Ann Summers is a British multinational retailer company specialising in sex toys and lingerie, with over 140 high street stores in the UK, Ireland, and the Channel Islands. In 2000, Ann Summers acquired the Knickerbox brand, a label with an emphasis on more comfortable and feminine underwear, while the Ann Summers-labelled products tend to be more erotic in style. The chain had an annual turnover of £117.3 million in 2007-2008.
The company was named after Annice Summers, the female secretary of the male founder, Michael Caborn-Waterfield.
Annice Summers, who was born Annice Goodwin in 1941 but took her stepfather’s surname, left the company soon after it opened following a row with Caborn Waterfield. She went to live in Umbria, Italy, two hours from Rome, and died of cancer in October 2012.
In 2000, Ann Summers acquired the underwear brand Knickerbox for an undisclosed sum; in 2014 they announced plans to sell the brand.
The first Ann Summers shop was opened in 1970 in Marble Arch, London, from which it grew to six shops.
Ann Summers was purchased in 1971 by brothers Ralph and David Gold, who turned it from a standard sex shop into an established high street brand and lingerie boutique. In 1981, David Gold installed his daughter Jacqueline Gold (who is the current Chief Executive of Ann Summers) and she introduced the Party Plan concept. The retail operations for all of Ann Summers’ shops are managed from the Head Office in Whyteleafe, Surrey, and as of December 2010 Ann Summers operates 144 retail outlets across the UK, Ireland, the Channel Islands and Spain.
The shops offer lingerie, underwear, cosmetics, swimwear and sex toys. The stores sell 2 million Rampant Rabbits, a kind of vibrator exclusive to Ann Summers, per year.
Jacqueline Gold initiated the Party Plan concept in 1981. Initially, the Ann Summers parties were as much a way of circumventing regulations restricting the display of sex toys as they were a marketing tactic, but their popularity quickly grew and Ann Summers now employs over 7,500 Party Organisers, coordinated from the Head Office in Surrey. There are around 4,000 Ann Summers Parties every week in the UK.
The Ann Summers parties are exclusively women-only, and include the presentation of sex toys and lingerie in the informal setting of someone’s home; usually the home of one of the attendees. It can also involve the perusal of a catalogue, and often there are party games.
Due to the adult nature of the business, Ann Summers has frequently faced opposition, both legal and social. For example, in 2003, they won a legal battle to advertise for employees in job centres and an ASA complaint was rejected.
They have also encountered opposition to their advertising. The company received a letter of complaint from Buckingham Palace, due to a non-endorsed advert featuring the Queen.
In 2003, the company's payments to party organisers were discussed by a number of media sources.
In 2004, two complaints were upheld by the ASA. The ASA decided that the first ad was degrading to women, offensive and unsuitable for use as a poster. In the second case the ASA ruled that the use of a nursery rhyme was likely to attract the attention of children and that the advertisement was unsuitable for the medium in which it appeared.
Ann Summers lingerie factory in Portsmouth closed in 2005, with over 50 redundancies.
Additionally, Ann Summers in Perth, Scotland, was forced to close after the local people complained about the store (mostly from parents embarrassed by questions raised by their children), which also led to other problems with the store. Perth was originally the only UK town where an Ann Summers store failed to take off. However, in May 2007 the Middleton Grange, Hartlepool store which opened in November 2005 was closed after less than two years of trading due to poor sales.
In 2006, Muslim groups complained about the release of a blow up doll named Mustafa Shag, claiming that the doll was offensive to Muslims as Mustafa was one of the names given to the Prophet Mohamed.
In 2007, the company faced legal issues with Apple Inc due to its release of an electronic add-on to music players called the iGasm. The company has not backed down despite cease and desist orders by Apple. Also, a former director, who is now a Beate Uhse AG employee is pursuing a libel claim against Jacqueline Gold. An advert was banned from the London Underground in the same year.
In 2010, Ann Summers’ Halloween advert was banned by the Radio Advertising Clearance Centre, which decided the advert used "fairly overt sexual references in terms of sound effects."
In 2011 an advertising campaign which featured a pastiche of a Marks and Spencer advert was withdrawn after a threat of legal action by M&S.