In the Executive Seat: Glow's Glowacki

Anne Winter
Jason Glowacki and his father, Dave, officially established Glow Industries in 1978 following the success of its three-store chain of The Shed retail stores in Toledo, Ohio. This was not an adult chain, however — The Shed specialized in the sale of smoking accessories, gifts, incense and other lifestyle-focused products. Adult came much later.

In 1991, the Glowackis expanded their reach into product distribution, looking for a lucrative expansion from focusing primarily on retail, and after spending the first two years as the company's only salesman, Glowacki hired his first salesman, Brian Nupp, who still works at the company.

But still, at that time Glow Industries was focused on the same products it sold in The Shed, and didn't move into distributing adult products until the mid-to-late '90s, when Glowacki saw crossover between his existing customer base and that of the adult toy/novelty industry.

"The customers are the same, those going in to buy lifestyle accessories are also buying adult toys," Glowacki said. "The age demographic may be different; it used to be 18-24-year-olds, but that has changed. I think that the stores are changing as well. I believe both are expanding their [target] demographic."

Glow began distributing simple "plain Jane" vibrators and dildos, and picked up lingerie soon after, and as the industry picked up speed with the Internet revolution, Glowacki noticed the quality of adult products improved, and competition from a distribution and manufacturing standpoint built as more people jumped on board.

"It upped the bar of quality and service across the board, and betters the industry as a whole to have that many more people involved," Glowacki said. "Growth is better, there is a lot more diversification out there, different types of stores, the amount of market niches. I see a lot of people catering to a wider demographic."

Glowacki saw Glow Industries' distribution arm grow right off the bat, and while some competitors jumped onto the Internet train right away, he made the decision to focus on his existing flow of leads to ensure the company didn't grow faster than it could handle.

"We may have missed some opportunity there not jumping on board [online] earlier, but our plate was so full," Glowacki said. "There was so much business out there to be had, and it seemed like if you have a stack of leads why go out looking for more? You need to finish the ones you have."

Glowacki was aware that a company that grows too fast could be out of business in just a few years, and Glow Industries was in it for the long haul. Exponential growth wasn't as important to him as maintaining a reputation for quality products and excellent service, which at the end of the day is what retailers look for in a long-term client.

Glow has made its mark in the distribution side of the business with its nearly 100 percent order accuracy rate, and with its in-house and traveling sales teams, Glow is able to fill and ship orders within 24 hours with almost no mistakes.

Glowacki's team triple-checks every order, and because many in Glow's 60- person employee base have been working with the company long-term, they can recognize a product at first sight, and accuracy has become the company's mantra.

"Our system is so incredibly accurate," Glowacki said. "If we find any holes in the system that might create problems, we fix [them] and move forward."

Glowacki said he even invited a company specializing in barcode systems to see how they could further improve the company's ordering system, but when its representatives saw the number of orders filled every month and their accuracy rate, the reps were honest and told him that switching to their service wouldn't save Glow any money.

"We have a great employee base, and everyone who works here comments it's one of the best places they've ever worked, if not the best," Glowacki said. "I listen to people and what they want out of their jobs. I want to make it an environment that is happy to come into. If you get enough people in one building that all want that, you push out the bad apples so they won't spoil the whole bushel."

And with a good core group of people in the management structure, Glow was able to expand into adult product importing and manufacturing, something Glowacki said was a natural progression for the company.

The company had made or imported glass smoking accessories for more than a decade, and around 2002, Glow came out with its Don Wands glass line.

Following customer request for glass products at a targeted price point, Glowacki and his team completed research and development in the U.S., worked with its existing glass suppliers in China — the company has worked with suppliers overseas for 15 years with its smoking accessories — and came up with a high-quality, yet cost-effective, solution.

"We trained and taught them to blow and anneal the glass to add strength — a process to go through to make it safe, quality glass," Glowacki said. "We have good relationships [with suppliers]; I can fly there, go to the factory as co-owner and do R&D and test the quality. The managers know what's expected of them, what the standards need to be, and they must meet the criteria before packing it up."

Glowacki said that once the glass items arrive to the U.S., his staff performs extensive quality tests before packaging the glass insertables in Don Wand's signature clamshells.

"There's a lot of cost involved with that, and you can save a lot of money by not doing it, but it's imperative to make sure the items going out the door are at the standards they're known for," Glowacki said.

Glow Industries picked up a few items from other manufacturers as it became more established in the adult industry, and its most recent expansion into the world of sex toys is its Treeze line, made of compressed wood.

Treeze are made of a urethane wood hybrid, Glow Product Manager Mike Sessoms said, rather than carved from a block of solid wood, which has allowed the company to do something innovative enough to warrant a patent.

"It's a wood hybrid," Sessoms said. "We take layered wood, heated and compressed it, and hook it to a vacuum. It's injected with resin to fill the little pores that are natural in wood, and it becomes completely nonporous."

Each Treeze item features a full-length vibrator that screws into the wood sleeve with an internal thread, resulting in an interchangeable vibe system. There are multiple sleeves available, Sessoms said, and each comes with a padded pouch, batteries and lubricant, so swapping shapes and styles is easy.

Glowacki said the company already was manufacturing smoking accessories using the material, and it was a natural progression to move into creating something new for the industry.

"We thought, 'Hey, we've got the equipment and machinery — what else can we do with this?'" Glowacki said. "We asked customers what they thought about the idea. We made samples, showed customers, and helped develop a product they thought would be effective."

What makes the Treeze line patent-worthy, however, is not the innovative use of wood, but its interchangeable sleeves. Glow designed them to be easily removed and replaced with an internal threading system that is as convenient as it is eco-friendly.

"The first step was we took the motor and classed it up a bit to make the internal parts last longer," Glowacki said. "It's a piece of electronic equipment, failure is imminent. But when you buy a beautiful piece, you'd hate to have to throw the whole piece out because the vibe went bad two years later."

Glowacki said the patent is still pending, and though a patent is only as good as how far you're willing to defend it, he feels this interchangeable design is worth it.

"The recent court case with Topco comes to mind," Glowacki said. "I'm sure they spent hundreds of thousands, if not millions, between the two fighting that. I think that's a bit of a flaw in the system, to spend that much money like Topco had to, but that is how it works. It depends on your bankroll whether patents are good or bad."

Glowacki referred to an April federal patent ruling that determined the use of borosilicate glass for existing glass products was not patentable, as it is obvious to "a person of ordinary skill in the art."

Know Mind Enterprises took major adult toy manufacturer Topco Sales to court over alleged patent infringement, but in federal appeals court Judge Richard Posner wrote that though the invention was useful, "experiment[ing] with substituting borosilicate glass for ordinary glass in a sexual device was not a venture into the unknown."

Glowacki said that adult stores and smoke shops are similar in how they do business, but adult retail nowadays acts more mainstream, and many adult shops require point-of-sale and in-store merchandising tools from manufacturers before being included in their inventories.

"We developed point-of-sale displays and merchandising [tools]," Glowacki said. "The stores directed what they wanted, we listened to them and did [it]."

Glowacki said retailers often ask for smaller packaging that will fit well into their slatwall programs, items priced according to targeted price points, the ability to easily return product, and products packaged in clearly labeled, easy-to-read packaging.

"It's a relationship thing," Glowacki said. "If you offer good quality product, and retailers are selling a lot of it, they will want more. If you come out with good product and offer excellent service, the retailer will know that. That's what they're in business for."