Tell us a bit about yourself, background and what you do currently
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, which is the concept that launched the Ann Summers we all know today, 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 145 shops across the UK and Ireland.
I wanted Ann Summers to be a multi-channel retailer and after the success of party plan and retail we launched online, offering our customers three great ways to shop.
I am currently CEO of Ann Summers and my role is varied and far reaching. I work closely with the Managing Director, Vanessa Gold, and our Executive Team to drive the business forward and ensure that with everything we do we stay true to our ideals and beliefs and don’t compromise on what makes Ann Summers such a unique retailer.
Every day I go to work and have the mission to make every woman in the world feel like the sexiest woman in the world, there aren’t many CEOs that can come home from work and say they have achieved that!
What has been your biggest challenge?
Working in a business like Ann Summers offers many challenges as there will always be people who object to our business and what we do (actually I like the fact we are not acceptable to everyone!).
Whether this is in relation to where we open our stores, or our latest advertising campaign, we will always come up against challenges.
I don’t let this bother me though as I’m the type of person who likes to tackle challenges head on, and when I believe in something passionately then there is no stopping me!
I have received a bullet in the post in response to us wanting to open a store in Dublin, and been arrested for having a stand displaying our range of toys and lingerie at an exhibition. Both of these experiences were of course challenging, but I believed so strongly in what I was doing that I wouldn’t let them stop me.
It was about staying true to what I believed in and I wasn’t going to be bullied.
What’s been your greatest achievement personally?
Building the Ann Summers brand to where it is today and knowing that we are one of the most well-known and recognised brands in the UK, we currently have over 90% brand recognition in the UK.
It’s been a real journey and one that I am incredibly proud of.
My greatest achievement in my personal life is my beautiful daughter Scarlett who fills me with so much pride and joy every day.
If you weren’t doing what you do, what would you be doing?
It’s hard to imagine working anywhere but Ann Summers, after 30 years it’s a part of who I am!
If I wasn’t lucky enough to have started my career at Ann Summers then I imagine I would still have been working in business, but a business that gave me the opportunity to be creative.
And if that hadn’t worked out I like to think I might be running my own dating website…! I’m always trying to set my friends up and like to think I have an eye for a good match, maybe my entrepreneurial streak would have encouraged me to pursue this, or maybe there is still time to develop this on the side?!
Who has been your biggest inspiration?
When I started in business there were very few female role models out there and I very much felt I had to inspire myself to succeed. I’m pleased to say that now there are many more female role models out there which is exactly what we need.
One business woman that I have always had a huge amount of respect and admiration for is Dame Anita Roddick. She developed such a successful business and I was always so impressed by how she never compromised on her ethics and beliefs no matter how big the business got.
On a daily basis I’m inspired by the fabulous team I work with. Their passion and drive for the business is just incredible and I find each of them a real inspiration and a pleasure to work with.
What does the future hold for you and 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 four 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 am certain that the upcoming season and beyond will be a hugely exciting time for the brand and our focus is very much on continued success and growth across all our sales channels.
My ultimate long term goal is to see Ann Summers expand internationally. This is something that is part of our 5 year plan and whilst not an immediate priority, for me it’s something I would love to achieve for the brand. I really believe places like California in the US and the major cities in Australia would really understand Ann Summers and from what I have seen there is nothing like us in these areas.
It’s a huge opportunity for us and personally something I am really excited about.
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