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Chapter 3 Anita Roddick
‘Business is not about financial language. It is just about buying and selling and making a magical place where buyer and seller come together’.
Just outside Littlehampton in the south of England, there is a large modern office building that is built in a Chinese style. It is specially designed so it does very little damage to the environment. Its electric power comes from the wind and it produces very little waste. Inside, some people are discussing the company’s financial performance or its latest sales figures. But others are discussing campaigns to save the forests of Brazil or ways of helping political prisoners. Many of them have children who spend the day playing with teachers in a special area on another floor while their parents are working. These offices may be very different from the normal offices of a large international company, but the people here manage a business with over 1,750 shops in around 50 different countries.
This building is the head office of The Body Shop, a company which was started by one woman, Anita Roddick, in 1976. In just a few years, her company has grown from one small shop into a large international business. During this time, she has shown people that business is not just about making money; she believes that business can help to make the world a better place.
And Anita Roddick has also changed the cosmetics industry in a big way.
Before The Body Shop, cosmetics were sold for high prices in expensive bottles and packages, but Anita has always tried to sell cosmetics cheaply and simply. Before The Body Shop, cosmetics companies rarely used natural ingredients in their products, but Anita has changed that as well. Before The Body Shop, cosmetics companies always had expensive offices in big, rich cities like Paris or New York, but Anita manages her international business from a small English town.
Littlehampton is beside the sea on the south coast of England and it used to be a popular place for English people to spend their holidays. Anita grew up there in the 1940s and 1950s, and her first experience of business was helping her mother in the busy kitchen of her cafe. But Anita never thought about a life as a businesswoman. When she left school, she studied to be a teacher and then decided to travel. She visited many countries, including Tahiti, Australia and South Africa.
Soon after she returned to Littlehampton from her travels, she met a man called Gordon Roddick. They fell in love, got married and had two daughters. But life wasn’t easy for them. Gordon didn’t have a regular job. When he met Anita, he was a writer, but he had never made very much money from his work. Now they had to earn money for their young family. Anita had learnt a lot about the service industry from her experience in her mother’s cafe and, of course, she also knew Littlehampton well, so she and Gordon decided to go into the hotel business. They borrowed some money and bought a small hotel with just eight bedrooms.
The hotel was soon doing well and so next, the Roddicks decided to buy a restaurant. But Anita and Gordon hadn’t realized that a restaurant was such hard work. After three years, they decided that they had had enough.
Late one night, Gordon said to Anita, ‘I don’t want to do this any more. This is killing us.’
He told her that he had an unusual plan. All his life, he had had a dream: he had always wanted to ride a horse from Buenos Aires to New York. Now he wanted to make that dream come true, while he was still young and healthy. But it meant that he would have to leave Anita and the children for two years.
Anita was surprised by the idea, but she was happy to accept the situation. How, though, was she going to earn money for the next two years? She decided to go into business.
While Gordon prepared for his trip, Anita thought about the kind of business she would like to start. She wanted a business that would give her some time to see her children, so she knew that she wanted to work regular hours.
‘Why not open a shop?’ she thought. That would allow her to work from nine in the morning to five in the afternoon. But what could she sell? She had to find something that people needed but that they couldn’t buy from any other shop. She also wanted to do something that she believed in. She didn’t want to make money just to get rich; she wanted to be sure that she was selling a good product and offering a good service.
After some time, she started to think about cosmetics. ‘Why is there so little choice for women who want to buy cosmetics?’
Anita asked herself. ‘The cosmetics companies decide what goes into their bottles, they decide how big the bottles should be and, worst of all, they decide to ask a very high price for them.’
And when Anita found out more, she was really shocked by the price of some cosmetics. She realized that some companies were buying their materials for $1 and then selling them for over $100. Customers were often spending a lot of money on a pretty bottle and a famous name.
‘These profits are too high,’ she thought. ‘I know I can sell cosmetics more cheaply.’
While she was travelling around the world, Anita had seen how women in many countries made cosmetics from natural products. Could she do the same thing for women in Britain?
She wrote to several big cosmetics companies and asked if they could help her, but they all thought that she was crazy. After several weeks, she found a chemist who could make these things for her. Anita knew she was in business. Next she borrowed £4,000 from a bank and rented a shop in Brighton, a big town near Littlehampton. The shop was in a good area, but she discovered that its walls were always wet, so she covered them with dark green paint to hide the marks. Her shops are still painted this colour today. As she was painting, she also thought of a name for her business — The Body Shop.
