One is usually 50 shades of gray (or dye) at the temples upon induction into a hall of fame, so raise your glass dildo to Ari Suss, who at the tender age 40 was inducted into the Adult Video News (AVN) Hall of Fame, the Pleasure Products Branch, earlier this year. Over lunch recently, Suss acknowledged "in the fetish industry, it is a significant accomplishment."
Suss' anonymous-sounding XR LLC operates out of a 40,000-square-foot facility in Huntington Beach and is the corporate umbrella of three successful online businesses: Extreme Restraints, the world's largest retailer of fetish and bondage toys; Sex Toy Distributing, a wholesale division; and XR Brands, a renowned maker of niche adult toys comprised of 15 brands and 2,000 products.
When it's mentioned Orange County does not have many people of any age in a hall of fame, let alone a 40-year-old, Suss replies, "It is young," but not unusual when you consider Mark Zuckerberg. Like a tech billionaire, Suss was uniquely positioned when e-commerce took off.
Suss was an accountant for Coca-Cola and Black & Decker in his native Baltimore in the late 1990s when he and a partner began a side business selling custom jewelry via eBay, which was only founded in '95. The pair moved on to niche markets such as straitjackets and discovered there was a barely tapped market for unusual fetish products. "Because it's controversial," Suss says, "we saw the big boys were not involved in it."
Extreme Restraints products developed such a strong following that Suss eventually ditched corporate accounting for e-retailing full-time. His parents were "supportive" of the move, although he concedes his CPA father found the adult-toy industry "unusual. But he understood the reason behind it: to help couples with their relationships. He was more concerned that I succeed. He didn't care much what other people thought."
The quality of Extreme Restraints toys led to lucrative affiliations with Alt.com, the dating site for the BDSM (Bondage & Discipline, Domination & Submission) community, and Kink.com, the San Francisco-based purveyor of BDSM videos and websites.
Visiting a friend, Suss fell in love with California and moved his company to Huntington Beach 11 years ago. Extreme Restraints briefly operated out of the garage of a leased 1,500-square-foot house on a Surf City cul-de-sac until neighbors complained about the delivery trucks pulling up all day.
Five years ago, XR LLC moved into its current headquarters, which includes offices, warehouses, a studio, product-display areas and the employee XR Cafe. It represents the world's largest online fetish store, shipping 1,000 to 3,000 products per day worldwide.
"We worked really hard to build this up, and that has been thanks to key people who have joined us over the years," Suss says. Among them are his parents, who followed him to Huntington Beach. Dad is the XR LLC chief financial officer, and mom works in the collections department.
Extreme Restraints took off on the Internet, and now on the Internet, "people play with each other from remote locations with our toys," says Suss, genuinely amazed. "It's become interactive." He mentioned a new product that allows someone with an app in one spot to control the vibration level of a toy in a different location, even the other side of the world. "This new technology is exciting to me."
His XR University teaches couples how to use toys correctly via online videos that are shot at XR LLC and have received more than 1 million views. Suss vows to keep the service free despite increases in bandwidth costs.
"People have a misconception about what this adult industry is," he says. "We're here for couples. The divorce rate is 50 percent, and couples are more open to experimenting than before, thanks to our society changing with movies such as Fifty Shades of Grey. We help them have better sex and relationships. There is nothing more important than keeping couples together, and that's what I do."
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