Vibrators on the stock exchange

Sex-toy firm has high hopes for Australian IPO.

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Add to the worldwide flurry of IPO filings a newcomer called the Sharon Austen Limited company, which has applied to be listed on the Australian Stock Exchange. What’s Sharon Austen Limited? It’s a porn business. Specifically, sex toys marketed to Australia and New Zealand.

These are not your garden-variety sex toys. These are German sex toys, lovingly handcrafted — or at least marketed relentlessly throughout Europe — by a big-shot porn company that is itself listed on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange. Founded in 1945 by matriarchal battle-ax Beate Rotermund, the company is currently worth 693 million euros. That’s a lot of dildos.

So Sharon Austen is going public in Australia, asking citizens to come take part in an exciting new Internet business venture (and help place butt plugs into the hands of the lonely and deprived). According to their business prospectus, sent this month to potential shareholders by chairman John Mackenzie: “The proceeds of this initial public offer, together with funds remaining from an earlier private capital raising of $2.5 million completed in November 1999, will be used to establish the Company in the online retailing of erotic and sex products and services to customers in Australia and New Zealand. Traditional forms of retailing, including the establishment of stores in prominent locations, [are] also being considered.”

It continues: “The erotic and sex products and services market offers great opportunities. Beate Uhse AG has set high standards in the erotic market in Germany for over 50 years and has developed its presence to the current stage where 98 percent of all German adults today are aware of the name of the company and its business.”

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Indeed, if you’re looking to distribute sex toys and other erotic goodies, Beate Uhse AG is definitely the way to go.

Headquartered in a six-sided building called the “Sexagon” in Flensburg, near the Danish border, Beate Uhse AG’s mail-order business offers more than 3,000 different sex aids, manuals and lingerie items. The company owns more than 50 Beate Uhse erotica shops, and collects royalties from more than 80 other franchised outlets throughout Europe. In addition, they operate half a dozen porn movie theaters and e-commerce operations and own an erotica museum in Berlin.

Founder Rotermund is a story in herself. Still kicking after 80 years, she deserves the success. She escaped the Russian occupation of Berlin in April 1945 by sticking her infant son in the cockpit of a Luftwaffe plane and flying into Flensberg. She made a meager living selling toys and shopping bags door-to-door, and after realizing how many customers were interested in birth control, put together a mail-order catalog to sell sex-advice manuals and contraceptives.

And now it’s time to grace the shores of Australia and New Zealand with vibrators. “We want to extend our role as the style leader in erotica,” Rotermund has said. “The erotic need is the same in all Western countries.”

The Sharon Austen prospectus reads like a winner on paper, and hopefully the company will take a hint from its erotica provider, and spice up the presentation a bit. When Beate Uhse AG recently filed for their IPO, the share certificates featured pictures of scantily clad women.

Jack Boulware is a writer in San Francisco and author of "San Francisco Bizarro" and "Sex American Style."

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