| Pure Romance
Headquarters: Cincinnati, Ohio
Top Executive: Patty Brisben, Founder & Chairwoman
Products: Relationship Enhancement and Sexual Wellness
Educational messaging, data analytics keep Pure Romance growing.
Standing before a conference panel of doctors, a thirty-something female breast cancer survivor bared her soul, speaking from a deeply personal space. She felt fragile like a piece of glass. She wanted to feel normal and regain the intimacy she once had with her husband.
Pure Romance Founder Patty Brisben and CEO/President Chris Cicchinelli sat aghast as a doctor told her that being alive was enough. “Sex is a luxury,” Cicchinelli recalls hearing the doctor say to the young woman. Microphone in hand, she broke down in tears.
Intimacy between partners is key to the human experience. It is being alive. Brisben flat-out rejected the doctor’s notion that such intimacy should be pushed aside in the name of gratitude. Instead, she brought research, education, and resources from her company, Pure Romance to bear, and in 2005 created a foundation to help women regain the intimacy they were missing.
Brisben followed the same instinct when she first stepped up for intimacy in 1983, again when she founded her own company in 1993, and once again when she decided to scale Pure Romance in 2000. The messaging has always been above reproach. It’s always been focused on education. It’s always been about making women whole.
Today, Pure Romance is a $250 million direct selling company with an all-female sales force of 30,000 across the globe, including 22,000 consultants in the United States. Pure Romance consultants are often nurses, teachers and women in service professions, averaging 33 years old, who want to be a conduit in educating women about sexual health and wellness.
Silencing the Stigma
Patty gave birth to her fourth child, a daughter, in 1983 and was on maternity leave as a pediatric physician’s assistant when Phil Donahue came on TV talking about lingerie, empowerment and improving relationships through communication. It spoke to her.
She embarked on a new career selling relationship enhancement and sexual wellness products, something that her Cincinnati neighbors found taboo and drew protests by Concerned Citizens for Family Values to her home. By 1993, Patty launched the predecessor to Pure Romance.
Her son Cicchinelli says, “My mom stuck to one thing…education, education, education. There were seedy bookstores and companies that were very, very male-dominated at that time. That’s not how women wanted their products to look, not how the women wanted to be talked about with their products.”
Patty insisted on professionalism. Pure Romance wasn’t funny, cheeky or lewd. It was a safe place for women to have good conversations. “It was the first time women could get together in a private area with their friends and normalize some of the things that were going on in their relationships. Then they got to shop privately,” Cicchinelli says.
“It was the first time women could get together in a private area with their friends and normalize some of the things that were going on in their relationships.”
– Chris Cicchinelli, CEO and President
Scaling Sexual Wellness
When they started to scale Pure Romance in 2000, Cicchinelli put his mom and her educational message up front as a lone, female voice among men. The mother/son duo hit the road for three years in a U-Haul. First stop, St. Louis. They pumped money into radio and TV, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch dubbed Pure Romance, the “Tupperware of the 2000s.” Suddenly, 300 consultants grew by 50. This became the formula for a bootstrap campaign to build out and train a sales force, primarily east of the Mississippi River.
“We went from $1 million to $4M to $8M to $16M. We were growing at such a rapid rate that finally we couldn’t get in the U-Haul anymore,” Cicchinelli says.
Growth – Organic Productivity, Corporate Acquisition
Organic consultant base and productivity growth were launched forward by the January 2014 acquisition of Slumber Parties, a firm Brisben had once been partnered to in the 1990s. Pure Romance gained 3,000 active consultants. They gained 3,200 more two years later when they acquired Passion Parties.
“Following both acquisitions, the integration of the consultant bases into Pure Romance stimulated the growth of those groups, where both had been declining under the former companies. Currently, the active consultant count is +20 percent compared to the same time in 2019,” COO Chris Postler says.
