You might assume combining family and work is likely to cause strain on both ends, and perhaps even be detrimental to business. Yet in the pleasure products industry, myriad family-owned businesses are proving otherwise. Some pioneering manufacturers and retailers date back several decades, and are now being run by execs who were born into this biz and continue to keep their multi-generational brands flourishing. Today’s tech-savvy entrepreneurs are also tapping their parents and other family members to support them by playing more traditional business roles in their ventures.
Taking a closer look at these businesses affords us a better understanding of how adult retail pros introduce their children to this line of work, how they recruit relatives, how they learn to grow together personally and professionally — and how being family-run can inspire closeness, within the company culture and the industry at large.
As a child, Kathryn Guy of TAF Distributing recalled, she used to wonder if her father was involved in nefarious activities.
“He was always going into these buildings that I couldn’t go in, and meeting with people who wouldn’t tell me what they did,” Guy shared. “I finally approached him to ask him what his ‘real’ job was, and I was definitely relieved when he told me he just owned adult stores.”
Guy’s introduction to her parents’ work might have been more dramatic than that of other second-generation pleasure products professionals, but it highlights how many parents are hesitant to talk to their kids about this line of work.
For others, however, this industry was part of their lives from a young age. Chris Bowles, general manager of Creative Conceptions, which his parents founded, looks back at his youth and remembers pleasure products just being part of the family’s everyday lives.
“From selling condoms to all my school friends at age 16 through to summer holidays spent working in the warehouse, there have been many initiations and introductions into the industry over the years,” Bowles shared.
Similarly, Shay Martin — now president of Vibratex/Magic Wand, the company her mother founded — was introduced to her parents’ business as a teenager and promptly put to work.
“Honestly, my first introduction was when I was young. My parents never really ‘hid’ things from me. When I was in high school, I worked my summers in my father’s warehouse, pulling orders for his stores and putting them together for shipment. I also helped count inventory in all the stores every year,” Martin said.
Notably, Martin was not just performing random tasks. From the start, her parents treated her as if they intended for her to take over the business.
“My father, mother and I would pull an all-nighter to get to all his stores. They would take me out to Denny’s in the morning for pancakes as a reward,” she remembered. “My father always made sure I learned all aspects of the business from the bottom up. I had to do just as much grunt work as all the employees, including cleaning the video booths — which I assure you, no one wants to do.
“But it taught me how much hard work, passion and dedication it takes to run a successful business,” Martin explained.
Doc Johnson COO and Director of Product Development Chad Braverman also was a teen when he got a taste of the hard work behind running a manufacturing plant. In the eighth grade, he became familiar with the shipping department, where he stacked pallets and opened and broke down boxes.
“My first impression was that actually most of the goings-on weren’t remotely sexual, despite all my teenage friends making dirty jokes about my job at the dildo factory,” he said. “There was never any real doubt that I would do my best to take it over. I felt a sort of responsibility, growing up as an only child, that the company could fall on my shoulders, if I wanted it to. So, I went to college specifically to learn how to manage a business, be an effective leader and in turn move my dad’s sex toy company into its next generation.”
As a young, curious kid, Barnaby Ltd. Vice President Casey Kaminsky would snoop around the office of his father, 47-year industry veteran and Barnaby, Ltd. President Joel Kaminsky.
“The magazines on his desk were filled with nude imagery, which gave me a clue that something was different there,” he said. “And then I remember peeping through a small window on a door into what I now know was a warehouse where I got a glimpse into a beautiful new silicone-filled world: my future. My thoughts were that I had the coolest dad in the world, and I wanted to be just like him when I grew up.”
From Family Work to a Career
One common experience that many second-generation execs touched upon was making the leap from helping out one’s parents to beginning to see the family business as a potential career.
Children of business owners often recount having been “strongly encouraged” to work at their parents’ place. However, a family business can only pass from one generation to the next if these kids eventually decide that they want to follow in their parents’ footsteps. Second-generation figures in adult retail have found themselves on this path for a variety of reasons.
Kassidy Wasserman — the manager for social content and graphics at Velvet Thruster, which was co-founded by her mother Danyelle Fima — shared that though she had known about her parents’ work and even did the graphics for their trade show booth, her first real introduction to the business came when she visited her parents at an expo/awards show.
“This was my first time really being a part of it, and it was definitely like jumping head-first into the deep end of sex toys. It was truly a shock for me to see all the colorful toys and people,” Wasserman recounted. “It was pushing my comfort zone at the time, but it was also incredible to be immersed in this unique community of people. I recognized Zoë Ligon from social media as she visited our booth, and it helped me initially find comfort in the adult space.”
