Living room stripper poles: The latest must-have
A new export is taking hold in a tiny industrial park in east Fresno: stripper poles.
Pacific International Marketing & Promotions (yes, PIMP) manufactures the Lil' Mynx stainless steel dance pole. Designed for the average living room, the poles are easily installed and can be removed in seconds.
The idea was the brainchild of an unemployed channel surfer. The couple who started the company have watched sales surpass $2 million, added employees and hobnobbed with celebrities.
Business was slow to take off and the company is based in a conservative valley where sex doesn't always sell.
But the poles are selling.
Customers are buying them for everything from their sex factor, use in a growing pole-dancing fitness craze and for the novelty of owning something that always gets people talking.
The standard poles sell for between $229 and $450 and come in red, white, black and pink.
Setup is relatively simple: Customers drill a small hole in a ceiling beam and attach a plant hook. The 8-foot pole sits on a plastic footer, and the pole surrounds the base of the ceiling hook. A 70-pound spring inside the pole provides the tension that holds it in place. The pole can withstand 1,500 pounds of lateral force, said Randy Blacker, chief executive.
When Blacker removes the pole with the flick of his wrist, the hook left in the ceiling looks like an ordinary plant hook.
The idea came to Blacker, 40, six months into his marriage to his wife, Lizz, 29. The newlyweds were living in San Jose in January 2002, and Blacker had lost his job overseeing the production of a high-tech credit card when the company closed. It was the second time Blacker had been laid off in recent years.
They were down to his last unemployment check and relying upon Lizz's salary when, one particular day, flipping through channels on TV about noon. “I heard the word ‘porn,' and it was CNN,” Blacker said.
The story was about how the porn industry is recession-proof.
A dance pole came to mind, a removable one, because Blacker kept thinking about what his parents would think.
He whipped up a $12 prototype and was pitching his business plan to his wife when she got home from work.
“I was pretty hesitant,” said Lizz, who has a business degree and is now vice president of operations. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I'm going to have to tell my dad.”'
But her husband registered the Web site www.stripperpole.com for $35 and secured a patent. Lizz lent her business expertise, and the company was in business.
They're not the only pole manufacturers around. Others include My Pole, which operates out of Britain. Hollywood-based Peekaboo also sells removable poles. And Newport Beach-based Platinum Stages sells a pole that bolts into the floor.
The Blackers first tried to sell their poles at a Los Angeles porn convention in 2002. Although it was a harrowing experience for Lizz - men kept asking to take her photo with the pole - the Blackers received tons of kudos for their idea.
And they were surprised at who bought the poles.
“I really thought my demographic was mid-20s, 30s - hot chicks,” Randy Blacker said.
But the first pole they sold there was to a couple in their mid-80s, who said they'd been thinking about installing one in their home for several years. The second sold to a teen who wanted a pole for his dorm room.
But by the end of the day, only 13 poles had sold.
Success came slowly and sped up when Lizz's father saw Sheila Kelley's Factor on TV. The company's aerobic striptease and pole dancing classes are taught through videos and exercise studios and are designed to boost a woman's self-esteem, according to the company.
Randy Blacker met with Kelley, whose program has been featured on “Oprah,” and S Factor now uses the Lil' Mynx pole in its seven studios nationwide and sells the poles on its Web site.
The Blackers say they haven't spent a dime on advertising. Instead, they turned to Hollywood to hawk their product.
The couple participates in “style lounges,” where companies give away free stuff to celebrities during the Golden Globes, Emmys or the Sundance Film Festival.
Actress Kate Hudson installed one in her bathroom.
The goal is that celebrities will talk about their poles, as performer Carmen Electra did when David Letterman asked her what she got for Christmas on his show. She told him she got a stripper pole.
The growing fitness aspect of dancing has helped business too. Such classes are increasingly popular in places such as Los Angeles and the Bay Area, following the trends of yoga and Pilates.
Fresno's first pole-dancing studio, Pole-aughtys, is scheduled to open in a few weeks at the corner of Herndon and West avenues. Owner Lisa Sanchez bought 10 poles from PIMP Inc.
Sanchez plans to teach her students pole dancing, combining seductiveness and fitness. Students will learn it all in 6- to 9-inch-heeled “stripper shoes,” although Sanchez says she is not training strippers.
Classes across the country range from sexy lap dancing to athletic tricks on poles and somewhere in between, said Jodai Saremi, who has taken several of the classes and is the assistant editor of American Fitness magazine, a publication of the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America.
“Pole dancing is not about the men,” she said. “It's about women getting comfortable in their own skin ... You don't have to be 98 pounds and look like Pam Anderson.”
The Blackers admitted they don't know exactly who their customers are or how they use the poles. Privacy is a priority, they said.
They do know their poles have been installed in men's garages, a tour bus, a Learjet and boats - where they attach to wakeboard towers. A 4-foot custom pole even was installed in a van.
Selling such a product without being offensive is a balancing act, Blacker said.
He and his wife hope to have the poles and the exercise videos sold in Target and Wal-Mart someday. And that means the marketing must be clean. They call the pole a dance pole, not a stripper pole, and there are no sexy silhouettes or racy photos on the Web site.
“We'll run our business with that mindset,” he said.
The company is growing. The couple has been looking to hire two new full-time employees to add to the current four working full time and two part-timers.
PIMP is beginning to diversify, selling tank tops and panties with the words “Got pole?” and other slogans.
They still deal with the peculiarity of running a business with such a spicy product. People are forever asking Blacker whether his wife is a stripper. (No, she's not.)
And they did tell their parents, who approve, by the way.