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Cover Story: 'Santa, I Want a New Dildo'

Mistletoe isn't the only way to get some

By Kevin Osborne · November 28th, 2007 · Cover Story
  Chris Cicchinelli, president of Pure Romance, says people are less shy about working on their relationships.
Joe Lamb

Chris Cicchinelli, president of Pure Romance, says people are less shy about working on their relationships.

Christmas and its related winter celebrations are supposed to be a season of joy, and few things bring as much joy as good sex and an intense orgasm -- whether it be with another person or by yourself.

As more and more people grow tired of conventional holiday gifts such as neckties, perfume and socks, they are deciding to treat themselves or their loved ones to an ever-evolving selection of adult sex toys as a novel alternative. Benefiting from this trend is Pure Romance, the Loveland-based company that uses independent consultants to host in-home parties where its line of vibrators, lubricants, sexual performance creams, bondage gear and other bedroom accessories are displayed and sold.

After all, winter nights in Ohio can be long and cold, and people need something to do to fill those hours when they're trapped indoors.

In the past few years, Pure Romance reports that its sales during the holiday months have increased between 65 and 70 percent as customers realize the full potential of its products as gift items.

The spike compares to the roughly 45 percent growth rate that its core business has experienced overall for the entire year.

"During the past two or three years, we've definitely seen a change," says Chris Cicchinelli, president of Pure Romance and son of its founder, Patty Brisben. "People are looking for more unique-type gifts. Everyone has nine toasters and three juicers. We're a society that has way too much stuff."

Kendra Smiley, who's worked for Pure Romance and hosted parties in the Greater Cincinnati area for more than three years, says the female-only events are becoming more popular despite the region's reputation for being stodgy and reserved about sexual matters.

"I think (guests) are conservative until they get in that party atmosphere and have that female camaraderie develop," Smiley says. "After a while, people get more comfortable and relax and talk about their sexuality."

Unlike most retail businesses, the at-home party sector used to see a dip in sales in November and December as many people were busy with holiday entertaining, but that's changed.

"We're essentially a party planning business," Cicchinelli says. "We usually don't do well in the summer months or around the holidays. I think people have grown tired of doing the traditional Isotoner gloves or the traditional stocking stuffers."

Also, the company recently began offering gift cards on its Web site (www.pureromance.com) have become a popular item for husbands to give their wives.

Smiley believes part of the parties' growing popularity during the holidays is that they provide a pressure valve for harried shoppers.

"It kind of takes the stress out of the holidays and all of the running around with the hustle and bustle," she says.

The at-home atmosphere also puts potential customers at ease, Cicchinelli says.

"A lot of people don't want to go into a store and buy these products," he says. "They don't get the education with it that we provide when they do that. We give them all the bells and whistles and tell them how it interacts with their bodies."

Cicchinelli -- who is a graduate of Moeller High School, a Catholic institution in Blue Ash -- says only St. Louis has a more conservative vibe among Midwestern cities than Cincinnati. Still he believes attitudes toward sexuality are progressing, which explains the reception his company has been receiving.

"Everyone maintains their cars and they maintain their homes," Cicchinelli says. "People are realizing, 'Why not maintain our relationships in the same way?' It's one of the most important aspects of people's lives. This is a way to keep relationships interesting and new."

Pure Romance has more than 10,000 independent saleswomen, known as "consultants," who host parties.

Consultants typically receive a 40 percent commission, although they usually must pay a 10 percent credit to the party hostess, meaning that they usually take home about 30 percent of proceeds from parties. Because Pure Romance ships only to a distributor, consultants are responsible for getting the products to the hostess and customers.

Since the company began in 1993, it has grown into a multimillion-dollar enterprise, with 80 full-time employees and $43 million in retail sales in 2004. ©



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