Over the last five years, Pure Romance has averaged 12 percent growth through a combination of organic expansion and corporate acquisition. Cicchinelli’s annual target is double-digit, mindful, measured and smart growth.
“There has to be a system, and some smart goals. They have to specific. They have to be measurable. They have to be attainable. They have to be time-based.”
– Chris Cicchinelli, CEO and President
Smart Goals Start with Data
“There has to be a system, and some smart goals. They have to specific. They have to be measurable. They have to be attainable. They have to be time-based,” Cicchinelli says.
After a decade operating from Cicchinelli’s gut, Pure Romance invested heavily in data analytics to educate themselves about customers, consultants and sales. A team headed by Postler dives deep to help consultants understand inventory, discounting and profit margin; to create personalized business plans for the company’s top 300 consultants; to mine data for quarterly closeout sessions for their top 30 teams, and infinitely more.
“Being able to have that data at our fingertips—data of what they are selling, to whom they are selling it—really educates our consultants,” Postler says.
But it also clears a path forward for corporate decisions about product development and marketing, recruitment and training, corporate philanthropic efforts, as well as growth projections and market expansion.
Currently, 66 percent of Pure Romance’s business is east of the Mississippi River. Data will open areas of inquiry and lay the foundation for an eventual march toward the West Coast in the coming years, as well as forays into new international markets. Pure Romance currently does business in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Puerto Rico and South Africa.
Messaging Above Reproach
Consistent messaging is key to remaining above reproach in a tricky product category. Every Pure Romance business looks the same due to consultant onboarding and corporate training that keeps staff on the road 200 days a year. They push messaging and best practices out to the field via in-house video production and podcasts.
“We have a lot of touchpoints that we are using technology to be able to keep stickiness with our field and be sure we’re keeping them engaged. They are our tribe, our family, so we want to be in front of them as much as possible, giving them the communication they need to be successful with their businesses,” Cicchinelli says.
As social selling further expands, Pure Romance is cautious about rogue players getting too far from the brand. They’ve hired a social listening firm to root them out. “You’ve got to be swift to make them understand that that’s not what we do here at Pure Romance,” Cicchinelli says.
There’s also a Midwestern pragmatism at work, where they counsel top earners to think smart about money, reduce debt and earn with the extras in mind, not the millionaire lifestyle. That’s what has Cicchinelli re-thinking big budget conferences where recognition of a few out-spends training for the masses. “I’d love to figure out how we change that,” he says.
Training innovations, personalized products, and futuristic sales techniques will come as a result of analyzing core data. Proactively, Pure Romance now sets about evolving to meet the future—parsing out what customers want, what consultants need, and how best to grow the company.
“We’ll never be the fastest growing company. That’s not who we are. We understand our market. We understand whom we’re trying to serve,” Cicchinelli says.
Pure Romance’s Progressive Philanthropy
Funding research, resources for women, trans youth.
Pure Romance has a progressive philanthropic culture that educates on topics concerning sexual wellness and identity, seeks to locate and connect people to resources, and funds research.
In 2005, they founded the Patty Brisben Foundation for Women’s Sexual Health, a 501c3 nonprofit that has raised over $4 million for sexual health research focused on pain disorders, post cancer sexual dysfunction, perimenopause and menopause effects on sexual health, as well as libido and sexual desire. An annual grant process supports and funds research at medical facilities and associated organizations.
Living With Change, a 501c3 nonprofit was started by Pure Romance CEO Chris Cicchinelli and wife, Jessica, in 2018 after experiencing firsthand the uncertainty and adversity parents of transgender children face. The couple personally donated $2 million to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital to create the Living With Change Center, one of the first in the world that provides a platform of support and information for trans youth and their families. Cincinnati Children’s Hospital is now assisting other hospitals in setting up similar programming. In the first year, Pure Romance raised an additional $600,000.
“We want to make places safe for 100 percent of people, not 99 percent. That’s why we kicked off Living With Change,” Cicchinelli says.