Ann Summers has come along way in the last three years, opening new concept stores, launching on eBay and collaborating with renowned fashion designer Giles Deacon on a new collection. But the brand’s overhaul is far from finalised, says CEO Jacqueline Gold.
Three years ago, Ann Summers announced a brand overhaul, which included plans to secure prime locations across the country, where it would roll out a new store design.
The aim was to position itself away from its seedier rivals, thus improving brand perception and driving growth.
After opening nine concept stores with a sophisticated shopfit, the brand went on to appoint design and marketing agency Propaganda to develop new campaigns and promote new product lines, including a new collection that was designed in collaboration with Fashion Week favourite Giles Deacon, and launched in stores in April this year.
But the hard work didn’t stop there; in recent months Ann Summers has put in place plans to expand overseas, ramp up its wholesale growth and has invested heavily in technology in order to offer a more engaging retail experience across each of its channels.
Technology and marketing
As part of a strategic plan to extend its multi-channel offering and improve its service proposition, Ann Summers launched a free Click and Collect service across its 144 stores in May. The service enables customers to collect orders placed online from their local store at their convenience.
The retail giant is also looking to install iPads in store to allow customers to discover more about its products pre-purchase.
“Together, with all of that, we are really looking to evolve the whole retail experience so that it is a much more engaging experience – basically informing the consumer on the journey to purchase through imagery, copy and digital,” says Ann Summers CEO Jacqueline Gold.
In terms of imagery, Ann Summers, together with Propaganda, has been experimenting with 3D window displays in its concept stores to create a bold visual identity.
“This obviously requires a lot more expense,” admits Gold, “but they were received really, really well over the Easter period. So we’ll be looking to do more of this and making sure that the point of sale and everything around the product is not just informative, but also aesthetically in line with everything we are doing.”
“We need to align what we are doing in store with all the work we have been doing with our lingerie.”
Gold refers not only to Ann Summers’ collaboration with Giles Deacon, but the hiring of new lingerie buyers in the last two years.
Part of Ann Summers’ challenge to address brand perception is making customers aware that its product has evolved, and how “amazingly beautiful it is”, says Gold.
So how has the standard of stock changed in recent years?
“If I talk about [senior lingerie buyer] Sophie Harrison, who is really responsible for how the lingerie has changed, I think first of all there’s a consistency – we really do have our own handwriting now,” Gold explains.
“And there’s an amazing quality; there aren’t many people who realise that we use the same suppliers that supply Stella McCartney, for example.
“Sophie’s philosophy is all about the reveal – it’s about making sure, particularly with sexy lingerie, that you string out the reveal for as long as possible. I think it’s about using fabrics and designs that really flatter our customers and make them feel really confident about themselves.
“I also think it’s about creating designs that some women feel incredibly confident to wear as outerwear and I think the Giles Deacon collection is an extension of that.”
The Giles Deacon collection, which launched in stores on May 1, features a range of lace, printed and feathered lingerie and accessories, as well as a hosiery line designed with prints and patterns exclusive to Ann Summers. Key pieces in the range include bras with straps that double up as hand cuffs.
The range has received encouraging sales so far – in the second week of June, 90% of its initial shipments of Garland waspies and Beau baby dolls, both at high price points of £40 and £60, had been purchased.
The collaboration is a first for Ann Summers, as the retailer looks to extend its offering and widen its appeal to take on other high street brands. But why has the retailer waited until now to partner with a renowned fashion designer?
“We’re not a big company so we always have to be focused on our resource and we’ve learned over the years that if you are going to do something, you have to do it with authority; you can’t do it in half measures,” explains Gold.
“I was introduced to Giles by a mutual friend, who could obviously see that this would be a great collaboration. We’ve signed a three year collaboration with him and, based on recent response, we’ll certainly be looking at maximising that as much as we can.
“It’s exceeded our expectations and it’s got us thinking about what else we can do with these types of opportunities. So I guess, if I’m honest, I wish I had done it earlier,” Gold admits.
The hard work has paid off; new store designs, refreshed windows and improved product lines has increased footfall to Ann Summers’ stores. But, in order to drive growth even further, the retailer announced in March that it had put its underwear brand Knickerbox up for sale.
“We’re in that process and I’m expecting it to be sold very soon. Negotiations are being done,” Gold states.
Ann Summers took Knickerbox under its wing in 2000 after the brand recorded a £5m loss. Since then, the underwear label has been a successful and profitable part of the Ann Summers, sold in its stores, online and through parties.
Gold admits that after 14 years of business, it was a difficult decision to put Knickerbox up for sale, but believes the brand was distracting Ann Summers from focusing on its core offering.
“It was a difficult decision because going back to when I bought Knickerbox, it was very important for me to keep its signature values and I think a lot of people thought we were going to merge it with Ann Summers, but we’ve never done that – we’ve respected its heritage.
“However, we’ve got to the stage now where we really want to focus on our core business and with the changes that we are making it’s very difficult to do that and at the same time have another brand in store that has different values,” explains Gold.
Apart from investing in new technologies and improving brand perception, one of the key areas that Ann Summers is focusing on is driving wholesale growth by expanding overseas.
In recent years, the brand has partnered with Superdrug, Shop Direct and eBay UK in order to reach new customers. And now the brand is plotting further growth with the launch of its eBay International shop in August. This will be available in Italy, Spain, France Germany, as well as Australia and the US.
“We have found that eBay is the perfect gateway to international for us,” says Gold. “I think that selling online to international markets seems to the biggest growth opportunity for retailers and this potential has been highlighted by the current international search traffic, which is currently growing at double the rate of domestic traffic.”
“Also, by partnering with market places such as eBay, it offers a low investment route to test the waters. I think a lot of other businesses are doing that as well,” she adds.
Ann Summers has rapidly evolved since 2011, but it is thought that the recent step-up in rebranding is connected to a fall in sales last year. The retailer reported a profit of £1.7m for the 52 weeks ended 29 June 2013. This represented a fall of £0.9m on the 53 week period last year; the additional week was estimated to be worth £1.0m of profit.
But despite these results, Gold is optimistic about the coming financial year.
“The decrease in turnover is always going to be disappointing and I think that we’ve got to remember that most retailers have gone through a difficult time,” she says. “Customers are so much more conscious of where they spend their money and that’s why we want to create a reason for customers to buy 365 days of the year.
“Equally, we’re going through a very exciting period; we have some great opportunities ahead of us and we’re very positive about the next financial year.”