General Video Cleveland, now known as GVA-TWN, has been at the beating-heart core of the adult industry ever since there was such a thing. Founded by the legendary Reuben Sturman, the distribution giant is a rock that has weathered many fierce storms, commercial and political. It still stands strong under the direction of Rondee Kamins, CEO of its retail arm AdultMart.
Rondee’s father, Mel Kamins, was the general manager of “what would later be called GVA Cleveland,” she explains. “When Reuben was getting out of the business my father bought GVA. That would be like 1987. My father started working here when he was 15, before it was adult-oriented, it was all comic books. I do not recall the name of the company back in the ’60s. When we began selling VHS, we became GVA in the ’70s some time. When my father bought the company we became Trans World News for everything that was not media.
I really like to have sales associates and managers as a diverse group. And I have a very diverse group working for me and I think it’s really helped me move the company forward. —Rondee Kamins CEO, AdultMart
“Somewhere between 2002-2003, my father wanted to retire, so I bought the company from him. I have been working here pretty much my whole life.”
Most of her work now involves running the company’s chain of AdultMart stores — 38 of them in five Midwestern states.
“The name AdultMart,” she explains, “was created in 2005. In the old days every store had its own name. Everybody named their store whatever street they were on or whatever city they were in, some clever name like that.”
So in 2005 she began a process of consolidation that is still ongoing. “We’re not done getting new signage for every store, rehabbing every store until I’m done. I’ve also opened new stores under the AdultMart name. Either that, or I also have stores under the name Room 801, keeping adult out of the name, which proves to be a problem when you’re trying to get billboards or advertising.”
When she took over the stores she made some changes.
“The first store I actually rehabbed, I opened a lot differently than the old time ‘porn’ — and I use quotes — store. I hired a decorator, I hired people who could make the store a lot more inviting for couples and females but not, you know, the trench-coat crowd, quote-unquote. That’s pretty much how I’ve been trying to rehabilitate my stores, trying to make them a lot more welcoming to a variety of people, not just men.
“I’ve also hired a lot more women. I really like to have sales associates and managers as a diverse group. And I have a very diverse group working for me and I think it’s really helped me move the company forward.”
At first, as a woman in a male-dominated industry, there were issues, she remembers.
“In the beginning it was a little more difficult. I think there were some women that really paved the way for people like me, like Susan Colvin, the owner of California Exotics. They made it a little bit easier for someone like me. I remember her and I talking a lot about this particular issue 20 years ago. I think 20 years ago it mattered because there was that good ol’ boys network, but today there are so many female-owned companies that I don’t think that’s a factor. You see all these femaleowned retail places now, I think it’s pretty amazing.”
Under Rondee’s guidance, AdultMart has been more than holding its own in the face of relentlessly increasing retail competition.
“The one thing that I try and do is training, training, training. Offering the customer an experience when they walk through the doors. And I make sure we do customer training for our managers on the retail side. So that they’re able to offer something that somebody can’t find online or from our competitors.”
And what do those customers want in particular?
“We probably sell the most lubes. That is the top-selling category that we have. However, we sell a lot of We-Vibes and masturbators. We do sell a lot of female toys, rabbits and things like that. But you know, we’re trying to sell the customers an entire experience.”
Last year the popularity of “50 Shades of Grey” cast a lucky light on adult retail. Its effect, she says, “was huge. Huge. We sold a lot of Benwa Balls and some light bondage. We also sold the book, tons of it. But I didn’t really sell off a lot this year. Maybe when the mainstream movie comes out, we’ll have a resurgence.”
And what about the DVD market?
“We sell a lot of DVDs. All my stores still carry DVD. As a retail arm we sell a few hundred thousand DVDs a year. I have my own DVD company, Samtin Releasing. We have Sticky Video, Shooting Star, Black Magic Pictures. So I shoot my own video as well. DVD is still a very viable part of my business.”
As she looks to the future of the industry, Rondee Kamins is confident.
“I think that the novelty business will maintain. Because I firmly believe that people aren’t going to wait even a day to get a shipment online. We have testers in a lot of our stores, so customers can actually see how the toy works. I firmly believe that if people want it today, they’re going to come into a retail store and get it.
“There’s always going to be those people who want to priceshop, to find it cheaper online. But I’m hoping that once they walk into the stores of AdultMart or Room 801, they’re getting an experience that isn’t just people trying to sell you something and get you out of the door.”
And the DVD trade? “I think it will maintain as long as we make changes along the way. I think because everything is available free or fairly cheap online, we need to make sure that our pricing is competitive.” She also believes in giving buyers what they want, having seen that work with “an increase in sales of Tranny and Special Interest” titles.
What really seems to motivate this GVA daughter is pride in her heritage.
“Cleveland is such a big part of the history of this industry. I still enjoy the old buildings and I personally use Reuben’s old office. It just seems when we have vendors come in, we do talk about the history a little bit. A lot of things started here, this is where the braintrust was. And then everybody went out to California.
“I like being a part of that history.”