You could be forgiven for wondering what had happened to The Body Shop. Back in the 1990s the brand was a huge force, leading the way in ethical, fair-trade practices and there wasn’t a teenage girl who didn’t buy its White Musk or Dewberry perfumes.
Gradually other brands cottoned on and The Body Shop lost its unique selling point. The teenagers graduated to other “green” cosmetics and the next generation had many alternatives to choose from.
Synonymous with its founder, the environmentalist and animal and human rights campaigner Dame Anita Roddick, the brand appears to have lost its way since her death in 2007. According to Bloomberg, The Body Shop’s operating margin has narrowed in each of the past three years – reaching a seven-year low last year – and is the worst-performing business of its owner, L’OrÃ©al. Which is why Jeremy Schwartz, the current chief executive, has launched a new campaign – Enrich not Exploit – looking to turn around the brand’s fortunes.
Here Mr Schwartz, who visited Dubai (the brand has had a presence in the emirate for 33 years) last month to tie in with The Body Shop’s 40th birthday, reveals more about the 14-point plan with targets ranging from ensuring 100 per cent of ingredients are traceable to helping 40,000 economically vulnerable people access work.
Enrich not Exploit is the first big marketing campaign we’ve seen from The Body Shop for a while. What happened?
Our marketing did go quiet, we concentrated on talking to our customers in store and perhaps lost focus for a while. Anita was a very strong personality and sometimes companies aren’t sure how to follow a strong personality once they’re not there any more. We realised we needed to reinvigorate our message and bring our commitment to ethical and sustainable ways of doing business to a whole new generation. The 40th birthday of our iconic brand is the perfect time to renew our commitment to being a sustainable, diverse, fair and socially responsible company. I want people to say: “I shop at The Body Shop and I’m proud to do so”.
How will you measure your targets?
Our aim is to be the world’s most ethical and sustainable global business. We are very happy to be held to account on every one of these targets. Each year we will produce a publicly available document that will be independently verified, measuring our progress against our ambitions.
Is being ethical and committed to fair trade good business? Why do you do it?
I’m very comfortable saying that we are a business and we have to make money. However, “Enrich not Exploit” is also about reaching out to people. It’s consumer-friendly and we want to make this something that people can embrace. I’ve been talking to our customers and a fundamental thing that young people want is to know that this planet is not going to be destroyed. They want to know that the people who have the power to do something, such as governments and corporations, are actually doing something.
Why is environmentalism such a key part of your commitment?
Governments can’t solve this. They don’t have the bravery, they’re not creative or bold enough. It’s going to be companies that will change the world. Why? We’ll be focused on being innovative, bringing out products or ideas that can have a dramatic, positive difference. This is why the second part of our commitment is “it is in our hands”. All of us have the power to make a difference.
How does being environmentally conscious fit with maximising profits?
If you cut your energy consumption because you increase efficiency, you will spend less money. We pay a premium for ingredients and we get an NGO to set the price. But we buy them direct, which makes them cheaper than buying via a middleman, so we’re still saving money. We’re so committed to conserving the planet that we’ve invested heavily in renewable packaging that makes plastic out of methane. This is a double win, for the planet and for us as a business. If the oil price increases, this will save a significant amount of money and means more oil is available for other uses. We are investing because we believe in it, but also we are challenging ourselves to make less impact as the end result will also be saving money.
What plans does The Body Shop have for the Middle East?
We’ve been here a long time, so it has made sense to develop specific products designed to appeal to consumers here. All of our products are 100 per cent vegetarian, which is very important to our customers in this area of the world. We’re also developed several very popular fragrances specifically for the Middle East. We have big expansion plans for the UAE. We are looking at opening a further 19 stores by 2021. In addition to this, we want to increase our digital offering and will be launching an e-commerce platform by next year.
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