Ron moved from London to Los Angeles to open Doc Johnson. Packaging he had seen in Europe he reproduced in America. “We were still light-years behind the Europeans,” he says, but now Doc Johnson named and packed its vibrators like any other piece of merchandise. The business grew. In two years’ time it expanded from 1,500 square feet to a new property of 33,000 square feet. He tapped into distribution networks like Sturman’s, flooding the American market with more and more adult novelties. When X-rated DVDs appeared in adult bookstores in the ’90s, and VHS tapes vanished, fresh retail space opened up. “And that,” says Ron, “is when the business really took off.”
Neither Chad nor Ron can explain what sells and what doesn’t. The company doesn’t do demographic research. Autumn is strong for sex toy sales; summer is slow. Purple vibrators sell well; orange vibrators do not. Classic eight-inch dongs are always a favorite, and the new transsexual Wendy Williams casting—well, the jury is still out on that, but if Howard Stern mentions your Pocket Rocket on his radio program, you’ve got a winner.
Each year Doc Johnson removes as many as 300 items from its catalog and adds that many more. Most sex toys are designed and manufactured in China, where they get knocked off just as Louis Vuitton handbags do. Ron, however, is proud that much of his company’s product is American made, boldfacing the claim across packaging. About 25 percent of Doc Johnson’s items ship from China, but every product poured with rubber or silicone is made in North Hollywood—ironed for smoothness, powdered for feel, woven with hair for effect. “It’s our bread and butter,” says Ron. He’s worried that Chad may not share his attachment to American products after he retires. Ron grew up in Cleveland in the 1950s when it was an industrial town, a node of auto manufacturing. “My grandfather worked in the real shmatte trade,” he says, “selling grease rags to Henry Ford and the Dodge brothers. The pressure to move to China today is immense. But I hope Chad will come to think as I do over time.”