John Cornetta, owner of the Love Shack chain of stores, remembers his first meeting with International Video Distributors co-owner Frank Kay.
“I had a girl come into my office sometime in 2001 and yell and huff and puff and almost pass out because IVD just had told her that if we didn’t pay our bill, that they wouldn’t ship us,” Cornetta recalled. “My knee-jerk reaction was, ‘Screw them; just order from someone else and tell whoever owns that company to shove it. We will pay them when we can.’”
That exchange led to Kay getting on a plane to Atlanta to “deal with this face to face”... which, since Kay was in the adult business, was based in New Jersey, and sounded like “a cross between Alvin and the Chipmunks, Mike Tyson and Andrew Dice Clay,” led Cornetta to assume the worst about their impending encounter.
“Next day, Frank gets off the plane in jeans and a T-shirt, holding a paper bag as his carry-on,” Cornetta continued. “He is this funny-as-shit, non-imposing guy and we both start cracking up at each other as we drive away from the airport. During that ride we worked out not only the debt, but a credit line—but most importantly, we became best friends and remain so to this day.”
But the story points up the complexity of the man who, 25 years ago, co-founded with his brother Michael what has become the largest adult DVD distributorship in the entire country; a shrewd, savvy businessman who’s amassed the industry’s biggest catalog of features mainly through buying up defunct (or soon to be) producers, often keeping their former owners on as directors for IVD’s new imprint; a family man who, in his private life, collects classic cars and has even established a charitable foundation through which he donates thousands per year to fight breast cancer and to support local police, firefighters and rescue squads.
“My first adult show was in Washington, D.C., a VSDA show in ’85,” recalled Kay, then a recent college grad who had dual-majored in business administration and accounting. “I went down there and acted like I had a huge warehouse. I met two or three people and convinced them to sell me. My big supporter in those days was Western Visuals’ Eliot Segal, but my biggest supporter was Hollywood Video, Hal Freeman. Hal really supported me and really helped me get my start.”
Up to that point, Kay had been splitting his time between hawking TVs, VCRs and blank tape out of the trunk of his car and spending occasional nights and weekends as a disc jockey at weddings, bar mitzvahs and fraternity/sorority parties—“Frankie Kay the Mobile D.J.,” a holdover business from his college days. But shortly after attending the D.C. show, the Kay brothers officially opened International Video Distributors (IVD) in Tennent, New Jersey, a stone’s throw from the famous Freehold Raceway.
“At that time, there were a lot of interesting things going on in the business, with Hal fighting his court case [which in 1988 legalized adult filming in California], and there were a lot of hesitant manufacturers out there,” Kay said. “I had to fight to get Caballero and VCA—they were the toughest two lines to get. I had many conversations with Russell Hampshire, many conversations with Howie Klein and Al Bloom. I faked my way in to explain to them that I had a huge warehouse that was never able to be seen because it was in a confidential location. But what I did was end up convincing them that I was the guy to deal with.”
“I remember my first trip going there in, I think, ’89,” mused Christian Mann, then owner of Video Team. “It was this tiny little place that was just selling a bunch of televisions more than anything, and had the little Pleasure Productions/IVD business in a warehouse that is about the size of their current front lobby, and I remember sitting with Michael and Frank who were sharing an office with really chintzy furniture.”
The size of the warehouse reflected the general lack of adult videos to stock.
“At that point, video stores were only getting two or three or four [adult] movies a month, so they were begging for more product,” Kay explained. “So Michael and I thought it would be a great idea to have us sell not only the blank tape and VCRs, but while I was selling these stores, I would be able to sell them two or three pieces of adult entertainment. At that point, I was selling Beta for approximately $55 to $60 a piece, and VHS for $45 to $55.”
The sales took place out of Kay’s Chevy Astro van, which was loaded up with five, 10 or 20 pieces of each producer’s latest movies, which Kay and his fledgling sales staff sold to adult stores in the mid-Atlantic area—a practice that continues to this day, though now with an entire fleet of blue Astro vans.
“In the very beginning, I did all the paperwork and office work,” remembered Sue G., the company’s human resources manager and its longest-serving employee. “At around 3 p.m. each day, we proceeded back to the warehouse in the Tennant, N.J., building, where Frankie and another longtime employee picked and packed the daily orders while I entered shipments into the UPS book. Back then, yes, it was all done by hand since we didn’t have computers! We grew very quickly and had to convert some of the warehouse space into office space for new sales staff. We grew and grew and needed more square footage so we moved to a larger facility in Hightstown, N.J., in early 1995.”
“On Wednesday evenings, the salespeople would load up their vans with all the product and drive around all day Thursday and Friday and try to sell it,” added Kim S., who’s been with the company for 15 years, eventually becoming its sales manager. “They were in Delaware and Maryland and the Philly area and the suburbs. We concentrated mostly in Pennsylvania as far as Allentown, all of New Jersey, all of Delaware and most of Maryland at that time. We probably had four or five people on the road Thursdays and Fridays. We hit that area pretty good. That’s how we built up most of our base in the area surrounding IVD.”