Like Wasserman, Chris Bowles found himself professionally drawn to the industry because of how unique it was, as well as how many opportunities there were within it. He recounted how, after years of helping his parents out, first as a kid and then as a grown-up, one day he realized “just how big and professional the industry is” and “just how many different brands and businesses there are.”
Another thing that impressed Bowles about the industry was how special everyone in it was.
“There is something really wonderful about how the industry is made up of so many free-thinking, creative and friendly people,” Bowles said. “I don’t think any other industry can boast such a great bunch of people who work hard yet play hard and are usually smiling.”
Zach Smith expressed similar sentiments when discussing why he entered the industry. Smith —brand ambassador for Maia Toys, where his mother, Lisa Hanna, is president of sales — got his first real industry experience in 2018.
“I was brought into the industry with basically no prior knowledge,” Smith said. “I was brought in to work on Maia Toys’ marketing, as well as the creative side of the company. I was so nervous and excited to attend my first trade show, but I remember thinking how nice everyone in the industry was.”
Kathryn Guy didn’t originally expect to follow her parents into the pleasure products industry.
“I was actually pursuing a career in music for most of my early 20s. However, that doesn’t pay super well, so I always had some sort of role in the business,” Guy remembered. “I was a sales associate, then a manager, then a lingerie buyer, then up to my current job of buyer/owner of our distribution center.”
Eventually Guy realized she enjoyed working with her parents more than working in music.
“I made the commitment to work full-time here a few years ago when I realized I was having a lot more fun doing this job and that there was a lot more potential for growth,” she shared. “Between teaching music to bratty kids and buying dildos all day, I kind of prefer the dildos.”
Building and Working With Family
While Guy and others started out by working for their parents, many other companies have become family businesses because the owners recruited relatives or decided to start their business as a family from the get-go.
Raising funds to create a business is tough, but for people launching a new company, it can be equally difficult to hire good employees. Julieta Chiara, CEO of Chiara Collective, touched upon this when discussing how she built her company off the success of her sex blog and social media. Chiara knew that she had a solid business idea, but soon realized that she would need help.
“As I started taking on my first clients, it became clear I couldn’t do it all on my own,” She shared. “I needed help.”
For Chiara, the solution was obvious: turn to her family. “It was an absolute no-brainer to hire my sisters Nichole and Emily first,” Chiara said. “I didn’t even think of hiring outside of my family. This felt safe since my sisters are intelligent, adaptable and have innovative ideas that take my clients’ brands to the next level.”
Bringing in her sisters worked out so well that Chiara soon turned to other relatives.
“My father Adrian contributed as COO, helping our creative minds explore structure in the biz, and we hired our family friend Kris McGuire as our product photographer. Heath, Nichole’s husband, is currently in law school and helps out with questions or adjustments we may need with contracts or agreements,” Chiara continued.
Other businesses have found similar success by being a family project from day one. For example, when Amy Baldwin had an idea for a pleasure products store, she knew that she wanted to build it with her mother, Janis. Baldwin — now a sex educator, sex and relationship coach, “Shameless Sex” podcast co-host, Uberlube product educator and co-owner of PurePleasureShop.com — talked about this when reflecting on how she entered the industry.
“The concept of opening Pure Pleasure Shop was inspired by a class fieldtrip to one of San Francisco’s premier sex-positive adult stores, Good Vibrations,” Baldwin recounted. “This field trip just so happened to occur at the same time my mom was looking for a business investment.
“She originally wanted to create something such as a wellness spa to support the empowerment of female-identified folks, but her vision quickly changed when I called her and said, ‘This is what we should do. This is how you can empower people. We should open an education-focused adult store like this in Santa Cruz,’” Baldwin continued.
Though initially hesitant, Baldwin’s mother quickly took to the idea and two years later, the Pure Pleasure Shop became a reality. The store opened in 2008, during one of the worst economic downturns the nation had experienced, but the shop survived and thrived. Baldwin and her mother co-owned the brick-and-mortar Pure Pleasure Shop for 12 years before they decided to sell it while keeping their web store, PurePleasureShop.com.
Baldwin’s time running the store enabled her to gain a deeper understanding of the industry while learning about the psychology of sex and relationships. She became a coach, and now shares her knowledge as a co-host of the “Shameless Sex” podcast. Building the Pure Pleasure Shop was a journey that helped both mother and daughter to grow as businesswomen, becoming one of many examples of adult retail businesses and families evolving together.
