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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Anita Roddick and the Body Shop

Bursting out of England to encircle the globe is a chain of stores that primarily sells shampoo and skin lotion and is shaking the conventional assumptions of the business world. So much so that Inc. Magazine put founder, Anita Roddick, on its cover this month with the headline: “This Woman Has Changed Business Forever.”

The closest phrase that can describe what is going on in the Body Shops is what she calls “electricity and passion,” or doing business as a byproduct of other values and goals. There is no set philosophy in one of Britain’s fastest growing businesses with 500 stores there and in 37 countries. There are only illustrations that give people an idea of what is going on.

One can start with the “causes.” The Body Shop is against animal testing for cosmetics and stores and signs remind customers of that position. Body Shop employees demonstrated in front of the Brazilian Embassy in London to help save the Amazon rainforest and the Indians who “are the custodians of the Rainforests,” said one sign. Body Shop trucks ride the highways with their long sides covered with signs urging stronger environmental values such as recycling (the stores use refillable bottles and biodegradable materials.)

Fourteen years ago, Anita Roddick, then a 33 year old mother of two young daughters, started the first Body Shop with her husband, Gordon, who now runs the chain with a fine managerial hand. Gordon frees Anita to travel all around the world picking up sources of materials and anecdotal ideas that fuel this electricity and passion.

There is Anita in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco to find a traditional mud which has astringent and toning properties. Result: Rhassoul Mud Shampoo. There is Anita in the Amazon jungle with the indigenous tribespeople learning how they use their local materials and urging upon them what patent rights come from these

applications in her business. There is Anita before a large conference in Minneapolis full of hardboiled, idealistic environmental types dazzling the audience with a torrent of true tales about what she has done, is doing and plans to do with her business. From defending the whales and dolphins to speaking out on behalf of native peoples and their customs in the Third World to starting (her latest project) an informal British Peace Corps of young people to go to Romania to help the orphan babies being discovered in warehouse conditions of shocking deprivation, Anita is here, there, everywhere.

She reads, absorbs, observes, listens, speaks, gestures and, all the while, there is a very discernible clarity of purpose and direction which includes experimenting, risking and, above all, doing, doing, doing. She intensely dislikes meetings of the bureaucratic stripe in her company, business jargon and what she calls “a fat-cat mentality.”

At age 47, she is on a faster rising sales and profit curve that is stunning stock market analysts. For the past ten years, sales and profits have continued to grow an average of 50% a year! In five years the Body Shop expects a billion dollars in sales.

A clue to her success is the way she views consumers and employees. The latter are expected to inform and educate their customers, if asked, about the properties, sources, history and lore of the quietly but attractively displayed products. She does not use pictures of models. She does not hype the consumer. To her, standard marketing techniques are increasingly less effective because the customer is hyped out, overmarketed and overwhelmed with the din of pitch and promotion and advertising.

Employees are there to answer questions with humor, anecdotes, videos, graphics and the light touch. Anita expects them to choose how they are going to be civically active outside of work and then tries to help them or march with them

or protest with them.

By humanizing the company’s stores and by creating conversation instead of branding, the Roddicks let the customers do the word of mouth with their friends and neighbors. The Body Shop has never spent a shilling on advertising and does not even have a marketing department — this is an industry that spends over 30% of its revenue in advertising and promotion.

Employees go through a training process that “trains for knowledge,” says Anita, not for “a sale.” The company newsletter often reads like a counter-culture publication with space given to the company’s campaigns against ozone-depleting chemicals and snippets of poetry, environmental tidbits and anthropological observations.

She tells her husband, Gordon, that the company should have a Department of Surprises to keep it loose, creative, different in order to “rewrite the book on business.” Watch her — the climb of her can-do vision is just beginning. With twenty Body Shops operating already in the U.S., the process of opening new stores as franchises is accelerating to further meet what Anita calls the Body Shop’s “global responsibility.” Skin lotions and shampoos are just a means to Anita’s horizons.