding and functionality has improved by leaps and bounds. Some of them like the Fifty Shades of Grey collection have entered mainstream and are available in departmental stores and pharmacies as well (in US: Walmart, Target, CVS, KMart etc)
Today there are over 100’s of brands which have their own unique product that has a function x or y, they all keep investing in R&D and keep innovating some amazing lines of sensual products that appeal to the lifestyle of todays man and woman.. See some videos here:
One of the NEWEST product is the Kiiroo (we are exclusive license holders for India) by Fleshlight. Its the first of its kind, advanced sensual toy, where man and woman can make love over internet and have the feeling as it they were in the same room. See this:
How effective are streaming videos in selling a product in India? Has bandwidth improved ever since the launch?
Raj Armani: We don't sell streaming videos, and I don't have much idea about this. However here is a survey by PornHub that may help: http://www.indiatimes.com/culture/who-we-are/were-now-the-worlds-4th-most-perverted-country-and-we-all-had-a-hand-in-it-229293.html
Is there a reliable estimate on how big is the Indian market in terms revenue generated?
What is the price range of your products? What is the most expensive product in your line and how much is it priced? What is the minimum value for an order?
Raj Armani: This is a tricky question and I had to research on it, so here we are:
The truth is: None, there is NO reliable estimate on how big the Indian market is, I have seen numbers thrown around in news and media by other brand/sites in this domain and most of them are calculation estimates without support of actual data. However if we do a simple calculation : Spending Population * frequency * cost of product, we may arrive to anywhere between 1200-1500 crores. and the fact of the matter is that all the existing stores haven't yet touched the tip of this iceberg, there is so much potential still out there.
The average product price in our store is Rs.2575 and average ticket size is Rs.3250
The most expensive product in our store is the Lelo Gold Vibrator @ Rs6Lakh plus, and believe or not we have sold two of them this year :)
However now the audience has appetite for newer, better and more unique products, our chefs here will happily create what the buyer wants.
The minimum value for FREE shipping is Rs500, but the minimum value of an order is Rs399.
Is the Indian market price sensitive when it comes to buying sexual wellness products?
People from which Indian state are the most vocal when it comes to feed back and people from which Indian state are the biggest buyers of sexual wellness products in India?
Raj Armani: See, we get a variety of customers, and occasionally we get customers who want an explanation why the price is what it is (our store carries high quality products from reputable brands, we believe that when it comes to your body, you shouldn't compromise if you have access to better quality at competitive prices), so when we explain to them that the price you pay covers the cost of shipping from US, almost 40% duties and taxes during import and secure delivery right to your door, no hassles, they are then satisfied and see the value behind it. And we get some customers who just want the thrill at lowest price and they shop from other stores in India, there is nothing we can do about it. We have defined our niche and we appeal to customers who understand value of price vs quality. My father used to say something very logical, you can't get a Lexus in the budget of a Maruti. Its that simple.
Now when it comes to feedback, its difficult to ascertain and narrow it down from states, as this is a very individual’s opinion and not generalised over states. We see a LOT of customers coming from Gujarat, Delhi, Tamil Nadu, Hyderabad, Kerala, West Bengal and even Assam. The top five cities we sell to, as per our records are: Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore & Chennai
Do you get any suggestions for new and specific products from your customers? Pls Give some examples?
Raj Armani: While we strive to carry the newest and greatest products and brands, we do get suggestions from customers where they have seen or heard or desired to buy products and ask us to stock and sell them. At times, those products are the ones that we cannot provide due to import restrictions in India like the Inflatable and Almost Real Sex Doll, Realistic Male Organs etc.. At other times, they find brands that we dont stock, but customers locate them on amazon or other US sites and submit requests, which we are able to fulfil on a case to case basis. Some examples are
Tenga Brand products (Japanese manufacturer) - http://www.tenga-global.com/
This product was actually requested by a Sex and Fertility Specialist some time back
Indian’s are also the biggest surfers of online porn, how far has popularity of porn helped in the growth of sexual wellness products in India?
