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Thursday, March 02, 2006

From Gangstas to Glass: The Making of a Sex Toy CEO


In 1985, Rick Plank left home in pursuit of a music career in southern California. Years later, Plank emerged from Interscope Records disillusioned—and a bit dazed—after working with legends like Tupac, Dr. Dre, Metallica and Primus. Returning to his roots, he reset his gaze and quickly became a legend in his own right, though not in the field he may have imagined while eyeing the western horizon as a young man.

As CEO of Phallix Glass, the world's largest manufacturer of "functional erotic glass art," Rick now spends his time breaking open new markets to the sex toy industry, revolutionizing the artistic use of borosilicate glass, and hanging out at photo shoots with Playboy models. Naturally, we had to track him down at his office in Sun Valley, California, deep in the vale above North Hollywood and beneath a cloudless, sunny sky, to let him know how jealous we are.

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SexHerald: Let's start out with a little about you. Tell us about yourself.

Rick Plank: I'm 40 years old, born and raised in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, which was very much like Pleasantville. I had a very sturdy upbringing. I moved out to southern California when I was 19, became a recording engineer at A&M Records, worked on everything from Springsteen to Metallica and went on to scout talent at Interscope where I worked with Tupac and Primus.

I became disillusioned with that particular world. I was kind of blowing in the wind and went and helped a friend out at one of their [glass pipe] shops. Borosilicate glass was being ushered forward in this world of the Grateful Dead with all these exotic hand pipes being made and distributed throughout smoking shops.

When Jerry Garcia died (in 1995), the artists just didn't know what to do with themselves. I gathered them together and did a pipe company. For years, we were the front runners, evolving these artists from just crazy hippies to what I would call artists. At the peak, I had commissioned $15,000 pieces that were pure sculptures from just one artist named Marcel, the guru of the borosilicate world.

I started to look around and see what other avenues we could put these artists into. A company was doing glass adult toys; very, very, basic. I turned my artists loose and we laid out a batch of prototypes and went to the AVN show to debut. We got an incredible reaction from the photographers at Penthouse, the directors from Vivid, Wicked and Playboy TV. We laid the foundations of the relationships that we now enjoy. We went in, we made a splash, and really from there we never let up.

SH: Can you tell us more about the artists?

Plank:About six to eight years ago, in Eugene, Oregon, was the borosilicate renaissance. These artists grew up together and they all ended up becoming the premier borosilicate artists in the world. At a young age, a lot of them started blowing glass and it took on throughout the entire community. There was this crazy concentration of talent at marketing their artistry on a large scale. It just kind of blossomed.

SH: Borosilicate is also commonly referred to as Pyrex™, and that's a brand, isn't it?

Plank:Yes, Pyrex™ is a brand name of borosilicate glass. The glass that we use, as opposed to Pyrex™, is German Schott glass, a medical grade of borosilicate which is even more pristine than Pyrex™.

SH: What about you? Are you available? Are you part of the open market?

Plank: (chuckling) Yes, I'm currently available.

SH: That makes you a 40-year-old, ex-music man who's partied with Tupac and Bruce, and runs a glass toy company. I would think that's every girl's dream; they'd certainly never be bored.

Plank:(laughing) No.

SH: When you mentioned Springsteen and Tupac, were you a recruiter? Were you actually the one who brought Tupac into the music world?

Plank:No, I would love to take credit for that. But, I was a utility man at Interscope. I would oversee everything from budgets to mastering sessions to scouting talent; we were a small company at that time, just getting started. We had just signed Nine Inch Nails, Tupac had barely taken off, Dre's Chronic was just coming out at the time; it was an exciting time to be there.

SH: Do you miss your days of music?

Plank:Not in that capacity. If I put together a small independent label, I would love it more than anything in the whole world, but working in the corporate music environment is something that I would not go back to.

SH: Is that something that you plan on doing: putting a label together?

Plank:I refuse to put the same sort of constraints and pressures on music as I have to in any other business venture. I'd like to do it just for fun—if something grew out of that, that would make me proud, but I don't want to mix money and music any longer. I love it too much.

SH: I hear you. What's your favorite part of the day?

Plank:I don’t get to do as much sales, and really this company was built on the back of my sales, and I genuinely enjoy doing sales and taking care of our customers. That's really kind of a core thing for me. I absolutely enjoy the development of the products and the creative process with the artists. Then, where we coordinate whatever models we're working with. We've got Christie Shake, a Playboy Playmate, as our representative now. You know it's never a hard day when I have to go down to a photo shoot with Christie Shake.

SH: (laughing) I'd guess not.

