Businesswoman and keynote speaker Jacqueline Gold, who brought Ann Summers parties into living rooms across Britain, spoke to Director Magazine about her journey which turned the sex shop chain into a multimillion-pound business and a high-street name.
Jacqueline Gold is chief executive of a £118m turnover business with profits of £5.5m, a sales force of more than 7,500 women as party organisers and 150 high-street stores in the UK, Ireland and the Channel Islands. In 2011, she ranked 25th in the Sunday Times list of the Richest Women in Britain.
She started out at the age of 19, with no business experience, helping her dad around the business, earning £45 a week.
When Gold took the idea of Ann Summers parties to the board, she was met with cynicism. It wasn’t long before she proved her critics wrong.
"Suddenly lots of women were coming to these parties," she says. "Some loved the fact that now girls could have fun. Others were excited but also curious at the same time."
Currently retail is the company's biggest sales channel while internet sales is the fastest-growing area. In 2000, Gold bought lingerie chain Knickerbox. The takeover added another 26 stores to the Ann Summers group.
As the recession hit, Gold took the opportunity to research her company.
"We realised Ann Summers had lost its mojo. Customers were saying we were less edgy compared to the rest of the high street and that there was a lack of naughtiness when comparing the Ann Summers of today to the Ann Summers of old," says Gold. "We recognised that we had become a little too safe and had started to lose what made us different. It gave us the opportunity to reinvigorate our brand. Some businesses might think we were mad to spend on research at such a difficult economic time, but for me it was crucial. It's the businesses that stand still and stop listening to their customers that will suffer more."
The rebrand, which began two years ago and has so far cost well into seven figures, started by looking at the product, the packaging, and at the catalogue, which was mostly targeting men.
Finally, new branding had to be translated into the stores. "Ann Summers had moved on so much, it was now a high-street brand influenced by pop culture and women like Rihanna and Christina Aguilera," explains Gold. "Customers no longer wanted that intimate environment, they wanted it to be open again. Our new store at Westfield Stratford City has a giant rabbit in the middle of the store because our customers don't want to feel like second-class sexual citizens being sent to the back of the store.
"The key element for us was obviously giving the customer the shopping experience, which is also about theatre. Customers want more out of shopping and we want them to stay in the store for as long as possible."
When asked whether she'd like her daughter to be involved in the business one day, she replies "I would love her to be but at the end of the day it will be her choice." So she doesn't mind her working in this kind of industry? Gold baulks at the suggestion. "Ann Summers has completely changed 'this industry'. And that is something I'm proud of – championing and empowering women."
Copyright Speakers Corner 2016