Vibratex, Inc. was started in 1983 by businessman Howard S to manufacture and distribute the dual vibrators he had been importing from Japan for his adult stores.
“He was quite the entrepreneur,” Vibratex General Manager Stephanie Kienzle told XBIZ. “In the ‘70s he had gentlemen’s clubs and adult stores, and in the ‘80s he went into paper goods. He was married to a Japanese woman, and when they were traveling in Japan they were approached by someone who was manufacturing a dual vibe, and they started importing it for their stores.
The company is interested in things that work, with materials that are healthy, to help people be sex-positive and enjoy their lifestyle.
That was back in the ‘70s. People just snapped them up and when Howard realized he could start distributing them he focused more on the distribution and sold off the stores.”
The designs of the first dual vibrators were dictated by Japanese export laws.
“In that era, in order to export from Japan, it had to have a face on it to be qualified as a toy,” Kienzle said. “They [the Japanese] did not ship sex toys at all. That’s why you see the old ones with the kabuki faces and the more traditional Japanese artwork.”
The original idea for the dual vibrator came from two Japanese bartenders who tried to design a vibrator that would “address the physiology and sexual requirements of a woman’s orgasm,” according to Kienzle. “They chose a rabbit because it was cute, and appealed to women, and the ears gave that extra sensitivity. Originally it was a beaver. The beaver had the nose, but not the ears that can better envelop the clit for extra stimulation. Two prongs coming up from the head can better stimulate that tissue.
“One of those bartenders was our broker for many years until he passed, and the other one is still around, making our rabbits and a number of other vibes for us.”
Although the exposure of rabbit vibrators on the HBO show “Sex and the City” is thought to be a breakthrough for the product, Kienzle says reports were exaggerated.
“In retail, by the time something is being recognized at the consumer level, that’s when TV picks up on it,” Kienzle said. “[Adult retailer] Babeland asked us to do an evaluation and we looked at the numbers through that time period. When it was introduced around 1981, it continually increased and grew in sales, month to month and year to year, until it was featured in that episode. It continued to increase in about the same percentage but there was no huge spike. That was our bestselling toy for 10 years.”
After Howard S passed away in the early ‘90s, Vibratex expanded its ownership to include his daughter Shay Martin and her husband. Shay worked in the company as she was growing up, studying biochemistry in college and working in cancer research before she and her husband, an engineer, decided to focus their talents in the family business.
“It’s a family-run, second-generation business,” Kienzle said. “We have a large footprint, but the company is relatively small.”
Although Vibratex still offers the beaver and rabbit vibrators, the company continues to develop new products.
“We’re working with a number of different companies in Japan,” Kienzle said.
“We make up the molds, sometimes they’ll bring stuff to us, but it’s all manufactured for us.
“We have done a good job of recognizing what’s good out there — we were supportive and helpful of JimmyJane when they came onto the scene,” Kienzle said. “We are the import agent for the Hitachi Magic Wand because of our relationships and our history with Japan. That’s been a staple. It started [as a sex toy] in the ‘60s and the ‘70s when it came out, at a time when women’s rights and the sexual revolution and burning your bra and finding your clit were all on the to-do list. That was not us, we came into that,” she added with a laugh.
Approaching 30 years in the industry, Vibratex is not resting on its rabbit ears.
“We’ve been around a long time, and our manufacturer that does the rabbits is still using that same battery pack. We’ve seen it growing, and it’s amazing that there is such a proliferation of really incredible designs and concepts and well-functioning pieces. It’s great to see people using their ingenuity for good. We’re using new battery packs, we have more rechargeable stuff. We’ve never done latex, but with the concern about phthalates we moved into elastomers and things that were phthalate-free. Now we have silicone. We’re moving in the same direction the industry is as a whole, incorporating healthy materials and good quality design and construction in an item that will appeal to a broader part of America.
“We’re developing things that are functional, affordable, practical and well-made. The company is interested in things that work, with materials that are healthy, to help people be sex-positive and enjoy their lifestyle.”