From the top · 12 September 2017

The surprising legacy of The Body Shop founder Anita Roddick

Pedestrians on a typical street with restaurants in the city of Westminster,  London,  England
The Body Shop had established itself as a high street stapleby the 1980s
While heralded as one of Britain’s most successful entrepreneurs, The Body Shop founder Anita Roddick created a movement that might just kill the company she founded.

From a single unit to over 3, 000 stores in 66 different countries, The Body Shop founder Anita Roddick quickly became one of Britain’s first truly global entrepreneurs.

However, as other brands began to occupy the space opened by Roddick, the cosmetics brand has struggled to stand apart on the high street.

Following the foundation of The Body Shop in 1976, Roddick became as well known for ethical consumerism campaigning than business success. The brand pioneered the use of natural ingredients for its products, and spent several decades leading the UK high street’s environmentally-friendly beauty market.

An extract from one of Roddick’s part-autobiography and part-manifesto, Business as Unusual, best articulated the task The Body Shop founder set herself.

in terms of power and influence, you can forget the church, forget politics. There is no more powerful institution in society than business, which is why I believe it is now more important than ever before for business to assume a moral leadership. The business of business should not be about money, it should be about responsibility. It should be about public good, not private greed.

Brighton was home to the first Body Shop in 1976
Brighton was home to the first Body Shop in 1976
Roddick channelled this mindset into The Body Shop’s intelligent marketing campaigns. In 1993, the retailer responded to declining US sales with a print ad campaign of a plastic doll named Ruby. Roddick dubbed it a ‘self-esteem? campaign designed to subvert the industry’s traditional Barbie doll? image.

ruby was a fun idea, but she carried a serious message, Roddick wrote on her blog. ‘she was intended to challenge stereotypes of beauty and counter the pervasive influence of the cosmetics industry, of which we understood we were a part. Perhaps more than we had even hoped, Ruby kick-started a worldwide debate about body image and self-esteem.

The campaign wasnt without its critics, with Ms. Magazine in the US among those refusing to print the ad, but it gave The Body Shop the coverage it needed while sticking true to Roddick’s own values.

However, at the turn of the millennium, the high street began to catch up with The Body Shop’s natural message and sales started to fall. Then, in March 2006, when The Body Shop agreed a 652.3m takeover deal with French cosmetics firm Loreal, the brand’s strong ethical reputation came under scrutiny.

The deal represented good business for Roddick, who took home a personal cut of 130m, but eyebrows were raised across the campaigning world because of Loreal’s history of testing on animals and association with Nestle.

Amid the controversy, Roddick maintained the takeover gave her an inside influence over the company’s broader ethics.

“I’m not an apologist for them, I’m just excited that I can be like a Trojan Horse and go into that huge business and talk about how we can buy ingredients like cocoa butter from Ghana and sesame oil from Nicaraguan farmers and how we can do that in a kindly, joyful way and that is happening, she told Lifescape magazine in 2006.

Loreal was never able to put The Body Shop back to the fore of environmentally-friendly cosmetics, and part of the identity Roddick established was compromised. In 2016, revenues reportedly fell by 4.8 per cent, and Loreal sold the chain to Brazilian cosmetics firm Natura Cosmeticos for 880m.?

The Body Shop in numbers

  • Founded, 1976
  • UK sales fall nine per cent, 2003
  • Bought by Loreal for 625m, 2006
  • Sales fall 2.6 per cent, 2010
  • Revenue falls 4.8 per cent , 2016
  • Natura Cosmeticos purchase The Body Shop for 880m, 2017
To identify exactly why The Body Shop has registered a steady decline in sales, a triple-threat of modern retail challenges are a helpful starting point the high rental costs of bricks and mortar units, the loss of its unique market position and the rapid rise of online shopping.


 
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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Praseeda Nair is the editorial director of Business Advice, and its sister publication for growing businesses, Real Business. She's an impassioned advocate for women in leadership, and likes to profile business owners, advisors and experts in the field of entrepreneurship and management.

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