The inspiration for Lexington Steele to name his company Mercenary Pictures, Inc. may not have come from the literal description, but the accomplished performer, director and executive nevertheless has known warriorlike success.
And Steele’s dual role as award-winning performer/company owner gives him twice (11-inches?) the branding firepower — a key component of his business philosophy and strategy. He gets his product to market using his name as a draw and sustains the image in the public eye by appearing in other companies’ productions.
The savvy strategy by Steele’s own mercenary approach to the video business has paid off.
Since the founding of Mercenary Pictures, in 2003, the New Jersey native has led the company to becoming one of the leading ethnic and interracial ethnic brands in the adult marketplace with hits such as his “Balls Deep and the “ManHammer” series.
He directed his “Balls Deep” series for Anabolic in 2000 with a distribution deal for the first five titles through Red Light District. By 2004 he was ready to distribute his own titles that included “ManHammer 1.”
Steele also had the luxury of being mentored as a performer and as an executive by some key industry talent including Mr. Marcus, Mark Davis and Vince Vouyer; and as a director by Mike John, Jules Jordan and Vouyer.
Meanwhile, three inspirational mentors have forged his business acumen: James Alexander of West Coast Productions, whom he describes as his “godfather,” Chris Alexander of Anabolic and Gregg Allan of Diabolic.
“They taught me everything I know, whether by watching them work or by direct instruction — especially Greg Allan,” Steele says.
But the transition from performer to executive wasn’t easy. Steele says there are no comparisons — business is tougher.
“As a performer I am required to work over the course of two hours to have sex, or maybe longer if there’s dialogue. Whereas as an executive my responsibilities are confined to the proverbial 9 to 5. There are few moments in my life where I am not being about Mercenary business,” he says.
And although he still performs on a regular basis (he also holds a mainstream SAG card), he’s particularly pleased about contributing to what he describes as films that will impact the history of adult like Hustler’s “Avatar” and Vivid’s “Star Wars” parodies.
And the passion to excel as talent translates to his company business philosophy — constantly keeping the consumer in mind and creating and directing to that end. “My executive philosophy has always been to provide a quality product that maintains value. I’ve always felt that if a consumer spends his dollar, I need to create and deliver product that they feel is money well spent,” he says.
But that’s only part of Steele’s strategy for Mercenary. The economic crunch that hit the DVD business is still ever present and that’s when Steele shows that he has, well, steel balls.
Steele says, “My challenges are the same as every CEO or owner of any of the other studios. Over the last few years, the primary challenge has been crisis navigation in an economic climate that has finally affected our industry that had always been risk-averse. Recognizing the changing environment and being able to maintain one’s brand is only one of the responsibilities that any owner must face on a daily basis.”
And with the industry in flux Steele banks on branding his name and company as the “building blocks’ for Mercenary’s future that includes more online growth and continuing to create a strong ethnic product.
“I do believe there are companies that will successfully maintain DVD distribution but I believe it to be imminent that business growth exists online. The ethnic market has been a major genre for adult movies for quite some time. But it is just that — a genre. Therefore, the state of the ethnic market will follow the state of the industry as a whole. Consumers comprising the ethnic market are in the same economic crisis as everyone else,” Steele notes.
So how does the executive/performer plan to confront the challenges? Like many other studios Steele will diversify. He says he will continue to exploit the media he’s created over the last seven years, as well as maximize his other business ventures that include online sales, herbal supplements and adult novelties.
And his future also includes mainstream projects he plans to solicit including the production of a late-night TV format, adult talk show called “The Lexington Steele Show” that he expects to air on a major premium or cable network in 2011.
Despite his success and dogged determination to prosper in a tough business in the most difficult times for adult, Steele still feels humbled to have had the opportunity to be a performer and a business owner.
He says, “In short, it has been a charmed experience and a ride that has been an impossible story — yet it’s all true.”