Anita thought it was a great name for her shop, but some of the other businesses in the area weren’t so enthusiastic. A week before her new shop’s opening day, she received a letter from a lawyer.
The letter said that she had to change its name. In the same street as her new shop, there were two companies that organized funerals. Both these companies believed that a shop called ‘The Body Shop’ so near to them would be bad for their business.
At first Anita was frightened by the lawyer’s letter, but then she decided to use it to help her. She called the local newspaper and told them about the two funeral businesses and their attitude towards a poor young woman who was trying to open her first shop. The newspaper printed her story and Anita never heard from the lawyer or from the funeral companies again. She was also pleased because she got a lot of free advertising for her new shop.
Anita was nervous on the morning that the shop opened. She had fifteen products to sell and she had spent several days putting them into bottles. She knew that the shop needed to take £300 a week. It seemed like a lot of money. But Anita didn’t need to worry. On the first morning, her shop was full of people. They had never seen anything like Anita’s products before; there were soaps that smelled of apples, rose water perfumes, body butter, and skin creams made from natural oil. By the end of the day, Anita had taken £130. She was very happy.
But Anita didn’t relax. She tried everything to make customers visit her shop. One day, she even poured perfume along the street that led to her shop door. She hoped that new customers would follow their noses!
The summer of 1976 was hot in the south of England, and lots of people went to Brighton to lie on the beach and swim in the sea. Many of them heard about The Body Shop and went in to buy cream for their burnt skin and tired feet. After just a few months, Anita was doing so well that she wanted to open another shop. She went to the bank and asked if she could borrow another £4,000.
But the bank manager thought that Anita was moving too quickly.
‘Wait another year,’ he told her, ‘and we’ll discuss it again then.’
But Anita didn’t want to wait and so she spoke to a local businessman called Ian McGlinn about her idea. McGlinn agreed to give Anita £4,000, but he wanted to own half of the business.
That seemed fair to Anita and so she wrote to Gordon in South America and told him about her plan. Gordon immediately wrote back, and said ‘Don’t do it!’ But his letter arrived too late.
Anita had already got the money from Ian McGlinn and he was now the owner of half of The Body Shop. For him, it was one of the best financial decisions of all time: twenty years later, his half of the company had a value of over £100 million!
But while Anita’s business was doing well, on the other side of the world Gordon was facing some serious problems. Less than a year after the start of his journey, his horse died in the mountains of Bolivia and he had to return home. Back in Britain, he took over the financial side of The Body Shop’s operations. He started to look for ways in which the company could continue to grow.
One of Anita and Gordon’s friends admired their business and asked if she could open a Body Shop too. She could get enough money to start a shop; she wanted products to sell and she wanted to use The Body Shop name. It seemed like an excellent idea to Anita and Gordon. It allowed them to increase the size of their business, but it meant that they didn’t have to borrow any more money.
Then this new Body Shop became successful, they looked for other people who also wanted to open Body Shops. They found plenty of people who thought that this was a great opportunity, and soon Body Shops were opening in towns and cities across the UK.
In 1978 the first Body Shop opened outside the UK, in Brussels, and the next year the business spread to Sweden and Greece. By 1981, a new Body Shop was opening somewhere in the world every two weeks.
As the business grew, The Body Shop started making more and more different products. People often came to Anita with strange ideas for natural cosmetics that she could use in her business.
One day, an old lady from Vienna arrived at The Body Shop’s offices with a bag of white powder. She explained that it was a special skin treatment which her grandfather had prepared for Archduke Ferdinand of Austria many years ago. Anita liked the story and agreed to test the lady’s white powder. To her surprise, it really worked, and it later became one of the Body Shop’s most successful products. The little old lady returned to Austria to lead a comfortable life, because Anita had promised to give her 10% of all the money that her product made.
In 1984, Anita and Gordon decided that The Body Shop
needed even more money so it could continue to grow. They decided to sell shares in the company at the London Stock Exchange. Half of these shares were already owned by Ian McGlinn because he owned half the company as a result of his arrangement with Anita in 1976. Anita and Gordon kept some shares in The Body Shop for themselves and they sold the rest to the public. When the Body Shop shares first went on sale, Anita and Gordon were at the London Stock Exchange to watch. At the start of the day, the share price was £0.95. But as the hours passed, the price went higher as more and more people tried to buy a piece of The Body Shop. When the Stock Exchange finished business that afternoon, the price had risen to £1.65. Anita took out a piece of paper and added some figures together. The value of her own Body Shop shares was £1.5 million. After just eight years in business, at the age of forty-two, Anita Roddick was a millionaire!
