From the top · 6 August 2015

Ann Summers CEO Jacqueline Gold: Every business has a story make sure you’re part of it

Gold feels it is important to innovate not imitate
Gold feels it is important to innovate not imitate
Jacqueline Gold knows a thing or two about business longevity. She has, after all, been at the helm of lingerie retailer Ann Summers for twenty odd years and despite a challenging 2014 the latest forecast had the company on track for a healthy profit of 1.5m.

Gold had never intended to stay at the company aftertime spent there for work experience’she didn’t revelin the fact it was a very male-dominated environment at the time, catering for men too. After coming up with the idea for the now renowned female-onlyparties, Gold quickly saw an opportunity to turn the companyaround making it very much a business for women.

So, where would she advise placing your focus as a business founder today? You’ve got to identify your USP early on. Whatever it is that sets you apart whether it’s service or price point, something that makes people want to spend with you and not somebody else, she said.

The untapped USP of Ann Summers was clear to her from the beginning. She had a chance to empower women in the bedroom? when others hadn’t, and it’s this saying which became’something of a mantra for Gold and the company itself.

it is though, really important to innovate not imitate if you want to succeed, she emphasised. And creating a strong brand identity is key, she added reflecting on the best approach for small businesses to take.

any media attention is hugely expensive, so you need to work out how you go about cultivating that like establishing an online presence through web partnerships, Gold explained. I always sent press releases to local press to help establish that visible presence from an early stage.

She also reflects on the value of having a story tell from a personal perspective. Every business has a story and it’s about making sure you’re part of it. People are interested in how the mum at the school gates ended up selling her product to Ocado, she said. They want to engage with the person behind the business.

Gold contemplated her own ability to withstand the ups and downs that come with any business. When I think about why Ann Summers is still here, well we’re selling an incredible product, but more than that, why am I still here after all these years? I have always engaged with the customer and my colleagues as much as possible, she revealed. It’s the backbone of building trust and before anything else, you have to build a trusted brand first and foremost.

Ann Summers

Where she has seen an improvement in the climate for small businesses is the support networks available these days. At the beginning of her career, there just weren’t these options out there. “People weren’t as willing to share business impact, I think there was quite a negative image of entrepreneurs.”

Gold remembered going to a conference in San Diego and was surprised at how supportive everyone seemed to be. I wished we could bottle it up and bring it back to the UK. Especially for me, I was already in a controversial space so it was a lot more hostile and took a while to educate people on what they’d be receiving from our products and what we could deliver for them.

She was effusive about the increased coverage entrepreneurs are getting nowadays, praising TV programmes like The Apprentice, Dragons’ Den and Tycoon as ways to reach wider awareness. I think they’re all brilliant. They engage the public and provide insight into what being an entrepreneur is actually about, she said.

Gold also feels that business foundersare more engaged with the public too, as well as being more tuned intotheir staff. I think entrepreneurs want to be supportive and be supported. She’s involved with mentoring project and holds her own Women on Wednesday (WOW) session on Twitter to celebrate women in business and giving them the benefit of her wider reach.


 
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Rebecca is a reporter for Business Advice. Prior to this, she worked with a range of tech, advertising, media and digital clients at Propeller PR and did freelance work for The Telegraph.

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