Focus: The Body Shop – A Retailer Lost?

This week the owners of The Body Shop announced that the company has collapsed into administration, putting more than 2,200 jobs at risk and potentially meaning the closure of scores of stores.

The trailblazing chain which championed cruelty free beauty and ethical ingredients and practices has had a turbulent time in recent years. In the 1990’s The Body Shop was an icon of the high street; So where did it all go wrong?

I loved The Body Shop. A shopping trip with my parents or friends to Norwich (my local city at the time) wouldn’t have been complete without a visit to the Castle Street store.

The shelves were lined with the smooth, round shouldered plastic bottles adorned with the iconic green livery held an intriguing array of colourful lotions and potions. There were baskets brimming with nail brushes, wooden combs and pumice stones. There were black lidded pots of face creams and there was the multi-tiered stand displaying little glass bottles of perfume oils with names such as Fuzzy Peach and Ananya. There were fruit shaped soaps, endangered animal shaped soaps and there were the bath pearls… pick and mix bath pearls…

Then there was the all important question…White Musk or Dewberry? You couldn’t like both. I most certainly was the former.

Founded in 1976 by Anita Roddick (later to receive a DBE), the growth of the Sussex based retailer was somewhat meteoric; within just two years of the Brighton store opening, the first overseas franchise opened in Brussels and by 1982 new stores were opening at a rate of two per month! Today there are 3000 franchised stores in 66 countries.

Anita Roddick

What set them apart?

Roddick’s approach to the beauty business was revolutionary to 1970’s Britain. From the start she challenged and questioned the conventions of the time. The Body Shop’s stance on animal welfare won it a big following; it was one of the first cosmetics brands to prohibit testing on animals both on its finished products and it’s ingredients.

Ingredients is another area which differed from many products on the high street at the time. Roddick advocated the use of natural ingredients in her products; ingredients which were sustainable and ethically sourced – this was in the days before the Fairtrade foundation.

She also offered a refill service so as to enable consumers to reuse their bottles (allegedly she didn’t have enough bottles at first). I recall the excitement that I felt when I reached the bottom of a bottle. This would guarantee a visit and I could get it refilled from one of the vats of product behind the counter. To this day I get excited when I get to refill a product, be it a foundation, a lipstick or even washing up liquid! The Body Shop was possibly in some small part responsible for my passion for green beauty. Sadly this service ceased in 2002 because apparently only 1% of customers used it.

The L’Oréal issue…

In 2006 L’Oréal purchased The Body Shop for £652 million. This move came as a huge surprise. L’Oréal (of whom Néstle are a major shareholder) are an enormous company, who at the time owned (to my count) thirty four different beauty brands, none of whom could have been considered an eco brand and so claims of greenwashing were rife back in 2006 when they took over.

Roddick’s decision to sell to the company was a shock to the majority of ethical supporters as L’Oréal have a history of using animals for cosmetic testing purposes – something which The Body Shop had always opposed; many left feeling that the retailer was joining forces with the enemy. Dame Roddick rejected these accusations, claiming that The Body Shop could be some kind of Trojan Horse; influencing L’Oreal from within and encouraging them to change their attitude to animal testing* (The Guardian, 2006).

Obviously animal testing was and still is, a highly contentious issue so when L’Oréal purchased them in 2006 I like many others, turned my back on The Body Shop and didn’t walk through those green doors for about fifteen years.

Sadly Roddick died of a brain haemorrhage in 2007 (just a year after the sale) and so didn’t have the opportunity to see if her ambitions could be realised.

The Body Shop, Norwich

“Business shapes the world. It is capable of changing society in almost any way you can imagine.”

Dame Anita Roddick

A new start?

As The Body Shop’s sales and profits flagged, in 2017 L’Oreal sold The Body Shop to Brazilian Beauty giant Natura for a whopping £880m! This move came as a surprise to many of us but possibly not as much as when the company originally purchased the retailer.

Natura, the first publicly traded company to be certified as a B corp, seemed like a perfect match for The Body Shop.

Natura and the Body Shop have always walked in parallel, and today their paths meet,” said Guilherme Leal, co-chair of Natura’s board. “… the sustainable use of biodiversity in our products, a belief in ethics in management and fair relations with communities and a high degree of innovation constitute the pillars of the journey on which we are now embarking.”

