Popular designer Erica Anenberg is going farther afield than the chastity-locked display cases of Nordstrom and Neiman Marcus allowed - deep, deep into the uncharted (by the likes of Anenberg, anyhoo) territory of adult merchandizing. Anenberg, known for her trend-setting jewelry designs for stars Lenny Kravitz, Gina Gershon, and Pink, among others, is possibly most lauded for the 20-foot glass bar she created for the 2000 Academy Awards. Now she's moving into the adult marketplace with e-glass, "the ultimate in sensual glass toys." Her co.'s PR line on this sort of mainstream-to-adult mavericking is the following: "I am open. And when you're open, you listen to your instincts and go to places that maybe you never thought you would. You have to take risks to feel that your life is flowing and that is how I want to live. That is how I live."
We asked Anenberg translate.
AVN Online: Now look here, Miss Mainstream Artiste Entrepreneur, this is the ADULT INDUSTRY you're stickin' your little toe in.
Erica Anenberg: I'm diving in. The "adult industry" is more than just a bunch of hot porn stars giving guys boners. It's a world of opportunity where I can build and expand my business. I have an open mind, I listen to my instincts. Taking risks makes me feel alive and feeds my passion for business, too.
AVNO: Okay. That's very nice, but come on. Why? Really? Did this seem like a more lucrative outlet for glass art?
EA: Of course! I was making glass art for over 10 years and manufacturing it in-house. I made glass boxes, coasters, candle holders, frames, and other items for big business: Bloomingdale's, Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus; large catalog companies like Sundance and J.Jill. I was even on QVC a few times. I generated a lot of revenue, but at the end of the year, my costs were almost as high as my profits.
Honestly, I really didn't fit into the whole "Bloomingdale's" thing. The crowd was a little too straight-laced for me. But what else was there? Thank god for the two guys from Know Mind pioneering the way for glass in the [adult toy] industry. And of course the notorious HBO Real Sex segment that they were on. For six months those guys were out of stock on glass toys that sold for $300. I saw the opportunity.
AVNO: Are you at all worried about acquiring (I know, we're all born with one, but still) a "taint" from selling adult product that might curtail future accounts?
EA: I have no problem making things that make people feel good. As long as I'm making a living and am happy with what I'm doing, I'm not worried about what people think. Besides, the adult industry is becoming more mainstream by the second. It's actually cool to sell sex-oriented products. It's rock-n-roll.
AVNO: Fair enough. You pass. So why "sensual glass massagers"?
EA: First, I knew glass was going to be huge because of its sanitary properties and second, no matter what the purpose, people appreciate beauty and good design. So I made up some samples that were a little more subtle, and manufactured the borosilicate glass myself. This brought the costs down. I then packaged [e-glass] in a way that the stores could sell off their wall racks and became the first glass toy company to sell in the adult distributor industry. From there, I licensed e-glass to Topco Sales, where designers, marketing staff, and engineers have helped me produce a more creative group of products with better packaging, while still maintaining quality with low costs. This partnership has had tremendous effect on my ability to innovate and market the e-glass line. Now, e-glass is being made with streaming colors, lights, and high tech thermal conductivity. All to appeal to a broad range of people with different desires.
AVNO: Did your original plan for marketing e-glass include a Website?
EA: Before e-glass, I was always a wholesaler working with high volumes and selling thousands of items. Then I realized I could reach more people and give them more information through a site. If someone wants to know more or buy an e-glass product [directly] they can just go to www.e-glass.com or www.eglass.com - I'm a computer geek and reserved the names in '94; my dad got his doctorate in electrical engineering and taught me DOS when I was 11 - [surfers] can read the latest news, events, place an order, or view all the products. Media kits are available online too. [The Net] makes it a lot easier to interact with and inform different groups: customers, media, distributors, store owners. e-glass is still readily available in stores, but the site offers another level of service.
AVNO: Does the "e" in e-glass stand for "e"-commerce? E-clectic? E-epers-creepers?
EA: [pause] It stands for Erica.
AVNO: Ah! Uh, of course! Right. Sorry.
EA: I've been designing glass products for over 10 years and people used to ask me all the time, "What does the 'e' stand for?" Everyone used to think it stood for "electronic." Now everyone thinks it stands for "erotic." I guess having the first letter of my name be an "E" didn't turn out so bad. Thanks, mom!
