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Sex toys fail to stimulate for a growing group of small makers

THOUGH some experts are noting a few isolated signs that the economic slowdown may be reaching its bottom, here's one signal that points in the opposite direction: Sex isn't selling as well as it used to.

The Sixth China International Adult Toys and Reproductive Health Exhibition opened its doors at the Shanghai International Exhibition Center yesterday, and the news wasn't entirely stimulating.

Though there were "banana-sized smiles" on the faces of some visitors as they watched women pole dance in flimsy lingerie, some of the exhibitors were feeling a bit lonely.

The attendance roll at this year's three-day event numbered 200 companies, about 20 percent fewer than those that came last year, and about the same percentage of small Chinese firms that have gone bankrupt because of declining orders, according to the organizers.

Exports for some companies selling sexually related products have declined dramatically, but at least some of that shortfall has been made up on the domestic market, Shanghai Daily learned in interviews with event participants.

The main effect of the global downturn seemed to be the shakeout in smaller firms as larger companies held their ground.

"The companies coming to the fair this year are the really big firms that were able to survive the downturn," said Gao Guoxing, who works for the local branch of China International Exhibition Center Group Corp, the event organizer.

Arnd Krusche, managing director of Hong Kong-based Loewie Ltd, which sells vibrators and lubricants, said the Chinese adult care market is huge and more overseas companies are coming to compete in its high-end market.

"We want to find more sales agents here," he said.

Officials from Shanghai Mingbang Latex Product Co said companies can survive the crisis and make money by selling quality products and having clear customer targets.

"We sold 200 million to 300 million condoms last year in the low and middle markets," said Mei Na, of Mingbang, one of the biggest condom makers in east China.

Others also see a silver lining in the latex.

"Compared with other industries, the impact of the financial crisis on sex products is lower," said Loewie's Krusche. "Moreover, China itself doesn't suffer as seriously as some other countries, and its huge population offers a big market."

Despite the unsettled financial situation, most of the visitors to the event seemed to be in an upbeat mood, as they enjoyed a display of relics from a Chinese sex museum and Japanese porn stars who danced in sexy underwear.

One lingerie show was so crowded with camera-carrying male visitors that a Shanghai Daily reporter couldn't get inside the curtained area where a woman was performing a pole dance.

Tickets for the general public cost 30 yuan (US$4.39), and there's no discount for minors because they aren't allowed inside.


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