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What You Can Learn About Building A Successful Business From America’s Most Famous Pimp

The Moonlite Bunny Ranch’s Dennis Hof (aka “The P.T. Barnum of Booty”) calls himself the greatest salesman in the world. He may be right.

It all started with the erection of a lifetime.

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Dennis Hof was just eight years old when he and his grandmother passed by a filming set near the Arizona State Fair. Dennis couldn’t help but notice a buxom, red-lipped blonde who waved at him. After shooting her scene, the blonde walks over to where Dennis was standing, introduces herself, and gives him a big kiss on the cheek, which, according to Dennis, sealed his fate.

That woman was Marilyn Monroe and Dennis’s fate was to become one of the most legally successful pimp in America–and to have an undying affection for a “glammed-up blonde.”

Dennis Hof and girlfriend Krissy Summers

Hof recounts that formidable experience and 60 years more in his new book, The Art of the Pimp. Part business blueprint, part memoir, the book coasts through Hof’s life, starting from his humble beginnings running gas stations to owning the Moonlite BunnyRanch, Hof’s first and most (in)famous brothel, and six others across Nevada, the only state in America where prostitution is legal.

To dismiss Hof as just a pimp who exploits women would be a disservice to a man who not only pumps large amounts of money back into Nevada through exorbitant taxes ($500,000 in Lyon County, Nevada alone, where he owns four brothels), but also a man who has made it part of his mission to stamp out sex trafficking by pushing for legalization, regulation, and taxation of prostitution, and even going undercover to expose the horrors of underage working girls. You can say a lot of things about Hof–and he’ll accept most of it with a smile on his face–but the one thing he prides himself most on his honesty, which he’ll tell you has been one of the key pillars in his gas station, real estate, and sex industry businesses.

When HBO came knocking to do a series, his one condition was that the show be real. Cathouse became a smash hit, airing for 10 seasons. When book publisher, and fellow provocateur, Judith Regan finally convinced him to do The Art of the Pimp, Hof wanted to reveal the good, the bad, the ugly, and the downright messed up: he gave friends and exes a chance to write unedited essays about him and there’s a full psychological evaluation at the end of the book by a renowned psychotherapist. (It’s not pretty.)

Hof spoke with Fast Company about what makes his companies so successful (2014 saw more than 40,000 clients at his brothels), his passionate fight to legalize prostitution, and the possible end to his consummate bachelorhood.

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First thing, the book is gorgeous–it almost seems like a throwback in a way.

Judith Regan is the master of the book. They don’t do the quality of these books anymore, just in the production value–it’s amazing. What book has a 32-page comic book about the book by Robert Grossman, the greatest cartoonist in American history?

You pride yourself on your honesty and being a great salesman. How do separate being authentic from just another marketing ploy?

They’re one in the same. It’s real. That’s why the HBO Cathouse series worked–it was real. [Current girlfriend and former BunnyRancher] Krissy [Summers] and I just came back from Paris where I spoke at the Sorbonne. I’ve spoken at Oxford. I’ve spoken at Trinity College in Dublin. Because it’s all real–people know I tell the truth. So this book is as real as real gets about every aspect of it. I think for that reason people are going to want to buy the book. So it helps out marketing but it also lets people know what to expect.

You had a big hit with Cathouse on HBO–why did you decide to do a book?

Cathouse is a portion of my life. I wanted to open the doors to my Cathouse to the world and show them the right way to deal with prostitution. This shows my whole life. It starts with my first erection with Marilyn Monroe–how much earlier do you want to get than that? And it outlines everything: the trials and tribulations, the things I’ve been really good at, the things I haven’t been so good at. And one of them is relationships. To be honest with you, I didn’t value it that much until now. I liked having someone with me, but I really made a commitment to Krissy and I want to be with her because I think she’s a wonderful person.

But part of your image is the sex-capades you and your buddy Ron Jeremy get into. Don’t you think settling down will affect your brand?

