The Body Shop played a formative part in my own growing up. The first shop opened in 1976 in Brighton, a seaside town on the Sussex coast just a few miles from where I grew up, and where I spent a lot of time as a teenager. It was the year of ‘the heatwave’ and I remember one of my best friends bringing a selection of Body Shop skin care products in their refillable containers to school. They were nothing like the floral Coty and Yardley products my mother and grandmother so loved!HOW ANITA RODDICK CHANGED THE BUSINESS WORLD Word was Anita Roddick was a bit of a hippy. After her application to drama school was turned down, she worked for a short time as a secondary school teacher and then quit to travel to Tahiti, Australia, South Africa and the Far East. It was on these travels that she absorbed customs and ideas she would later apply to the Body Shop.

On her return home, Anita was introduced to Gordon Roddick. They had a daughter, Justine. In 1970 they married in Reno, Nevada and travelled some more before returning to Littlehampton (just 10 miles along the coast from where I grew up) to run a bed-and-breakfast and restaurant. Then Gordon decided to take a gap of two years to ride horseback from Buenos Aires to New York. To say this was unusual in the mid 1970s is an understatement!

A Series Of Brilliant Accidents

Gordon’s absence was the catalyst for the Body Shop. With two young children to support while Gordon was on his travels, Anita needed to make an income. She started with a loan of £4,000, arranged by Gordon because Anita, dressed in a Bob Dylan T-shirt, had failed to convince the bank of her business plan. The first premises in Brighton were so derelict that she joked green became the Body Shop brand colour to camouflage the mould on the walls.

The original Body Shop was the result of a series of brilliant accidents rather than the result of a sophisticated thought out plan. Anita’s only business acumen was Gordon’s advice to make sales of £300 a week. The products smelt great. The shop had a funky name, and was positioned between two funeral parlours, making this a talking point. Every product had its own story, and was marketed with truth, not hype. Anita didn’t make claims that her products were anti-ageing for example. She talked about the origin of the ingredients and the anthropology of the cultivators instead.

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Initially, Anita Roddick had no real interest in the cosmetics industry. She simply saw a business opportunity that made sense. Her stance against animal testing was not driven by a love of animals; rather she didn’t understand why animal testing was necessary in the first place. She recycled everything, partly because she didn't have enough bottles to supply her shop, and partly because the frugality her mother exercised during the war years made her question the retail conventions of the time.

The Body Shop brand was a radical departure from the traditional cosmetics industry of the 1970’s in other ways. Its origins were in the same feminist sensibility that produced the self-help book Our Bodies, Ourselves, a seminal self-help book on women’s health and sexuality. Anita traded on the idea that natural cosmetics could be feminist. And you could be a feminist and still use sensuous products.

The Origins Of The Body Shop’s Environmental Activism

The Body Shop's environmental activism was born out of the way Anita’s mother behaved in the Second World War when everything was reused, refilled and recycled.

Anita Roddick believed passionately that business should offer a form of moral leadership as a more powerful force in society than government or religion. Writing in Business As Usual, she said:

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."

The Body Shop As Champion Of Ethical Consumerism

The Body Shop was the one of the first companies to prohibit testing on animals and promote fair trade with developing countries. Anita Roddick shaped ethical consumerism, championing environmental and social causes. Campaigns involving The Body Shop included:

1985 - Stop the dumping of toxic waste in North Sea, Greenpeace

1980s - Against Animal Testing for cosmetics, collected 4 million signatures through shops

1990 – Setting up The Body Shop Foundation.

1994 – Marking the 50th anniversary of UN Declaration of Human Rights with the 'Make Your Mark' campaign, in partnership with Amnesty International and the Dalai Lama. (3 million thumbprints were collected in 34 countries and 17 prisoners of conscience were released).

