Q&A With Pipedream Products CEO Nick Orlandino
Nick Orlandino has blasted through the novelty business to parlay an after school gig unloading trucks into an international, industry-leading pleasure products empire. His bold, edgy and aggressive style is definitely reflected in the Pipedream brand, which is hardly an accident. Orlandino seems to be onto something — and he’s got the products, awards and international market dominance to prove it.
For several reasons, Nick Orlandino is a fascinating interview subject. Cutting up and/or cherry-picking from our 30 minute conversation wouldn’t do this piece justice. To really get the Orlandino flavor, we present him raw and unedited.
Pipedream Chairman and CEO Nick Orlandino arrives at his Chatsworth office Friday, Feb. 27. at about 8 a.m. The Long Island, N.Y. native exits a fully loaded, blacked-out SUV while talking on his trademark old-school flip-phone and smoking a Marlboro Ultra Light. He buzzes himself through the Pipedream HQ reception area and turns the lights on inside his office. One glance at Orlandino’s decorated walls tells endless stories of family, business, friendship and history — but at 46 years old, one thing’s for sure: this guy is definitely going to need a lot more wall space.
XBIZ: How did you get started in the pleasure products business?
Nick Orlandino: I started in the Halloween and gift business in 1985. I got a job with this after school work program for credit and ended up in this little Halloween novelty company in Elmont, N.Y. I was unloading trucks and started working more and more, even during the breaks and the holidays. About a year later I started working the trade shows, developed a couple items, got involved in the gag side and it blossomed from there. Little by little, I got more involved and decided that I really liked the adult side. I said, “this is a good business — they actually pay their bills.” It’s bad in the Halloween industry; they don’t pay for seven or eight months. I didn’t really like the business side either; it was the creative side that I liked. David and Bob from Pipedream were big gag gift customers of ours. One day David and I talked at a trade show and he offered me a job, a few months later I moved to Los Angeles.
Pipedream Products Vice President of Product Development Rob Phaneuf joins us. One of Pipedream’s top guys, Phaneuf is a loyal and trusted Orlandino confidant and is credited as being key to the company’s rise in the last decade.
XBIZ: What inspired the launch of Pipedream Products?
ORLANDINO: Pipedream started as a small pipe and paraphernalia wholesaler.
ROB PHANEUF: Hence the name.
ORLANDINO: Bob Feldman came across the country in a van — he was selling out of a van back then. Then Bob and his father opened a little office in downtown L.A. David came on a couple of years later and they had a good little run for a while. Then the government stepped in and made paraphernalia illegal. The FBI shut them down and all that B.S., so they needed to diversify — and they looked to sex products. All of sudden Nalpac and Eldorado and all these guys from the paraphernalia trade needed to diversify so they all went into sex toys. It was a little business that popped up out of nowhere.
PHANEUF: For a long time Pipedream was known as a gag company.
ORLANDINO: They were doing mostly gift stuff so I came in and started building this whole gag line. I even said I wasn’t going to do adult — I said “I’m a gag guy.” But that was a very small business, just a couple million bucks in sales, seven or eight people in a small warehouse in North Hollywood — it’s not the Pipedream everyone knows today.
PHANEUF: We boxed jokes. You open the box and then the joke would be inside. Nick took that whole concept and put it on a card.
ORLANDINO: Eventually “Over the Hill” gags became a huge thing for us. That’s how it really started steamrolling for me — I had a couple of huge wins that first year and doubled the business in 18 months. I did a little Old Man Condom, a few other odds and ends, general importing stuff, some penis water guns and handcuffs, lighters, key chains. Back then I really wanted to hit the mainstream, so we were selling to Warehouse Records, Target, Hot Topic, Spencer’s. We sold door beads, black light bulbs, incense and fixtures. That went on for a while. I took that money and put it back into the novelty business to build up a line. Then I noticed, “These guys sell a lot of these vibrators.” So then we decided to get involved with vibrators. We got on the plane to China — I think I was 24 years old, totally wide-eyed. I saw a couple of factories over there — we had three, maybe four or five vendors at the time — and two in the vibrator space. They had very basic stuff. The factory owner and I sat there with a napkin, literally, and drew up boxes. That’s how the art started — we didn’t do art. “I want a blue box with a black line through it, you know, that says BangCock on it.” That was our art. Not very complicated.
