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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 August 2006, 07:04 GMT 08:04 UK
Family fortunes Ann Summers style
Interview
By Ollie Stone-Lee
BBC News website

In the first of a new series looking at the stories behind family businesses, Ann Summers boss Jacqueline Gold tells how she transformed her father's business.

Jacqueline Gold's father wept when she was born because he wanted a son.

Jacqueline Gold in an Ann Summers store
Jacqueline Gold wanted the shops to be women-friendly
He's not crying now she has turned four sex shops into the multi-million pound Ann Summers empire.

Ann Summers is a story of how a new generation can transform a family business by taking it in a completely different direction.

David Gold, chairman of Birmingham City Football Club and co-owner of Sport newspapers bought the Ann Summers shops in 1972.

He ran the shops alongside his main business of property deals and publishing top shelf magazines and puzzle books.

Jacqueline Gold told the BBC News website the Ann Summers of the 1970s had been at the "top end" of the sex industry but nevertheless had a "seedy, raincoat brigade image".

Ninety per cent of the customers were men and the shops were not the kind of place women wanted to visit.

Where there were four clinical-looking shops there are now 150 - including the Knickerbox chain - with a gross annual sales turnover of more than 150m.

The ethos has changed too from those male-dominated days. Now it thrives encouraging women to "feel good about their sexuality".

Tea lady wages

Gold thinks it could not have happened if her father's wish for a son had been granted.

"Certainly not the Ann Summers it is today because it really is a female institution and I think you really have to have a very good understanding of women's needs," says the 45-year-old.

She fell into the family business almost by accident as a 20-year-old.

Jacqueline Gold with her father David and sister Vanessa
Being a family business helps, says Gold

She was working at Royal Doulton but decided she did not want to go into management.

Instead she decided to get extra work experience at her father's firm as a wages clerk, among other things, in 1979.

She was paid 45 a week, less than the tea lady.

"I will never let my father forget that," she says. "It's about time I gave him some grief over it again actually."

At the time Gold was not close to her father. Her parents had separated when she was 12 and their relationship was pretty distant.

Certainly she never intended to stay for long at his firm.

"It wasn't a very nice atmosphere to work in," she says. "It was all men, it was the sex industry as we all perceive it to be."

But a chance visit to a Tupperware-style fashion party in an east London flat in 1981 changed everything for Gold.

Other women at the party asked whether she had thought about running that kind of event for Ann Summers.

She jumped on the idea to launch the famous Ann Summers parties - where women group together to try on underwear and pore over the latest sex toys, including the Rampant Rabbit vibrator.

'Are women interested in sex?'

Gold started running her own parties before pitching the idea to the company's reluctant all-male board.

"One board member actually said to me: 'Well women aren't even interested in sex so why would this idea work.'"

Despite such qualms, she persuaded them, with her father giving the casting vote.

The key for a family business is not falling into the trap of nepotism
Jacqueline Gold

But she feels being the boss's daughter may have made it a lot harder to win people over.

"I know some people might say 'Oh you know she probably had it handed on a plate' or whatever, but it did make a lot harder and he made it a lot harder because he equally didn't want to compromise his integrity.

"And I think it's also more difficult being a girl because if you're a guy there's almost this feeling well, follow in the father's footsteps, whereas with a girl I think there's more negative attitude - 'born with a silver spoon in her mouth' or something like that."

Man's world?

Such attitudes clearly stung and Gold says she was constantly trying to prove herself.

"I would compromise the way I looked in trying to emulate men and be how I thought people expected me to be.

"And you actually just come to a stage when you just think actually really focussing on what I'm trying to achieve here is far more important."

An Ann Summers store
Critics say Ann Summers shops are "degrading" to relationships

The change from work experience girl to the woman with the brainchild which was turning the company meant a sea change in her relationship with her father, although she never calls him "Dad" at work.

"I think we went from having a very strange relationship, or very distant relationship, to suddenly becoming really, really close because all of a sudden we had something in common. And that was passion," she says.

'Degrading'

Ann Summers still has its vehement critics.

When the chain wanted to open a shop in Tunbridge Wells, a local vicar protested it was another example of the "degradation" of marriage.

And Gold had to go to court to overturn a ban on Ann Summers vacancies being advertised in job centres - the firm contested that it was not a chain of "sex shops".

But Gold says: "I would be worried if everybody found us acceptable because that is our unique selling point.

"It's really always been a juggling act - keeping the balance is right and making sure that it's not too "pretty, pretty" and there's lots of raunchiness there."

European ambitions

Gold says she has slowed the company's expansion plans while retail goes through "quite a challenging time".

Keeping Ann Summers as a family business - her sister Vanessa is buying director - has helped its success, she argues.

"I think the key is not falling into the trap of nepotism.

"We could bring in more family members but if they've not got the skills we need for this business it's not the right thing for the family."

Having "pretty much conquered" the UK, Gold wants to make a big impression on Europe, and has already started in Spain. And she is eventually set to take over the whole of her father's Gold Group.

It's a long way from being a 45-a-week wages clerk.






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