Plank:Then actually getting that into the artwork of the catalogue and the packaging and viewing of a finished product: the packaging, the beautiful piece of glass, and the picture of Christie all coordinated into something attractive that speaks to the public and helps them purchase it.

SH: Tell us a little about the growth of Phallix. How has it come, in terms of revenues, to where it is now?

Plank:We're five years old. We've doubled every year, which is a pretty big statement. Every eight weeks, we develop probably 12 new pieces just because of the hundreds of artists we have. There's a certain amount of in-house competition, which always results in something beautiful, new and exciting.

SH: You doubled the amount of revenue every year? How big a market do you have now?

Plank:We have a huge market, actually. We've been working closely with our European distributor, PhallixEurope.com. We have a warehouse in Amsterdam, and in the Canary Islands, an entire sales staff that really canvasses all of Europe. They've only been with us for a year, and they did incredible numbers. They will double their numbers this year. Europe is really mimicking the same growth that we've seen in the past five years here. We've got similar distributor-ships in Australia as well as Canada. On a worldwide market, I couldn't even begin to say where the ceiling is at.

SH: What's the oddest request for an individual piece you've ever received?

Plank:Just at this last AVN show, some gay gentlemen were asking for long glass pieces that they would place in their penises. And, I denied that request only because safety is always my ultimate concern. That was a very odd request.

SH: Sounds painful. Are more heterosexual people buying your product or folks that tend toward same sex?

Plank:Probably about 85-90% heterosexual market. We've really just made the most of the opportunities in front of us. I've spoken to many gay directors and actors and we've supplied products to a lot of gay films. We did all the props for Queer as Folk, so we've definitely had wonderful reactions from the gay section. We're finishing up some beautiful cock-rings and anal beads, and I would like to emphasize our butt plug line and the fact that we should have then in onyx colors as well as some in cobalt blue and so forth.

SH: We know you have relationships with Vivid Video. Who else?

Plank:Every six months, we come out with a half-dozen pieces represented by the Vivid girls. A year ago, we had a deal with Playboy and everything is now on the table again. I'd love to get back into that particular relationship. We've been lucky enough to become friends with a lot of the most talented people, in my opinion.

SH: Where do you see the industry going in the next five years?

Plank:One of the things apparent at the last AVN show was the conscious effort to package in a way that the mainstream would be more accepting of as a whole. Christie Shake, in the new photo shoot we did, has lace on, there are white roses, pearls in the picture; she's beautiful, she's elegant. A lot of us are trying our best to make ourselves presentable to middle America. They're a little more accepting of us every year. I looked up the new Wicked pictures of Stormy [Daniels] and their cast, and it looked like something that Herb Ritts might've photographed. I really look forward to not being anybody's dirty little secret.

SH: The industry is definitely going that way. If you could market to middle America, what would you tell them about glass toys and products?

Plank:The simplest things are the most intriguing. The glass will take hot or cold temperatures, and when you heat something your muscles will actually relax, which is a wonderful sensation even if you just have the glass in your hand. Or, if you cool it, it makes your muscles contract. And these two sensations are really fantastic, and it's nothing that you can experience with plastic or latex toys. Then you've got the artistic value as well. These are hands down the most beautiful erotic toys that have ever been made—I know that’s a very bold statement, but it's true. I've studied a lot of the products over a very long period of time, and these are works of art. In 100 years, if it is properly taken care of, your Phallix piece will look exactly the same; and, I don't think there's any other adult toy that can say that.

SH: Aren't glass toys expensive?

Plank:Like automobiles, we have your basic, inexpensive line, just a curved, double-headed piece which will retail for about $39.99; which, I don't think would be considered expensive. Then $100 to $300 will integrate anything from dichroic, a beautiful high refraction, glittery material used on the space-shuttle windshields, to latta chino, which is this beautiful woven-colored glass that looks almost like DNA, which is a fantastic effect. That's kind of the versatility and fun of glass: that I can lay out something very basic and simple, or something that you would almost want to display as a piece of art in your china cabinet.

SH: Where do you see yourself in five years?

Plank:I would like to present borosilicate glass, in all of its artful states, in many different venues. We're making these beautiful Venetian-like chandeliers, like something you might walk into the MTV studios and look up and see. We have a beautiful line of glass body jewelry: we've got these wicked Borneo claws for people with larger earrings, an elegant belly-button ring with this gorgeous reflective etched dichroic deed on the end, with a beautiful flower inside it. I get excited when I get to introduce this medium of glass art to everyone. I just enjoy watching people's reaction to the glass.

SH: So, you're really just a glass aficianado.

Plank: (laughing) I'm definitely a glass enthusiast.

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