AVNO: What's the most challenging thing about running the e-glass site?
EA: Designing a Website is challenging, but if you work with good designers, the process of design becomes more fun than work. Right now the most challenging part is keeping the site updated regularly to make it interesting to the visitor.
I like using high technology, like flash and audio, to give the viewer a more interactive and intimate experience.
AVNO: Does anyone help you with the site?
EA: An amazing visual Web firm, ProjectorStudio.com, designed the site. They also maintain it, which is critical to keeping the site fresh. Just like in stores, where they rotate stock to keep it interesting, you have to pay attention to how the site represents what's exciting about your product or business.
I also have an assistant who manages customer service requests. When a customer orders a toy, I fax my packaging company the order information. Within 48 hours - bingo! - there's an e-glass toy being shipped and money in the bank. When e-glass was featured on Playboy's Night Calls with Juli [Ashton] and Tiffany, in the first hour I had over 1,000 hits. By the end of the week, I had generated over $10,000 dollars for that 10-minute spot. Gotta love that.
AVNO: So what's your plan?
EA: ... ?
AVNO: Okay, okay. What's your marketing plan?
EA: My plan was simple: to align myself with a larger toy company that could work with me to create, market, and distribute e-glass in the strongest possible way. I met [Topco chief] Marty Tucker at ANME in July of 2002, and knew Topco was where I wanted to be. Topco is the oldest and most technically-oriented manufacturer out of the top five. Plus they made KISS merchandise and the Incredible Hulk toy in the '70s - Marty told me a story about how he had three machines making Incredible Hulk toys next to three other machines making dildos. You can't get much cooler than that.
AVNO: Anything you want to share with other new-to-adult marketers/artisans?
EA: The first thing to ask yourself is, do you have a saleable product? If you think you do, make sure you're sparking interest before trying to tackle the entire playing field. The adult industry is hot, but you have to have a unique product for the right price at the right time to really get going. My advice is to start where you are and use the resources around you.
I started by showing my prototype e-glass to adult toy distributors based in the San Fernando Valley near my own business. Basically, they all took e-glass on the spot, which is very unusual for these companies. In the first few months, I sold over $40,000 worth of e-glass toys. Then I hooked up with a distributor's rep and things started flowing from there. Big business for e-glass is the home party/lingerie/adult books & gifts circuit. Entreneu's husband-and-wife team (Harry and Karen) would place orders for $10,000 and let me charge their credit card before they got their merchandise - this is totally unheard of in the adult industry. But in all these examples, it was the product that caused the responses. They all knew it was a unique, quality product that would sell. And they were right.
AVNO: Do you test all your designs yourself?
EA: Of course I test my designs myself! Who wouldn't want to use an e-glass toy? They're smooth, hard, and frictionless, they can be heated up or iced down, and they are totally sanitary. The surface is non-porous: Nothing can get in, and nothing can get out. It's kinda magical, almost "Willy Wonka"-ish. Basically it's the safest way to share or use a sex toy, because you can easily wash off the surface and bacteria can't linger.
AVNO: How do you come up with an "erotic glass toy" design, anyway?
EA: You visualize what will feel good. As a woman, I know my body and I know that sometimes sex toys are very intimidating. I like ripples, curves and interesting bodily placement. I like rounded edges and I like beauty.
AVNO: What differentiates your product from the other glass objets d'erotique out there?
EA: Well, between Topco and myself we have come up with a manufacturing process that makes a beautiful quality product that is still affordable. Why would someone want to use a glass sex toy that costs them $100 dollars when they can buy an e-glass toy for a third of the price? e-glass toys come with velvet bags and free e-lube. Plus they don't resemble something that looks like it belongs in a head shop. They are classier and less conspicuous. The Danni's Hard Drive e-glass is the first glass sex toy that comes with a vibrating attachment. Adam and Eve's "Ruby Slipper" has an oil inside that generates a stabilizing warmth; and the e-glass "Light Wave" - now let's see another glass toy company out there do that.
AVNO: Have you had any bad or... er... "learning" experiences since the launch of e-glass.com?
EA: The adult industry is a tough one to break into. It's a small niche of people who all know each other, so when new people try to develop products all the old-school types are skeptical. But that's okay because it makes people like me strive harder to prove themselves.