Each month, industry news media organization XBIZ spotlights the career accomplishments and outstanding contributions of Women in Adult. WIA profiles offer an intimate look at the professional lives of the industry's most influential female executives.
Though heavily involved in her local community through charity, volunteering and serving on the PTA, Dee Bertino is not the average suburban mom. Dee and her husband, Bob Bertino are the owners of two Fantasy Gifts stores in New Jersey, and hold a combined 45 years in the adult retail toy industry. Dee Bertino is an attorney, board member for an African charity, rotary member and a uniquely business-minded professional — as proven by her latest venture, The Hand Pilot. The monthly subscription box focused on male masturbation was launched as an effort to overcome the stigma attached to male self-pleasure. The stigma of the adult industry is something that Bertino says continues to present a challenge, however she’s proudly embracing the business and credits women in the industry for their role in continuing to change the public’s perception. In our exclusive Q&A with this month’s WIA Woman of the Month, Bertino offers more information on her motivation, her latest project, The Hand Pilot, and more.
As a woman in this industry, I love that I have been able to help break down the stereotypes of an owner of an adult boutique.
XBIZ: What inspired you to launch The Hand Pilot? How did your experience in adult retail shape or influence this new venture?
Dee Bertino: Two things inspired me to launch The Hand Pilot. First, as the owner of Fantasy Gifts N.J., a chain of adult brick and mortar stores in New Jersey, we noticed that our sales of male sex toy products have increased dramatically in the last few years. The range and quality of toys has increased but we knew that wasn’t the only reason. Research found that millennial men are living at home longer, dating less and have less sex. So obviously that explains the rise in male toys and we knew we wanted to reach that market.
Second, I personally love subscription boxes! Who doesn’t like to get a fun surprise in the mail? Subscription boxes are exploding in growth. Currently, there are over 6 million subscription box shoppers in the U.S., 40 percent of which are men. No one else was offering what we were — a monthly/quarterly subscription box geared to men and masturbation. It seemed like a great idea!
XBIZ: How (and when) did you get into the business?
Bertino: I married into the adult business. I started my career as a lawyer in Chicago. When I met my husband, his family owned a chain of adult stores in Minnesota. Once we married, we began to work together at Fantasy Gifts. Fast forward 20 years and we’re still happily married with two children and running our stores in New Jersey.
XBIZ: What challenges have you confronted in your career and how have you overcome them?
Bertino: The biggest challenge I have faced has been overcoming the public’s perception of our industry. I live in a small, close-knit community. I volunteer often in my town, have served on the PTA, belong to the Rotary and serve on the board of a West African-based charity. With two sons, my husband has coached and volunteered for almost every sport imaginable. Over the years, my reputation has often preceded me. When we attempted to open a third store, we received a great deal of negative publicity and my name was unfairly smeared in the press. I had people questioning my ethics and morality. I have always been very proud to work in this industry, but it can be difficult to explain to people outside of the industry. As a woman, and especially as a mother, I felt I was judged harshly. Words, phrases and subject matter that are common to us have a tendency to shock the outside world! Once people know us, they accept us. And if they don’t, that’s fine. However, the initial stigma can be difficult to overcome and even my children, who are now teenagers, can be affected by it. I tell myself and my children that we run a great, honest business, providing a wonderful service to consenting adults, and this industry has given us a wonderful life. We’re grateful to be a part of it.
XBIZ: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Bertino: As a woman in this industry, I love that I have been able to help break down the stereotypes of an owner of an adult boutique. Women are at the forefront of changing the public’s perception of adult business owners. It has been rewarding meeting so many smart, driven, amazing women who are passionate about mainstreaming the public’s perception of sexuality.
XBIZ: What is your personal motto or mantra that you live by?
Bertino: I love to travel so my personal motto is, “I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.”
XBIZ: What career accomplishment are you most proud of?
Bertino: I was thrilled to be nominated for a 2018 XBIZ Award for Retail Store of the Year — Boutique. I have worked very hard to create a chain of stores that is classy and comfortable and we spend a lot of time training our staff to be knowledgeable and informative. It’s nice to be recognized by our peers!
XBIZ: What are your professional goals for 2018?
Bertino: We’d love to continue growing The Hand Pilot to make it the “Dollar Shave Club” of the male masturbation market!