In a pre-online shopping world, and before the Internet was mainstream, the retail sector seemed a much surer bet.
But even then, there were brands that didn’t rest on their laurels.
Perhaps one of the best examples of this is The Body Shop. Under the stewardship of founder, Dame Anita Roddick, the company was innovative, and a tad rebellious.
Working for the brand on and off for more than a decade, my work in retail sales evolved into a training and mentoring role with the brand.
In 2003 I spent two years in Ireland developing their flagship store in Dublin, helping to improve outcomes and processes. It was my first foray into learning and development – and a path that Anita herself had influenced me to pursue.
I met Anita on several occasions and found her to be passionate and funny. I remember talking to her when I was at a career crossroads myself after starting a degree in Management, and finding it wasn’t the right fit.
Her words of wisdom helped bring me clarity, and it was this clarity that set me on a path to study PR and Communications – a fruitful course for me that’s led to my own learning and development business for brands.
There are many lessons I took from these conversations, and my experience working for this iconic brand, but here are a few of my top takeaways.
Staff buy-in is key
The people on the shop floor, the franchisors and management have the power to shape an international brand’s reality, no matter how good it may be in other countries. The ‘90s and early 2000s felt like a real golden era for The Body Shop in Australia – and it was run very much in the spirit of Anita. She loved seeing what she could create, and having the right people working for her to bring the brand to life. We were proud to work for The Body Shop, and it showed.
Make it fun
Anita was a fun person who attracted people who were smart and energetic. She led the way by creating an engaging and interactive retail space that changed the way people interacted with cosmetics. Customers could really engage with the products on the shop floor; they could smell and test the products on a large scale, making their shopping experience more fun and interactive.
Show you care
One of the most unique aspects about the brand is its clear social conscience – and its innovative and at times rebellious approach to community work and advocacy over the years. Our team worked on community projects in some pretty out there places! In 1993 I can remember working with people with AIDS at a time when there was still a huge stigma associated with the disease.
The public were looking for ways to get involved in community campaigns – and The Body Shop offered them that opportunity. We ran a lot of campaigns that fit with the brand’s values, such as a campaign to save the Siberian tiger. We sold soaps in the shape of tigers, took donations, and also offered people petitions they could sign. The public were buying our ethical products, but they were also buying into issues that they cared about; it was a feel-good, community experience that hasn’t really been replicated by a brand continuously on the same scale since.
Give people choice
I think choice is another major reason for the brand’s success. The Body Shop have always offered a substantial product selection and a range of size options. The company were also one of the first to offer the option to recycle your products, where you could bring your products back to be refilled. This was another way that The Body Shop showed their commitment to the environment. Good business is about giving people choice.
Great customer service will set your brand apart
While some blame the rise of online shopping for the demise of many businesses in the retail sector, if you have awesome bricks and mortar, I truly believe you can still be successful. Many brands are failing to engage their audience with the sort of humour and imagination that Anita championed. No-one gives money to people – or brands – that don’t make them feel good! Great customer service remains a key part of the story. Working for The Body Shop I learnt a lot about the human race: how to be respectful, how to make people feel comfortable, and how to involve customers with a product. The Body Shop achieved this, and taught me a huge amount about what it means to serve and understand people and communities.
Let your principles shine
Being a principled leader is perhaps one of the most important lessons I took away from meeting Anita, and my time with The Body Shop. Of course, the brand had to make profits, but Anita also asked people what they cared about – and reflected this through the company’s products, campaigns and initiatives. To this day, principles guide me, and the brands I work with too, in part thanks to those early lessons I learnt from Dame Anita Roddick.
Feature image: Daily Mail UK