Condomania enjoys online growth spurt

It started the safe-sex decade by opening the first condom shop. Now 70 percent of its business is online and the company is thinking dot-com.

Published December 10, 1999 5:00PM (EST)

After eight years of Crayola-colored bricks, mortar and latex, Condomania says it will close its Los Angeles condom shop on Jan. 1, and reposition itself as an online business. The Melrose Avenue boutique was an early 1990s symbol, part of a movement to make condoms classy and safe sex fun; its closure reflects the social goals of the late 1990s -- to make a buck on e-commerce.

That said, the decision to close up the shop was a no-brainer. Condomania's sales have grown by 50 percent each year since it launched the Web site in 1996 -- and those gains have everything to do with e-commerce. Electronic sales now account for 70 to 80 percent of annual revenues, says Adam Glickman, Condomania's president and founder. This year, the company expects to top $1 million in total sales.

"That's a lot of condoms," Glickman adds. But for someone who has yet to pull in a salary of more than $30,000 a year, it's not nearly enough. Glickman is hoping that repositioning his company as a Net concern will help him attract venture capital. As for whether Condomania could then morph into another high-flying dot-com stock, the jury is still out.

What's clear, however, is that the condom landscape appears fertile. In the Economist's "The World in 2000" special issue, editors declared the condom industry one to watch, predicting that worldwide sales will quadruple over the next decade. With such a well-known brand, Condomania is well positioned, says Michael Clulow, an analyst who tracks the online health industry for CIBC World Markets of Toronto and New York.

Still, the competition is thick. While Internet drugstores are slowly invading the condom space, Good Vibrations and Xandria, both veteran merchants of sex paraphernalia, are watching their Net sales boom.

"It's so obvious that there are opportunities for reaching out to people on the Web that just aren't feasible anywhere else," says Carol Queen, sexologist and Good Vibrations spokeswoman.

She says about half of the company's non-store sales (from catalogues and the Web) now come from online consumers: "The Web is catching up." In fact, the Web may have already caught up (and then some); Queen says November's Web revenue was more than that of the Good Vibrations flagship store in San Francisco.

Glickman sees it as a huge opportunity. "On a local level, there isn't quite the need for the privacy and the sensibility to personal obstacles," he says about his stores in L.A. and New York (the latter will remain open). "But I think on a national and global level, it still exists. There are still thousands and thousands of people who have a hard time with condoms."

Dr. Sandor Gardos, a San Francisco sexologist, agrees: "Condomania normalized and tried to remove the shame from condoms and sex," says Gardos. "I'd like to see that change on the Internet too."

By Damien Cave

Damien Cave is an associate editor at Rolling Stone and a contributing writer at Salon.

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