Klein, co-founder of Caballero Home Video, also remembers the company’s early years well.
“Frank was like a young start-up,” Klein told AVN. “We heard about him, and I got in contact with him, and I flew out to meet him and see his facility, and I started selling him and supporting him. I remember in late ’85 or ’86, he had an open house one time to get acquainted with everybody, and I brought Marilyn Chambers in. That was like a big thing; she was a pretty big star at the time, and she came in and signed autographs and that got him known in the area. Then I just started making deals with him and selling him and supporting him. I think the first company he carried was Caballero. And I remember all the big guys in New York and New Jersey were pounding on me, ‘What are you selling this kid for?’ Now, all these years later, he’s the biggest guy around, and most of those guys are gone. He’s really blossomed. We got to be good friends.”
With producers quickly coming on board, Kay realized early on that there was money to be made not only by selling other people’s product, but also in creating his own.
“Business blossomed really quickly into the following year  when I bought this movie called Getting Ahead, with Angel Cash,” Kay recalled. “I said, ‘Hey, I think I can sell these movies. Not only can I sell these movies but I can make them.’ I didn’t understand how to make them just yet, but I bought the rights to that movie from a guy named Kevin Beech, and then proceeded to buy two other movies from a Canadian guy. One was called Slippery When Wet with Barbara Dare, and Video Vixens with Bunny Bleu. And IVD sold those movies as well as the other guys I was selling.”
Those first three movies were released under Kay’s fledgling production company, Pleasure Productions, and shortly after, Kay purchased the 10-film catalog of Cinematrex to add to Pleasure’s library.
But to survive, Pleasure would need original content.
“In ’88, I was introduced to [Jace Rocker] and Britt Morgan,” Kay related, “and we went out to Marin County and filmed a movie called I Found My Thrill On Cherry Hill. Jace was the director and Britt was the director/actress.”
Pleasure produced several more features shot in Marin, since it was illegal to shoot in Los Angeles County at the time, and Kay would fly out to supervise the filming—and also to open up new accounts for IVD.
“I would hold the camera a little bit, I would direct a little bit, but I was the man behind the scenes,” Kay explained. “I was the man with the money, and I was making sure my money was well spent. In the ’90s, we signed [director] Nic Cramer, and we did some big-budget movies for the Pleasure side. We did parodies, we did films, and we sold these foreign, cable and TV [rights] and that’s what catapulted me into continuing to buy libraries. At this point, we’re probably up to 6,500 titles in our catalog. I think we have the most titles that are features out of anybody in the world under a lot of different brands, Rosebud and Pleasure and Evolution.”
Between straight, gay and fetish, IVD own the catalogs of more than 40 production companies, including such respected imprints as Rosebud Productions, Plum Productions, Western Visuals, Simon Wolf Productions, Puritan, In Hand Video, Playgirl Video and its latest acquisition, Gothic Media. And as of Nov. 9, the company has also become the shipping and sales agent for Pure Play Media.
“With me having my own content, I was able to sell it as well as other people’s,” Kay said. “My scenario was very simple: I wanted to be the Jack of all trades. When I went on the road for IVD, I wanted to have gay, shemale, bondage and fetish, straight boy/girl; I wanted to have anal; I wanted to have black, interracial, white, so my whole acquisition process revolved around being the man to have it all. What’s been the funny thing about IVD throughout the years, IVD has sold more of other people’s content than my own.”
The IVD of today is an economic powerhouse, second only to the Larry Flynt empire. IVD has warehouses in New Jersey, Florida and the San Fernando Valley, and continues to do warehouse shows in each location. The most recent show, in Hightstown, N.J., where IVD moved in ’95, featured at least a dozen stars from companies like Wicked and Adam & Eve, as well as representatives of several novelty vendors like Doc Johnson and Evolved, who held seminars and offered specials to Kay’s invited retailer guests.
While Kay could release videos under any of the imprints he owns, most of the company’s current titles are released under Pleasure Productions or the label he founded with actor/director Tom Byron, Evolution Erotica. Byron also releases his own line of videos, Tom Byron Productions, through IVD.
In addition to IVD, Kay opened novelty distributor and manufacturer East Coast News in ’95, and in ’99 he acquired Effex Media, a fulfillment company for adult internet vendors. Just last year, IVD did a major overhaul of its online business-to-business platforms to make it easier for retailers to order product.
“The recession’s affected everybody,” Kay admitted, “but we’re out there, we’re hustling, we’re big and all that stuff but we’re not resting on our laurels. Whereas in the ’80s, ’90s and early 2000s, there wasn’t as many competitors, all of a sudden, with the internet, I literally have millions of competitors. But our business is strong because we’re on top of things. We’re good. I have salesmen all over the place and we’re always on the road and we’re traveling and we move and groove with the times.”
And after all, what more could producers and retailers ask of one of XXX’s most successful entrepreneurs?
This article originally appeared in the December 2009 issue of AVN.