By Lauren Huneycutt
The colorful products of all shapes and sizes are lined up by the hundreds and ready to be hand-inspected or shipped. The silicone of the toys must be flawless. Tantus, a locally owned erotic business, prides themselves on creating safe, innovative and effective sex toys. The 40,000 square foot warehouse, located in Sparks, Nevada is filled with organized shelves and unique pouring and mixing equipment. Storage bins filled with dildos, vibrators and more cover the shelves, numbered by their location and product type.
Metis Black, owner and founder of Tantus, decided on the name because Tantus is the Greek word for tantalize. Black graduated magna cum laude from the humanities program at San Francisco State University.
“I guess what you do with a liberal arts education is start your own business,” Black said.
Upon completing graduate school at Mills College, Black began to formulate the idea of Tantus. She was on track to become a professor when an art gallery in Sausalito, California changed her path.
According to Black, one sculpture in particular looked phallic, and she made a joke that it looked exactly like a dildo.
“I called my friend that I had been with at the gallery and said ‘you know that joke I had, that’s viable, we could really do that,” Black said.
In 1998, while Black was living in San Francisco, she made efforts to start Tantus. She said because she was living there, she was familiar with the industry and types of sex toys that were already on the market.
“Silicone is the perfect material for soft sex toys,” Black said. “This is an unregulated industry, so the materials that were out in the late ’90s were totally unsafe for the body. It was my mission to change that.”
Black spent her first three years in business explaining why the use of silicone was the direction to go. She wanted to mainstream Tantus products, so she started out doing trade shows, where silicone toys had never been seen before. Today, Tantus ships its products to distributers and stores all over the world.
The warehouse, which has been in Sparks for the last three years, houses everything necessary for production, design, molding, casting, quality regulation and shipping.
“We talk about the ergonomics of the body and how a product works within the body, and that’s what makes us different,” Black said. “We’re not just 17 speeds, and it lights up and glows; these products are really designed to target your body in ways other products don’t.”
When designers at Tantus have an idea, they make a prototype, make a couple samples, then send them to people with different body types, who are experts in explaining how a toy works and does not work for them. If the product does not work the way the designers imagined it to, the product is redesigned, sometimes three or four times before it goes on the market.
There are 17 employees working for Tantus. Walter Hinchman, a University of Nevada, Reno graduate, is the director of sales and marketing.
“I love working here, it’s a very dynamic environment, and things are always changing,” Hinchman said.
One of Hinchman’s responsibilities is the social media of Tantus. They use it as a way to learn customer preferences and details about them, even toy color preference.
“We want people to understand our product,” Black said. “We demand really high quality, and we have high quality controls. Every toy is individually inspected for imperfections, and home care of the toys is simple. Just wash it in a 10 percent bleach solution, or even throw it in the dishwasher.”
Like any business, Tantus experiences a high season and a low season. October to January is busy, with distributers and other businesses ramping up and stocking their shelves with Tantus products for the holidays. There is a lull in January, but business kicks back up in February in time for Valentine’s Day.
“Summer is a slow time too,” Black said. “People tend to spend a lot of time with their families and focus on that instead of themselves.”
For Tantus, 99 percent of sales are wholesale from business to business. According to Black, they were the first company to mainstream silicone toys outside of feminist boutiques in San Francisco and New York and make them available smaller places.
“Our whole goal was to make a change,” Black said. “I think the world is happier that instead of lecturing about culture [if I had become a teacher], I produce a little bit of culture and make people happier.”
Lauren Huneycutt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.