Sometimes that evolution happens under more somber circumstances. Shay Martin, president of Vibratex/Magic Wand, took over the business with her husband after her father became ill.
“When my father was diagnosed with a terminal illness, I knew I had to come home to take care of him, help my mom — and take over the business that was so dear to them,” Martin shared. “My husband and I didn’t think twice about giving up our respective jobs to run Vibratex. It was in my blood, and this industry is like family to me.”
Martin has no regrets; she and her husband love the work. More to the point, it was family bonds that enabled the company to grow even as the family itself was fundamentally changing in a moment of crisis.
The work ethic exemplified by adult retail industry pioneers is being carried forward by several second-generation execs who witnessed the sweat and tears that went into establishing their businesses.
Vibratex/Magic Wand President Shay Martin explained how her parents’ dedication to launching the now-iconic brand continues to inspire her.
“My parents never went to college and had to work incredibly hard to achieve what they had,” Martin said. “Although I went to college, they still made sure I understood that nothing is ever given. Everything had to be earned through hard work. I tend to embrace my parents’ belief that if I pay my employees well, make sure they are happy, confident and challenged, put the customer first in every thought and have a balance in work and life, then my life will be rewarding and full. I believe in that to this day.”
Now that Casey Kaminsky is taking on more of a leadership role at Barnaby Ltd. alongside his father, Joel, he can see just how much they are alike professionally.
“We both believe in doing things the right way: not taking shortcuts, focusing on quality, only selling products we believe are in alignment with our mission, treating everyone with respect, maintaining good ethics — all those good things,” he said. “We both believe in the importance of improving and growing ecommerce, and that while brick-and-mortar retail will always have a place, ecommerce is the future. Most importantly, honesty, integrity, compassion and loyalty are some of his values that I hope to demonstrate the same commitment to as my career unfolds.”
The Kaminskys share a vision for the company’s long-term growth and have similar strategies for how to make it happen.
“There is no doubt we have some differences,” Casey Kaminsky said. “I mean, after all, I’m a millennial and he’s a boomer. Give me all the remote work, casual clothes and whatever else we are known for. But in reality, he is progressive and open-minded too, and there is definitely a necessary balance of remote/in-person, casual/professional, etc. in order for a company to be successful. Ultimately, that is what we both want.”
While it was Julieta Chiara who first ventured into the sexual wellness industry, she credits her parents’ fortitude and perseverance in life for her professional drive.
“My sisters and I are first-generation daughters of immigrant parents from Argentina,” she said. “When they came to America, they faced challenges many immigrants face, such as poverty, learning the language and finding their place in an unknown land. We are similar, if not identical, in our capacity to work hard and smart.”
Chiara’s parents went on to build multimillion-dollar businesses, where the children also contributed by helping pack orders or putting barcodes on products. When Chiara and her siblings were old enough to work, they had to get jobs and earn their way. It has shaped her and her family business’s operations to this day.
Amy Baldwin grew up with an open-minded approach to sexuality, which she attributes to the progressive environment of her hometown of Santa Cruz, California, and to her mother, Janis, who taught her that sex was not something forbidden or to be ashamed of.
“She made it safe to go to her to seek out birth control and safer-sex methods far before I was sexually active, and she also allowed me to have my first sexual experiences in the safety of my own bedroom,” Baldwin said. “Her messages shaped the way I currently approach sex from an open-minded, curious and accepting perspective. We both believe there is nothing shameful about being a unique sexual being, and are all for the sex-positive model of ‘All consensual sex is good sex.’”
When the mother-daughter team owned their brick-and-mortar Pure Pleasure shop, they both worked on the retail floor, while Janis handled the administrative and financial aspects of the business and Amy served as the lead buyer.
“She organized weekly sex-ed classes, and we attended them side by side, learning about anal sex 101, tantra, kink, oral sex — you name it, and we were there. Or sometimes I was the instructor and she was my student!” Baldwin said. “There was never the feeling of pretending like we were not sexual beings. We openly talked about our own sex lives with each other, and still do to this day. In fact, my mom has listened to every single podcast episode of ‘Shameless Sex,’ and just might be our No. 1 fan.”
Going into business with a parent offers a one-of-a-kind sense of security, since it means working with someone who has provided unconditional love and whom you know can be trusted.
“I cannot speak for all mother-daughter-owned businesses — especially when it comes to sex shops — but my mom is the best business partner I could ever ask for,” Baldwin added.
