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A visit to Adam & Eve's happy wonderland of sex toys

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I know of a place, a wonderful, happy place, lazing on an idyllic expanse of diligently landscaped land that overlooks a lake and acres of green foliage. It's a place where you'll find lots of smiling faces, words of good cheer and playful interaction. You'll also find dildos. Lots and lots of dildos. Not to mention lingerie, anal beads, erotic videos and DVDs, and some other stuff I didn't even know existed, including the TongueJoy Vibrator, a device which, when affixed to the end of the tongue, purportedly aids in cunnilingus.

So what and where is this sex-filled Shangri-La? It's the headquarters of Adam & Eve, the nation's largest adult-oriented mail-order company, and it's located about two hours away in Orange County, NC, smack in the middle of the Bible Belt.

I spent the day there recently where I was treated to the most unusual company tour of my journalistic career, and was introduced to Phil Harvey, the man who turned a small mail-order condom business into one of the largest and most successful sex toy companies in the nation. In the process, Harvey battled and defeated a steady campaign of harassment from the religious right and the US Department of Justice, and emerged as both a First Amendment champion and a noted philanthropist in helping fight AIDS and providing birth control to developing countries.

Tucked away on an unusually lush 10-acre spread in a Hillsborough, NC, business park near Chapel Hill is Phil Harvey Enterprises (PHE), the parent company of Adam & Eve. Over the past several years PHE has grown to include Internet sales, a wholesale branch, six retail locations, including one in Charlotte, and "Temptation Parties," where, instead of plastic food containers, ladies get together and select from an array of X-rated videos, lingerie, vibrators and other adult merchandise. Last year, 1.5 million customers bought $66 million worth of Adam & Eve merchandise. Total, PHE earned around $90 million. I guess the adage is true: sex does sell.

Shortly after I arrive at PHE, a three-story brick and glass building and warehouse complex, I'm greeted by public relations director Katy Zvolerin, a tall, attractive 37-year-old brunette who's been working at Adam & Eve for a decade. For her first three years of employment, Zvolerin wrote copy for the catalogues and video boxes. "When I tell people where I work I get a lot of giggles and "Ooh, what's that like?'" Zvolerin says. "I've pretty much seen everything over the past decade, although every now and then something comes along that still surprises me."

As Zvolerin escorts me down the hall, I note how PHE looks like any other office building: lots of gray cubicles, desks cluttered with papers, employees hunched before computers.

"It's like you're at IBM, except for all the pictures of naked people," Zvolerin says. Yes, there is that. Scattered among all the typical bulletin board announcements, memos and charts are pictures of busty women in various stages of undress, striking sexy poses and demonstrating some of the company's many products. Must be great for morale, at least for the male employees, although I imagine a tad distracting.

We turn the corner and make our way through the call center, where dozens of employees with phone headsets are taking orders. I overhear one of the workers explaining the many benefits of the "liberator ramp and wedge combo," essentially a big pillow designed to maximize sexual positions.

"Yes, sir, it's great for both trying out new positions and improving old ones, and it comes with a washable, stain-resistant nylon and velour cover, plus a 44-page manual," she says, as if explaining the merits of a new car. Hmm, sounds pretty cool, I think, but a 44-page manual! I'd be too worn out from all the reading for any hanky panky.

Dominating one wall in the call center is a big glass display case showcasing hundreds of items -- dildos and vibrators of varying sizes and colors, cock rings, assorted lubes and enhancement creams, edible undies, bondage gear and even a "pecker cupcake pan." "The [display] case is to help the call center workers become familiar with all our different products," explains Zvolerin.

Next, I'm led to the company's massive 40,000-square-foot warehouse, where more than 4,000 different sex toys and 2,500 video titles are stored. Thousands upon thousands of boxes of product are stacked onto pallets, which are in turn stacked four high along dozens of towering steel cages. It's from here that orders are pulled, packaged and placed onto a conveyor belt, where they're then separated by zip code. A figure scribbled on a chalkboard indicates the number of packages scheduled to be shipped out that day: 10,400. The average price of each order is $50. On average, Adam & Eve ships out more than 15,000 packages a day, but sales typically drop during the summer. "We figure it's because kids are home from school," Zvolerin says.


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