Pleasure Products Industry Vets Share Advice, Tales of Biz Past
Strong. Powerful. Long lasting. These words often describe the gizmos in the crazy world of adult sex toys but it also describes those people who have been in the industry for more than 15 years, mostly with the same company.
They have stories, advice and insights like no others. And now, XBIZ shares the pearls of wisdom from cumulative decades of experience with Kathryn Hartman of Nasstoys, Jackie White from California Exotic Novelties, Chris Post from Hott Products, and Lynn Swanson, who has worked with several well-known large manufacturers and distributors.
Hartman started her career in adult in the late ‘80s after ditching a dental hygienist career due to lack of stringent OSHA adherence by her employer. She started out working eight years for the notorious Al Goldstein (of SCREW magazine fame) in adult cable TV programming and publishing which included Infotext Services, otherwise known as phone sex! She then jumped into the sex toy industry when she joined Nasstoys, where she has been their director of sales and marketing for 24 years.
Unbelievably, Swanson has been in the adult novelty business her entire working life. When she started behind the counter in a retail shop, there were about 100 pleasure products on the market, all very basic ones, then applying her knowledge with a large distributor in the San Fernando Valley where she spent many years. About a dozen years ago, she jumped over to the manufacturing side of adult products, working with large manufacturers. She is now with Classic Erotica, a well-established family-owned business that features the famous Coochy Crème line of shave creams. After many decades in so many facets of the adult industry, Swanson says she is proud to state that she now works for a company that puts women’s health first.
White, known by many as the sparkly VP at California Exotic Novelties, has been with them since its inception 20 years ago. She worked a few years earlier with CPLC, developing her extensive retail and merchandising background and prior to that, worked in retail sales.
Post began his adult industry career in 1992, starting in sales with one of the major manufacturers and jumped over to Hott Products when the company was established 15 years ago. Prior to that, Post partook in the music industry as a touring musician, touring around the country, adding with a chuckle, “back in the hair band days.”
We all have our favorite parts of our jobs and of course, these industry veterans have them as well. Hartman boasts that it’s “the people in this industry who are like-minded souls, with whom I’ve established genuine, decades-long, friendships. They’re old school, non-judgmental people. The loyalty so many of them have is amazing,” she said. “The characters, the camaraderie, the creative outlet that comes through in this business and the daily sense of gratification are my favorite parts of the job. The constant change and the challenges that keep my neurons firing at top speed and only make me a better person.”
Swanson agrees that meeting all the wonderful people in our industry is her favorite part. She thoughtfully added, “Hearing about business in another part of the country or the world reminds me that for all our diversity, we are all very much the same.”
It seems that the people in the industry are a constant favorite among these vets, including White. “My favorite part? The people. I know that sounds corny, but I am a people person! I love people, and that’s definitely my favorite part of the job. I’ve made so many friends and lasting relationships over the years—it’s what I love about this industry!”
Post’s favorite part of the industry differs from the others profiled, focusing more on the actual manufacturing of adult products.
“My favorite part is creating and developing new items and seeing them come to fruition,” he said. “When Hott Products items come in from China, I get really ecstatic.”
Conversely, our industry vets also have their least favorite aspects of their jobs. All of them had very short responses to this question including Hartman’s “flying and buffet food.” Swanson added that while she loves meeting people and traveling, “it is also exhausting, as any ‘road warrior’ will tell you. I love the experience, but hate the exhaustion.” Post adds, “It’s about making sales when the market is slow. But fortunately, we survived.” White’s least favorite part of the job has to do with what is often the bane of the existence of many jobs: paperwork. “I hate it. I have a pile on my desk right now and I don’t even want to look at it!”
Of course, travel takes up a lot of time and energy and the frequent flyer miles these road warriors have logged could circle the globe several times over. As with the three others, Post is on the road quite a bit for a total of about six to eight weeks a year. White contributes about 40 percent of her time with CalExotics on the road. As for Hartman and Swanson, they both share that they spend about 10 days a month on the road on average per year, depending on trade shows, vendor events, trainings and sales presentations.
“It is either feast or famine, though, not as evenly spaced as one might suppose,” Swanson said. “The customer is the boss!”
And we all know trade shows are an important factor in product sales, giving the opportunity to meet face to face with buyers from every facet of our industry. There are many trade shows and expos that these road warriors attend and they do have their favorites.
