The Ann Summers party plan is one of the greatest success stories in British retailing history. The "passion and fashion" retailer, acquired by Bristol-based brothers David and Ralph Gold in 1972, arrived in London with a lone lingerie shop in Soho.
David Gold's daughter, Jacqueline, joined the company in 1979 and pitched the now world famous party plan concept in 1981. She launched her ambitious plan for a nationwide party plan network with a single advertisement in the local press - and the response was phenomenal.
Ann Summers party plan now has 7500 party organisers in the UK, including 650 in London, who host about 4000 parties each week. The company has a gross annual turnover of £85 million.
Sam McCarthy, Ann Summers party plan organiser, says the success of the concept hinges on its ability to remove the "intimidation factor" from a potentially daunting experience - buying risqué lingerie and sex toys.
"The reason Ann Summers works is because people are more comfortable in their own home," Sam says. "By the end of the party these women are asking me questions I believe they wouldn't ask a sales assistant in a shop.".
Sam advises designers and manufacturers considering launching a party plan scheme focus heavily on the training of the party hosts who will represent their label or brand. "You'll have to work on their appearance and they way they talk to people. It's important the girls know what they're aiming for," she says.
She believes Ann Summers party plan has proved so lucrative for its parent company because it sets achievable targets and offers incentives for organisers, which ensures their loyalty to the company.
Organisers pay £2.50 per week to hire their party kit, which contains about £350 worth of merchandise, from head office. When they have banked sales of £1000, they are no longer required to make kit repayments. Organisers pay 70 per cent of their sales to Ann Summers, with a minimum requirement of £1600 per month - an attainable target considering the average sales tally is about £250 per party.