Liberator has been crafting “bedroom adventure gear” in its Atlanta headquarters for more than 12 years, essentially establishing the sex furniture category single-handedly with its selection of positioning equipment. After making a name for itself through mainstream advertising campaigns and cameos in Hollywood movies and TV shows, Liberator stepped up its B2B business with the introduction of vacuum compression packaging that reduced the size of its products by more than 60 percent and enabled the company to expand globally. Retailers rejoiced at the ability to display more products and Liberator reduced its carbon footprint and impact on the environment by requiring less space, fuel, deliveries and paper products for packaging and shipping. In this exclusive interview with Liberator’s Marketing Manager Angela Lieben, she tells XBIZ about the company’s milestones and evolution through the years.
XBIZ: Discuss the company’s beginning. What inspired the design of the first Liberator shapes?
A great part of Liberator’s success was aligning with an incredible group of re-sellers and distributors. This alliance, along with creating just the right kind of marketing and advertising campaigns, is what really helped boost our visibility. -Angela Lieben, Liberator
Angela Lieben: Liberator founder and CEO Louis Friedman created the company nearly 13 years ago. It was while waiting in the lobby of his doctor’s office, he came across an article in a magazine with the headline of “how to have better sex.” The writer made the suggestion of using a pillow to boost the hips for better access. Louis, being the creative thinker that he is, questioned “why a pillow? Why not something with more support?” This light bulb moment inspired him to develop a better way to have sex and he hasn’t stopped inventing.
At first, he worked on a prototype Wedge Shape with various foam types. After testing an array of densities, models, sizes and shapes, he settled on the Wedge design we currently sell today. It wasn’t too soon after that the Ramp was added, creating the iconic Wedge/Ramp Combo, which we also currently sell today.
However, after testing the two Shapes together, he noticed that the fabric was slipping and counteracting the better sex efforts. Going back to the drawing board, he found a solution using the innovation of microfiber fabrics. The Microfiber fabric he chose has interlocking fibers that grip and prevent the Shapes from moving and slipping around.
He noticed an immediate difference in his own performance and thought that this was a product that the public at large would appreciate and the journey began for Liberator.
XBIZ: How was Liberator instrumental in developing the “sex furniture” product category? What were the challenges of being a pioneering brand?
Lieben: The biggest challenge in pioneering any brand, especially a sexual wellness product such as sex furniture, is getting public and mainstream acceptance. Overcoming the stigma attached to the sexual wellness industry, and getting people and mainstream retailers to accept a sexual wellness product was part of the hurdle. A great part of Liberator’s success was aligning with an incredible group of re-sellers and distributors. This alliance, along with creating just the right kind of marketing and advertising campaigns, is what really helped boost our visibility.
One of the most important moves early on for Liberator was adding the “sticky” tagline such as “Bedroom Adventure Gear.” This immediately shifted the perception of the brand because it gets the point across immediately. There is no guessing as to what our products do, and people now know that Liberator offers fun and adventure in the bedroom. This strategic marketing tactic was an essential part of pioneering the brand. Advertising too was a huge part of developing the category and creating the just the right type of campaigns.
Another challenge in pioneering the brand is having couples make the purchase and trusting the brand. Developing brand trust is difficult enough as it is, but sex furniture is even harder because it’s something meant for intimate connection. However, a lot has changed since the inception of Liberator. We are now sold on mass-market website, drug-store sites, big box retailers, and so on.
But the early years, we had to develop a way to get these products into couples’ bedrooms. Since many of them were not too keen on shopping at specialty boutiques, we moved forward with a plan to deliver direct and offer discreet shipping.
XBIZ: How does Liberator regulate its environmental impact?
Lieben: Liberator was the first company to use vacuum technology for compressing solid foam products. We have the ability to compress our products and reduce the shipping size by nearly 70 percent. Other initiatives in regulating our environmental impact include being resource-smart and using domestically sourced materials and fabrics. In addition, we discontinued the printing of catalogs and placed all of our information on the website, Liberator.com. From position guides, to assembly instructions, our customers can pick and choose what suits them best. We feel it’s important to offer consumers a choice in information.
We also take great pride in our team of dedicated employees that help our factory run efficiently and smoothly. By maintaining a culture of integrity, quality and product safety, everyone that works with Liberator takes part in the pride of being environmentally responsible.
XBIZ: What impact did Liberator’s revamped vacuum compression packaging have on sales?
