Girls just want to have fun
A view from Dave Trott

Girls just want to have fun

How Ann Summers engaged with an untapped market.

In 1971, David Gold bought four sex shops.

In those days, sex shops were not nice places.

They were seedy, visited mainly by men in dirty macs buying porno mags.

Most people would never dream of being seen going into a place like that.

Sex shops were just for dirty old men and perverts.

In 1981, when she was 19, his daughter Jacqueline asked her father to let her work there for work experience.

She hated it – the atmosphere felt squalid and shameful.

But one night, something happened that changed her life.

One of her friends invited her to a Tupperware party.

She’d never even heard of a Tupperware party before.

A Tupperware rep would host a get-together at someone’s house or flat.

It would be all-female, of course – men weren’t interested in Tupperware.

The women would share a few bottles of wine and snacks.

They’d have a laugh and a gossip, while the rep passed around various Tupperware containers.

The women would hand them on to each other and, if they liked them, they’d buy some.

The concept had proved really successful in the US, so it was brought across to the UK.

Jacqueline noticed that when the women were on their own, without men present, they were a lot more open.

They laughed and giggled, they discussed everything, including their sex lives.

It was more like a hen party.

And suddenly it clicked with Jacqueline.

Ann Summers had got its product and positioning wrong.

It was acting as if sex was something to be ashamed of, instead of fun.

It was acting as if it was just for men’s pleasure, as if women didn’t want to know.

And that belief was self-fulfilling – it created shops for men that women wouldn’t go near.

Suddenly she saw a massive opportunity: make Ann Summers a pleasure shop for women.

Make it fun.

First she began changing the contents of the shop.

Instead of stiff, kinky PVC gear that appealed to men’s fantasies, she began to change it to soft attractive lingerie that made women feel good.

Gradually she revamped the entire range so that it was for women’s pleasure.

The all-male board of Ann Summers was outraged.

One director yelled at her: "This is ridiculous, women aren’t interested in sex."

But she persisted and copied the Tupperware party concept.

She began to have Ann Summers parties along the same lines.

And the board was amazed to find that women were interested in sex.

Ann Summers now has 144 retail outlets, but they have 7,500 reps hosting 4,000 parties a week, at which no men are allowed.

They now sell lingerie, cosmetics, underwear, swimwear and two million Rampant Rabbit vibrators a year – and their turnover is £117.3m.

Vivienne Westwood’s son opened an upmarket sexy lingerie shop, Agent Provocateur.

Kylie Minogue did a cinema commercial for it.

Every evening there are now ads on TV for Lovehoney.com, an online store selling sex toys and erotic gifts, aimed mainly at women.

All of this was unthinkable before Jacqueline Gold went to that Tupperware party and turned Ann Summers’ marketing round 180 degrees.

Before she identified an entire market that no–one else even imagined existed.