LAS VEGAS—Bob Wolf of pleasure product manufacturer Synergy Erotic has been named the 2018 recipient of the Lifetime Achievement honor for the upcoming “O” Awards.
The “O” Awards will take place during the AVN Novelty Expo, set for Jan. 24-26, at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Las Vegas.
In his four decades in the industry, Wolf has worked for distributors and manufacturers, and seen major changes in the industry. He entered adult at a time many consider the industry’s heydey, but when it also relied on sometimes shady characters and even shadier tactics. Wolf admits he stumbled a bit through the years, but he and his companies have weathered good times and bad. These days, he is known for his warmth and compassion, knowledge of the industry, his love of baseball and the lasting friendships he’s developed through the years.
Wolf got his start in the industry in 1977, in what was initially just a summer job. His father, Jack Wolf, worked for Centar Distributors, handling operations of the company for Paul Wisner. Wisner owned several printing and publishing firms in Southern California, as well as adult retail stores in Northern California and a few newspaper, magazine and movie distribution outlets.
“Back then, it was an entirely different world,” Wolf said. You literally had to ‘know someone’ to get a job in the industry—a hand-shake agreement was your bond—and my father had been there since 1957-58, giving me carte blanche to get a foot in the door.”
Wolf worked for his father and Centar, only taking a break to attend San Jose State University, until 1995-96. At that time, he left the employ of his father and Wisner and became the first employee of Erotech. Owned by David Sturman (son of Reuben Sturman) and Joel Kaminsky, Erotech was a wholesale novelty distributor in the San Francisco Bay area.
“Opening Erotech for David was thrilling, to say the least,” Wolf said.
However, he added the decision to leave Centar took a personal toll.
“Going to work for David was a professional blessing but came with some personal damage; my mother, who passed away a couple of years later, never forgave me for ‘turning on my father’ and we seldom spoke,” he said. “My father, for his part, never looked at my decision in that way, and on his deathbed in 2012 made sure I knew he never held any animosity towards me, and in fact, told me he respected my decision.”
Wolf continued to work for Sturman for close to a decade, holding down various positions in various companies, including Profit-Pak. It was a time, he said, when he conducted business and himself in a less than professional manner. In the mid-2000s, he was approached by his longtime associate David Miller about purchasing his small toy company, Direct Advantage.
“Over the [previous years] I had been doing a great deal of soul-searching and knew the path I was following would lead to irreparable harm, both personally and professionally, so after consulting with my wife we made the decision to purchase the company in 2006,” he said.
“Direct Advantage was a thriving little company, importing low-cost, generically packaged products (under the DAVE brand) and re-selling them to home party and mail-order companies throughout the U.S. and Canada,” Wolf said. “This is before the days of Amazon grew into the goliath it is today, so you can imagine the customer base Direct Advantage was serving. My only issue was the fact none of the distributors would carry Direct Advantage products because a) they didn’t have the packaging or appeal necessary to serve the brick-and-mortar customers, and b) Direct Advantage sold directly to the brick-and-mortar retailers, breaking one of the cardinal rules I was raised with, and bypassing the distributors, so I decided to start a new product line, Synergy Erotic. Synergy Erotic would be developed as a staple line of products, exactly how milk, bread, and eggs are seen in grocery stores, except we would package Synergy Erotic in a way that would increase the intrinsic value and appearance, allowing distributors and retailers alike increase their ROI. To that point, basic/staple items had been sold by companies like Golden Triangle and Love Toys, but their packaging never gave them the ability to move upmarket (a growing trend I’d noticed), so that was the niche Synergy Erotic was developed to fill.”
In 2011, Wolf and his wife moved their operations to Las Vegas, eventually closing out the DAVE line and focusing on Synergy Erotic ever since.
In addition to his business, Wolf also keeps himself busy as an avid car enthusiast—“My current project, which will see me through until I die, is a 1964 Plymouth Fury, which I am literally building from scratch,” he said—and baseball fan.
“I LOVE baseball! I was weaned on baseball from very early childhood and was lucky enough to see some of the greatest players in history: Juan Marichal, Bobby Bonds, Willie Mays, Willie McCovey, amongst hundreds of others. I also witnessed some milestones, like the 1 millionth run scored in baseball history, a no-hitter thrown by Ed Halicki, as well as some others I’m sure I’ve forgotten,” he said. “One of my fondest memories was visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame with Ed Braunstein from Deluxe Distributors. You enter a hall full of relics and antiques, but you soon realize you’re in the company of greatness, the likes of which you’ll never see anywhere else; it was breathtaking. Eddie is also a die-hard fan and we cemented what has become an amazing friendship through that visit; it’s something I will never forget. Did I mention I LOVE baseball!”
Wolf noted throughout his career, he’s been lucky enough to meet, work with and be influenced by a number of people.
