I started The Body Shop simply to create a livelihood while my husband was working in the Americas. I had no training or experience and my only business acumen was my husband’s advice to take sales of £300 a week. Business isn’t financial science, it’s about trading: Buying and selling. 30 years on, over 2 000 stores were serving 77 million customers and I hadn’t a clue how we got there!
It’s almost unheard of for big brands to start as big brands. In all cases of success it’s been an enterprising entrepreneur who spotted a market opportunity and aggressively pursued and scaled it. If you have designs on a franchised empire, start at your front door and master the basics: Find a market need, develop a scalable solution at a price people are prepared to pay, and grow from there.
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In 1970 I visited a store in California selling naturally-scented all-natural ingredient soaps and lotions run by Peggy Short and Jane Saunders. Called The Body Shop, it helped train and employ immigrant women. I loved the idea so much that six years later I launched in the UK using the same business name, colour scheme, and cosmetic lines.
By 1992 the rename was complete. When starting any business, and especially if you intend on growing and franchising it, be absolutely certain you’re not stealing someone else’s designs, name or products. The consequences may cost you a fortune, if not your business.
I opened a second shop within six months. My husband came up with the idea to self-finance more new stores, which sparked the growth of the franchise network through which The Body Shop spread across the world.
Even if your intention is to franchise from the get go, it’s always important to pilot the stores yourself first. Begin with your original concept and then pilot a second. As you grow your units start having other people run them to ensure all your systems and procedures are watertight. A small leak while you’re small can be the hole that bursts the dam wall when you grow. A second advantage is that the proof of being able to launch more stores through self-finance will be an encouraging sign to franchisees that they can make a good return on their investment.
Why waste a container when you can refill it? My mother was part of the post-WW2 generation and she instilled this philosophy in me. In our first store we’d re-use bottles because we couldn’t afford to buy new ones, but it also happened to be a time that Europe was starting to go ‘green’ and people were drawn to this.
There are many stories of brands being innovative and creative to try to cut costs. When starting out, look for ways you can develop inexpensive packaging, for example, that doesn’t compromise quality, value or brand-building. And always remember scale. Will up-cycling or recycling become problematic as you grow?
Though I no longer sit on executive committees, I still spend time on The Body Shop business. I constantly question myself: How can I bring values into an industry that is certainly not values-laden?
Becoming a franchisor means your roles in the business change. As your business grows you may even find yourself further and further from the coal face. Like Roddrick, you should always be asking yourself what value you bring to your customers and the industry. The minute you stop pursuing that and get comfortable with your success, a start-up or competition will quickly overtake you.
Businesses have the power to do good. That’s why The Body Shop’s mission statement opens with the overriding commitment, ‘To dedicate our business to the pursuit of social and environmental change.’ We use our stores and our products to help communicate human rights and environmental issues.
Today’s consumers are looking for brands that align with their own values. It’s not just enough to say you support a cause, consumers want tangible proof of the causes you’re supporting. The Body Shop has been a vocal activist since inception on issues ranging from fair trade, anti-animal cruelty, human rights, environmental issues, global warming, corporate exploitation, the list goes on. But what set it apart was how it arranged community trade initiatives with South American communities who supplied The Body Shop with Brazil nuts. This practice has spread to more than 23 countries.
I’ve never been a stereotypical beauty entrepreneur. I hate the beauty industry: It’s a monster selling unattainable dreams. There are three billion women in the world who don’t look like supermodels and only eight who do. Which is why we’re not selling panaceas that will erase wrinkles, and is the same reason we created Ruby. The business of business should not just be about money, it should be about responsibility. It should be about public good, not private greed.
Ruby is the anti-Barbie used in The Body Shop’s marketing campaigns. She’s a size 16 red-headed doll and a realistic representation of women and their bodies. In business, you have the ability to build on people’s self-esteem or to prey on it. It was because of The Body Shop’s bold move to reject industry norms that they found themselves as one of the most trusted brands in the UK and Europe. What does your brand stand for and what good is it doing for society?
We experienced a huge backlash when we sold The Body Shop to L’Oreal. But I see us as a Trojan horse. By selling to a huge firm we’ll be able to influence decision-makers and I’ll have input on decisions. If you think something small can’t make a big impact, try sleeping with a mosquito.
Many franchises have grown through strategic partnerships with large firms: They have the expertise, finance and infrastructure to achieve rapid growth. But approach with caution and ensure you’re partnering with a large firm you have synergy with. The Body Shop famously voices fair-trade, natural products and cruelty-free ingredients, while L’Oreal, part-owned by Nestlé, infamously tested its ingredients on animals. In March 2013, the anti-animal testing campaign lead by The Body Shop for 20 years culminated in the banning of animal testing for cosmetics, including ingredients in Europe.
The Body Shop is not, nor ever was, a one-woman-show – it’s a global operation with thousands of people working towards common goals and sharing common values. That’s what has given it a campaigning and commercial strength and continues to set it apart from mainstream business.
Relinquishing control is an issue many entrepreneurs struggle with. When you become a franchisor you’re never going to have franchisees doing things exactly as you’d like them to, which means you can’t be too married to having things done your way. Similarly, you can’t grow to any meaningful size if you want to do everything yourself. As you grow, ensure you’ve got talented, experienced and passionate team members who will help you take the business to new heights and that you will defer to them when needed.