WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — Among the most memorable events of last week’s XBIZ Retreat was the 2019 XBIZ Exec Awards, which for the adult retail industry have become more like a beloved annual family gathering.
In honor of the XBIZ Exec Awards, which were sponsored by Satisfyer, the rooftop ballroom of the Andaz hotel was transformed into a glamorous dinner party complete with sexy mood lighting and upbeat pop music. With more than 100 past award winners, nominees and their supporters in attendance, guests mingled over drinks until everyone found their seats and then it was show time. XBIZ founder and publisher Alec Helmy kicked things off with an acknowledgment of the palpable energy in the room.
“This is one of our favorite events that we put on — even more than the big awards show,” he said. “I feel an incredible sense of community in this room. It’s amazing to be amongst the most influential power player in adult retail today. When we first created the Exec Awards, the goal was to spotlight all the unsung heroes who play an instrumental role in the success of the biggest brands of the business. Those rare individuals who are fiercely passionate and extraordinarily creative and work harder than anyone else to keep their brands ahead of the curve and by doing so they serve as a huge source of inspiration for the rest of us.”
The first award of the evening was presented to Briana Watkins, who took home the Account Executive of the Year — Pleasure Products award. Watkins’ career began in mainstream visual merchandising, however she has spent the last eight years at Pipedream where she’s flourished as a global sales executive. This is her second accolade from XBIZ, being honored in 2016 as Business Development Executive of the Year.
“I was not expecting this — all of the nominees in this category are exceptional and I love each and every one of you,” Watkins said. “I want to thank my Pipedream team for always supporting me along with every other person in this industry. I want to thank my husband for always holding down the fort. I want to thank all of you because we are all a team and I couldn’t have done it without you.”
Wicked Sensual Care’s Cassie Pendleton, who won last year’s Marketing Exec award, presented the next award for Account Executive of the Year — Retail. The winner, Pendleton said, was “Chad ‘Big Dog’ Jenny.”
“I’m truly honored to win this award, the nominees are all so deserving,” Jenny said. “We work our tails off in this industry but I work with incredible people — some of my best friends. Thank you to everyone at XBIZ and everyone on the Adam & Eve team.”
Sportsheets’ Emily Silva introduced the nominees of the Business Development of the Year by sharing her thoughts on the role.
“Where would we be without business development?” she said. “Developing new business and developing current business is the key to keeping alive and all of these executives foster growth and priceless memories for their team.”
CalExotics’ international business development executive Lupe Martinez, who’s been with the company for more than a decade, was called to the stage.
“Oh my gosh! I’ve never won anything before,” she said. “Last year at our Christmas party I won a smart TV and I was really excited about that — but I’m really just beside myself right now. I really want to thank XBIZ for putting together an evening for us to celebrate each other and our accomplishments over the past year. When I started in this industry there weren’t a lot of women and I look around the room tonight and I feel really empowered to see so many strong, smart, driven women in the industry. I am truly fortunate to work in an industry that’s so inclusive.”
Next up to present the award for Brand Ambassador of the Year was Sliquid’s Michelle Marcus, the 2018 Community Figure of the Year award winner.
“Brand ambassador is all about leadership and those leaders definitely deserve to serve as the face of the brand,” she said before announcing the name of the winner, Aneros’ Brent Aldon.
“First of all I apologize for my outfit because I know I look like a referee,” he said. “First of all thank you very much to XBIZ for not only recognizing our products, brands and companies but also recognizing us individuals. It really means a lot of us. I want to dedicate this award to all of the road warriors out there. I see a lot of you guys here tonight. A lot of people don’t know the hard work and dedication that it takes — a lot of us travel 50 percent of the time and it takes a toll on your life emotionally and physically. I wouldn’t change it for the world; you guys are like my second family."
To present the award for Community Figure of the Year was last year’s Woman of the Year Janet Rini.
“Last year I was bestowed with the unbelievable honor of Woman of the Year,” she said. “I was not here to accept that award. I was sick in bed. I kept getting phone calls saying ‘you won!’ Anyway I need to thank Briana for accepting my award.
