WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Executives from the tight-knit pleasure products industry came together in droves last night to honor this year’s winners of the XBIZ Exec Awards.
Attendees were welcomed to the elegant gala dinner sponsored by Satisfyer with cocktails, music and a warmhearted atmosphere that had everyone congratulating each other on recent successes both in life and in business.
XBIZ founder and publisher Alec Helmy kicked off the show with an introduction.
“In many ways these awards mean more to us than the big XBIZ Awards show because we’re honoring the people behind products — a round of applause to you for making this industry possible,” Helmy said.
XBIZ Associate Publisher Sara Ramirez recalled her nearly two decades in the industry and the closeness among colleagues she’s experienced.
“I’ve been in this industry for a long time and as many of you know, we are a family,” Sara Ramirez said before making a toast to colleagues in the audience. “The love and support that we have for one another is overwhelming and I’m so happy to be a part of it. I want to thank all of you for your support; it means so much to me and XBIZ.”
This time around XBIZ changed things up by having past Exec Award winners announce this year’s winners.
In presenting the Account Executive of the Year award Hot Octopuss’ April Lampert discussed the significance of the account executive role. “They are unsung heroes,” Lampert said. “They’re the faces of the companies that they represent and they’re vital to a successful business.”
Sportsheets’ Kimberly Harding accepted the award on behalf of Sportsheets’ Emily Silva, sharing a speech she prepared in case she won.
“I’ve always felt the love from the people in this industry,” Silva said via Harding. “I’ve been in this industry for nine years. I love where I work and I strive to do the best for my customers. Just to be nominated is an honor and to win is a blessing.”
XR Brands CEO Ari Suss accepted the XBIZ Exec Award for Progressive Leadership.
“I would like to thank XBIZ and all of my industry friends for this,” Suss said. “I would like to thank our customers for their support over the years and most importantly I would like to thank my team. I have some of the hardest working leaders in the industry.”
Megan Swartz of Deja Vu Love Boutique — last year’s winner of the Community Figure of the Year award — presented the award for Brand Ambassador of the Year.
“Brand ambassadors to me are the ones who you know where they work because they’re not afraid to post it online and they do as much as they can for their brand,” she said. “Brand ambassadors pave the way for all of us in our industry by proving that it’s nothing to be ashamed of.”
She then announced the winner by his nickname — “Benny and the Jets,” aka Benny Neff of Blush Novelties.
“There are so many people in this room that I’m grateful for but there are two that I’d like to shout out,” Neff said. “Tom Stewart and Scott Watkins — these two gentlemen are not just my friends but my mentors.”
Justin Ross, founder of The Screaming O, accepted the award for Businessman of the Year by offering a little history and thanking the industry’s pioneers.
“Seventeen years ago I had the inspiration from this girl to start the company, she turned me on to sex toys my life was changed from then on,” he said. “I went to business school in New York and then the desperation set in — I hated the work I was doing. A friend of mine introduced me to a disposable ring and then there was a light bulb moment. I started this business based on two principles — No. 1 I wanted to please women and No. 2 I wanted to be my own boss. I know that I wouldn’t be standing up here tonight if it weren’t for people like Susan Colvin. Your courage has enabled people like me to be successful and I want to thank you for that.”
Ross also credited other industry pioneers Ron Braverman and Michael Warner, as well as his team.
Susan Colvin presented the award for Businesswoman of the Year.
“In a year where women saying that they’ve been violated by men could destroy their careers it’s very exciting that in our industry that we have 10 women nominated for Businesswoman of the Year,” Colvin said.
She then announced Eldorado’s Wanda Garland as the winner and the audience responded with a standing ovation.
“It’s an honor to stand up here tonight and be recognized alongside so many established, accomplished and professional women,” Garland said. “I’ve been in the industry with my husband for many years. With the events of last year I was thrust into a position that I wasn’t expecting at the time but I want to dedicate this to my beloved Larry. Without his support of me and of all the women throughout the industry — you knew you could always count on him. I would not be the woman I am today if I had not been married to him.”
Conde Aumann presented the Businessman of the Year trophy to Tom Stewart. She shared one of her favorite memories with the Sportsheets founder that involved accepting an award without having a speech prepared.
“I said ‘I don’t have anything prepared,’ and this next person went up to accept his award and he walked up on stage and pulled out a speech out of his pocket,” Aumann said. “He looked right at me said ‘I have something prepared.’”
Stewart then took the stage and said, “Okay for the first time in my life I don’t have anything prepared. I would like to thank the people on my team: Emily Silva, my wife Kimberly, my sister and partner Julie Stewart and my mom. Who else’s mom is going to come to one of these events? It’s a family thing. To all the XBIZ staff — thank you so much for bringing this event together.”
Ramirez introduced the presentation of XBIZ Legacy Awards.
"The adult retail industry is fortunate to be a hub for innovators and professionals that have dedicated their lives to growing and revolutionizing the marketplace,” she said. “XBIZ is proud to honor their legacies tonight with these special awards."
Phoebe Grott presented the first legacy award of the night to We-Vibe founders Bruce and Melody Murison.
“Back at one of first industry trade shows, I was blown away by Bruce and Melody,” she said. “I was struck by their enthusiasm. This toy was the first toy to provide stimulation to two partners simultaneously and was the first hands-free vibrator that could provide G-Spot and clitoral stimulation.”
We-Vibe has been at the forefront of innovation with rechargeable toys, remote controls and state-of-the-art technology, Grott noted.
“Melody and I are certainly very pleased to accept this,” Murison said. “It’s been a fun 10 years and I hope we’ve made a contribution to our industry and wow, it’s amazing to be recognized. We never thought that this would actually happen. We’ve been very fortunate; we’ve had really great people and it’s good to be riding a wave of societal change over the last 15 years with the acceptance of toys.”
Ron Braverman presented industry pioneer Michael Warner with the second Legacy Award of the night.
“I’m here to present an award to a best friend,” Braverman said. “His name is Michael Warner. He’s been in the adult business his entire life — it’s started as a family business and it’s going to continue to be a family business. Michael has been a great advocate — whether it’s to support businesses or start a campaign — whatever needs to be done, Michael is always there. Michael was one of the founders of the Free Speech Coalition.”
“It’s been an interesting 50 years,” Warner said, and acknowledged the many family businesses that are part of the pleasure products industry.
The 2018 XBIZ Executive Award winners are:
Account Executive of the Year
Emily Silva, Sportsheets
Business Development Executive of the Year
Rob Phaneuf, Pipedream Products
Brand Ambassador of the Year
Benny Neff, Blush Novelties
Community Figure of the Year
Michelle Marcus, Sliquid
Marketing Executive of the Year
Cassie Pendleton, Wicked Sensual Care
Progressive Leadership Award
Ari Suss, XR Brands
Senior Leadership Award
Austin Ferdinand, CalExotics
Chief Executive of the Year
Justin Ross, Screaming O
Businesswoman of the Year
Wanda Garland, Eldorado
Businessman of the Year
Tom Stewart, Sportsheets
Bruce and Melody Murison (We-Vibe); Michael Warner (Great Western Litho)
WIA Woman of the Year
Janet Rini, NS Novelties