“I have been blessed by the sheer number of people I’ve come to know or been associated with during my career, so I’d like to some of those as a way of paying respect to both them and their contributions to the industry I love so much,” he said. “Sadly, some of them are now gone:
- Reuben Sturman—I never had the opportunity to meet Reuben, but he was an integral part of my upbringing in this industry. The sacrifices he made so we can all do what we love; without Reuben this industry would not be where or what it is today. Reuben’s vast empire is still out there today, but sadly, most people don’t have any idea what that entails, so he’s been resigned to history as the guy who wore a clown mask to court. A damn shame.
- Larry Flynt—this man deserves every accolade our industry, as well as anyone fighting for their free speech rights, can bestow upon him, and like Reuben, I’ve never had the chance to meet him, though I hope to some day just to say, ‘thank you.’
- Paul Wisner—an extremely private man who helped Reuben establish and build his empire. Could Reuben have done it without Paul? Probably so, but he didn’t, and Paul should be remembered for his part in that as well as the legal sacrifices he made.
- Teddy Rothstein and Elliot Schwartz—I list them together because without Ying there is no Yang. I met Teddy many years ago but did not really get to know him until the last five or 10 years, but his steady control of Nasstoys was always a strong influence on both me and my family’s business; you always know Teddy is a righteous man of his word. As for Elliot, I have known Elliot since my late teens, so we’re talking 30-35 years, and in that time I have come to know what it means to earn respect without having to beat it out of someone; Elliot has always been that guy that would put his arm around my shoulder and gladly share some sage piece of advice to help guide me on a better path.
- Susan Colvin and Jackie White—wow, now THAT is a dynamic duo! I first met them when I was 18 or 19, on my first business trip to L.A. with my father. We visited some rundown neighborhood and stopped at an old building surrounded by a chain link fence topped with barbed wire; it was CPLC (precursor to California Exotic Novelties). I don’t remember much of that visit, but I was, and probably continue to be, smitten by Susan’s electric personality; she has always been someone I look up to, respect, admire and would work for without hesitation. As for Jackie, I have to wonder if CalExotics could ever have become the pre-eminent toy company they are without Jackie. Her infectious enthusiasm and blunt honesty is nothing short of amazing.
- Ron Braverman—Ron and I have known “of” one another far more than we truly know each other, but I have always held Ron in the highest regard; all you need do is visit DJ one time to see what he has built, and continues to build.
- Ron McCallister—the mad scientist behind so many of DJ’s creations. You would walk into Ron’s office and were surrounded by disembodied heads on a shelf that ran around the perimeter. If memory serves me correctly, Ron had been in the special effects arena before joining DJ, so his mind was fertile for creating some amazing pieces. Sadly, Ron died many years ago and his legacy forgotten save for those of us still around who knew him.
- Ken Dorfman—my mentor for 20-plus years. Ken is a gentle giant who worked at DJ for many, many years, and as such would make frequent trips to the Bay Area. It was during these trips we forged a special bond and Ken took me under his wing, teaching me the art of human nature, evolution, Sun Tzu, and how they all fit into retail display techniques. Ken left the adult industry to focus on his burgeoning real estate business, and we’ve kind of lost touch, but Ken is a sensational person who gave his all for this industry.
- Nick Orlandino—Nick and I both came into the industry as youngsters, Nick from New York and me from California, so we had drastically different views and approaches to things, but that did not stop us from hitting it off. Nick has gone onto huge success in the industry but continues to be the same Nick I have always known and respected.
- David Sturman—next to my father, David is the single most influential person in my professional career; without David I would not where I am today. David can be equal parts brilliant and dangerous, but his creativity and ability to think outside the box is unmatched in my 40 years in the adult industry. I will always look at David in awe.
- Eddie Wedelstedt—I only met Eddie once, many, many years ago at dinner, but even then Eddie was an industry legend for the empire he’d built, but even more so because of the legal battles he put up fighting obscenity and free-speech charges. Another of the people our industry owes a debt of gratitude to.
- Randy Chandler—a name and person most people won’t know or remember, but Randy was one of the first, if not the first, to start the franchise brick-and-mortar sector in the adult industry. I remember talking to Randy at the Rio many, many years ago about this idea he had, which sounded brilliant, and it was. Many of the industry’s largest, and most successful, retail chains have direct roots back to Randy and the Christies franchise opportunities. Sadly, Randy didn’t live long enough to see what he created, but his legacy continues on and he deserves the recognition for what he started.”
In addition to honoring those who came before him and who influenced his career, Wolf also has become reflective on people he might have encountered in his decades in the industry.
“I have made some horrible mistakes over the years, hurt any number of people, and most of those mistakes were made out of angst, insecurity, arrogance, and any number of other unpleasant traits I have wrestled with during my career,” he said. “If you know me, and I mean really know me, you then know that is not who I truly am as a person, as a human being. If you don’t know me like that then I hope you’ll accept my apologies for any unkind or unpleasant moments I’ve caused you, give me the benefit of the doubt, and let’s see if we can move forward together.”