How Jacqueline Gold Brought Intimacy to the British High Street

Jacqueline Gold Ann SummersThere was a time when sex toys were seedy: men scurried into dingy sex shops, and emerged again furtively, grasping a brown paper bag, and hoping that no one who they knew would see them.

Scroll forward to 2016, however, and women from all walks of life are embracing their sexuality, experimenting in bed alone, and with their partners.

Colourful, exciting sex toys, dressing up outfits for all kinds of fantasies, and women-friendly porn have all entered mainstream culture, and are openly discussed by men and women alike.

The revolutionary woman we have to thank for this national sexual awakening is none other than Jacqueline Gold, the queen of sex toys, and a hugely successful female entrepreneur.

Even if you are not familiar with Gold herself, you will almost certainly have walked past one of her high street stores.

In the past 40 years, Ann Summers has grown to have 140 stores in the UK, Ireland, and Spain, as well as a competitive online business and popular party plan.

The chain’s annual turnover is in excess of £100 million, and CEO Gold’s net worth is more than £500 million, making her the 16th richest woman in Britain.

She is one of the most successful female entrepreneurs in the country. But just how did she do it? What steps did she take along the way?

How it All Began

Gold was born in Bromley in 1960, the daughter of David Gold, a publisher who produced and distributed sex magazines in the UK.

Her father wanted a son, and cried when Gold was born. She didn’t have a happy childhood – her parents separated when she was 12 – and after school she went to work for Royal Doulton.

In the summer holidays she did work experience in one of her father’s four Ann Summers stores.

Transforming Ann Summers

In 1979, when Gold first started working at Ann Summers, it was certainly not a place where a woman would want to work, or to shop.

Her colleagues, and almost all of the customers, were men. Although her father described his shops as “upmarket clean”, Gold found it grim.

By chance, however, Gold was invited by a friend to a Tupperware party in London, and realised that she could sell sexy lingerie and toys to women at home.

Ann Summers Parties were born: women could get together, gossip and giggle, and discuss their sex lives in a safe, female-friendly environment.

The parties were a spark of genius, as they also circumvented legal restrictions about advertising sex toys for sale.

Gold was such a successful female entrepreneur that the sales from her parties quickly outstripped those of her father’s shops.

Finally recognising his daughter’s brilliance, David Gold appointed her as Ann Summers’ CEO in 1987, and the company began to boom.

Today there are 4,000 Ann Summers parties every week; the company sells 2 million Rampant Rabbit vibrators a year; and they have also bought the Knickerbox lingerie brand.

Jacqueline Gold in Public

Gold has been proactive about positioning Ann Summers in the public eye, and associating herself with the brand.

She is, in many ways, the epitome of Ann Summers’ target customer: successful, glamorous, and sexy.

She is the author of two books – Good Vibrations (1995) and Please Let It Stop (2008) – and has appeared on television in The Apprentice, Back to the Floor, Break with the Boss, and Ann Summers Uncovered.

Gold is regularly recognised as one of the most successful female entrepreneurs, and most inspirational businesswomen, in the UK.

She supports numerous charities including The Children’s Trust and WOW Championing Working Women, an organisation she founded to represent the interests of working women in the UK.

In the 2016 New Years Honours list she was awarded a CBE for her services to entrepreneurship, women in business, and social enterprise.

Gold is a girl who has worked up from the shop floor, and not only transformed a flagging company into an internationally successful brand, but has been able to change consumer opinion, and purchasing habits, for an entire industry.

And she has done it in under 30 years, with no sign of slowing down anytime soon. What an incredible woman to watch.

Your Turn…

Jacqueline Gold is exceptional because she saw an opportunity to open up an industry to a new group of consumers, and the courage to transform its image.

What under-exploited markets can you find? How can you reposition a product, or company, so that its brand is widely desired?

How Jacqueline Gold Ann Summers

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11 Comments

  1. Fantastic success story. Working for Ann Summers wouldn’t be for me, but so inspired to read this story.

  2. Angela Milnes says:

    I think there is a market for better health aids for disabled people who don’t want the plain old walking sticks or crutches! Interesting post.

  3. That was fascinating, I had no idea she went to work for Royal Doulton but I think what she has done with Ann Summer is just amazing x

  4. She is a very inspiring lady. It’s also nice that she encourages other women to do the same.

  5. Well said, I like that she sought to empower women and I applaud you writing about sex because it should not be made a taboo topic. Sadly many people feel uncomfortable talking about it. I am actually writing a post about it as we speak.

  6. This was really interesting! I must admit I knew nothing about the story or the personality behind the brand, but it sounds really inspirational.

  7. Very interesting story, Jacqueline Gold is such an inspiration to others that want to open their own business!

  8. I really enjoyed reading it – what an inspirational story!

  9. I haven’t been to an ann summers party for years but have seen they have shops on the hight street now. What an inspirational woman

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