Pandemic puts the spice back into Ann Summers

Jacqueline Gold, chief executive of Ann Summers, is in a conciliatory mood. She’s on a comeback. 

Three years ago, Gold went to war with a small band of landlords over high rents amid a dramatic shift to online shopping and Brexit uncertainty that plunged the lingerie and sex toy retailer into the red. 

Property owners were “burying their heads in the sand” and “pretending that historic rental levels are sustainable in the future”, she wrote in a magazine article. But that was then. 

Now the 61-year-old says: “Landlords have gone through a tough time, retailers have gone through a tough time. 

“If you can come together, both sides can help each other.”

Gold has secured lower rents for most of her 87 stores and has been busy modernising the chain alongside her sister Vanessa, 54, who is joint-managing director. They have plans to open more shops, too. 

Known for its libido-enhancing outfits and accessories since 1970, Ann Summers has used the pandemic to tinker with the quality and fit of its ranges; retool its website; and begin working with social media influencers such as Maura Higgins, who was a contestant on reality TV show Love Island. 

These measures, according to Gold, have helped return the business to profitability. 

“Turnarounds normally take, if you’re successful, 20 years. We’ve done it in two, so we’re hugely proud of that,” she says.

Ann Summers says it has reduced its underlying loss to £7.2m in the year to June 2020, compared to £11.3m the previous year. In 2019, it recorded a pre-tax loss of £14.4m. 

It expects to make a “meaningful return to profit” in 2021 thanks to a 9.3pc increase in sales to £113.8m during lockdowns, in accounts to be filed later this year.  

Beyond landlord negotiations, and the company’s own corrective interventions, Gold says the most unexpected boost to sales came from its burgeoning army of so-called direct sellers during the pandemic. The number of “ambassadors” went from around 4,000 to 22,000. 

“It reminded me of the miners’ strike years ago, when we had women joining us in their droves simply to supplement the family income,” says Gold, who joined the family business on work experience aged 19 and became chief executive in 1987.

“The same thing happened this time. Except what was different about it, instead of them being at parties at home, they were doing online parties. 

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