The early 1980s was a good time to sell natural products. Several international news stories at that time made people think about the harmful effects of modern industry. Scientists found that the world was getting hotter because of the smoke and gas from factories and cars. They also discovered that in the forests of countries like Brazil, rare plants and animals were quickly disappearing. Then, in December 1984, poisonous gas escaped from a factory in Bhopal, India, and killed 2,000 people. Sixteen months later, there was an explosion at a power station at Chernobyl, Ukraine. A cloud of poison killed many people and caused damage to plants and animals right across Europe. These problems made many people wonder if we should all change our lifestyles. They thought that we should stop using so many dangerous products and start to live in a more natural way.
Anita Roddick understood these ideas. She had always tried to make The Body Shop a clean business that didn’t damage the environment. Her cosmetics were made from natural products and she had never allowed people to test her products on animals; instead, they had always been tested on people. She also always asked her customers to use their bottles again, to reduce waste. She believed that business was not just about making a profit, and that companies should act in a responsible way towards society and towards the earth. Because of this, people were happy to shop at The Body Shop if they were worried about the environment.
But Anita wanted to do more than just run a responsible business. She thought that business could give her the opportunity to make the world a better place. So in 1985, she started working with a group called Greenpeace to stop companies putting waste and poisons into the sea. As part of the campaign to keep the seas clean, The Body Shop paid for advertising and gave its customers information about the problem. Over the next few years, The Body Shop worked with other groups on campaigns to save rare animals and to help people who had been wrongly put in prison. In 1989, Anita ran a campaign to stop the burning of trees in the forests of Brazil. The campaigns were a chance for The Body Shop’s employees to learn about these problems, and they were all expected to help Anita to make them successful.
Other business people were surprised by Anitas campaigns.
The 1980s was a time when many business people were only interested in profit.
‘Why does she spend so much time trying to save the world?’
they asked. ‘She should be in her office, running her business like a normal businesswoman.’
They were even more surprised when she began to fly to some of the poorer places in the world, helping people to start businesses. To some companies, poor countries are just places to buy cheap materials and hire cheap workers. This can often have damaging results for the local society. But Anita believed that her business could help. So she went to the forests of Brazil and worked with the Kayapo people. The Kayapo had lived according to their old traditions for thousands of years. But now, changes in the modern world meant that it was difficult for their way of life to continue. Anita helped them to start a business that produced oil for cosmetics. They could make this from plants that they found in the forest and then sell it to The Body Shop for a good price. The Kayapo were happy because they now had money to pay for better health and education; it was also good for The Body Shop, because Anita had another natural product to sell.
After her success with the Kayapo, Anita used the same kind of idea to help poor people in many other parts of the world.
Although Anita spent a lot of time and energy on her
campaigns and her work for the poor, her business certainly didn’t suffer. Every year, more Body Shops opened, more customers bought her products and the company’s profits grew bigger.
But some people said that Anita’s campaigns weren’t really about saving the world. They were just a way to get cheap advertising and to make the company look good in the eyes of its customers. In 1994, some newspapers and television programmes went further. They criticized The Body Shop and said that it hadn’t done enough to protect the environment. Customers were worried and the company’s share price suddenly fell. Anita and Gordon were very angry. They felt that they had always been honest and that the criticism was not fair. Gordon had a meeting with journalists and told them,’The company doesn’t pretend to be perfect or to have all the answers, but it can still help in the fight to protect the environment.’ The Body Shop’s customers were happy to believe him. Soon they were back in the shops, and the company’s share price was going up again.
In recent years, Anita has become less involved in the business side of The Body Shop’s activities. In 1998, she decided that she wanted someone else to take control of the day-to-day management of the company and a man called Patrick Gournay was brought from France to become The Body Shop’s boss. Anita stayed with the company, but recently she has told the world that she is thinking of leaving business life. She said that she didn’t want to spend her whole life talking about skin creams and soaps, because she had more important things to do: she wanted to get involved in more political campaigns.
Anita once said that there were no heroes in the modern business world, but she has certainly become a hero for many people. She has shown that it is possible for a woman to build a large international company in just a few years. She has proved that it is possible to manage a business and care for the environment at the same time. And she has brought new ideas, new products and new life to the world’s shopping centres.
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