The Ann Summers boss tells Marie Davies why a bullet in the post made her even more determined to make a success of the lingerie chain.
Your lingerie chain Ann Summers’ controversial arrival on the high street shook up the lingerie market in 1993. Were you surprised by the impact it had?
I didn’t realise it would grow as quickly as it did. When we started, women couldn’t buy sexy underwear on the high street, and women didn’t feel comfortable going into sex shops.
What were the biggest challenges the business faced?
Councils not allowing us to open on the high street was a challenge but the more stores we opened the easier it became. The worst was Dublin, where we received so much resistance from the very beginning.
We even received threats such as a bullet in the post. The irony is the Ann Summers Dublin store is now on the city’s [tourist] bus tour.
What kept you motivated through the threats and knock-backs?
I don’t like being bullied and I knew the business would be a success. All the signs were there and you have to stick with what you believe in.
You joined Ann Summers aged 21 after your father had founded the business in 1971. Were you aware of it as you grew up?
Not really. My parents divorced when I was 12 and I was living with my mum.
I started on the payroll doing administration on about £45 a week and it wasn’t until about 18 months later, when I was about to leave, that I had the idea for the Ann Summers party planner.
Lingerie and clothing make up 58% of Ann Summers’ sales.
Have you ever thought about wholesaling the lingerie?
I’d love to have a concession in Debenhams or somewhere like that. There is great opportunity for partnerships or concessions in the UK as well as internationally. We have unique and strong branding and content and we have to protect the brand values. For that reason I think company-owned stores would initially enable us to keep control when entering countries such as the US, and then we could work with franchises later to develop and grow.
What do you love most about your job?
I love the variety and love the fact that it’s so empowering for women.
I’ve been working at Ann Summers for 30 years and I’m still absolutely passionate about what I do.
What does 2011 have in store for Ann Summers?
Innovation and making sure the product continues to look stylish.
Which is Ann Summers’ best-selling lingerie set?
The ‘Kissing Cleavage’ set.
What gift are you hoping to receive this Christmas?
A Burberry jacket or a Roberto Cavalli bag.
What was the last thing you bought?
A blue shirt with beaded neckline by Haute Hippie.
Do you have a favourite designer?
Temperley London and Tibi for everyday wear.
Jacqueline Gold is chief executive of lingerie retailer Ann Summers