EVENTS – Recapturing the essence of The Body Shop

9 August 2016

This years’ SBN Conference on August 31 will include an exclusive video interview with Christopher Davis, The Body Shop’s International Director of Corporate Social Responsibility. 

Barrie Thomas from The Body Shop New Zealand offers a tester sniff on what it’s all about.

SBN: How much of The Body Shop’s success came from the purposeful story created by its founder Anita Roddick?

There is no doubt in my mind that the success of The Body Shop does spring from the inspiration of Anita. Several things which may have been construed as great marketing, e.g. simple packaging and encouraging customers to refill their bottles were actually a result of necessity. Anita couldn’t afford more expensive bottles and also offering a refill service saved money. But her brilliance was that she realized that customers were responding to this ‘no frills’ approach to cosmetic retailing. She was able to build upon this. Even before Anita became a household name she had a knack of engaging with customers and staff. I witnessed this myself in 1983. She visited our first Australasian store, a small shop in one of the laneways of Melbourne.  She told stories to customers about the products and where the ingredients came from. Our sales doubled that day!

SBN: What do you think are the key components of that story and the way it is expressed?

Anita and her husband, Gordon, realised that business could not only be a force for good, but had a responsibility to do so. Our mission statement began “we dedicate our business to the pursuit of social and environmental change”. We had five values pillars around which our business was built. Against animal testing, defend human rights, protect the environment, activate self-esteem and support for community trade.

As with so many things, timing is everything and there is no doubt that for The Body Shop timing was important. Environmental awareness was rising in the 1990’s. So was the demand for businesses to increase their levels of social responsibility. The Body Shop, led by Anita was at the forefront of this change.

SBN: Where does the current drive to open up a new chapter of that story come from?

Not surprisingly, the challenges of running a business of over 3,000 stores owned by the world’s largest cosmetic company are different to those faced by a relatively small company operating a few hundred. So changes were inevitable when ownership of The Body Shop was transferred to L’Oreal.

Expectations of the role of business have changed over the past couple of decades as well. What we believe in as a business has become much more mainstream than it was in the 90’s. The time had come to refine what we believed in as a business and what needs to be our focus. Our values pillars have evolved into our Commitment—to Enrich Not Exploit. To enrich our people, enrich our products, enrich our planet.

SBN: What are the basic ways in which it will be done?

Our values pillars were perhaps aspirational, good things to believe in. But they were not necessarily achievable or measurable.  Our Commitment is accompanied by measurable targets. All of them must be achieved by 2020. All of them have been signed up to by all stores around the globe.

Some of the targets, such as product related ones, can only be met by actions of The Body Shop International. But others, such as reducing our environmental footprint and engaging with our local communities are applicable at a market and store level. 

We are committed to reporting on our power consumption, CO2 emissions and hours we spend volunteering in our local communities during business time. 

SBN: How have things changed these days, what are the main challenges in getting people to engage with a brand in this way?

I’ve been involved with The Body Shop for 35 years. Not surprisingly, I’ve seen many changes during that time. One of the greatest changes has been in the increase in the number of brands which occupy a similar part of the personal care market as we do. There’s also a proliferation of overseas based brands of all product categories now present in NZ.

When we opened our first store on Wellington’s Lambton Quay back in the late 80’s we were one of the first international brands to open in NZ after import restrictions were relaxed. Now most major Australian brands are present here as are a growing number of the major global brands. Competition is much more intense now, not only for the skincare dollar but for all retail dollars. As the convenience, and cost advantage, of online purchasing increases I am sure this competition will become more intense.

One of the keys to our success over the years has been our ability to engage with our staff. They really embraced our values. We are seeing renewed enthusiasm from staff as we all understand the ramifications of our Commitment and how important it is to our future.

Enthusiasm and passion for The Body Shop brand among staff is crucial. We need them to communicate our stories to customers. Our Commitment is enabling us to provide them with more stories about where our products come from. Anita said: “We train our staff for knowledge not sales”. Knowledge and passion go a long way to helping a business grow.

As consumers become more aware of the working conditions in many of the countries where products, especially clothing items, are produced they are becoming more and more demanding to know the story behind products. Telling our product stories both in store and via social media will definitely be important as we encourage more engagement with our brand.

To find out more about the Conference and secure your place, click here.