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Ball & Chain Founder Dawn Phillips Reflects on Company's Roots

Ball & Chain Founder Dawn Phillips Reflects on Company's Roots

The niche of bedroom and bachelorette games is a surprisingly popular yet often unexplored sector of the pleasure industry. Developing and manufacturing mischievous adult play products that don’t require batteries or a charging cable seems to require a certain special creative spark.

Fortunately, that’s something sex game creator Dawn Phillips has consistently demonstrated over the more than two decades since she founded Ball & Chain LLC in 2003. Known for couples and bachelorette party games like The Bedroom Game, Get Nasty and Foreplay in a Row, Ball & Chain started out as a one-woman show and went on to become a popular brand available on shelves internationally.

I’ve met the most wonderful people in this industry, some who have become my lifelong friends.

The story behind the company’s ascent began back when Phillips was working in retail for Peekay Boutiques at one of its Lovers brick-and-mortar shops. A Utah native, she had graduated from high school and studied basic electronics at a local technical college before moving to Washington state in the mid-1980s.

“I became a mom at 18 and raised my daughter alone, which changed my future path,” she recalls. “I’d never even been in an adult store before, but I needed a job and saw a hiring sign on a Lovers door. I became their holiday gift wrapper, then ended up staying on to work the retail floor and additionally as a sales trainer at the corporate office. I worked at Lovers/Peekay Inc. for 15 years.”

During that time, Phillips noticed a gap in the chain’s retail offerings.

“There were very few sex games and no bachelorette games,” says Phillips. “The few sex games I was selling were not that appealing for a woman to buy, and the women were the ones coming in and buying them.”

This started the wheels turning in her head, eventually inspiring the concept for Ball & Chain.

“I always wrote down ideas for games I would make if I were ever to create them,” she says.

That moment of creation finally arrived when Phillips attended the 2003 International Lingerie Show in Las Vegas. Though unable to afford a booth, she walked the floor and handed out business cards — a bold move that wound up transforming her into a full-fledged CEO and pleasure industry pro for life.

“I was pleasantly surprised by how nice and welcoming everyone was,” remembers Phillips. “I got my first two orders on the spot after meeting Larry from Eldorado and Bruce from Deluxe. Then, after returning home, I received orders from Entrenue, Nalpac, Lover’s Lane, Christies Sales, Williams Trading and a few others. They still buy from me!”

Phillips credits much of her long-term success to the loyalty of these distributors, who she says are heavily responsible for marketing and selling her games. She has never sold Ball & Chain products at wholesale or retail; instead she has relied on the industry expertise of her distributor partners since day 1.

Since her early days on the floor of Lovers, Phillips’ family members have met her career decisions with mixed feelings. Her daughter, Misty, has occasionally played enthusiastic sales rep alongside her mom at trade shows. However, Phillips says, her own mother preferred to tell relatives that she worked at a gift shop, and Phillips’ sister outright disliked her involvement in the adult space — at least initially.

“My older sister always told me I could do better and looked down on my choice of jobs when I was working at Lovers,” says Phillips. “She changed her mind years later, once I had my own successful business!”

Phillips named her business after the old adage comparing marriage to a prison sentence, which she found appropriate considering her consumer base of long-term couples and soon-to-be married women. Ball & Chain’s involvement in the bachelorette niche, however, has waxed and waned with the changing market.

Phillips says she started out with only sex games, then expanded her product offerings by adding several bachelorette games and novelties. Since then, she has had to repeatedly update her approach to suit the market.

“I once had 100 different products,” she recalls. “Now, 20 years later, I’m back to just selling sex games. When COVID came along, my bachelorette product lines crashed and no one wanted them. I really feel like I’m starting from scratch again. Then I told myself I wasn’t going to add more products, but I just added two new IOU Bedroom Bucks coupon books.”

Despite the inevitable ups and downs, however, Phillips has found a forever home in the pleasure industry, among colleagues who have supported her every step of the way.

“I just love what I do,” she gushes. “I love working from home, being my own boss, creating something from scratch and watching it come to life, and launching a successful product. I’ve met the most wonderful people in this industry, some who have become my lifelong friends.”

In the wake of Ball & Chain’s 20th anniversary, and after 35 years in the adult industry, Phillips has begun contemplating semi-retirement — though not in the immediate future, to the relief of her industry family.

“I’m not ready to leave just yet!” Phillips reassures. “I am currently in the process of moving the business into a new barn, which I built next to my home. This will provide me with free warehousing, which has become so incredibly expensive over the years.”

Beyond monetary success, Phillips still gets her biggest kick from knowing her products have made an impact on clients and consumers over the last two decades.

“The most rewarding feedback I get is having my longtime distributors say, ‘We love Ball & Chain products, the packaging is unique’ and continue to send me purchase orders,” she concludes. “Knowing a few of the products I created still sell as good as they did back when I started? Now, that’s great feedback.”

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