Can you give me a bit more information about the history of Ann Summers, focusing specifically on your own involvement with the company?
I joined Ann Summers on work experience 30 years ago with no intention of staying for any length of time, 30 years later and I’m still here.
The Ann Summers we all know today is very different to the business I took work experience in. Thirty years ago it was very male dominated and catered more for the raincoat brigade than women! After spending some time in the business I spotted a real opportunity to create something completely unique, a business by women for women.
The idea for party plan came after I attended a Tupperware party at a friend’s house. Whilst chatting to the women, a couple of them mentioned that it would be good if there were parties like this for the products Ann Summers sold.
I knew instantly that there was real opportunity in this and set about preparing a proposal to take to the board to launch Ann Summers at home parties.
I presented my idea to the board and after some deliberation and one board member telling me that the idea wouldn’t work because women didn’t even like sex they eventually agreed to my idea! Once I had the go ahead I went about recruiting women to hold the parties, buying new product that would appeal to a female audience and drumming up interest in the parties. Party Plan became successful very quickly and soon women everywhere were having Ann Summers parties.
I knew that with the success of party plan, Ann Summers could work in retail as well. We came up against some fierce opposition from local councils to opening certain stores, but after bullets through the post and numerous court cases I’m pleased to say that we were successful and now have over 140 shops across the UK and Ireland. I wanted Ann Summers to be a true multi channel retailer and after the success of party plan and retail we launched online, offering our customers three great ways to shop.
The last 30 years have been full of many challenges but even more success stories. I am so proud of what Ann Summers stands for.
What does the Ann Summers brand represent today?
‘Fearlessly Unleashing Sexual Confidence’ that’s what Ann Summers is about. We want our customers to feel sexy and confident not just in the bedroom but in every aspect of their life.
I feel very strongly that as a brand we have empowered women and offered them a way to express themselves. As a brand, everyone knows what Ann Summers is and for every woman it stands for something different.
What is your favourite Ann Summers product?
The most iconic of our products is the Rampant Rabbit and for this reason it is one of my favourites. This toy became hugely popular after featuring in Sex and The City, the response from our customer was phenomenal. It is one of our best selling products; we sell two million rampant rabbits every year.
My favourite product is most definitely the Ava lingerie set.
This product illustrates perfectly the new direction we are heading in, and although before we launched it there was some nervousness, the range completely sold out re-assuring all of us that it was absolutely the right decision to make.
Can you tell me where you find inspiration for your products?
Our lingerie collection is fashion focused, yet with a sexy edge. As a team we take inspiration from what is going on around us and we were seeing trends not only in fashion, but music and celebrity that we wanted to filter down in to our product offering.
The buying team wanted to present a collection that would makes people sit up and take notice of Ann Summers. Any retailer can do fashion, what we can do is fashion and sexy.
I look at our new range and feel so proud, I think it marks the start of a really exciting time for Ann Summers and so far response from the customer has been incredible.
How would you describe your management style?
I would say I am fair and expect high standards from my team. Everyone has a responsibility to deliver and I don’t like laziness. It’s really important that the people I work with are passionate about what they do. I try to create an inclusive environment where everyone feels able to share their ideas and opinions.
In 2000 you acquired the Knickerbox brand, how has this developed since the acquisition and how does the brand differ from the iconic Ann Summers brand?
When we first acquired the brand we immediately closed the stores that were not performing well and integrated the Knickerbox offering in to existing stores.
This gave us a real opportunity to introduce Ann Summers to a customer that hadn’t previously shopped with us. Increasing footfall in to store was a huge bonus as we knew that if a Knickerbox customer went in to store, it was likely they would come out an Ann Summers customer as well.
Knickerbox allows us to cater to a different type of customer and give a varied product offering.
What is your favourite part about being the CEO of Ann Summers?
The variety that every day brings, I can guarantee no two days are the same! I truly believe Ann Summers is completely unique and I love that over the last 30 years we have gone from strength to strength and are still being talked about.
How do you manage being a mother and a successful businesswoman?
As any working mother will tell you it’s a very big balancing act. To make it work you have to be very strict with your time and have a team around you that understand the pressures that face you as both a mother and a business woman.
It’s so important to me that I am a part of my daughter’s life and so I make sure I am always there to get her up in the morning and put her to bed at night.
I also spend one week day every week with her, I love taking her to baby ballet or spending a day in the park. It’s not always easy but I am grateful to the team I have around me that allow me to balance everything.
What makes Ann Summers products stand out from the competition?
Our products are designed
with our customer in mind as we know what they want. My attitude has always been to listen to my customer. I really believe that having listened closely to our customers has played a big part in the success we have had over the last 30 years.
In your opinion, what has made Ann Summers such a successful brand?
Passion! Everything we do is about passion and everyone that works for Ann Summers is passionate. Having an identity and staying true to this has also allowed us to have continued success.
11. What does the future hold for you and for Ann Summers?
I’m really excited about the future both professionally and personally. I can’t wait to watch my daughter Scarlett grow up. She is nearly two years old now and an absolute joy to be around. I’m so excited for her future and all that she can achieve.
Ann Summers is in a really good place at the moment and our product offering has evolved massively over the last few seasons. I hope our customers enjoy the changes we have made.
This interview was previously featured in Business Review Europe.