Raj Armani: Well we are not sure if that is a boon or curse, but for sure it has opened doors for many Indian male audience to desire and crave for products to enhance their personal and interpersonal sexual experiences. I think the opening of gates via Porn impacts more of their lifestyle, their conversations, their comfort levels and their acceptance that healthy sex is as basic requirement as exercise or yoga per se. Plus its like adrenaline rush, when one has jumped the bungee and experienced the thrill, they want to talk about it and they are more open to have that discussion at a coffee table, outside canteen, or send as a sms joke. We have been talking about it since even my teen days, labelling it as ‘non veg jokes’ so now we have more content to make jokes from :)
That acceptance in a way leads to demand, and which in turn leads to more awareness and hence more business for us, so in the bigger picture, yes it does lead to more business, well educated customer and higher demand.
Research shows that 5 to 10 per cent of the global searches for erotic products originate from India? Has this share increased over the years?
Raj Armani: To state the truth, we haven't had time to check for these stats and while the providers share these numbers, we are busy picking and packing orders and making sure our customers are happy, their trust is maintained and their satisfaction is guaranteed. It must be obvious that that search leads to our store, as when you look for adult products India or many such keywords, we are the top 3-5 ranking store in India.
What motivated you to enter this business was your decision purely motivated by profit or a larger cause? What were some of the challenges you had to face from family and friends? Do you discuss work with your family/wife etc?
Raj Armani:I won't beat the bush around this, We are entrepreneurs and we believe in striking on the right time at the right place. However our success has opened up more avenues for us to give back to our community and make a change, no matter how small to the lifestyle for them. We have supported several Gay right movements in India and we have plans in place to provide 1000 pepper sprays to working women in India for self defense. We also advocate the cause of freedom of speech and expressions and have voiced our opinions when we have seen the need to be.
Besharam, the company was founded, just with one focus in mind. To bring international brands in Indian hands. We, the founders are Indian Americans, and have lived a third of our lives in India. We are very well acquainted with the culture, thought process, lifestyle and aspirations of our fellow Indians. During one of our trips to India, we saw how most people would be shy and embarrassed appearing at medical stores where they wanted to just buy a condom. It was the year 2010 and we figured, while India is making and taking so many strides, there are certain cultural attributes which make us uncomfortable to express our bedroom pleasures in public or even outside of real close friends. We knew of many many of our friends who would ask us to buy 'stuff' from amazon and ship to them in India, or bring it along when we come. This opened our eyes to the possible HUGE demand in India, for products and apparatus that enhance sexual pleasures, which were not available anywhere in India. When we saw this opportunity, we spent over 6 months researching on that, the laws, restrictions, market potential, logistics and business viability, location and operational pro's and cons, after which we incorporated our company and went LIVE in 2013.
Our family have been supportive and have contributed to the success in several ways, and all our friends have just two questions they ask: ‘Kitna Discount dega’ ‘Damn I also had the same idea, you started it first’ Haha
What are some of the best-selling sexual wellness products, is there a truly pan-Indian product?
Raj Armani: Well there is no pan India product, but the popularity of products depends on the trends or any major marketing campaigns like for example Fifty Shades of Grey Movie release and the ban fiasco in India, which led to a huge spur in 50 shades of grey products
Apart from that we see a lot of mid level toys for men and women sell, Here are some examples:
Bswish Line: http://www.imbesharam.com/collections/the-bswish-collection
Hustler Toys: http://www.imbesharam.com/search?type=product&q=hustler+toys
Bijoux Indiscrets Line: http://www.imbesharam.com/search?type=product&q=BIJOUX
Lux Fetish Line:http://www.imbesharam.com/collections/luxfetish
How are the products packed to ensure discretion and secrecy? How do you make the packaging discreet?
Raj Armani: See your answers here: http://www.imbesharam.com/blogs/news/7559730-packaging-so-discreet-even-mr-holmes-cant-deduce-its-elements
Has the range of your sexual wellness products increased over the years, if any, by how much in terms of numbers?
