In today’s adult industry space, businesses often freeze at the thought of trying something new – and in many ways, this is understandable. From the time and costs required to develop new products to freshening up brand dimensions that may have grown stale in a rapidly changing marketplace, it sometimes feels safer (and less overwhelming) to just stick with what works.
But “what works” doesn’t last forever, necessitating big change. We spoke to Steven Grooby, who recently took the plunge for big change in his organization.
Founded in 1996, Grooby.com is a leading producer of trans erotica. In addition to operating over thirty membership sites, the company produces nearly fifty DVDs a year and hosts the annual TEAs program– the Transgender Erotica Awards – with Grooby himself at the helm throughout.
“Starting the company as a one-man show and growing to a small handful of single guys in a few years, we now have a staff made up of a wide spectrum of backgrounds, genders and lifestyles,” he shared. “This wasn’t by design, but more serendipitous, as friends and friends of friends applied for new positions.”
Grooby reflected on evolutions that have occurred in their brand and organization – and what helped them be successful in their evolutions, now six months after the fact.
YNOT: Grooby recently went through a significant rebrand with its “Shemale Yum” line, which was arguably synonymous with Grooby overall. How did this come about?
Steven Grooby: The issue was with the word “shemale” being used on our flagship sites, especially the “Shemale Yum” site, which is our twenty-two-year-old website that has featured practically every model.
I stand behind my assertion that “shemale,” when used as a descriptor in the context of porn and only for that reason, is a word that works for SEO purposes and resonates with consumers worldwide. We’d stopped referring to any specific individuals as “shemales” in the early mid-2000s as the company developed and we learned more. As we became less competitive in the SEO space and as more of our models let us know their issues with ShemaleYum.com and Shemale.xxx, especially as we already had sites using “Tgirls” and “Transsexuals” in their names, we realized there was nothing holding us back from making a change.
We did get some pushback from other marketing departments, but I was pretty confident in our choices. “Grooby Girls” was something that one of our staff – Danny — had come up with years before. It was used as a social media tag and it generally referred to any model who had worked for us. We found models were already using #groobygirl without us prompting them.
We played with different ideas, but the idea to change a trans website to GroobyGirls.com – a name that featured no trans words and no sex descriptors, but uniquely informed people what it was on the basis of brand awareness alone – is what we ultimately decided on.
So, there was a process in play – not just a sudden changeover?
Yes. Danny and Nicky produced merchandise including t-shirts, calendars, playing cards, birthday cards etc, as well as social media accounts and tagging. It took us about two years to get Grooby and GroobyGirls synonymous with what we do — and only then, after a lot of hard work, did we switch it overnight without any pre-press.
The feedback and impact were fantastic. It’s allowed us to develop GroobyGirls further, as well as continue with our commitment to change all the other brands by this spring.
— Steven Grooby (@GroobySteven) February 22, 2018
What has been the impact been six-ish months after?
Funnily, I thought people would still be calling it “ShemaleYum” or “Yum,” but they don’t. Everyone calls it GroobyGirls. We’ve seen other companies follow our example, and we’ve been called on to advise a number of cam sites, dating sites, etc. on better terminology which both appeals to their customers and works with SEO.
What about the TEAs’ rebrand — formerly the “Tranny Awards” and currently the world’s most clever name ever?
Like GroobyGirls, Kristel [Penn] and I were working on the TEAs long ahead of the actual change. Once we realized that this show was more than just a flash in the pan and it was something to be built on, then we looked at ways to make it more receptive to the widest range of people.
Even though Grooby hosts the show, I feel it’s a lot bigger than us, which has been why we’ve always had a policy of asking a wide range of companies and individuals to participate. We had a number of ideas, but “Transgender Erotica Awards” was not only the perfect descriptor, but the acronym works in a number of ways: “TEA Party,” as well as phonetically “tea” or “T” is a sound often used for transgender. I was surprised by the amount of media coverage we got when we did change it. It gave us a good boost.
I know it's a year old … but four of the coolest cats appear in this photo (and me!) pic.twitter.com/vCozFk3tVq
— Steven Grooby (@GroobySteven) January 31, 2018
What would your one key piece of advice be for an adult industry entity looking to make a radical change in this manner – because these are certainly radical changes within the industry space, as well as within the context of wider society?
Build the brand first and see if it works. If you’ve a heritage brand that everyone knows, you are going to need something memorable that works to switch to. Make sure the new brand is in consumers’ consciousness before making the switch, and of course have a marketing plan in place.
Social media helps a lot, but you also need to get it to fans and members who aren’t on those platforms. Communicate with your members and customers, and enlist your allies to help you spread the word.
In your opinion, has increased acceptance and awareness of trans people within wider society resulted in increased interest in Grooby overall?
No, not at all. If someone has had a passing interest in trans porn, or trans people sexually in the last 10 years or so, it’s a short hop to finding that content online, and then a shorter one to finding our content.
I believe it’s the other way around: the acceptance of trans people in erotica has helped the awareness of trans people in the wider society. Showing individuals who don’t conform to a stereotype of a “transsexual porn star” has widened the spectrum of what people expect a transsexual person to look and behave like.
I don’t see a correlation — that potential new customers are going to be drawn in because of something they saw in mainstream media — but in my opinion, I believe there are mainstream porn companies who think that and may be producing trans content based on that agenda.
Any final thoughts?
I’m extremely proud of the company and the Grooby brand and what it’s accomplished over the years in reaching so many people.
I think one of Grooby’s greatest accomplishments, which is probably overlooked, is the amount of girls we’ve encouraged to come out — whether that means doing erotica or just being themselves. We were the first and only company for a long time to show trans people from all backgrounds and different stages of transition. Where other sites were only showing the more developed “glamour”-type models, we were also showing tatted, alternative and girl-next-door types of all shapes and sizes.
Many girls have told us [our content] was the first time they saw people the same as they were.
A Message for 2018 – Steven Grooby – Thank you for continuing this incredible ride with me!
Grooby started in 1996 as a pet project, and each and every day I look forward to… – https://t.co/9YbtD3d1MY pic.twitter.com/DatRXBwR2D
— Steven Grooby (@GroobySteven) January 2, 2018