Katy Zvolerin is public relations director for P.H.E. , the Hillsborough company better known as Adam & Eve, the nation’s biggest marketer of adult products online. It has about 350 employees.
THE N&O: When P.H.E. went online in 1996, company officials said it would allow you to reach a whole new audience. How has it changed your customer base?
KATY ZVOLERIN: For the Adam & Eve catalog, the typical customer is male, age 35 to 45; of course, it runs the gamut. We’re finding that more women are ordering from adamandeve.com. We think that has a lot to do with the anonymity of the Internet. Online, I would say it’s probably 40 percent women ; the catalog is probably 70 percent or more men.
THE N&O: How has online affected your revenues?
ZVOLERIN: The Web site is quickly catching up with the catalog, and we think it may surpass it within a couple of years. We don’t like to give numbers, but we’d be safe in saying we’re doing $20 million in Internet sales. We’re a $90-million-a-year company, including video mail and various smaller companies.
THE N&O: Do you consider P.H.E. part of the porn industry?
ZVOLERIN: We call ourselves adult entertainment. Porn is such a negative, and everything we sell is for cheerfully consenting adults. All of our explicit products — which would be videos, DVDs and books — are reviewed by independent therapists to make sure they portray a healthy image of sexuality.
There is a movement in the industry toward harder images and more shocking materials, and we definitely shy away from that. We’re women- and couples-friendly .
THE N&O: Has porn, for lack of a better term, gone mainstream? Is the old stigma gone?
ZVOLERIN: Yes, it’s more and more mainstream every year. There will always be a stigma, but now you can see adult stars in music videos, mainstream TV shows and Hollywood movies. E entertainment television just did a “True Hollywood Story” with Jenna Jameson, probably the most popular adult star in the history of the business. Sales of her products went up astronomically after the E special.
THE N&O: What’s fueling the trend?
ZVOLERIN: The American public is becoming more relaxed with sex as a whole. Shows like “Sex in the City” are so popular, and sex is a theme with most of the reality shows on television now; magazines — Cosmo, Glamour and those women’s magazines — bring everything out in the open. We’ve let down our guard and are trying to become more educated.
THE N&O: So we’ve abandoned our Puritanical roots?
ZVOLERIN: I’d say so, but that’s not to say they’re completely gone. Which is a good thing. If adult entertainment became completely acceptable to mainstream America and lost its stigma, we probably wouldn’t have much business. A little bit of the naughtiness adds to the thrill .
THE N&O: Besides the obvious benefits for P.H.E.’s bottom line, does this mainstreaming have an upside for society?
ZVOLERIN: I think so. It’s allowed women, especially, to communicate more and find out different ways to keep their relationships interesting, just by talking with their girlfriends and not feeling embarrassed or ashamed about going to adamandeve.com or going into an Adam & Eve store. Women realize they can take control of their own pleasure.
THE N&O: Is there a downside?
ZVOLERIN: The only one I can think of is that acceptance has opened up doors for a lot of companies who aren’t as responsible as Adam & Eve. The Web is running amok with sites that I don’t want to see and I wouldn’t want my children to see. You can say the same about adult stores.
THE N&O: Has P.H.E. experienced any backlash as a result?
ZVOLERIN: Generally, no. Adam & Eve has been around for over 30 years. That’s something that we’re very proud of. If you came into our offices, you’d probably be disappointed. You’d think you were at IBM or Glaxo until you went to the warehouse.
THE N&O: Do you try to ensure that only adults are browsing and buying?
ZVOLERIN: We take that very seriously. If you order from the catalog, we would ask your age, date of birth and keep your signature on file. If you go to the Web site, you wouldn’t see anything explicit without a credit card. There’s no foolproof way to verify age, but our employees taking phone orders are trained to recognize voices, and we’ll cut people off quickly if we believe they are under 18. We get a lot of that, but it’s not any more problematic than it has ever been.
THE N&O: Some people might think this is an odd business for a woman. Is it?
ZVOLERIN: I feel proud and very comfortable that I’m working with Adam & Eve to help promote such positive materials and education. Part of Adam & Eve’s goal is to keep couples together, and if that involves adding a little spice to couples’ love lives , we’re happy to be part of that. In this day and age, we would certainly want couples to remain monogamous, and that’s part of our goal as well.