Friday, May 24, 2024

Ann Summers

Ann SummersEmpowerment for Everybody

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An iconic empire and multi-channel retailer, the Ann Summers journey began back in 1972 and over 50 years later it still continues to empower customers in the bedroom and grow its business in the boardroom. Here, RLI spends some time with company CEO Maria Hollins as we learn more about the origins of the brand and what lies ahead as it continues to evolve.

Founded in London in 1972 with the opening of its first store on Marble Arch, the mission of Ann Summers was to put women’s needs first and bring satisfaction to its customers, which back then was not something many people were doing. This has continued to the present day and the company maintains its passion of building consumer confidence and fulfilment.

A household brand, the business is very proud of its – to date – 86-site store estate across the UK, Ireland and Jersey and despite all the problems the sector has experienced in recent years, they remain committed to physical retail.

“In our last financial year, we unveiled a total of four new retail stores, with further openings, refits and relocations planned into the coming months in order to grow our physical retail footprint in key locations,” explains Maria Hollins, CEO at Ann Summers. “We have also been undertaking a strategic investment programme in renovating select stores, elevating our commitment to providing an even more empowering and immersive shopping experience for our customers.”

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Looking forward, Maria highlights that the business has a growing number of international partners around the world with experienced fashion retail companies. In addition, their third-party channels are performing well and they are looking to develop this further with additional potential partnerships. International growth is a pivotal focus for Ann Summers in the coming years as they look to expand their brand into new markets.

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Discussing this with Maria, she explains that they continue to look at new markets to take the brand into and they are currently exploring potential options in the EU and the US, as well as joint ventures in the Middle East.

As the conversation comes back to the present and we discuss how the business continues to develop exciting new products to maintain its niche position in the market, Hollins comments that most recently, they have evolved their brand purpose to become more inclusive.

“We seek to achieve sexual empowerment for everybody and this decision has driven a lot of intentional creative direction with campaigns, which appeals to a new demographic. To stay competitive, our buying and creative team attend key events, trade shows and closely follow the latest trends to develop new products.”

Away from the product side, as a business they have a keen eye on progressions across the retail and consumer space. Their director’s and board attendance at retail and corporate events is ongoing, with a sharp focus on AI and development technology paramount. Lessons learnt from these events are then applied to internal and external processes.

Acutely aware of the importance of brand experience in retail today, they understand and engage with their followers and want to be a part of their sexual journey. Their heritage direct selling channel has helped to foster customer loyalty and build brand relationships, transforming attitudes towards Ann Summers and creating faithful returning customers. The channel has assisted in bringing in new shoppers alongside their other means such as their website and social media channels. This is actually a topic Maria spoke about at the recent Retail Summit event in Dubai and she explained to us that: “Social media and the progression of Gen Z continue to be a key part of our marketing strategy. The need for a close eye on developing trends and new forms of social media has never played a more important role in staying competitive in the industry.”

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Playing its part in the arena of sustainability, Ann Summers are committed to their “Dirty Minds, Clean Conscience” principle. Since 2021, their largest lingerie collection, Sexy Lace has been made from 30-50 per cent recycled fibres, with absolutely no increase in price. They continue to adapt their products whilst also creating fair and safe labour conditions throughout their supply chain.

We next delve into whether the company has pushed forward with the development of enhanced digital strategies. After thinking for a moment, Hollins says: “We have ambitious plans for growth and developing our omni-channel proposition sits at the heart of these plans. We are actively exploring ways we can leverage digital to support our growth ambitions.”

They have also invested in additional technology-driven solutions to improve the efficiency of their head office and logistics operation, including the launch of a multi-award-winning learning experience platform and a new data platform.

Finally, they have also expanded their third-party partnerships with the introduction of Debenhams and the announcement back in February, their Valentine’s exclusive partnership with Deliveroo, which takes them to 14 partners in total.

Ann Summers has been leading the conversation around sexual wellness for all for over 50 years and their mission continues to be the leading authority on sexual pleasure and wellness, inspiring courage and confidence in all.

“We are unique to our peers in that we have various routes to market through our retail stores, online, third-party partnerships and direct selling, a channel which creates smaller Ann Summers communities meaning consultants can sell products to people they know. In today’s environment there is no retailer on the UK high street like us and our expertise and lead on sexual wellness is unrivalled. We want to inspire confidence in all and we strive for ideas that innovate with purpose,” explains Hollins as we conclude the interview.