WIA Profile: Sarai Ponce
Each month, industry news media organization XBIZ spotlights the career accomplishments and outstanding contributions of Women in Adult. WIA profiles offer an intimate look at the professional lives of the industry's most influential female executives.
In November, Sarai Ponce was announced as XR Brands’ first Spanish-speaking account executive. Credited for her lengthy experience in the industry and resourceful manner working directly with distributors and retailers, Ponce has made her mark in the biz with demonstrated success in building brands in foreign markets. In her new role with XR, Ponce is tasked with promoting and expanding the company’s presence within Australia and Latin America; and according to XR, she’s hit the ground running. “Having Sarai on staff has been an incredible boost for XR Brands — in the short amount of time she’s been on board, she has already brought on new accounts and attended product training,” XR Brands General Manager Randy Alvstad, said in the announcement of her hiring. In this exclusive interview with XBIZ Premiere, Women in Adult spotlights XR Brands’ Sarai Ponce, and her journey to building a career.
What is your role and responsibility at XR?
My official title at XR Brands is account executive. That includes sales, product training, product presentation, trade shows and whatever else is thrown at me during the work day. I am specifically responsible for the Australian and Latin American markets. However, I am not necessarily limited to that — our goal is to grow as a company, so I also filter though leads and assess their potential.
What do you admire most about XR Brands’ company principles and its team?
XR Brands pushes to create multiple products every week and everyone works extremely hard to complete their assignments for development and production. It’s a very fast-paced environment and if you blink, you’ll miss something. We have also brought to life many diverse products that were once not available in the adult market. We develop products that, in some places, are still considered taboo and we package, market and merchandise them in a way that lessens the stigma and welcomes new customers to give them a try. We try to think outside the box, which in this industry, sometimes requires putting someone inside a box.
How (and when) did you get into the pleasure products business?
No one really grows up dreaming of selling sex toys for a living; at least, I certainly didn’t. I was in college and between jobs, so I went to a temp agency to help me find some work. One day I received a phone call from my representative who said there was a job opening for a receptionist, but there was a catch. She whispered over the phone, “They sell sex toys.” That wasn’t a deal-breaker for me; heck that sounded exciting! So I started at Sportsheets in 2007 and honestly hated the receptionist position. It was definitely not for me. I felt like I had way more to offer and all I needed was a chance to prove myself. Sportsheets CEO and founder Tom Stewart, President Julie Stewart and COO Ed Hayes had faith and promoted me to sales and customer service. I was able to adapt quickly and had the privilege of working under great people in a challenging environment and I spent a total of four years with Sportsheets. Without that experience, I would not be where I am today.
What challenges have you confronted in your career and how have you overcome them?
My greatest challenge was being young and female. I was initially doubted because of my age but I quickly proved that, in reality, I’m a middle aged man at heart. (I jest, of course.)
I started when I was 21, which made me a baby in business years, so I started not telling people how young I was — and it worked. Without knowing how young I was, my colleagues’ demeanors changed immediately. Many people assume that young people aren’t serious, are inexperienced and immature so I made sure to avoid the age talk as much as I could.
And being a young woman in a male-dominated industry — on the sales and buying side, specifically — can be difficult. I met men who’d been doing this for 30-plus years so I had to challenge the norm and break through their walls, so to speak, in order to be accepted by the pros. I was myself, genuine and hard-working, and stayed on top of all of my tasks and leads with the kind of follow-up and follow-through that leaves an immediate and lasting impression. After all of the training and hard work, the industry knew I was a force to be respected and reckoned with.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding part of this job is meeting all kinds of wonderful people; my mentors, co-workers, customers and colleagues who have come and gone throughout the years. I have been introduced to and worked with so many incredible people from all over the globe and have had the privilege of learning something new from all of them. If I ever leave this industry, I would still consider them friends. I never take for granted the life lessons I have gained — good or bad.
What is your personal motto or mantra that you live by?
I have always been a goal-oriented person; I set a goal and hit the ground running. Our daily lives are inundated with work, family, friends, projects and more and we really don’t have time to waste. If I had to choose a motto, I’d say, “Get busy living or get busy dying.”
What career accomplishment are you most proud of?
For me my accomplishments have been career-based — having opened new accounts, creating trade show booths from scratch, and learning the inner workings of different markets. I’m especially proud of the success I’ve found in the Latin American and Australian markets. I threw myself into them, talked to as many people as I could and asked important questions to learn as much as I could as fast as I could.
I was hired at Doc Johnson as their first Spanish-speaking sales rep, which allowed me to establish rapport and relationships with key people in these markets, understand them and their culture, and what their unique market needs were. If I didn’t do business with them, I learned from them. I immersed myself in the culture to investigate buying trends and expectations and grew my contacts and relationships organically by keeping track and maintaining regular communication. By the end of my time at Doc Johnson, I had opened four different Latin American accounts, which I’m very proud of.
What are your professional goals for 2014?
My goal for 2014 is to continue learning and expanding my reach in the Latin American market and to open even more accounts. It’s fascinating to explore the different customs and cultures that this burgeoning market has to offer. There is such a diverse range of economic structures and people, all with their own needs and desire with regards to the pleasure products industry. I also plan to further establish XR Brands’ reputation in Australia — there’s much room for us to grow there.