If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito
There are so many things that make the late Dame Anita Roddick the first Hero I want to write about.
She was a dreamer, a believer, a go-getter, a traveller, a rebel, a wife and a mother, all at the same time. She enticed everybody she met with her inherited Italian charisma, deep rooted passion for goodness and genuine ambitions to change the world for the better. Her heart led and her head followed suit. She was bursting with ideas and instead of sitting around talking about them; she made them happen.
Her enthusiasm was contagious and her renegade ways were never without purpose. She rallied troops and paraded the streets campaigning for us to care more for animals and our beautiful planet at a time when other businesses were chasing nothing but profits.
She was a visionary and a pathologically positive one at that; she saw no obstacles in her way. She was a woman on a mission and that mission led her to founding one of the world’s first and most famous ethical brands in our history.
The Body Shop was an inherently unique operation whose blend of natural ingredients, social activism and beauty rituals from around the world, created a business that went from strength to strength ever since its inception in 1976.
At the time, Anita’s husband, Gordon, went off to fulfil his lifelong dream of travelling from Buenos Aires to New York City on horseback, and she was left at home with two children to look after. In all of her interviews she says that the entrepreneurialism and creativity she ploughed into The Body Shop was fuelled by one thing only: the need to survive.
Before he left, Gordon helped Anita secure a bank loan of £4,000 to get her first shop up and running. She used this cash to secure the premises in Brighton, give it a spring clean, a lick of paint and have The Body Shop stencilled out in gold lettering above the window.
Their offering was simple; twenty five products, each came in five sizes to make the range seem bigger than it actually was. Inspired by her mother’s wartime stories, every pot or jar was refillable which not only sent a strong message out to consumers about recycling, but also helped her keep costs down. It was clever and creative; it was commerce with a conscience.
Anita admittedly had zero business acumen, but she had a strong belief which was turned into The Body Shop’s Mission Statement: To dedicate our business to the pursuit of social and environmental change.
Despite her lack of a financial plan or long-term strategy, her business grew exponentially from the get-go. It was an invention born of necessity, fuelled by passion, nurtured with love and propelled to success by a relentless determination to raise awareness of human rights, the environment, animal testing and fair trade.
There is no scientific answer for success. You can’t define it. You’ve simply got to live it and do it.
She laughed about how her first store was located between two funeral parlours. When she first opened up, she starting receiving complaints from her neighbouring business owners about the name of her shop being offensive to their clients. They demanded that the name should be changed.
In an act of mischievous rebellion, she cunningly exploited this opportunity with the local press. She made an anonymous call to a newspaper to report that the funeral parlours were mafia-run and their owners were intimidating her, an innocent single mother of two, who was merely trying to keep her family alive after her husband had abandoned her.
It was free press and it worked, The Body Shop was getting noticed and the tills were starting to get full.
The end result of kindness is that it draws people to you.
To Anita, products and profits almost paled in comparative importance to her messages. She also understood, after travelling the world throughout her twenties, the essential role that storytelling plays within our human nature. She knew that good storytelling provokes emotion within us; it makes us think, feel and act – and her campaigns did just that.
There were shock tactics in her advertisements, big bold messages on her brown paper bags and thought-provoking questions on the sides of lorries. Every single one of her products came with a story and it helped her sell ingredients from the past as products of today, with meaning. She even embellished a few tales to keep her sales coming through…
There was a honey bees product made of beeswax from the hives in her garden and when she was filling up the pots ready for sale, she noticed that there were black bits in the honey. Instead of voiding the stock, she decided to tell customers that the black bits were just the dirty footprints of the bees, part of its organic appeal, and just to scoop them out with a spoon.
She was a marketing genius.
They knew The Body Shop had huge potential and wanted to expand it further, but they didn’t have the cash to do it themselves. So before they’d even heard of the word franchise, they came up with a clever way of self-financing. Friends would fund the setting up of another The Body Shop store, and all they would do was sell them the products.
At first they sold to anybody with an interest in the growth of the brand but soon began to be a little more particular in who was part of The Body Shop franchise community. Anita didn’t want stereotypical business men and women; she wanted people who shared the same ethos as her brand to build a network of teachers, activists and people who cared.
It was from around this point that The Body Shop was thrust into the global arena of success. Their sales were booming and their voices were being heard. They were creating jobs all over the world, stores were opening up left right and centre. Anita’s’ unorthodox ways of running a business were being recognised as revolutionary and she became an inspiration to many.
To succeed you have to believe in something with such a passion it becomes a reality
Anita used her seat on the world stage to continue to do good and she continued to get involved in various charitable organisations, education and driving important messages through the business world. She won all sorts of awards throughout her career and in 2003, she was duly appointed as the Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.
Just three years later, as her health was starting to deteriorate, Anita decided to sell the Body Shop to L’Oréal for £652million.
On the surface, it was a somewhat controversial move as L’Oreal, the world leader in beauty, was not necessarily known for being at the forefront of conscious commerce. However, Anita knew more than most, had forged trusting relationships and was confident her business baby was in very good hands. “I believe they are honourable and the work they do is honourable”.
Anita was and always will be so much more than the founder of one of the most innovative, avant-garde brands our generation will ever know – she’s the biggest Hero of them all.