The image has always been inflated. What the guys expect is that I get up in the morning and before breakfast I’ll have sex with six or eight girls. And then I go to the gym, go to the office, and then at lunchtime have sex with another eight or 10 girls, and of course that’s not the reality of it.

Porn star Ron Jeremy

Speaking of your image, you gave people the opportunity to write unedited essays about you, which sometimes negated what other people said about you: who exactly is Dennis Hof?

On my tombstone, what I want it to say is “best friend”–I’m the best friend you could ever have. The second thing is that I fight sex trafficking. I think sex trafficking is at epidemic levels in America right now and America just doesn’t get it. They’re enabling this to happen and they don’t want to look at it and be real and say, we need to use Dennis’ model for legalization. So they’ll leave it in the hands of the criminals. Some day, they need to wake up and say we need to tax it, license it, control it, regulate the quality of the product. Third thing is, world’s greatest salesman. [Comedian] Bob Zmuda said it in the forward of the book that I am “the P.T. Barnum of Booty” and I’ve changed sexual attitudes. It’s Kinsey, Masters and Johnson, Hefner, and me. We’ve all changed sexual attitudes in America. I just say relax it’s just sex–let’s not make a big deal out of this.

Your cavalier attitude toward sex clearly isn’t universal–how do you get people to pay attention to important issues like fighting sex trafficking when all they see is a pimp?

It’s real difficult. I took Krissy on a show on MSNBC and this woman lawyer just didn’t get it. I said, stop painting all prostitution with the same brush. Don’t put me in the same position as a pimp working the streets, giving these girls drugs and exploiting underage girls. I have a license to do this–let’s not question the morality of the state of Nevada. Our state works pretty good, especially in regards to the sex trade. I just couldn’t get that across to her.

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She was so hellbent on me being the bad guy and that this should go away–it’s not going away. You want to take away a six-figure choice of employment that’s legal because you don’t like it? You don’t want to leave it to the women of America to decide if it’s for them? We saw liquor didn’t work with prohibition. You take all the criminality out of the marijuana business, it looks like a pretty good business. So why not do the same thing with sex?

What people may forget is that before the Moonlite BunnyRanch, you were successful businessman in the less salacious fields of gas stations and real estate. What did you learn then that applies now?

First of all, believe in the product and then go out and sell it. What I’ve done with the BunnyRanch is make it fun and [follow Andy] Kaufman’s idea of “not just sex–an adventure.” When we’re hanging around there in the 70s before Andy got sick, he was having a blast. It was the place he could have a lot of fun–he could be himself. Who in the 70s would go ask two girls to wrestle each other for money to get yourself stimulated? So Kaufman said, “You need to buy this place and then treat everybody like you and I are treated now.” It was a simple, simple concept. So we made it fun. What I try to do is get my management to treat it like you own it–what would you do if you owned it? The model works. Focus on the fun, not the sex.

The BunnyRanch has been going strong since 1992 when you obtained your license to run the place–how have you lasted so long?

The day I bought the place I did a few things: number one, took down the sign that said “Moonlight Ranch: Men Only.” Fifteen percent of my business now is couples and single women. That has been a big part of my business. Second thing: don’t ever party with a guy you don’t want to because prostitution worldwide is set up as if he has the money, you do what he wants. The next thing, don’t ever do anything you don’t want. All girls have limits, some of them are very low limits, some of them are very high limits. So don’t ever do anything you don’t want to–just be nice to the guy. If you’re ever mean to my client then you’re out of here. And the last thing is, don’t ever do anything for any less than you think it’s worth. Those factors are what makes for a happy working girl. Because they have a choice, then they want to be involved in the team. I watch the quality–as far as looks, body, and age–go up every year.

What’s next for you?

I’d like to expand internationally. I’d like to see me as the figurehead of the company and let Madame Suzette take care of more of the day-to-day operations and let me be the Colonel Sanders going around to all the stores making sure the chicken is right.

An excerpt:

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About the author

KC covers entertainment and pop culture for Fast Company. Previously, KC was part of the Emmy Award-winning team at "Good Morning America," where he was the social media producer.

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