Merchants of Passion

A Bay Area company moves the dildo into the national mainstream -- one housewife at a time

If there is a threat to Davis' attempts to mainstream Passion Parties as the sex toy industry's answer to Tupperware, it might be the company's relationship with Xandria, the racy mail-order firm whose sexually explicit wares project a decidedly more risqué image than Passion Parties'.

The connection is something few people at either entity -- including the companies' owners, investor and retired CPA William Clark and attorney William Dillingham -- prefer to talk about. Recognized by Passion Ladies everywhere as "the two Bills," Clark and Dillingham are successful entrepreneurs little known outside the world of sex toy suppliers, at least as it pertains to their ventures. "They're not like Hugh Hefner. They don't like publicity. They aren't trying to be famous for what their companies do," says author and sex educator Michael Castleman, who consults for the firms.

Even Davis describes the owners as "extremely low profile" and "publicity shy" about the businesses. "They're both family men and really sweet guys, but to tell you the truth, not even I see them that much," she says. "They turned [Passion Parties] over to me to run, and they basically check in once a month to see how things are going."

Although the company sells an array of sensual 
products, its sex toys generate the most buzz.
Anthony Pidgeon
Although the company sells an array of sensual products, its sex toys generate the most buzz.
Passion Parties President Pat Davis.
Paolo Vescia
Passion Parties President Pat Davis.

Dillingham is perhaps the better known of the duo. He's a partner in Dillingham & Murphy, a downtown corporate law firm whose blue-chip clients include DuPont, General Motors, Home Depot, and Safeway. Since 1990 he's been a trustee of St. Thomas More Chapel at Yale University, his alma mater. Although his law firm résumé lists him as head of the practice's business transaction group, it makes no mention of his involvement with Xandria and Passion Parties. Clark is a frequent contributor to Democratic candidates and causes who is an adviser to the Horizons Foundation, a social justice organization that serves the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender communities. Neither of the men responded to interview requests for this article.

Since its inception in 1983, Xandria has become one of the nation's leading mail-order purveyors of sex toys, using small ads in popular magazines and, more recently, on the Internet to distribute its catalog. Its offices are down the street from Passion Parties. Although they operate independently from one another, the companies share the same warehouse.

Besides an array of dildos and vibrators (some of the same models are sold by Passion Parties under different names), Xandria's inventory offers plenty of items that would never find their way onto its sister company's in-home display tables. They include a full line of fetish kits, collars, leashes, whips, and floggers. There are also erotic videos with titles such as Bad Boys Next Exit and Taboo, which the company markets with the disclaimer that "the models used are over 18."

As one might expect, confidentiality is king. Xandria's catalog is never shipped unless requested. Customers have to pay for it to get one, although the $4 charge is refunded as a credit with the first order. You won't even find the Xandria name on packaging in which its products are sent. Rather, shipment and billing are handled by the more discreet-sounding Lawrence Research Group, an umbrella entity under which Xandria operates.

Clark and Dillingham's business was thriving when the Passion Parties concept fell into their laps. The business model had long been there for the taking. A few small companies have attempted to sell sex toys Mary Kaye-style to women in their living rooms since at least the late 1970s. Among them was one started by a chain-smoking suburban Los Angeles divorcee named Freddie Wellman, who founded For Us Now, which she promoted as the FUN Co. The women who comprised its sales force were, of course, FUN Ladies.

Wellman became ill with cancer, and her company fell on hard times. By the early '90s FUN's checks were bouncing and some 200 FUN Ladies, mostly in the South and Midwest, could no longer get products to fill orders. "It was an unmitigated disaster," recalls C.J. Haynes, an original FUN Lady who enjoys a reputation as the "first lady" of Passion Parties. (She and the women selling under her expect to do $5 million in sales this year.) After a grim meeting with a Wellman lieutenant in Las Vegas in early 1993, Haynes was packing her bags to fly home to Memphis and tell her "girls" that FUN was toast. Then she got a call from a friend in the business who suggested that she meet with the folks at Xandria.

The next day, instead of going home, Haynes flew to San Francisco, where she was greeted warmly if cautiously by Clark and Dillingham. The men didn't have a clue about direct sales and knew even less about the party plan. But they recognized a gift horse when they saw one. Their mail-order company was accustomed to fulfilling orders of, say, $50, one at a time. Here was Haynes, representing a small army of disenfranchised sex toy saleswomen, each desperate for a supplier to ship them thousands of dollars in merchandise every few weeks.

To top it off, neither Haynes nor Brenda Eberhart, another of FUN's displaced leaders, wanted anything for herself. "We just handed them a business lock, stock, and barrel you might say, but that's OK. All we wanted was for the two Bills to be fair with us, and they certainly have been," says Eberhart, of Springfield, Ohio.

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