In addition to picking up various personality traits from their parents, second-generation pleasure product execs were raised with an open mind about sex, as well as a passion for business. They combine the professional qualities they have inherited from their parents with their own skills, applying both together to make the business grow.
Bowles believes that he represents a happy medium between his father and mother, Creative Conceptions CEO Richie Bowles and company Director Jane Bowles.
“I have inherited the way that I think and sell from my dad; we work in a very similar way, and this has naturally progressed into our strategy for the business and the growth that we are trying to achieve in the coming years,” Bowles said. “From my mom, I have developed the skills and understanding of marketing and new product development, and we work closely together to ensure that these are in line with our overall business goals for the future. However, if there’s one thing that I have inherited from both, it’s their sense of fun and I have definitely learned from the best when it comes to ‘work hard and play harder!’ Taking the positive traits of both and having the same principles helps us to all keep flowing in the same direction which can only mean good things for the company.”
Kathryn Guy also sees benefits in working alongside her parents, Kara and Kraig McGee, as well as her brother and sister-in-law.
“I like to think that I have the budget-mindedness of my dad with my mom’s kindness, but I’d have to let everyone else decide that,” she said. “It is nice working with family because you always know how they are truly feeling. I think we all complement each other very well.”
The Braverman father-son team at the helm of Doc Johnson is a great combination, Chad Braverman opined, because he and his dad share a mutual dedication to the company.
“His skills lean more toward the sales and relationship aspects, and I thrive on the creative development and operational side of things,” he said. “Our abilities greatly complement each other and help Doc succeed.”
Jacqui Rubinoff, who works closely with her father, Alberto Chowaiki, at Eye of Love, says that they share a similar easygoing personality as well as business goals. She believes that the generation gap between them has worked to their advantage, positioning them in roles that complement each other.
“For example, he focuses on production and logistics and working with distributors, while I focus more on marketing, social media, product design, etc.,” she said.
Smith also notes that he shares similarities with his mother when it comes to business. As “aggressive, driven individuals,” Smith says, their differing views fuel creativity and inspiration for Maia Toys.
“We both have passion for Maia and both of us will do whatever it takes to make the company successful,” he said. “Our skills are a bit different. I basically set my mom up to be able to make the sale. I provide her with everything she needs to be able to close the deal. My mom is more of the sales workhorse of the company whereas I am more of the creative. Things that I’m very proficient in are foreign to her and some of the things that she does best, I could never do. I think that because we have such a different set of skills, we complement each other very well.”
Prior to joining her family’s business, Kassidy Wasserman was a schoolteacher. Her parents, Velvet Thruster co-founders Alex and Danyelle Fima, unintentionally ventured into sex toy engineering after owning a metals machining and 3D-printing business for aerospace. In 2020, as the company’s sales numbers multiplied during lockdown, Alex Fima had a trying bout with COVID that left him unable to work for nearly two months, and Wasserman stepped in to help her mother handle the overwhelming workload. Today, Wasserman said, their collective previous experience allows them to collaborate, with each family member offering their own unique perspective.
“It creates a healthy mix since our customers are of both my and their generation,” she said. “Everyone brings something different to the table.”
Lovehoney Global Product Director Bonny Hall has two sisters who work at Lovehoney Group: Joy Hall and Jo Hall, who is Bonny’s sister-in-law. Bonny Hall explained everyone’s distinct roles.
“I am global product director; Jo is senior buyer and Joy is head of warehouse operations,” she said. “Jo and I do work closely together with a similar focus on product sourcing and design. At work my role is more creative and at home I am more of the family organizer! This is opposite from Joy who at work organizes everyone and at home is more creative. Jo complements us with her endless energy and ambition.”
Joy Hall said that while the sisters are all very different, they complement each other and share a strong work ethic. She also shared how Jo became a part of the family.
“Our brother also worked at Lovehoney, in the early years as warehouse manager, which is where he met Jo,” she said.
As the family’s involvement in the business has grown, the sisters have learned how to make their differences work for them on a professional level and at home, Jo Hall said.
“Over the years we have learned to embrace our differences and become a really strong team,” she added.
The Hall sisters at Lovehoney also discussed how they have collaborated and successfully managed multiple projects together, around the world and across many areas of the business. With Bonny and Joy Hall joining the company as its first two employees in 2003, and Jo Hall coming on board in 2007, the women have worked together for 15 years.
