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With Porn Sales Going Kaplooey, Larry Flynt Moving Into Online Apparel

[Los Angeles Business Journal]- The skin industry has earned Larry Flynt billions of dollars over the decades, but it’s not treating him as well these days.

The circulation of his 20 magazines is virtually flat, sales are falling at his Hustler retail shops and traffic at his online porn sites is slowing.

So the 66-year-old Flynt now is expanding beyond adult fare into a more mainstream business. He has been quietly buying up Web sites that sell trendy, urban-themed apparel, such as expensive T-shirts.

“When one of my executives came to me and said that he wanted us to invest in e-commerce Web sites that sell T-shirts, I wasn’t very interested at first – especially because he said the T-shirts were priced at $100,” recalled Flynt. “I thought, ‘Who’s going to pay $100 for a T-shirt?’”

It turns out lots of people, especially young females who, despite the slowing economy, will dig deep to get the right garment.

While Hustler-branded apparel and jewelry dominate online sales at such sites as HusterLingerie.com, online shoppers might be surprised to know that when they buy T-shirts, caps or jewelry from about a dozen sites such as MetalMulisha, SilverStar, So-CalSpeedShop, NoFear and Tapout, they’re actually buying from LFP Publications Inc.

Most of the products appeal to those interested in extreme sports, heavy metal music and the like.

In fact, sales are so strong that Flynt has decided to pour serious money into the e-commerce endeavor. He plans to buy many more such apparel-selling sites, and he’s spending millions to build a warehouse and office complex in Chatsworth.

He and his executives did not want to disclose the exact location of the warehouse-office operation. But it is expected to house the goods sold online, while the front offices are to be occupied by Web executives and a cadre of technicians who will keep the operations running.

Flynt began selling Hustler-branded apparel and accessories online about two years ago on its own sites, generating about $8 million in annual revenue. But Flynt believes that with his new collection of mainstream Web sites, his company can generate upwards of $50 million a year from online apparel and accessories in two to three years.

That could be dismissed as the kind of rosy prediction that enthusiastic business operators usually make. However, online apparel sales – the core business of Flynt’s sites – have increased 37 percent so far this year, topping $1 billion for the first time, said Ilse Metchek, president of the California Fashion Association.

“The online apparel business is booming, even in this economy,” said Metchek, who recently completed a study of online apparel sales that showed profit margins can exceed 100 percent on T-shirts – with the vast majority of buyers female. “And the profit margins are higher because you have fewer employees and no need to lease store space.”

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