“I’m presenting Community Figure of the Year,” Rini continued. “What does that mean? It means a changing industry. It means an industry where we are all trying to get the message out to the mainstream, making people understand that what we do is completely normal — and wonderful.”
The 2019 Community Figure of the Year, Kim Faubel — Clandestine Devices’ director of operations — approached the stage to pick up her award.
“Holy shit! I dedicate this to all of the nominees,” she said.” The fact that I was even considered among you was a complete honor. I’m going into my 16th year in the industry. Oh my God, I’m going to cry! I’m an improviser I should be able to do this! Community Figure of the Year — I think it’s easy to forget since we use words like competitors and sales, it’s a community — I don’t consider anyone in this room a competitor ever because whether you realize it or not, whether we are in business or not, everyone in this room has helped everyone else in this room to get to where we are and what we need to do is honor that.”
Sportsheets founder Tom Stewart then took to the stage to pay tribute to the role of marketing and to announce the nominees for Marketing Executive of the Year.
“What is marketing? It’s words and pictures that tell a story about a product or service,” he said. “Without the right story a product might not see the light of day. It’s that story that sparks our curiosity, gives life to the idea and provides momentum for sales and inspires us to buy — God bless marketing.”
The “storyteller” that won is Preston Garland, Eldorado’s senior marketing strategist. Garland is considered a driving force behind the Eldorado brand, where he is responsible for promotional development and strategic planning, while serving as a liaison between manufacturers and Eldorado.
“I was nominated amongst some amazing people in marketing,” he said. “Being a distributor, I’ve had the pleasure of working closely with a lot of people. I truly would not be here without everyone on the list and our wonderful business relationships, but more importantly, our friendship and the support that we all give each other in this industry. Thank you to my mom and Larry, all of ones that came before us and have laid the foundation of the family that we have here tonight.”
Helmy returned to the stage to kick of the presentation of the Legacy Award, which this year was awarded to Doc Johnson founder Ron Braverman.
“ We created this category to recognize those one of a kind individuals that have had a profound impact in shaping the history of our industry,” Helmy said. “When most of us were up-and-comers, they were the giants of our business. They were the ones that built world-famous brands back when there were no road maps. They were the ones that fought the fights so that the rest of us could establish a business and for that we are eternally grateful.”
Chad Braverman then delivered an emotional tribute to his father and mentor.
“This award has only been given out once before and that was for Michael Warner who is also very deserving and someone that played a really important role in my life growing up,” he said. “When I think about legacy I think of passing something down and leaving something better than when you found it.
“I think of all the different ways that Ron’s created the legacy that he’s created and what I thought of first of the legacy he’s created for this industry. He’s celebrating 50 years in the adult business — there are OGs and then there are triple OGs like Ron. He was on the battleground making sure this industry wasn’t torn apart. He always told me his mentality was that if we couldn’t band together, we were going to die."
Chad acknowledged the many ways that Braverman has shaped his life personally and professionally, and the legacy he’s built within Doc Johnson and the industry as a whole.
“I’m truly honored,” Ron Braverman said. “I want to thank another group of people and that is the Free Speech Coalition. A few of us started it many years ago in the back of one our friends’ offices and we’ve worked really hard in keeping it alive — and for any of you that aren’t involved please get involved. It’s not just about our industry, it’s about our country and it’s important. I’m really blessed in a lot of ways. I’m blessed to come into work to two families — Erica and Chad — and my other family my Doc Johnson family. It’s a great industry; embrace it; embrace every part of it. It’s wonderful to look out and see the diversity in our industry.”
Coyote Amrich, the director of purchasing and product development at Good Vibrations, followed with the presentation of the Progressive Leadership Award.
“To be a leader in our industry you must be willing to push the envelope, take risks and think big,” she said. “These pioneers blaze unknown trails to explore what’s on the horizon, develop new strategies that often become standard practices for years to come.”
