“I care about female empowerment in the bedroom and the boardroom.”
On Tuesday, OxWIB had the pleasure of partnering up with The Oxford Union for another fantastic speaker, Jacqueline Gold, CEO of Ann Summers. Jacqueline started working in Ann Summers at 19; under her wing, the business grew from parties in women’s living rooms to a 140 million behemoth.
She explained how getting the idea off the ground was hard – when she worked there at 19, it was very male dominated, 90 % of customers and staff were male, it was not the best environment for a woman. She had a hard time convincing the all-made Board that it was a good idea – they said women would not be interested in sex – but they agreed to invest a small sum, and she made it grow from word-of-mouth basically.
The key elements of success
1. A unique selling point
Nothing like Ann Summers in the high street, the business offers a completely unique product, in part due to its female-friendly focus and in part due to the controversy which surrounds the shop.
Ann Summers offers innovative products, putting design and quality over everything else to make sure they are delivering the best product possible. Having a USP means that Jacqueline is not concerned about trying to compete or being accessible to all; instead, the focus is on tapping to their customer base who fit with their brand.
2. Customer Experience and Engagement
When Jacqueline first joined the business, she had no experience in retail, and was forced to rely on customer feedback. Initially she saw this as a disadvantage but now knows it was actually a reason for her success. Her customers inspire her, particularly those who attended the parties that got her business off the ground; the media could not see the Ann Summers party beyond girls giggling over wine, but these girls were telling society what they wanted – it is crucial for a business to know how to listen.
Social media has been a huge part of this, as you can now have 24/7 contact with customers and colleagues. Jacqueline is always surprised by the amount of CEO’s who are not on twitter – it’s a vital opportunity to engage with your customers and have a conversation, so that it does not feel like “you” talking at “them”.
3. Clever PR and Marketing
Ann Summers was slow growing, had to achieve brand recognition with a small budget, which it managed to do thanks to PR. One example of this has been the opportunity presented by the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon, which Ann Summers has capitalised on. It helped create a platform, a whole new market. Customer profile and sales have since changed.
4. Brand Identity
Jacqueline sees her responsibility as CEO to be the “guardian of the brand.” Her vision is for Ann Summers to be the global authority and destination for pleasure, to inspire all to feel sexy through innovative experience, whilst giving existing customers a reason to keep buying.
There has been a huge benefit in being controversial, in being a brand comfortable with punishing boundaries.
What does the Future Hold for the Brand?
- Ongoing brand perception
- Personalized engagement through technology, i.e. through personalised emails after each purchase
- International expansion
On Women in Business:
Jacqueline spoke of how she has seen a lot of positive change for women wanting to start their own business, but believes that there are still some issues which need addressing:
- 40 years ago it became illegal to pay women less than men for doing the same job; the wage gap is still a reality
- The government should do its part, applying pressure on businesses paying unequal wages and contributing to the problem
- Female representation in Boards hasn’t improved much. There has been some progress made, but Jacqueline advocates for giving women opportunities to become leaders in the first place; her own Board is 50/50, and she believes having that mixture of talents is indispensable. It’s not about having quotas or “token” women, but allowing women to reach their full potential.