Hartman says she believes it’s the one-on-one sales meeting format that offers the best opportunity to share wares and quality time with mostly qualified buyers. As opposed to other shows, Hartman says, “I do not like being interrupted in mid-sale as regular tradeshows are too chaotic. I miss the crazy old-school shows we used to have like the East Coast Video Show in Atlantic City and during ‘the days of wine and roses’ back in the early Vegas days, prior to the Internet and the over-saturation of product.” She continued, “Everyone knew each other and it was like being surrounded by family. Now there are more faces spinning through the rotating door … now you see them, now you don’t.”
White says she likes to stay closer to home and her favorite show is “the ANME Show, of course. I have loved it since the conception. The idea of a show that is centered on doing business, with no distractions, and is local to Southern California is my idea of the perfect trade show.”
We all know funny stories abound in this crazy business and we all have many of them. Given the many calendar years shared by our interviewees, we knew there had to be some good ones.
Post had a brush with fame when he was at a Spencer Gifts convention at a hotel and Jay Leno was spotted with Hott Products’ Humdinger tongue vibrator on. Years later an item from Hott Products appeared during a bachelorette party scene on “The Real Wives of the O.C.” Hartman added a personal story. “One time, a boss walked in on me and another sales rep in the showroom while he was using a penis enlargement pump on my ear, trying to repop the air after excessive cabin pressure on a flight and said, ‘now I’ve seen everything.’”
Swanson contributed, “I have recently changed jobs which is quite unusual for me. Throughout my career, I have had jobs for decades. I was greeting a large distributor at an event – my company had invited them – and I thanked them for coming from XXX (saying the previous company for whom I worked)! Well thankfully everyone in the room were old friends and we had quite a good laugh!”
White’s favorite holiday is Halloween and she admits that she picks out Susan Colvin’s (the owner and founder of CalExotics) Halloween costume every year. “She and I often dress alike, like last year when we dressed as the Pink Ladies from Grease, or my favorite, a couple years ago when we dressed as Betty and Wilma from the Flintstones.” She gleefully added, “Everyone dresses up at work and there’s a contest, lunch and prizes. It is a California Exotic Novelties tradition!”
Sometimes all of us look back at our work experiences and wonder what we would have done if we were able to start over in these jobs. The adult industry is no different so when asked what they would say to their younger selves, our vets had different things to say.
Swanson shares advice that is applicable for any job, anywhere. “Knowing what I know now, my advice to my younger self, would be to ‘get it in writing.’ Having worked for trusted friends over the years, in those few experiences when I was treated less than fairly, they could have been avoided if I had looked that friend in the eye and asked for contract. With me, my word is my bond and I expect the same from others.”
Hartman thought about her answer and responded similarly, “Keep your word.”
If Post could turn back the hands of time, he says he would have remained more focused on products and developed a broader range of toys instead of just launching the company with their first product. We started with a line called Dick Tacs and Tit Tacs – it was huge! They flew off the shelves then we opened up the industry with that. I wish we had gotten into more mainstream adult products until the corporation who owns Tic Tacs came after us. Ooops!”
White says: “Stay focused — there’s a lot going on and you have to concentrate on what you need to do. It’s often easy to get caught up in what the competition is doing, or things that distract you from the goal. Keeping your priorities straight is of the utmost important if you want to be successful.”
Post’s advice for newcomers into the industry again relates to products: “Be innovative with your ideas and your company. It’s a crowded, competitive field in adult products and try to stay ahead of the field.”
Hartman adds, “Don’t sleep around. A reputation is easier to maintain and if you like this business and are planning on hanging around for the long haul. Don’t listen to what other people tell you who do not respect your career or lifestyle choices. Be honest, be yourself and try every day to be the person who is referred to as the one who ‘never said a bad thing about another.’ Wear comfortable shoes at tradeshows! Pace yourself and be disciplined. Take care of your health because without good health, you cannot do your best. Enjoy this!”
Swanson, with her whole work experience being only in adult, shared, “My advice to someone starting in our industry is to be real, be honest and conduct business with integrity. Our industry revolves around relationships - don’t burn bridges. Support your community – get involved in the Free Speech Coalition – give something back. If you can do someone a good turn – do it! It won’t kill you! Nothing makes me happier than hearing from people for whom I have made business introductions or even helped find work, who have then been successful. Recently I was touring a facility, where a former employee, who I had to lay off years ago, came running up to me, threw her arms around me and thanked me for the introduction from which she gained a job that had been supporting her family for eight years. I had made the introduction to a vendor, a competitor, in fact. That small gesture has been appreciated ever since and led to business with this competitor that would never have occurred. Relationships. That’s it.”
So learn from those who have forged the path in the world of adult products, who still remain dedicated and enthusiastic as they did when they started decades ago. They’ve been there and done that and have loved every moment of it.