The Garrulous Jay – Body Shock

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When I was a youngster I remember walking down East Street in Chichester, passing the doors of The Body Shop, and being rather alarmed at the idea of people purchasing ‘bodies’. More recently the business has itself endured shocks of a different kind.

The Body Shop was founded by Anita Roddick in 1976. From the start it adhered to strict ethical principles across its products and supply chain, avoiding animal testing and using only natural ingredients.

The business was ahead of its time in more ways than one. Long before the advent of ‘viral marketing’, and no doubt partly with an eye on the bottom line, Roddick did not advertise, preferring to feature in local press instead (source: Wikipedia).

Moreover, the company’s whole ethical approach arguably came some 40 years before investors began to factor environmental, social and governance issues into their decision-making.

This brought with it great success. The company went public in 1984 and was taken over by L’Oreal some 22 years later in a deal that netted the Roddicks £130 million (source: Wikipedia).

Subsequently The Body Shop endured a game of corporate pass-the-parcel as its ownership moved from L’Oreal to Brazilian group Natura & Co in 2017, before being sold to private equity firm AURELIUS in late 2023.

Just three months later it was announced that the company had fallen into administration, and on Tuesday it was confirmed that around half the UK stores are to close and head office staff will be cut by 40%.

This already seems a far cry from AURELIUS’ pronouncements in November of the “opportunity to re-energise an iconic global beauty and personal care brand”. Or indeed the CEO Ian Bickley’s claim of “a truly historic moment for The Body Shop as we join forces with AURELIUS to begin a new chapter, allowing us to continue building the relevancy of this global brand for future generations”.

And herein lies the problem, I fear… In some ways being a trailblazer runs the risk of sowing the seeds of your own demise: where you blaze others will follow your trail.

New, more agile competitors, will steal your existing customers, whilst others may target new ones.

More fundamentally though, your niche may become mainstream. No need to go to The Body Shop if supermarkets and chemists can meet broadly the same consumer needs.

Make no mistake, The Body Shop remains a very large business and talk of its demise may be premature, but it’s telling that Natura & Co sold it to AURELIUS for a fraction of the price they paid L’Oreal.

All businesses can learn lessons from The Body Shop’s experience, not least financial services companies where technology in particular poses an existential threat to companies unwilling or unable to adapt.

New entrants and incumbents alike should be alive to the challenges and opportunities ahead as Gen Z and their successors seek new ways to manage and invest their money, as well as buy their beauty & personal care products.