Innovation gets sexy.
October 9, 2012
by Matt Powell, Assistant Editor
Canada has a lot to be proud of when it comes to innovation. We’re responsible for some pretty famous technologies, including Jacques Plante’s famed goalie mask, the Canadarm, and those little hand-helds known as the Blackberry. Now we can add a revolutionary sex appliance that has sold more than two million units worldwide.
Standard Innovation introduced the We-Vibe, a C-shaped stimulator for two, in 2008. Inventor Bruce Murison, an ex-Nortel engineer, spent five years of intense R&D developing the dual-stimulator for middle-class couples looking to spice things up in the bedroom or elsewhere. Today, the company’s revenues top $40 million.
“It’s the first of its kind,” says Grant Beckthold, Standard’s vice-president of product development. “Bruce [Murison] wanted to develop a device that stimulated both the G-spot and the C-spot for a woman, but also stimulate a man because there was a gap in that market.”
Unlike the typical phallic-like options considered the industry norm found in typical sex stores or online, Standard has taken the mass market approach as sexuality and the use of appliances becomes a more open subject of social dialogue. The We-Vibe is now carried in major retail chains such as London Drugs and Rexall in Canada, and Walgreens in the US, marketed as a sexual wellness product that enhances intimacy without the kink.
And it’s outselling competitors three- to-one.
Mass marketing sex
Sarah Bobas, Standard’s marketing manager, says the We-Vibe has had companies such as Trojan and Durex, market leaders in sexual protection and enhancement products, to thank for its acceptance into the mass market.
“Those kind of companies have developed products with vibratory technologies and they’re sold in typical drug store-type retail outlets,” she says. “That definitely opened up shelf-space for our product because it has nothing to do with the stigma that’s typical with other products in our space.”
We-Vibe also made it to The Dr. Oz Show, and was included in swag-bags at the Oscars and the Super Bowl.
The latest generation is waterproof and has a remote control, two features the company says were installed thanks to customer feedback. It sells for between $80 and $150, depending on the model.
“People are more open about sex as a part of regular day-to-day life, and they’re more comfortable with it in mainstream forums and mainstream conversations,” adds Bobas. “They don’t need those adult stores as much anymore because of that, and now that we’ve done it, more companies are moving towards the sexual wellness position to meet that mainstream requirement.”
Exposure, if you will, has definitely helped boost We-Vibe’s sales, but Beckthold says the innovation behind it is the real selling point, making the device a “game-changer”.
“There hasn’t been this kind of innovation in the sex industry in 20 years,” he says. “The We-Vibe’s gone viral because of the science behind it. I don’t know another time you’d see Dr. Oz showing off a sex toy on national TV.”
In-house expertise is what sets Standard apart from the competition. Most of his staff are ex-tech sector workers with at least 20 years experience in the space, creating products that break traditional perceptions.
“We are challenging moulding techniques, we are challenging the materials that are traditional with this industry,” he says. “The companies in our industry space don’t do what we do.
The We-Vibe, which is manufactured at two plants in China, uses medical-grade silicon, which is another breakthrough from traditional products often made of cheap plastics and latex. The silicon, which is produced in Belgium, is the same stuff used to make nipples for baby bottles and medical implants.
“We’re definitely not using the silicon as an intended supplier use,” jokes Beckthold.
Those silicons also present engineering challenges when it comes to moulding.
“The silicon has to be over moulded to less than one milimetre all over the (C-shaped) piece, so that process alone is one that’s highly complex and requires some pretty intense engineering,” he says.
The We-Vibe’s internals are also extremely complex. Because of restrictions when it comes to size (the unit has to be small enough to fit inside the woman’s pelvic area without becoming an impediment to stimulation), miniturization is key to the tiny motors used.
Although many of the specifics when it comes to the guts of the unit’s operation are under wraps, Murison designed the original using a nylon product to encase the spine that provided necessary flex and strength requirements to avoid internal fractures. Engineering the motors is difficult because they need to be small, but also strong enough to support the internal weights. Those weights that react to different situations thanks to an on-board microprocessor that’s loaded with a big chunk of software and encryption.
“A lot of the motors in other devices remind me of toy car motors, which aren’t engineered,” says Beckthold. “Ours are engineered to meet frequency requirements, which is why there’s an on-board computer in this thing. We’ve got complex little sensors in the units so they can sense certain things and take action as a result.”
“The We-Vibe is as good as it is because of the type of power and vibration levels it can hit,” says Bobas. “It achieves a steady rumble, whereas competitor products simply buzz, which don’t resonate throughout the body as well.”
Beckthold says it’s about more than just about throwing a motor into the unit: it’s about understanding the engineering necessary to transmit weight inside to meet desired frequencies.
“It’s not just a transmitter of mechanical parts. We’re developing an understanding of transmission requirements and direction properties to move vibration around the unit as we need it to,” he says.
Before all of this, however, Standard puts in motion a rigorous testing and prototyping phase using 3D printing and 3D mannequin technologies that analyze variables in the design to make sure everything fits.
Beckthold believes this high-intensity engineering has turned Standard into more than just the Canadian company that’s producing the world’s most popular sexual wellness product. It is also developing an impressive R&D portfolio that’s opening other market spaces. While the details are under wraps, Beckthold says the company has already developed a portfolio of more than 60 projects – some of which will explore sensory feedback.
“We have a three-year strategic R&D plan and in there, there’s some technologies that are not that far-fetched,” he says. “I’ve got more potential projects than I have people to do them.”
And that’s also part of the plan. The company is set to boost it’s global headquarters by 14,000 square-feet, enough room to double its engineering team and target revenues of more than $100 million. That amps up the sex appeal considerably.
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This article appears in the September 2012 issue of PLANT.