Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Squeezing out a profit

To read the original Guide Magazine Article Click Here
By Jonathan Vatner

Eyal Feldman is a self-made man. He didn't go to business school. Almost everything he knows about production, sales and marketing he learned himself.
And yet, by any measure, Feldman is a big success. He is the creator of Boy Butter, a personal lubricant that is sold all over the world. Walk into any shop that sells lubes and his line is likely to be displayed prominently.
The 32-year-old Feldman stands at a commanding six-foot-four, and his shirt is unbuttoned far enough to reveal a Star of David atop a grizzly chest. He's a serious studmuffin -- to be convinced, just feast your eyes on any of his promotional posters or videos. Feldman is the company's spokesmodel.
"It's the Martha Stewart thing," he explains. "Nobody is going to sell my product better than me. And it keeps me trim."
Martha Stewart, of course, would never dare show off so much skin, nor would she approve Feldman's raunchy wordplay. In one ad, he appears in overalls but no shirt, one hand on his crotch, with the caption, "Freshly squeezed since 2003." In another, he's shirtless in a doorway, with the caption, "Fighting friction since 2003."
Becoming the big cheese of lube wasn't easy. Starting the business was expensive, time-consuming and frustrating.
"My mom always says it takes 20 years to become an overnight success," he remembers. "You have to go through the motions. It's hard at first, but once you're in your stride, everything begins to unfold."
Feldman could teach a course about the hard lessons he's learned. If he did, it would go something like this: The "aha!" moment is the easy part
Given that Boy Butter's slogan advises "squeezing a little into your tight agenda," it's only natural that Feldman's company began with a euphemism.
When Feldman moved to New York after college, he got a job at a Chelsea leather boutique called Nasty Pig, helping manage the store and handle wholesale orders. One day, while working in the store's back room, he was trading semen jokes with a coworker. Since some straight guys call it "baby batter," Feldman wondered what the gay equivalent would be? Easy: boy butter. Someone should make a lube with that name, he thought.
A year later, when he was living in Barcelona, Feldman was dating an expat from New Jersey who hadn't worked in two years and kept complaining that he wasn't doing anything with his life.
"Why don't you start a lube company?" Eyal suggested. But as the words came out of his mouth, he realized it was a challenge for himself.
Why not go into business? He figured it couldn't be harder than learning fluent Spanish, which he had managed without too much trouble.
Boy Butter, he decided, would be the first lube made especially for the gay market. It would be packed in a container resembling those used for margarine, which wouldn't scream "sex" but rather "food."
"I don't even mention sex," Feldman says, explaining his theory about using humor to market his product. "It's funnier if you tiptoe around it."
As he learned, turning a good idea into a successful product takes years of work.
"People have good ideas all the time," he says. "Actually applying them is the hard part."
Back working at Nasty Pig in New York, Feldman decided to start by putting his own label on an existing lube. His first challenge was to find one that was creamy, like freshly churned butter.
While delivering an order to The Leather Man, a Greenwich Village shop, he noticed a lube called Shaft.
"It was the best lube I'd ever used," he raves.
The makers were willing to let Feldman market it under his own label. Feldman placed an order for the custom-made plastic tubs and launched his product during the International Mr Leather competition over Memorial Day weekend in 2003.
It sold like hotcakes. He traveled around the country, delivering batches of the treat to shops and boutiques. Within a year, his market had expanded to Europe and Australia. His back-room joke had become a reality.

A penny saved is a penny earned
Even as sales exploded, Feldman says, the maker of the original formula declined to offer him a discount. He could barely squeeze out a profit.
To save some money, Feldman moved back in with his parents in California and set up an office in his old bedroom. To his surprise, it turned out that most of the lubes in the world were manufactured nearby.
His parents, though politically conservative, were behind him from day one, even investing in the Boy Butter brand.
"They give me material, emotional and all other sorts of support," he says. "A lot of Jewish families don't have the same qualms about talking about sex."
He reports that some family members even use the products themselves.
"My family has really opened up sexually," he says proudly.
Before he could make money, Feldman needed to concoct his own recipe. He worked for a year and a half with different cosmetics laboratories, but all the samples that came back were either goopy or lumpy, or they didn't last long or weren't slick enough.
"I was the head of the research department," the jokester says, with a smirk. "I did a battery of tests, on myself and other boys."
Finally, he found a formula that made him happy. It lasted longer than other lubes and washed off in water, leaving no "shame stains," in Feldman's parlance. The laboratory paid for the Food and Drug Administration approvals, in exchange for permission to manufacture Boy Butter.
Feldman still works to keep costs to a minimum. For example, his sister Donna, a fashion expert, shoots his ad campaigns, and he hangs the posters himself while doing sales calls in gay neighborhoods.

There's no such thing as bad press
Despite Boy Butter's popularity, its oil-based formula meant it couldn't be used with latex condoms. Feldman spent the next few years working on a water-based version. Ingredients like aloe vera and shea butter were added to achieve the right consistency.
In 2007, Feldman was set to release You Won't Believe It's Not Boy Butter -- "all the fun without all the fat," according to the slogan -- when he was sued for trademark infringement.
He had filmed an ad playing off the classic Country Crock commercials. Unilever, maker of both I Can't Believe It's Not Butter and Country Crock, heard about the ad and filed a lawsuit. Feldman didn't find out until a customer saw a report in the New York Post.
"I thought my company was over," Feldman says. "I didn't have any concept of what was going to happen."
But the challenge turned out to be a routine trademark procedure. Feldman agreed to alter the logo, pull the ad and change the name to You'll Never Know It Isn't Boy Butter.
Despite his being force-fed humble pie, the incident turned out to be a blessing in disguise: during the controversy he got a whopping 400,000 hits on his website, far more than he would have received had the commercial aired.

Expand into new markets
Feldman is back in New York, reaping the profits of Boy Butter. He has been going steady with his boyfriend of almost five years --which means applications are no longer being considered for the Boy Butter test kitchen.
He is working on expanding his distribution and adding products to the Boy Butter line. When he released his water-based lube, he also packaged it as "Lucky" and marketed it through gynecologists to women with vaginal dryness.
Women are advised not to use oil-based lubes, because they can foster yeast infections, which makes Feldman's water-based formula a godsend. Even his grandparents in Israel are loyal customers.
"Imagine how mortified I am when they ask me to send some," he says.
He also sells Boy Butter Bonerz, through a private-label agreement.
"It's basically an herbal Cialis," he says. "My Dad loves it!"
Despite his product being offered on lube racks in boutiques and in doctors' offices, its roots in the leather and fetish communities seem to be the strongest. His most successful product to date is Boy Butter Extreme, a desensitizing lube that makes anal sex less painful, helps slow premature ejaculation, and proves indispensable for large toys. He advises users to be careful not to hurt themselves, though.
"Extreme is for my advanced customers," he explains. "Some of these people are parking a car up their ass."
A pause, and then another joke comes.
"In LA, that's really the only way to get parking."

Author Profile:  Jonathan Vatner
New Guide contributor Jonathan Vatner is a freelance writer and novelist living in New York. He specializes in travel, interior design, food, psychology, and gay life. Jonathan has written for The New York Times, O Magazine and The Advocate.

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