1997 – The Self-Esteem Campaign with its controversial mascot, Ruby, exposed myth of the perfect body

2001 – present - Challenging Exxon-Mobil, World's No 1 Global Warming Villain and campaigning for renewable energy for world's 2 billion poorest people, Greenpeace

2003 – present - Help Stop Violence in the Home – Domestic Violence Campaign with Refuge (the UK’s largest single provider of accommodation and support to women and children experiencing domestic violence)

From Fledgling Business To Acquisition By L'Oréal

To fund the growth of her fledgling business, Anita sold 50% to a local garage owner to raise enough money to finance a second shop. The company may not have grown beyond a few shops had Gordon not returned from his travels, taken over the finances and suggested franchising as the route to business growth.

Within eight years the Body Shop had grown to 20 outlets, and the Roddicks decided to take the company public. The share price increased rapidly and they continued to grow the business quickly, mainly through franchising. By 2004, when they decided to sell to L'Oréal, they had 1980 shops serving 77 million customers.

The Roddicks soon realised that they’d made a mistake in taking the company public. Their passion was in building an ethical brand, not in profit. Three times they tried to buy the company back. But the high share price had gone too high and this would have saddled the company with too much debt. Exhausted, the couple started to look for a buyer. Eventually, the chairman of the cosmetics giant L’ Oréal, Sir Lindsay Owen-Jones, called and they sold the Body Shop to L'Oréal for £625m, of which they received £118m.

Of course, there was a backlash. Now the fourth richest woman in the UK, Anita Roddick had built her brand on ethical consumerism. Going beyond the development of ethical products, they used the company’s high street position to campaign vocally 'against animal testing' as well as on other issues like Shell in Nigeria and Exxon-Mobil on global warming.  This made their acquisition by one of the most vilified multinationals in the world, L’Oréal/ Nestlé, seem like a betrayal of their brand values to some. Anita’s own view was that an acquired ethical company can influence its new parent to improve its corporate behaviour.

Commenting on the acquisition, Roger Cowe, the Guardian journalist wrote:

If you want to change what people consume on a grand scale, you have to penetrate mass markets. And you can’t do that if you're a small specialist brand stuck in the organic or wholefood niche, even if that means you are on supermarket shelves.  It is a familiar dilemma: stay pure and have a big impact on a small scale, or compromise and have a small impact on a grand scale."

An inspiration to businesswomen, especially my generation, Anita suffered a major brain haemorrhage and passed away in 2007.

5 Key Takeaways

An outsider herself, Anita Roddick created a classic Outlaw or Maverick brand in The Body Shop.

  1. Anita was in tune with the changing mood of the time and this was what enabled her to create a brand that was very distinct from her competition.
  2. She communicated her brand values consistently, and demonstrated them in her support for an array of social and environmental campaigns. She was outspoken in her views. This created both raving fans, or what today we’d call brand ambassadors, as well as detractors.
  3. Her brand of ethical consumerism generated a substantial amount of free PR which she leveraged to make her company one of the most talked about brands of the 1980s and 1990s.
  4. In some ways, Anita Roddick was not a great strategist, and did not have a master plan for her business. This explains why some of her decision making was flawed e.g. taking The Body Shop public. This didn’t however stop her seizing the opportunities available to her.
  5. Anita started her business from humble beginnings with a modest investment of cash. Key decisions, like franchising where franchisees invest their money, were the route to rapid growth.

[callout]Do you dream of creating a brand that’s loved, trusted and respected just like The White Company? It’s easier than you think! Download my free guide, How To Create A Brand Your Customers Love. Click here to get started.[/callout]

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I’m Denyse Whillier, a London based business coach and consultant. I guide entrepreneurs from across the globe to achieve profitable, scaleable growth and create businesses that are Built To Succeed™. Built To Succeed™ is my proven success system, developed during my 8 years in the trenches as a CEO, 25 years’ experience at senior leadership and managerial level and training at Cranfield School of Management, the UK’s leading business school. It’s this background that sets me apart and helps my clients to get BIG results.

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