The year was 1978. Jimmy Carter was president of the U.S., disco was all the rage, “Saturday Night Fever” was a box office phenomenon, and the Bee Gees, Donna Summer and the Village People were burning up the Billboard charts. Meanwhile, the adult industry was growing by leaps and bounds.
The Golden Age of Porn was well underway, although at that point most adult films were still being viewed primarily in brick-and-mortar theaters — not at home on video cassettes — and adult stores were selling a profitable combination of porn magazines, adult books and sex toys.
I’m very proud of those 40 years, but I want to keep moving forward.
It was in 1978 that a young Dennis Paradise launched Paradise Marketing, focusing on what is now known as the pleasure products sector of the adult industry — and he has overseen one of the sector’s most enduring companies.
In 2018, Paradise Marketing — which bills itself as “America’s No. 1 source for condoms and lubricants” — is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Many pleasure product-oriented companies have come and gone since the late 1970s, but Paradise Marketing, with Dennis Paradise at the helm as president and CEO, is still going strong.
“The biggest change or most notable change is how we’ve grown in size,” Dennis Paradise told XBIZ. “I think that on an everyday basis, we’re holding more inventory of condoms and personal lubricants than anyone else in the country. I don’t know of anyone else in the business that has the inventory that we have — especially the quantities that we have. Other than that, how has the company evolved? Communications are faster because the technology is faster. Because of our long, ongoing success, we’re able to do things that other companies can’t do.”
Paradise Marketing was very much a mom-and-pop operation in the beginning. Nonetheless, Dennis Paradise already knew a lot about condoms when he launched his company in Southern California 40 years ago; his father had been involved in the condom business as far back as 1943. And as technology evolved, so did Paradise Marketing.
These days, Paradise Marketing is heavily focused on the internet and is distributing a long list of condom brands that includes, among others, Durex, Trojan, Rough Rider, Sustain, Fantasy, Crown, Trustex, Kimono, Holiday Pops, Caution Wear, Atlas, Beyond Seven, Contempo, 004 and its own brand, Paradise Condoms.
Another brand that Paradise Marketing carries is Okamoto Condoms, founded in Japan in 1934. In addition, Paradise Marketing’s website, ParadiseMarketing.com, features a wide range of lubricants and enhancement products as well as some vibrators.
Paradise Marketing was launched at a time when members of the Baby Boom generation were still in their 20s or early 30s, most Generation X-ers were pre-teens and Millennials had yet to be born. But now, Millennials, aka Generation Y, are a crucial demographic for the pleasure products sector. Asked how today’s Millennial consumers of pleasure products differ from the Baby Boomers he did business with 40 years ago, Dennis Paradise responded that the differences are more technological than sexual.
“As far as pleasure products are concerned, I don’t see a big difference between the users of the 1970s and the users of the 2010s,” Paradise explained. “What I see is that whether it was the 1970s or the 2010s, people who want to have sex will have sex. The different kinds of sex that they were doing in the 1970s, they’re doing now. They’re not that different. The only differentiation I would make is that pleasure products are much more available now.”
The internet, Paradise added, has had a major impact on the distribution of pleasure products — which, he said, are enjoying a level of exposure that they didn’t have 40 years ago.
“The biggest change is the change as a culture and as a society,” Dennis observed. “In 1978, condoms were generally kept in a drawer behind the counter. The evolution was that they came out from behind the counter and are now well displayed and well stocked, with a myriad of different types. Now, you see some very interesting sex toys. And of course, all of them are now available with a couple of clicks on your computer. So, there’s a much wider array of availability. And culturally, pleasure products are not hidden anymore.”
The pleasure products sector is not only more visible in the late 2010s than it was during the Jimmy Carter years — it is also more crowded and competitive. Back in 1978, Adam & Eve’s adult mail-order business had been around for seven years, and sex toy manufacturer Doc Johnson (founded in Los Angeles in 1976) had been in business for two years. But the vast majority of pleasure product brands that are well-known today had yet to be launched in the 1970s. And Dennis Paradise, having kept Paradise Marketing going for 40 years, has a wealth of advice for companies that want to enjoy that type of longevity.
“In a general sense, there are a number of pieces of advice that I would give to people who are starting a company,” Paradise asserted. “The number one thing I would tell people is, ‘Pay your bills on time.’ That’s really important because over a period of time — when the companies you buy from realize you pay your bills on time — special deals or offers become available. And they don’t make those offers to the companies that don’t pay their bills on time. That’s certainly put us at an advantage and helped us grow along the way. In other words, we were able to do better deals because all of the vendors knew that our bills get paid on time.”
Dennis continued, “The second piece of advice I would give to companies is to not talk so much and listen more. I’ve found that if I shut up and listen, my customer will tell me what he wants. He’ll tell me what he needs. Whatever product they’re selling — whether it’s condoms or lubricants or any other products within the adult industry — all you have to do, if you’re going to be successful, is fulfill his or her needs and wants. Listen more. And take the time to think.”