XBIZ: How do you define Pipedream, what does it stand for?
ORLANDINO: My vision for this company was to make it a full-service manufacturer, which we have, over time, become. We started out little by little — a lot of hand operation stuff that was very mundane, very seat of the pants, and very rigged. As we grew we had to adapt in order to improve. We had to make and find machinery and implement some systems and procedures that we never did before and it worked for us. We had a lot of labor at one point, a lot of employees — everything was being done by hand.
XBIZ: How many employees does Pipedream have now?
ORLANDINO: Over 200, maybe 250. But in the old days, we were doing a third of the volume that we are now and still had 250 employees. That’s how much handwork had to be done.
XBIZ: What were some of the biggest milestones for Pipedream that led to where you are now?
ORLANDINO: Bachelorette was huge for us; we created that category and we still own it, as well as the trademark. There are things that we invented here, things that are staple, monster items that are still selling to this day and have been copied all over the world. Our take on inflatable dolls or the fur handcuffs for instance — we propelled that into a huge space. In 1996 I founded the first true B2B adult novelty show in the world, which I currently own and manage to this day. In 2010 we were the first to develop and create full-service planogram software, the Pipedream Planogrammer, for our products to be completely merchandised in any shape or size venue.
PHANEUF: This was exclusive web-based software that allowed retailers all over the world to make custom planograms of all our items. They could see what it looked like before it went into the stores and took all the guesswork out of merchandising. To this day we’re still the only company in the adult novelty space that has our own proprietary software.
ORLANDINO: Another milestone for us was in 2014 when Pipedream acquired the lifestyle luxury brand Jimmyjane. With my guidance and experience, we’ve been able to turn it into a viable, rapidly growing part of the industry and our business.
XBIZ: What are Pipedream’s most successful lines and why do you think those are such winners?
ORLANDINO: Probably Fetish Fantasy. That was a niche — there were only a few companies doing it and I said, “You know something, we’re going to try our own thing.” And we did. We developed our own approach to it and now we’re the biggest fetish company in the world.
PHANEUF: What we’ve done with the Fetish Fantasy line, more than anybody, is that we’ve added items that are not traditionally thought of as BDSM items like strap-ons and nipple stuff.
ORLANDINO: But they are fetish.
PHANEUF: Yeah, now they are. Nobody back in the day thought of that stuff as fetish. Strap-ons were thought of as something lesbians would use — not fetish.
ORLANDINO: We marketed all of that. Even the inflatable furniture, we’ve made everything into fetish. Nobody was marketing to fetish like we did. We took a lot of our existing programs and if it made sense to me — it’s a fetish. It’s not a “normal” product — it’s a “fetish.” It’s 35 percent of our business, Fetish Fantasy.
PHANEUF: And Pipedream Extreme — the Fuck Me Silly — that would be the next big milestone.
ORLANDINO: Yeah, then we got involved in making some of these larger masturbator pieces. I was worried about that, to be honest. We were working with this factory in China on this big masturbator piece and we all looked at each other, and we were like, “Whoa! This is going to be $600 retail! That is out of the Pipedream comfort zone.” We were a lower-end company. We were always in the middle to the low end of price points. So this was way out of our normal range.
XBIZ: What are you most proud of as Chairman and CEO?
ORLANDINO: We’ve really established ourselves as a major, major factor in the world market of adult toys today.
XBIZ: Do you personally come up with ideas for the products/lines?
ORLANDINO: A lot of them, sure. I›ve named, developed, and have been involved with thousands of products.
XBIZ: And how involved are you in the day-to-day operations of Pipedream?
XBIZ: How would you describe the culture at Pipedream?
ORLANDINO: Our culture’s the best in the business, by far. It’s a laid-back atmosphere. Listen, I may have partners now, investors and bankers who wear suits, but that doesn’t creep into our everyday operation. We’re still the same company we’ve always been. It’s loose. How serious can we be? We sell sex toys. We make wind-up Barack Obama novelties. We are who we are. We’re not talking about doing a liver transplant next week, you know — it is what it is.
