"It is not every day you get 70 elderly lady hikers piling into your lingerie and sex-toy shop, only for each one of them to buy a £2 pecker whistle in case of a rambling emergency. Such are the retail joys at Ann Summers, now out of the badlands of 1970s sex shop and on the respectable high street.
Fashion and passion is the motto of this retail pleasure company — that is passion for customer service, innovation, teamwork and the pursuit of outstanding commercial results as customers browse the racks of marabou-trimmed silk and lace fancies on display. Underwear is now big business, with a recent report showing that women spend more on their lingerie each year in Britain than anywhere else in Europe.
Ann Summers and its sister brand Knickerbox — aimed at the younger customer — is part of that, with 146 shops.
Unsurprisingly, staff have fun: 88% laugh a lot with colleagues (one of the 20 highest scores for this in all 100 best companies) and 85% say their team is fun to work with.
Susan Green, area visual merchandising manager, describes work as a giggle, and more than seven out of 10 staff are proud to work for the firm, with 78% feeling they can make a valuable contribution to its success.
Ann Summers started as a couple of Soho sex shops. By 1972 it had gone bust and was taken over by David and Ralph Gold. The use of party planners, introduced by David's daughter, Jacqueline, now chief executive, transformed it. (The 7,500 self-employed planners are not included in our survey.)
Employees appreciate the firm's family feel and benefits include childcare vouchers, a legal and stress helpline and a 30% staff discount on company products.
The latest retail profits are £8.9m. Only 101 staff are paid more than £25,000, with a manager earning between £16,100 and £30,000, and turnover is high at 78%, but Ann Summers has set up a retail training academy to encourage staff development.
A culture of reward flourishes, with champagne and thank-you notes the norm. Staff feel their efforts are recognised: 72% say their manager expresses appreciation of a job well done and two-thirds say managers care about how satisfied they are in their job.
Assistant manager Capella Andrean has run the Marble Arch store in London while her own manager is away. It has been a tiring experience. My area manager came in and I said how tired I was. The next thing, they came back in with a box of chocolates. I was just buzzing for two days afterwards.
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