Sticking Around: Sportsheets Looks Back on Milestones

Alex Glass

Sportsheets International is commemorating 20 years of success in business this year with new launches and big plans for the future.

At January’s ANME Show, Sportsheets illustrated its history alongside that of the industry in general with a full-color timeline printed in the company’s catalog and included as a pullout in XBIZ Premiere magazine.

We were looking to sell to couples as a way for them to bond on another level. As the years have passed and the brand has grown — you are (still) only as tied up as you want to be. -Tom Stewart Founder of Sportsheets

The history of Sportsheets begins with founder Tom Stewart becoming intrigued by the “Velcro wall” that appeared on the “David Letterman Show while serving in the Marines.

“I was inspired by the David Letterman show and the Velcro wall,” Stewart said. “We were at the officer’s club one night, and somebody said, ‘… did you see the David Letterman show where he jumped onto a Velcro wall, and he stuck?’

“My buddies and I started to bounce it around saying: ‘Hey that’d be kind of cool to stick your girlfriend to a Velcro wall and have sex,’ we all laughed, ‘you could stick her upside down.’ The idea became a rolling inside joke. After about six months, there was so much interest in this thing that I thought, ‘this is an idea worth pursuing.’ Some sort of a Velcro thing that you could stick your partner to. So we started bringing our girlfriends in on the joke and most of them said they wouldn’t mind doing that as long as they could get away. And that really stuck with me — from there I bought a sewing machine and taught myself how to sew. Then my brother, who has his own sound recording studio, and I developed the Velcro bed sheets, handcuffs, and anchor pads accessories.

“We were looking to sell to couples as a way for them to bond on another level. As the years have passed and the brand has grown — you are (still) only as tied up as you want to be. For 20 years we have been the leading company in Keeping Couples Connected.”

After the Sportsheet’s first launched in 1988, mainstream media outlets including Penthouse and Men’s Journal recommended the bondage bed sheet to couples across the nation. After Sportsheets officially incorporated in 1993 the company developed a series of product lines that would become must-have retail mainstays synonymous with Keeping Couples Connected.

Julie joined her brother Tom Stewart, founder and CEO in 1995, and 13 years ago became his business partner and vice president. Now Julie Stewart serves as the company’s president as Sportsheets continues to expand its family roots with last year’s addition of Kimberly Harding — Tom Stewart’s wife — as project manager.

“Sportsheets as a family owned business offers team members direct access to our CEO and president, allowing for invaluable input on prototyping, product development and creative input,” Stewart said. “The company’s dynamics are high energy, positive and inclusive and we attribute that to being a family owned business. Business is personal.”

According to Stewart, he’s seen the industry evolved significantly within the past 20 years.

“When I started there were no tradeshows like there are today,” Stewart said. “The only show available was the Electronics show. I sold Sportsheets out of my trunk and went door to door. It’s cliché’ but the newbies today have it made. A plethora of tradeshows and other avenues are available today (that were not available to us 20 years ago) to promote products, brands and to get their names out.”

Just about over a year ago, Sportsheets unveiled its latest innovation with the introduction of the Sex & Mischief collection, which targeted BDSM newbies with soft, artistic imagery. The release paralleled the pop cultural phenomenon of the “Fifty Shades” erotic series for a timely match made in heaven.

“Six months before the book came out we debuted our Sex & Mischief collection with vogue-like photography, black-and-white packaging and with this light bondage and restraint line combined with the look and feel became the perfect complement to the ‘Fifty Shades’ series,” Stewart said. “We were the first before all of the imitators got on the scene. Our success was helped immeasurably by the erotic trilogy and the excitement that surrounds the often negative perceptions of bondage. The Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy spoke to women and gave permission for an open discussion and dialogue unlike any before, perhaps with the exception of ‘Deep Throat,’ the movie. It seems like ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ was made for our Sex & Mischief line and its release couldn’t have come at a better time.

“If sales of our Sex & Mischief and Sportsheets product lines are any indication of what this book has done for women, take a look at the numbers of units sold and imagine how many people that represents. It’s absolutely mind boggling. If you add our product sales to all the rest of the manufacturers’ product sales, especially in the restraint category, it is unbelievable how many people have gone out and purchased their first set of restraints and ventured into fantasy play.”

According to Stewart, 2012 saw an increase of 50 percent in total sales overall largely due to the success of Sex & Mischief.

Last year, OC Business Journal named Sportsheets to its list of fastest growing companies.

“Tom Stewart & Julie Stewart, have an inspiring entrepreneurial, all-American success story to tell,” Sportsheets’ Executive Administrator Joanne Queenin said. “Sportsheets has been in Orange County since its inception, 20 years ago. Sportsheets’ inclusion in the OC Business Journal clearly shows the mainstream industry is waking up to the contributions adult manufacturing is making in the arenas of job creation, long-term entrepreneurial success and innovation. Sportsheets’ clientele is middle of the road, completely relatable and fun, making it a softer sell to the OC Business Journal subscribers.”

In additional to receiving recognition for its expanding U.S. operations, Sportsheets also has experienced international success.

“The most exciting international event of 2012 was exhibiting at ero-Fame,” Stewart said. “We shared a stand with ID Lube and The Screaming O and all our products were received very well. We had several of our distributors also exhibiting — Tonga, Creative Conceptions, Eropartner — so it was very nice to be able to direct customers to our European brand partners and distributors. We closed out the year with the highest sales in November and December in our company’s history. The Sex & Mischief brand has found a new home and it’s everywhere!

“We are increasing our distribution in Europe,” Stewart continued. “We are reaching countries where we haven’t had a presence in before and the results are overwhelmingly positive. Our branding partner Creative Conceptions in the U.K. continues to expand our product line into new countries and offer customer support through their sales force. Tonga is moving our products into the Russian market. Germany and Scandinavian countries are now being covered by EroPartner, Tonga, Nordiska Produkist, Distra, Mr. B, and STRubber. Import Masters is providing traction in Israel and the Middle East. Dildos Assorted is handling our products in Spain and Starnet is carrying the Sex & Mischief line in France. We are currently in discussions to have our product distributed in Italy. Europe is Sportsheets’ ‘next big thing.’”

The future of Sportsheets also brings about continued dedication, innovation and expansion, the company says.

“Tom, 20 years ago, dreamed up the concept of non-threatening, affordable, couples oriented restraint play,” Queenin said. “It’s due to his vision, Sportsheets has thrived. Tom Stewart & Julie Stewart believe strongly the strength of “writing your dream” and sharing their vision with the Sportsheets team. Sportsheets’ continuing goal is to bring to market innovative, exciting products, expanding domestically and globally; creating a work environment that inspires team members to bring their best gifts and talents to bear and to remain customer focused and driven.”

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