XBIZ: Talk about the importance of freedom of expression:
ORLANDINO: I was in the Free Speech Coalition and fought for a long time for 1st Amendment rights. If it wasn’t for people like me and the people who came before me, who went to jail, who got their stores shut down or burned down. You know, we had to put up with a lot of crap, worry about FBI blacklists — people have no idea and it really upsets me when these new people come in and have the nerve to snub us and give us the “Who the hell are you?” We’re the guys who invented and created this business. All of us should be respected.
XBIZ: The industry is changing all the time, which changes do you see as the most positive and harmful?
ORLANDINO: The positive thing is the mainstream exposure, obviously. It’s good for everybody. The more people we have to sell to, the better off we are. On the other hand, with all the ankle-biters coming in, the guys that didn’t pay their dues, who are not only reaping the benefits of all of our hard work, but they’re undercutting us or copying our items. It’s frustrating. You have the pirated stuff being sold on Amazon that’s not even legit product and they’re calling it ours.
XBIZ: What do you see as the industry’s biggest threats?
ORLANDINO: Just proliferation, that’s the bottom line.
XBIZ: How do you think direct online sales will impact the industry in the future?
ORLANDINO: They’re impacting the industry now. They’re definitely shrinking the margin for everybody. From the manufacturer, the distributor, the retailer, to the people selling on their own websites. There’s major price compression and we’ll see how it plays out. Again, I think you’ll lose some of these bottom feeders because they can’t afford to play in the game — the strong will survive. Pipedream has a strong foundation, strong backing, and will continue to buy some of these companies for our portfolio. We will survive, thrive and dominate in the new world order.
XBIZ: Where do you think the industry would be without “Fifty Shades of Grey?” How big was it?
ORLANDINO: I mean, we saw a 40 percent increase.
PHANEUF: We were first in the market with this kind of stuff. We’ve been shipping Limited Edition for two to three years now, since the book first came out. We got that line out when everyone was talking about the official line, and doing the licensing, and trying to get the “real” line. We said, “we’ll put out the Limited Edition line anyway.” We hit that market before anybody. We saw our increase about two years ago and are still enjoying it.
XBIZ: What makes Nick O different from other CEOs in the industry?
ORLANDINO: I’m younger. I’m very hands-on. I’m very aggressive, creative and passionate. I’m involved in various operations of the business. From shipping, sales, procurement, development, manufacturing, merchandising, marketing — you name it, I’m involved — and I’m still out here busting my ass. No matter what happens, I’ve always done that and that’s’ why I’ve won more awards in this industry than all of the other CEOs combined.
XBIZ: What do you like best about your job?
ORLANDINO: My favorite thing is to make a product, see people buy it, and to actually hear the feedback. “Oh wow, that was great!” or “these are selling like crazy.” That’s the ultimate high for me.
XBIZ: What’s the most valuable lesson you learned so far in the career?
ORLANDINO: There have been a few of them. I went head-to-head a few years ago with some of the major companies and we’ve settled things amicably, and we’re all still here to talk about it. You know, things happen sometimes and you get big balls, but you have to know when to tuck them in.
XBIZ: Where will Pipedream be in five years?
ORLANDINO: Pipedream is definitely going to be a conglomerate of many things adult. We’re constantly exploring and vetting companies to determine what the best road for Pipedream is going to be, both long and short term.
XBIZ: Do you have any mottos or philosophy that you live by?
ORLANDINO: I always say to my people, “We’re a shipping company first.” If we don’t ship this stuff out the door — it doesn’t get to where it has to go. If we’re too slow to market, it hurts everybody. So I always push that. And “come heavy or not at all” is another one. So when we’re working on a new program, that’s how we come — heavy — with a 50 or 60 SKU line. We don’t just get into the category — we take over the category. That’s our philosophy. We’re not screwing around. We want to OWN it, we want to own that piece of the market, and we eventually do.
XBIZ: Do you still play music? How do you relax outside of work?
ORLANDINO: I’m a workaholic. I’m on the computer 24/7. When I’m not at work or traveling for work, I find time to spend with my son and that’s relaxing to me. Sometimes (laughter). Hobbies? Not too many anymore. My hobby is my business. I really do love what I do, it’s something that’s in me and I can’t shut it off no matter how hard I try. I’m laying in bed, I’m thinking about it. I’m watching TV, I’m still thinking about it. Whatever I’m doing, I’m thinking about how I can make something or make something better. It ain’t gonna change, I’ve tried, it just ain’t gonna happen.