Many adult businesses have come and gone in the United Kingdom since the 1970s, but wholesale distributor ABS Holdings (ABSHoldings.com) is still going strong after 43 years. Based in Bournemouth on England’s southern coast, ABS continues to distribute adult DVDs but is primarily focused on sex toys and provides U.K. distribution for Doc Johnson, Jimmyjane, Pipedream, CalExotics, Fleshlight, We-Vibe, Satisfyer and many other major pleasure product brands.
ABS was founded by the family of current owner Tim Hemming in 1975, including his grandfather, a chemist. Charne Jones, copywriter and social media manager for ABS, told XBIZ, “As a manufacturing chemist, his (grandfather) had regular contact with herbalists who also happened to sell medical aids and appliances for the disabled. Eventually, this led to ABS introducing sex toys to the company, and we began importing these toys around 1977. The first massager was brought into the U.K. from China by Tim’s father and was called the Non-Doctor. Tim took over the running of the company in 1983 and eventually, bought his father out in 1984.”
ABS has always been bold and innovative when it comes to introducing toys to the market, from that first massager back in the late ‘70s to the ultra-modern range that we offer now.
Jones continued, “In its very early years, ABS Holdings offered something fresh and exciting for the market and made the vibrator accessible to the masses — which was something that put us on the map all those years ago. Today, we’re still innovating and finding ways to surprise the market and excite customers just like we did back then.”
The market for sex toys has grown and expanded considerably in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — the four countries that comprise the U.K. — since the 1970s and 1980s, and in 2018, ABS distributes a wide variety of products ranging from strap-on dildos to penis pumps and cock rings to sex dolls. BDSM toys are another popular category at ABS, with distribution for floggers, paddles, riding crops, restraints, ballgags, blindfolds, nipple clamps and many other kinky items.
“ABS has always been bold and innovative when it comes to introducing toys to the market,” Jones asserted. “From that first massager back in the late ‘70s to the ultra-modern range that we offer now — 40 years later — we’ve always tried to bring freshness and newness to the market in any way that we can. We’ve kept our key values and adjusted them to the current market. We’ve always been a business that focuses on relationships first, and this has never changed and never will. We still value partnerships more than anything else. The business has grown exponentially in terms of size.”
In the U.K., the British Board of Film Classification has a rating system for movies — and R18 is an adults-only rating that the BBFC typically gives to hardcore porn films it approves for sale and distribution. Porn is often consumed digitally in the U.K. these days via streaming or downloading, but ABS still carries R18-rated DVDs for diehard fans of the format.
“(Adult) DVD legalization in the ‘90s was a positive change, but of course, this is now affected by free online streaming,” Jones observed. “We are only one of a handful of R18 distributors out there, and there is definitely still a demand. The introduction of luxury toys and brands with developing technology has also changed the market, and there’s always something fresh and exciting coming through that shakes up the industry and gets people talking.”
Brick-and-mortar adult stores, Jones noted, are still doing a lot of business in the U.K. — and in 2018, they are selling plenty of sex toys and lingerie.
“Brick-and-mortar stores are a big part of our business, and as a business that deals with personal toys and personal products, it’s often important for customers to have personal contact with our team,” Jones stressed. “Pleasure is a very hands-on business, and brick-and-mortar stores are a great way for customers to interact with our products, our team and our brands — and of course, they’re the perfect space in which to show off our variety, which is always expanding.”
Jones continued, “Pleasure products are still at the heart of our business, and brick-and-mortar stores are as important now as they were 10 or 20 years ago. Of course, the online space also has its place in this business, and we have done some fantastic things with our online stores. The Internet has made us more accessible to wider markets, and we think of online as a space that complements our business.”
In 2017, ABS announced that it had acquired one of the U.K.’s most famous gay brands: Millivres Prowler Wholesale. The Millivres Prowler Group (MPG) had come together in 1999, when Millivres Limited (started in 1974) merged with Prowler Press (launched in 1989).
In addition to Hemming and Jones, other important players at ABS in 2018 include Symon Reeves, commercial director, and Justin Vickers, head of global trade sales. ABS now distributes adult products not only in the U.K., but in Continental Europe as well — and Pavel Zalevskiy presently heads ABS’ European sales team.
“Our business has expanded so much over the last few years, and we’ve got some great people at the helm now, driving us forward in terms of the U.K. and European markets,” Jones explained. “Justin Vickers has just come over from the U.S. to join the business as head of global trade sales, which is an exciting new addition to the business. Currently, he is working hard to secure partnerships with new brands in the U.S. and abroad, and we have already secured some great deals with brands like Rock Candy from the U.S. This adds a whole new international element to ABS, helping them to achieve success not only in the U.K. and Europe, but beyond.”
Jones added, “We have been in the U.K. market for so long now that we really know it inside out. It’s not just our day-to-day business — it’s our passion — and the entire ABS family is a close-knit team that works hard towards our goals as a company. We understand how the market evolves and how we need to keep evolving in order to not just keep up, but to excel.”