Red Light Turns Green For Sex Industry
Sunday Star Times - 23 September 2001 / Jo McCarroll
Sex sells and now itseems it is selling even more.
The adult industry - estimated to be worth $100 million to the Kiwi economy - is experiencing rapid growth.
A leading adult products wholesaler recently said 25% more vibrators sold in 2000 than in 1999. And this year sales are up 25.2% in the first quarter.
The same wholesaler, Vixen Direct, turns over more than a million dollars a year distributing sex toys, adult videos and magazines. Established eight years ago, it recorded growth of more than 600% in 1995 and 1996 and continues to grow.
The exact size of the adult industry in New Zealand is difficult to estimate but massage parlours and strip clubs are increasing. The number of licences issued to parlours has doubled in some parts of New Zealand in the last two years and adult stores - shops selling sexual paraphernalia as well as adult magazines and videos - are proliferating. There are 52 adult shops in New Zealand, 20 of which opened in the last four years. Increasingly they are found outside the traditional red light districts in main shopping areas.
In the United States the adult industry is worth an estimated $US28 billion, while the Australian Financial Review estimates the Australian industry at $A3b. New Zealand operators put the industry here at a conservative $100m.
"A lot of those figures are probably shy of what it is," said Fiona Gibb, director of Erotica, an adult lifestyle expo held for the first time in Auckland last year.
"A lot of those businesses are never going to declare what they make but the industry has grown hugely here in the last few years.
"People aren't so scared anymore. The media and the internet has changed things. You can put an adult shop in a mainstream shopping centre. That shows not laxness on the council's part but that things have changed. Those are things legitimizing the industry."
But size isn't everything. While clearly there's a market - the inaugural Erotica at Auckland's Greenlane Expo Centre last year attracted more than 16,000 visitors - the adult industry in New Zealand struggles for corporate credibility.
Part of Erotica's aim was to demystify and legitimize the business of sex, said Gibb, who has run an adult products wholesaler with a business partner for eight years.
As the adult industry becomes more legitimate, legitimate business is becoming more involved - or at least more open about its involvement.
In the US, for example, publicly listed company General Motors is involved in supplying pay-per-view adult films to hotels.
"There are a lot of mainstream companies that have what I'd call the mad old auntie in the attic. And quite often that's the company that keeps them level when their own industry is going up and down. Whether it's videos or magazines or a strip club or a massage parlour or whatever. There are lots of big mainstream companies around the world that have a finger in the adult industry." Nevertheless, it faces barriers winning corporate credibility.
"The bank was the worst one," Gibb said. "They'd been our bank for years, then one year we filed a comprehensive business plan and they actually discovered what we did for a living. They never knew before, you just put down you were a wholesaler or a retailer. And they basically shut us out and closed our accounts overnight."
When Gibb floated the idea of an adult expo last year her worst critics were from within the industry. "They honestly didn't think I could take something adult and put it on a mainstream platform. They believed the only way to sell these things was the traditional dark alley approach."
But the success of last year's show proved there was a desire to experience the red light district in a more brightly lit environment.
This year's expo will be three times bigger with 115 stands when it is held in November. "We held it in August the first time because that was the only date we could get. But, now we can pick, we have gone for a more summery date - bear in mind some of my exhibitors have to walk around in bikinis."
Gibb expects more than 25,000 to come through the doors over four days.
As well as an increase in adult products and services, there had been an increase in lifestyle clients, she said. Alongside the sex toys, lingerie, magazines and videos, exhibitors this year include mineral water retailers, spa pool manufacturers and photography studios.
"The fear of association has gone. There was a stigma at being associated with the erotic industry but at the end the day erotica has always been a marketing tool.