The winner was Satisfyer vice president of sales Jerome Bensimon. As the most visible face of the inventive brand, Bensimon has played a vital role is promoting the brand’s latest developments in technology and bold marketing initiatives.
Bensimon kept his acceptance speech short, saying, “I am grateful for the honor. Thank you to the team in the U.S. and in Germany.”
The next award for Senior Leadership was given to Doc Johnson director of sales Kerin De Francis, who’s been with the company for 15 years.
“I want to thank Doc Johnson for being my family; it’s amazing working for a triple OG,” she said. “Chad and Ron really said it all — they are awesome to work for and work with and I honestly have the best team. I want to thank the founders if it wasn’t for them we wouldn’t be in this room.”
In just two years, Steve Craig — along with his brother Andy — has reinvigorated historic adult distributor Nalpac into the thriving, modern company it is today. It was no surprise to many that Steve Craig was crowned Chief Exec of the Year.
“Two years ago my brother came to me and said ‘hey what do you think about buying a sex toy company?’” Craig said. “Being a good boy from the Midwest I thought no, what are you talking about? Never!’ but here almost two years later I can’t think of anywhere else that I’d be. It’s because of the community; it’s a great industry. I really accept this award on behalf of my whole team, especially my brother Andy, and of course my wife that encourages me to chase my dreams.”
Elsa Viegas was not on hand to accept her title of Businesswoman of the Year so Lisa Sananes, Bijoux Indiscrets’ head of sales accepted on her behalf.
“I told her she needed to prepare a speech and she said there is no way I’m going to win with all those women nominated,” Sananes said. “Before I read her note, I just want to say thank you to everyone because Elsa is extremely humble and really discreet but she’s amazing at her job. She’s a passionate and creative woman. I met her seven years ago and she’s such an inspiration.
“Here’s what Elsa said, ‘Thank you; it is a great honor to be nominated side by side with such great women in the industry. I love what I do and can’t imagine myself doing anything else but this. Thank you Bijoux Indiscrets and thank you everyone.’”
In presenting the award for Businessman of the Year, Fun Factory’s Kristen Tribby reminded attendees that we’re all just people.
“I hate to say ‘man’ because really we are all people,” she said. “So I’m excited to announce some of the coolest people that have done some of the coolest things for our industry and honestly these are the people that are making decisions, changing the way we’re viewed in this industry and how we’ve evolved in this industry.”
Michael Trigg, the founder of Wet lubricants, was the person to win the 2019 Businessman of the Year award.
“Thank you everyone,” he said. “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re back! We’re just going to keep doing what we’ve been doing for 30 years and that’s make the very best products inside and out.”
XBIZ Associate Publisher Sara Ramirez took the stage to present the last award of the evening, the WIA Woman of the Year award.
“I chose to present this last award because this category is very special to me,” she said. “I know how hard the women in our industry work and I admire each and every one of you.
I’m very excited to announce the winner,” Ramirez teased. “I’ve known this lady for almost as long as I’ve worked in the industry. We both worked on the video side selling DVDs but I started when there was VHS. She moved into pleasure products and today she is the founder and CEO of her own company.”
Someone in the audience called out “Alicia!” The winner, indeed, was COTR founder and CEO Alicia Sinclair.
“Every time I’m up here and I hear you cheering me on it’s just so meaningful so if I may tell just a short story,” she said. “When I was in my first year in college we had to write down something we wanted out of life and if you know me you know that I was a military child and I moved every two or three years throughout my childhood and the one thing I wrote down is that I wanted to belong. I really feel that I belong in this industry and that’s because of you guys so I want to say thank you to the incredible Tracy — my team; to my partner Robert, who for the most part doesn’t complain about having to do extra work to help me. To all of the awesome women (or people) nominated in this category — you are all inspiring. Your support and your passion are incredible. It is an amazing time to be a part of this industry and I am just loving seeing everyone kick ass.”
The wonderful evening of the XBIZ Exec Awards was presented by Satisfyer, and also sponsored by Doc Johnson, Pipedream, CalExotics, Adam & Eve, Nalpac and Wicked Sensual Care.