The relationship with Natura was sadly short lived and just six years later, The Body Shop was changing hands once again.

Investing in the future

In late 2023 European Investment group Aurelius acquired The Body Shop for £207m.

When Aurelius (who also own Dr Scholl’s, FootAsylum and the Lloyds Pharmacy chain) made the purchase has said it wanted to “revitalise the business and build on it’s brand name” (BBC, 2024) but just two months later (January 2024), The Body Shop announced that it was selling it’s business in most of mainland Europe and parts of Asia as well as The Body Shop at home division.

Fast forward just a couple of weeks things are bleak and and the company have called in administrators. This move comes after disappointing sales throughout Christmas and January.

In a statement the administrators, have said The Body Shop had “faced an extended period of financial challenges under past owners, coinciding with a difficult trading environment for the wider retail sector”.

Sources familiar with the situation have said they expected the brand to survive in some form but with far fewer shops (The Guardian, 2024).

Where has it gone wrong for The Body Shop?

In an interview with the Sunday Times (February 2023), Lush co-owner and a chief executive Mark Constantine who for many years was a major supplier to The Body Shop wrote:

L’Oréal moved manufacturing to the Philippines, where the margins were better, and marketeers discounted to create sales – and for a decade, that was the only message customers got. But you can’t cheapen everything, remove the values, and take more profit without the customers noticing and going elsewhere… They lost that feeling one got when buying a Body Shop product – that you were helping to change the world.

In this ever growing beauty industry there is greater competition. The Body Shop were considered an affordable brand back in the day but with supermarkets, fashion chains and even bloggers launching their own low cost lines, they are finding themselves with stiff competition from many quarters. Arguably Constantine’s own company Lush is one of the brands has filled the void in cruelty free beauty products since Roddick sold The Body Shop in 2006.

Refill, Reuse, Repeat, The Body Shop

What is the future for The Body Shop?

Back in the 1970’s, 1980’s and early 1990’s, The Body Shop was considered one of the most ethical and cleanest companies on the market. Fast forward to 2024 and things aren’t quite to positive.

In recent years the natural and organic beauty industry has dramatically grown and the desire for conscious beauty products has risen so why not capitalise on what they were originally known for; being an ethical, natural beauty company who cared.

Under careful and respectful ownership by someone who cares about The Body Shop, it’s heritage and what it means – certainly to the UK, it is surely possible to focus on re-building a reputation based on ethics, sustainability and natural ingredients.

Anyone who grew up in the late 1980’s and 1990’s no doubt views The Body Shop with nostalgia and I doubt there are many who would want to see it fail. The Body Shop has a strong heritage but one which has been lost. For now at least.

Can it win back the hearts of those it lost?

 

* L’Oréal seemingly continued to test or support testing on animals until 2013 when the EU banned the use of animals in cosmetic testing. On their website L’Oreal state:

L’Oréal does not test any of its products or any of its ingredients on animals and has been at the forefront of alternative methods for over 30 years.

Currently, L’Oréal does sell their products in China where animal testing is still mandatory and required by law for the large majority of cosmetics. Make of that what you will…

 

Images:
(1 , 2, 4)  The Body Shop; (3,) LJS – OMUA

References:
The Times – Body Shops Troubles are Sad – 10/2/24
The Guardian – Aurelius acquires iconic global brand – 29/10/23
Aurelius Group – Aurelius acquires iconic global beauty brand – 14/11/23
BBC – The Body Shop set to appoint administrators – 13/2/24
The Guardian – Job losses likely as Body Shop lines up administrators – 11/2/24
Sky News – Aurelius in exclusive talks to buy The Body Shop – 29/10/23
The Guardian – L’Oreal to sell Body Shop – 9/6/17
The Guardian – The Body Shop files intention appoint administrators – 13/02/24
The Body Shop
L’Oreal – Animal Testing
The Guardian – The Body Shop collapses into administration – 14/2/24

 

Back To The TopITweet Me!IPin it!ISubscribe via Email

Your email is never published or shared. Required fields are marked *

*

*