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Hike in Discretionary Spending Helps Adult Novelty Firms

Tabloid television shows and celebrity websites aren’t the only ones who are grateful for the antics of actor Charlie Sheen. So is Topco Sales, a Chatsworth adult products manufacturer. • Location: Chatsworth • CEO: Scott Tucker • History: Founded by Martin Tucker, Scott’s father, in 1973, making it the oldest adult products manufacturer in the Valley. Martin Tucker used his background in aerospace technology and metallurgical engineering in developing sex toys. In January, the elder Tucker was added to the AVN Awards Hall of Fame – Founders Branch for his contributions to the industry. Just as Sheen, star of the CBS comedy “Two and a Half Men” began his public break down, Topco released to distributors its line of toys molded from body parts of Bree Olson, an adult performer living with the actor. With all the publicity the company considered stepping up production to meet demand it said it was getting from distributors. The San Fernando Valley is known the world over as the capital of adult movie production and the same claim can be made for the manufacturing of adult toys. It hasn’t earned the moniker “Porn Valley” for nothing. In addition to Topco, the Valley is also home to Doc Johnson, the world’s largest adult toy maker, in North Hollywood, and Pipedream Products, also in Chatsworth. All three companies are expecting a brighter 2011 after having seen sales slump during the recession as consumer discretionary spending dried up. Doc Johnson looks to begin product advancements that got put on hold, said Chad Braverman, director of Product Development and Licensing. At Pipedream, meanwhile, money is being reinvested to reach a growth rate of 35 percent, said its CEO, Nick Orlandino. When it comes to overall sales in the adult industry, numbers are sketchy. It could be $12 billion or $13 billion in the U.S. alone. Or maybe it’s $15 billion worldwide. Adult companies, all of which are privately held, are more open when it comes to the jobs they create. Pipedreams employs more than 100 workers with upward of 500 employees at Doc Johnson. • Location: North Hollywood • CEO: Ron Braverman • History: Started in 1976 by Reuben Sturman, who later died in prison while serving a sentence for tax evasion and extortion. Braverman grew the business into the largest adult products manufacturer in the world. In January, Braverman joined the AVN Awards Hall of Fame – Founders Branch, and has also been named in Los Angeles Magazine’s 122 Most Influential People list. Local manufacturing All three companies vary in their amount of manufacturing jobs. Doc Johnson, for instance, makes practically all of its products in North Hollywood except for those few that are cheaper to buy elsewhere. Topco does the “lion’s share” of manufacturing in Chatsworth, said Desiree Duffie, marketing and public relations director. Pipedream makes about 40 percent of its products in the Valley, primarily cosmetics and rubber goods. “We have a lot of machinery here but compared to other industries we are small,” Orlandino said. Developing and making the toys and lotions from this trio of companies reaches a level of sophistication unknown to the general public. The jelly used in the Radiant Gems line from Doc Johnson, for instance, was created in house. Topco is known for its CyberSkin, a material that mimics the elasticity and softness of human flesh. Having a product like CyberSkin is what helps differentiate Topco from the competition, as does its lifestyle brands that include Climax, TLC, and Wildfire. “Topco may not resonate (with consumers) but they do recognize the brand names,” Duffie said. Doc Johnson, meanwhile, leads the industry in terms of packaging and presentation. Gone are the days when adult toys were simply shrink wrapped and sold in bulk out of bins at a peep show. Doc Johnson introduced using clam shells that are used throughout mainstream retailers. • Location: Chatsworth • CEO: Nick Orlandino • History: Began as a manufacturer of pipes and smoking products by two brothers, Bob and David Feldman and their father, Gene. Pipedreams made the transition to adult products in the late 1980s as a response to stricter smoking laws. Large art department The company also employs the newest paper materials, embossing and treatments that can be applied to boxes so that the shopper can see what they are purchasing. “We employ a very large art department that does quality, forward thinking work,” Braverman said. The Internet has decimated the film side of the adult industry with free sites offering videos most often times pirated from the production companies. For selling toys and novelties, the shift to online sales has been a positive thing as it opened up access to a customer base that may not feel comfortable making a purchase in a store. Of the three Valley companies, only Doc Johnson sells directly to consumer. Pipedreams and Topco are wholesalers to distributors. Pipedreams has more than 200 customers across the globe. “We ship back to China their own goods,” Orlandino said. Topco has longstanding relations with its distributors and so has no interest in wanting to do any selling itself. “We are not set up to ship out in such small quantities,” Duffie said. Topco certainly wasn’t expecting small orders on its Bree Olson toys, not with all the publicity the adult actress received for her connection with Sheen; publicity, by the way, generated by mainstream media. The acceptance by the mainstream, be it media or retailers, does help the adult industry. Duffie is anything but happy to get Topco products mentioned outside the industry, as is Orlandino and Braverman when it comes to their respective products.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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