Maintaining sufficient capital, Paradise advised, is crucial for pleasure product companies.
“Another important thing — and it goes with paying your bills on time — is, ‘Have more capital than you think you’re going to need,’” he stressed. “If you run out of money — if you run out of gas — you’re not going anywhere. You just have to have the money to make it to the next day. You’ve gotta have the money.”
The company, Paradise noted, has made a point of being selective when it comes to condoms, lubricants and other pleasure products — and if a deal seems too good to be true, he emphasized, it probably is.
“You’ve got to know your source,” Paradise cautioned. “If a particular product would normally sell at X but is available from someone else for much less, that’s a red flag. There’s something wrong. It doesn’t happen that way.”
Any brand that Paradise Marketing decides to carry, Paradise added, must be vetted thoroughly.
“I do a lot of research,” he stressed. “Someone will say, ‘Here’s a new product we’ve come up with. We want you to carry it. We’re going to make you a great deal.’ They’ll offer me a fabulous deal, and I’ll look at them and say, ‘Your product is going to fail. You’ve made some serious mistakes, and it doesn’t matter what the deal is — it’s not going to happen.’ I tell people a lot of times that if they’re in the condom business and there’s a brand they find that we don’t carry, they’re probably smarter to ask why we turned it down instead of thinking that they’ve found something that nobody else has. that nobody else has. We do a lot of research. If we have a product and we get behind it, we really think that there’s something to it — and we think that our trade customers are going to make money from it. If we don’t carry it, there’s a reason.”
Dennis continued, “Part of being successful in business is having a healthy and educated skepticism. In the industry that we’re in, we have a responsibility not just to our trade customers, but to the consumers.”
Countless technological innovations have come about during Paradise Marketing’s 40 years in business, from the internet and email to smartphones, tablets, text messaging and a wide variety of mobile/wireless breakthroughs. The adult industry has long had a reputation for being quick to embrace cutting-edge technologies and profit from them, and the internet has been great for Paradise Marketing.
“Certainly, a lot of our product is sold over the Internet now,” Dennis Paradise explained. “We do a lot of work on the internet. In terms of technology, our business card is a flash drive. And when we give our business card to a customer, he gets 50 or 60 pages of information that he can put in his pocket.”
But the more things change, the more they stay the same — and Paradise Marketing’s founder and CEO firmly believes that digital technology, for all its benefits, doesn’t eliminate the need for eye contact, face-to-face interactions or an old-fashioned handshake.
“When you’re building a business, you can’t do it only on the telephone,” Dennis observed. “You have to go see people. Emails don’t tell you enough about who you’re dealing with, and what is the condition of your company. You have to go to your customer. You can never communicate in an email what you can communicate when somebody hears the intonation in your voice, especially if it’s a question — why aren’t you doing this, why aren’t you doing that? It’s one thing to send somebody an image over a computer; it’s another to put a sample in their hands.”
In today’s fast-paced business world, some companies are quick to embrace change for the sake of change — sometimes at the expense of long-time employees. Dennis Paradise, however, asserted that one of the secrets to his company’s success has been his willingness to find and keep valuable workers.
“When you find a really high-quality employee, earn their loyalty,” Paradise advised. “Show them that you appreciate them — and the ones that don’t measure up to that level, they’re not going to be around long. Surround yourself with high-quality, committed, loyal people. And I’ve been very lucky.”
In addition to Dennis Paradise, some of the key players at Paradise Marketing include COO Wayne Decker and Michelle Liss, vice president of sales.
“My company wouldn’t be what it is without Wayne Decker,” Paradise said. “And Paradise said. “And Michelle Liss, our vice president of sales, just keeps going and going. She’s great. Every person in the company is important. Every person on the team is important, whether it’s a guy in the warehouse or someone on the clerical staff. I have great people. Every one of them gives me 105 percent. And another one is my wife, who used to work for the company. She retired a long time ago, but I still talk to her about what’s going on — and her advice is always invaluable.”
Dennis noted that while he is proud of having stayed in business for 40 years, Paradise Marketing doesn’t plan to go overboard with its 40th anniversary celebrations. And looking forward to the future, he said, is a higher priority than celebrating the past.
“As things get older, you take a second to look back — and then, you think, ‘OK, all the time I spend looking back is not time that I’m looking forward,’” Dennis reflected. “But I’m looking forward. I’m looking forward to next month and next year and seeing how we do. We did a great yesterday, and today is pretty fabulous. But what do we do to have a better tomorrow? I’m only going to look back at 40 years for so long. Are we going to celebrate? Maybe we’ll want a piece of cake. I’m very proud of those 40 years, but I want to keep moving forward.”