“Some key areas of success that we all had a hand in were the remote setup of global warehousing in Australia and the U.S.,” Bonny said. “We had roles to play in sourcing product, pricing, stock, logistics and warehouse operations.”
Defying common stereotypes of sibling rivalries, the brothers and sisters that have entered the pleasure products industry together say that working together has only strengthened their bonds.
“We have to be careful to take a step back in family settings,” Joy Hall said. “Work can sometimes dominate the conversations! We have so much experience and passion for all areas of the business. It is great that we have each other to lean on and so many great friends in the Lovehoney Group. It can sometimes feel like one big family!”
In 2020, Sportsheets founder Tom Stewart retired after 27 years, leaving the company in the hands of sister Julie, who had been his business partner for over two decades. An industry vet in her own right, CEO Julie Stewart has stayed true to the company’s founding principles of delivering customer satisfaction.
“We have a tremendous responsibility to make the best possible products so when people are using them in the most intimate areas of their lives, we don’t let them down,” she said. “That experience made me really determined to continue to ensure the quality that is Sportsheets and maintain our mission to make products that strengthen connection and transform intimacy.
“I love our team. We have great new team members and an amazing backbone of employees with up to three decades at Sportsheets. My husband, Ed Hayes, our COO, has provided a partnership — both for our family and the business — that allows us both to thrive and grow. The people make me optimistic and determined to continue to make a great product and a great place to work.”
Stewart credits her parents for instilling, in her and Tom, the values that have contributed to the company’s success.
“Tom and I grew up in the Midwest, with this work ethic from our dad, entrepreneurialism from our mom and importance of justice from both parents that gave us this ‘Andy Griffith Show’ reputation back in the early 1990s. We didn’t exactly fit the industry norm, I guess. But the values our parents raised us with helped us imbue integrity into the business. From our commitment to quality products, to how we treat our team members, to how we give back to different communities, that sense that people matter is at the core of who we are and why the business exists. Tom and I both have philanthropic ‘side jobs’ that are very important to us as well.”
For the Long Term
The reasons why a business gets handed from one generation to the next may vary from family to family, but within the pleasure products industry, it is clear that families are attracted to this sector because the people are incredible and the work is so exciting.
As Julie Stewart shared, “I never intended to stay for 28 years and take over the company, but I fell in love with it and that’s what happened. I love the people, the challenges and the overall creative process of growing the business and making products.”
Chris Bowles continues to take pride in bolstering the business that his parents started, and in which they remain very much involved.
“One of our aims is that Creative Conceptions and Skins Sexual Health are companies that people like to deal with,” he said. “It’s really important to us, and I am proud to say we do receive good feedback on this from the trade shows that we attend each year. I would like to maintain those key relationships and build new ones worldwide. When the company was created, one of our mission statements was to always exceed customer expectations and this is something ingrained throughout our team, and we continually strive to live up to that. I intend to continue to put our customers and staff first and to also look at ways in which we can deliver more new products while keeping the uniqueness and quality to the same standard as always.”
Shay Martin also shared her vision for preserving her family’s legacy in the biz.
“I will always uphold the trust people put in our products, never take shortcuts, and make sure the integrity of my parents’ hard work will never diminish,” she said. “Since my philosophies are aligned with theirs, this is something that just feels natural and easy to build upon. They created the path and I’m following it, clearing a few trees and a mountain here or there that may stand in the way. They always showed me a way to overcome obstacles in business and to never give up. All of us have now experienced uncertain times, and that unknown can potentially sink a business. My parents’ legacy of reassessing and being flexible and creative has helped our company flow through many changes.”
Kathryn Guy and her brother, Kraig McGee III, work daily to continue to build up the success of her family’s 18 Adam & Eve stores located across the country.
“Our goal is to take what they started and make it even bigger and better,” she said. “We would never be where we are without them, and I am truly grateful that we have such a great opportunity to continue to grow.”
Braverman is grateful for the career path on which his father has been his guide.
“I was given incredible opportunities that few are: the ability to work in a fun, evolving market, the privilege of working hand in hand with my father and the hope that I will run Doc Johnson as successfully as he has,” he said. “I follow what he’s taught by prioritizing the creation of quality products.”
Jacqui Rubinoff also is set on continuing her father’s legacy by “making products that will enhance peoples’ everyday lives and spreading love around the globe.”
In a world in which most people avoid having sex talks with their children or parents, the pleasure products industry is replete with families that have not only overcome that boundary but are thriving because of it. The industry is unique in many different ways, but like a good family, it is a community in which all feel welcomed.