We-Vibe maker expects growth surge at Ottawa R&D hub to continue after merger with U.K. firm

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The business of pleasure has been booming during the pandemic – thanks in no small measure to sexual wellness products engineered by local employees of a firm that was just part of a major industry merger.

Berlin-based WOW Tech Group announced late last week it was joining forces with the U.K.’s Lovehoney in a deal that will create a combined firm valued at US$1.2 billion. The companies say sales of the enterprise now known as the Lovehoney Group will top US$400 million this year, making it the world’s largest producer of sexual wellness products.

It’s another sign of continued growth for WOW Tech Group, which employs 54 people in the National Capital Region. That’s up from around 40 employees at the start of the COVID-19 crisis, when sales of sex toys and other intimacy products skyrocketed as people began to hunker down at home.

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Stephanie Keating, WOW Tech’s Ottawa-based head of marketing for North America, says being cooped up alone or with their partners has given people a chance to explore their sexuality and experiment in ways they might never have considered otherwise.

“It’s about pleasure and fun and connecting with your partner.”

“It’s about pleasure and fun and connecting with your partner,” she says. “I think that has really helped people get through a lot of difficult times.”

Keating says society’s attitudes toward the subject have also evolved, making consumers more comfortable with the idea of purchasing products such as vibrators and other sex toys.

“There’s a lot of (coverage) in the news about sexual wellness, so that’s contributed,” she says. “The conversation is just becoming less taboo.”

The newly merged firm expects to double WOW Tech and Lovehoney’s combined sales from last year, and WOW Tech Group has continued to introduce new merchandise during the pandemic as sales have boomed. Among them are a new line of vibrators and other toys aimed at men and products that can be operated via remote control.

“It’s like a new adventure that couples are taking,” Keating says.

Deep roots in Ottawa

Much of WOW Tech’s R&D is done in the National Capital Region, where many of its engineers are based, and Keating says the Lovehoney Group expects to keep growing the Ottawa product development and marketing teams. 

WOW Tech’s roots in the capital go back well over a decade. The company was created in 2018 after German firm Womanizer Group Management GmbH acquired Ottawa-based sex-toy maker Standard Innovation.

Founded by former Nortel employees Bruce and Melody Murison in 2008, Standard Innovation grew into a company with tens of millions of dollars in annual sales thanks to its popular We-Vibe toy, a small, C-shaped wireless vibrator that women can wear internally. 

In 2017, Standard Innovation settled a U.S. class action lawsuit that alleged the firm was, unbeknownst to its customers, collecting users’ private data through its smartphone-enabled vibrators. In a settlement, the Ottawa company agreed to revise its privacy policies and pay out $5 million to complainants.

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