Raj Armani:Well we have been adding and removing products from our collections since we went live. Being that there were no statistics or data available, we have learned by use and customer feedback, what sells and what doesn't, so our brands and their products get constantly upgraded for the newer, more innovative models. Some brands have stayed as ever due to their popularity, but there isn't as much turnover like for example a cell phone market.
Has Indian taste for sexual experimentation changed ever since you started business in 2013, where you the first in India to cater to this market?
Raj Armani: It has changed dramatically, or we just find out about them on the go. When we went live, it took some time before we could get the word spread out around, so when we have got the feedback and requests, maybe these were always there, they just presented it to us when they found about us. What I can say with certainty is that our Indian audience is no naive about these products, they have either seen them online, or in stores when they travel abroad. They love the fact that we can source the same without any embarrassments and worries and that leads to building the trust. We see lot more BDSM products sell now, and we see quite a lot of women customers, some of them place orders for their spouse, so its more of an acceptance that has changes and the fact that both men and women embrace the fact that they want a better experience, and are curious to try new things more than ever before.
What is the challenge (technological/product) which you face in the industry?
Raj Armani: None from technology/product perspective but we do face some challenges with marketing and spreading brand awareness. Every now and then, we face objections where platform is unable put up our brand due to reader dissent, or apprehension from the organizers. For example our banner ads were removed from VC Circle website after 2 weeks as they claimed their readers had voiced their opinions and while it may have been a small segment, it still goes to show that some old school conservatives opinions do impact our awareness and reach.
Similarly MTV was unable to air our ads, which is clean and super humorous because they didn't get an OK from their legal team. Well that is what it is. See this ad if you find anything offensive?
Do you cater to the needs of LGBT community? What are some of the products which you specifically cater to them? What are some of the risks which you face in this sector?
Raj Armani:We absolutely champion the cause of Human Equality and have been a ‘LGBT friendly’ store right from start. We have extended support to few agencies in the past and strive to support them in expressing their right to equality, freedom of expression and choices. We have an several products for their pleasure and needs: http://www.imbesharam.com/collections/toys-for-lgbt
How do people get to know about your products? Where do you advertise?
Raj Armani: Social Media (checkout our facebook and youtube channels), Sponsorships, Online Marketing, Magazines and In film placements (coming soon)..but a lot of it is word of mouth and general PR that happens in the news. See some of our ads in the magazines and online are here:https://www.dropbox.com/sh/rqkc2qoe1mdmws6/AAAFo4JiUFrGc_dY7C9J_yDEa?dl=0
What the law says about selling sex toys in India? What falls under the category of obscenity?
Raj Armani: Being an India & Indians targeted business model, the most prolific laws we had to ensure we are in compliance with is the law that regulates import, distribution and sale of obscene products in India. This law was instituted in the post independence era and is loosely based on the perception of the individual while referring to an object as obscene. Plus we have several advantages for being a US based company, we always ensured that the business model we setup in India only showcases such products that are not obscene and are under the umbrella of being importable to India. While the purpose of adult products remains similar since day 1, their visual designs, packaging and applications have taken huge strides in advancements and improvisation so it can attain a ‘consumer friendly’ appeal. They are no longer vulgar or gawky, but subtle, sleek and effective ‘objects of desire’ This universal industry shift has been most helpful in establishing our business model and delivering what the Indian audiences desire and demand.
How do you foresee the future for sexual wellness business in India and what will be the next generation adult products like?
Raj Armani:In my opinion, the best thing to happen would be for the laws to relax or at least better interpretation of these laws in face of the change of the attitude, behaviour and lifestyle of the new modern India. We will continue to have challenges till then in respect to awareness and acceptance of this industry, which is kind of hypocritical as we are one of the largest population in the world. However despite these challenges, the youth will drive the market demand and the more and more we can stick around, get the word out, educate the audience, maintain our standards and ensure customer satisfaction, the better chance we have in dominating and growing big. We are very soon going to welcome investor interest and evaluate opportunities for getting funded, to expand operations, scale in short time and be able to better customize the products so they fit within the confines of the law and still retain mass appeal. The more you talk, the more you will know, and the better we can serve.- Unedited version, as shared with Journalist