Lieben: Our vacuum compression has allowed us to expand our product line globally. Because of this technology, we’ve been able to reduce our packaging by 70 percent, which means getting more products out the door. This reduction in size also allows retailers to display a wide variety of Liberator products, which in the past, was a challenge. By compressing the foam, we are able to fulfill orders faster and get products in the hands of consumers at affordable rates. Because of these savings, we are able to invest in more product development and quality assurances. This has also reduced our paper consumption too. The redesign of our exterior packaging now includes a magnetic flip door. People can flip it open and instantly see essential information about the product, and how it can positively affect and benefit their sex lives.
XBIZ: Besides Liberator’s shapes, what are other of the company’s bestsellers?
Lieben: We offer a full range of Liberator LeatherWorks bondage gear, which includes luxury collars, cuffs and leads. All of these products are handcrafted in our factory and are meant for all types of bondage enthusiasts. In addition, we also manufacture fetish gear that is great for beginners. These plush cuffs, blindfolds and silky tie-downs offer couples an affordable route to exploring bondage and play. Mostly constructed with microfiber with Velcro closures, this line is really great for couples that don’t want to invest much in lifestyle gear but still want quality in the bedroom. A lot of our play gear is designed to work with the Black Label Collection.
XBIZ: How does being “Made in U .S .A .” make Liberator more appealing to consumers?
Lieben: We believe that our success is a based on our customers’ insistence on quality, service and integrity. With that being said, it can be a challenge to offer the best product when it’s manufactured overseas. “Made in U.S.A.,” allows us greater oversight on the quality of our materials and work. Because of this assurance, we know exactly what is going into all of our products and can provide accurate information to our customers. We really owe it to our incredible team of sewing artisans. They take great pride in the work they produce and it reflects in the quality of our product line. Also, manufacturing Liberator in the U.S. allows us to hire within our community, offer great training programs, and it keeps our jobs abroad.
XBIZ: How many people are currently involved in Liberator’s product development?
Lieben: We are vertically integrated, which means that the flow of product design goes through a well-planned series of developments. Our design department is the first step in making a new product. They are essentially the brain of our organization where the Shapes take form. This team is responsible for executing all of the functional details of our products. From the foam to size and shape, to the fabric; to the zippers; they focus their attention on all the details, no matter how big or small.
The second step is our team of sewing artisans and factory employees. They are the nerve center of Liberator. Their expertise in crafting American-made sewn goods is what gives Liberator a sleek, well-crafted look that people love.
Our third step is the creative team. This group of talented men and women are the heart of Liberator. They bring a product to life through their words, photography, and packaging design. Making a positive first impression is vital to our growth, and we want to make certain we put our best face forward. This is why our creative team works hard to make sure that the impression of quality and excitement is always represented on all of our marketing collateral.
The “arms” of Liberator is our sales department. This group of outgoing and fun individuals is the one that builds the relationships with various distributors and retailers that help us connect with our consumers.
Our shipping and fulfillment department are the legs of our business. Their efforts are a key part of getting the product out of the factory and into the distribution channels. Once a product is out on the market, we then have the customer service team represent Liberator to the public. They are the eyes and ears of Liberator and are essential in keep our customers happy and satisfied with their product purchase. In essence, our factory has over 140 employees. No one position is bigger than the other because everyone plays an equal part in the success of our product development. At Liberator, everyone matters!
XBIZ: Discuss the company’s growth through the years. How has the company evolved? What are some milestones?
Lieben: A company can often be compared to a living organism. Nurturing its growth and development is not easy — but nothing worthwhile ever is. Over the past 13 years, we have grown from a tiny office, to a 140,000-square-foot manufacturing factory. However, this did not happen overnight.
The CEO and founder of Liberator has been instrumental in the success of Liberator. He was one of the first sexual wellness companies to place ads in mainstream media magazines. The first ads were just words, and as sex has become more acceptable, the advertising evolved into photography.
The company has also progressed image-wise too. About three years ago, Friedman hired an emerging talent within the brand management industry. April Harmon became the creative director for Liberator and completely changed everything from the images being used on the website to hiring a talented photographer, to creating new packaging and marketing collateral. Her skills and talents have been instrumental in getting Liberator more exposure by using sophisticated imagery where the female model is the central focus. This softer approach was accepted by more magazines and media outlets, which helped to launch Liberator as a home essentials product line.
Additional milestones have been the progression of a product line. We’ve taken the Wedge/Ramp combo and created a line that people now refer to as sex furniture. By taking this multifunctional approach, more and more people are enjoying our products even outside of the bedroom.