The Man Who’s Putting More Sex Toys on Walmart’s Shelves

NEWTON, Mass. — Last year, Jamie Leventhal, the chief executive of Clio, a small company that makes devices like personal hair trimmers, got a call from a buyer he knew at Walmart.

“What do you think of sex toys?” Mr. Leventhal said the buyer had asked him.

It was a bit of a surprising question from a retailer known for its buttoned-up corporate culture. But Mr. Leventhal knew that Amazon and other retailers were having success selling adult products and that there was money to be made. So did Walmart.

Now, 45 years after feminists started selling vibrators by mail-order catalog, 20 after the Rabbit toy was praised on “Sex and the City” and in a moment when brands like Goop are espousing “sexual wellness” to women, Mr. Leventhal’s company has created a line of sex toys that are being stocked and sold by Walmart, the largest retailer in the United States.

Clio’s PlusOne line started appearing in 4,300 of Walmart’s roughly 4,700 stores and on in October. Walmart sells the items in stores in every state in the United States except Virginia and Alabama, because of laws in those places. The retailer plans to begin carrying four more PlusOne products in August.

“This is not a new category for us,” Walmart said in a statement, noting that it carries vibrators made by the condom companies Trojan, Durex and Lifestyles. But PlusOne is a much bigger move into sex toys.

The products are designed to be high end. They are waterproof, rechargeable and made with body-safe silicone, features once found only on products sold at sex shops and online. Yet they’re priced between $10 and $35, far less than “designer vibrators” from companies like Lelo, which can cost $75 to $200.

The PlusOne line is also more identifiably sexual than the other devices on Walmart’s shelves. Clio will release a clitoral stimulator as part of its August expansion, along with a mini personal massager, cleaning wipes and a lubricant.

Although Clio developed the products for Walmart and the retailer is its top customer, the company’s vibrators are also carried by Target and Amazon. In the last eight months, Clio has sold over a million PlusOne units. The company now has more than 26 percent of the sexual massager market, according to Nielsen.

“I want to become the Kleenex of sex toys,” Mr. Leventhal said, “the brand that you associate with sex toys.”

Clio is hoping to appeal to women who have never bought a sex toy before, particularly mothers over 25, but are embracing the idea that “sexual wellness” is good for you and can be empowering.

“It is like bringing a mini-sex toy store to every small town in America,” said Hallie Lieberman, the author of the sex toy history “Buzz.” “It is very revolutionary in a quiet way.”

He goes to hot yoga at lunch when he can, and drives an 11-year-old Toyota 4Runner he named Whitney, after Whitney Houston. He plays tennis with his two young children and spends time thinking about innovative retail products like EOS’s spherical lip balm and Method’s teardrop soap bottle. And he’s not sure why selling sex toys in a major retailer would be a big deal to anyone.

PlusOne’s designers, several of them women, are also new to sex toys and take inspiration from specialty shops, items on Amazon and premium products made by companies like Lelo, WeVibe and Womanizer. One of the female designers said she also got ideas from pornography, though Stephanie Trachtenberg, Clio’s marketing director, said the company wanted to distance itself from that world because of negative associations consumers might make.

“We’re not kinky,” she said. “This is good for you.”

Jason Cornaro, 28, one of PlusOne’s designers, often thought about how he could make the products feel accessible and inviting to a first-time buyer. He wanted to make them attractive, not vulgar, but also immediately recognizable and easy to use.

“It has to kind of appeal to everyone, or at least not turn anyone away,” Mr. Cornaro said.

Clio is already working on a new product that looks like a vibrating silicone feather. Employees are calling it a “tickler.” It was Ms. Trachtenberg’s idea.

“It’s amazing,” Mr. Leventhal said, as the product buzzed. “We’ll launch that in the first quarter of 2020.”

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