Its building is almost as nondescript as the packaging for many of the products that are distributed from the company’s 86,000-square-foot warehouse. And seeing the company’s name on the sign in front of the building and its 10-acre site might still leave you scratching your head.
But PHE Inc., which is the parent company of Adam & Eve, is anything but shy about being a force in its community. And this year, the business is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
Adam & Eve was founded by Phil Harvey in 1971, as part of his master’s thesis in family planning at UNC-Chapel Hill. It was the first mail-order contraceptive business in the country.
The orders rolled in, and soon Harvey was testing the waters with other products — like jewelry, outdoor grills, hammocks — before focusing exclusively on adult products, which was seeing incredible demand.
Adam & Eve is now the largest marketer of adult products with more than 12 million customers
worldwide. It distributes globally, but much of its business is done in the U.S. and Canada. The Adam & Eve stores are independently franchised, and PHE sells products to them at wholesale prices.
How was business during the pandemic? “We had our best year,” said Katy Zvolerin, director of public relations. “Like everybody else, we were terrified with all the shutdowns. People are staying home and figuring out ways for entertainment. Yes, we were one of the lucky ones.”
PHE is one of the area’s biggest employers, with typically just over 300 full- and part-time workers. But as the company enters its busy season, PHE finds itself in the same boat as many business nationwide that are unable to fill vacancies or prepare for the holidays.
From Halloween to Valentine’s Day, PHE adds about 50 to 60 seasonal workers to handle the demand, mostly in the warehouse and call center.
“For full-timers we offer medical, dental, vision at 100% employee-only coverage,” said Tracy Witmer, who is head of Human Resources. “We have very generous vacation. We allow employees to sell back earned vacation time, which is great if you have a financial crunch.”
PHE also offers a 401(k) program, profit sharing, and tuition reimbursement.
“Part timers, because they do not earn vacation and sick time at this point, are paid vacation equivalency,” Witmer said. “That’s actually better for most of them because that’s an extra chunk of money that goes into their monthly budget. We also offer medical membership with our part timers since we cannot offer them health benefits. We are connected with Indycare and Hillsborough Pharmacy, and they can use their facility with a $10 copay and get medical care. We were really excited to launch that last year.”
Whitmer said it’s not unusual for high-performing seasonal employees to stay on with the company full-time. She said the average PHE employee has been with the company for 10 years.
“There are a number of employees who have started in the call center or the warehouse who have worked their way up,” Witmer adds. “A lot of people get their foot in the door in the call center or the warehouse because this is somewhere they want to work.”
In fact, the company’s president started at Adam & Eve more than 30 years ago, picking and packing orders.
“When I first came here, about 28 years ago, I sure didn’t think I was going to be here this long,” Katy Zvolerin said. “I had moved to Hillsborough and saw an ad in the paper. I had heard about them and I thought it would be a hoot. Then I came here and I was so impressed with the professionalism and the work that went into everything.”
When PHE first decided in 1994 to move its operations from Carrboro to Hillsborough, it was met with some resistance over the stigma that goes with marketing and distributing adult products. But the company has been extraordinarily generous in the community. Employees hold fundraisers throughout the year to support causes like breast cancer research and local animal shelters, and PHE matches every dollar raised, while also making significant contributions to other charities.
The company’s generosity and impact as one of the area’s largest private employers helped earn PHE a Business of the Year award from the Hillsborough/Orange County Chamber of Commerce. It’s also helped it earn respect and favorability in Orange County.
PHE is close to announcing expansion plans for a warehouse facility in the United Kingdom. Zvolerin said the company is hoping it can go online in the UK in early 2022.