September 1, 2002

Unforgettable: Anita Roddick went against the grain in making a rousing success of Body Shop International against the opposition of the cosmetic establishment

By Don Davis

THE RECENT NEWS that Anita Roddick and her husband would surrender their majority interest in Body Shop International and move on to other endeavors was hardly a surprise, but nevertheless will be interpreted by some in the business as a definite loss. The lady in question, after all, has been a small-bore superstar, on occasion a television celebrity known on both sides of the Atlantic; she's a smart, attractive spokeswoman for her company, for conservation of the rain forest and for cosmetics and fragrances based on natural ingredients. She personified her company and its main message more eloquently than the majority of cosmetic company founders, CEOs or industry personalities--that is,beyond the grande dames of earlier eras, such as Elizabeth Arden, Helena Rubinstein and Estee Lauder.

At least from this vantage point, Roddick did not share what might be charitably termed the "sense of community" with the rest of the cosmetic industry that was so evident in the grande dames. Having gone against the grain in making a rousing success of Body Shop International against the opposition of the cosmetic establishment--and its strengths in prestige stores and shopping malls--she continued to agitate with her arrogant advocacy of natural creams, lotions and scents, some based on exotic, even outlandish, oils and extracts of questionable efficacy and mildness at the expense of more conventional ingredients. Far worse for the health and welfare of the cosmetic business was her guerilla warfare on animal testing, culminating in her orchestration of a virtual ban on future marketing of animal-tested products in the European economic community. This was done against the backdrop of older regulations promulgated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and European regulatory groups insisting that product s not properly tested on live animal subjects might well qualify as those lacking proper safety substantiation.

In the early-to-mid '90s, Body Shop's forward momentum began to lag. The company's rapid expansion into the United States, coupled with a franchise revolt as profits were squeezed by a half-dozen "me-too" competitors and by similar nature-based formulas from more conventional marketers, created worries for informed shareholders. Of equal concern was the emergence of a major critic, writer Jon Entine, whose articles blasted the company for using many solvents, diluents and surfactants that in fact weren't natural at all (and for the most part, had indeed been subjected to routine animal testing), endorsing botanical components for which there was no legitimate use, need or function in cosmetics, and operating with shallow scientific/ technical staff depth. Entine's premise was that the company "schtik" was at best a sham.

Even more lethal for Roddick and her minions was the success of Bath & Body Works, a lusty sister to Victoria's Secret whose resources to develop interesting botanically based products and to generate colorful packaging and effective point-of-purchase excitement made Body Shop's subdued shop lighting and muted product hues look pallid by comparison. Even a costly re-do of the company's shops, new products and packaging, and the infusion of new executives and new money into the North American operation was not enough to cope with this new marketing force.

Now the company is casting about for new directions. One notion is the establishment of home parties, similar to those tried by direct-sale marketers in the '70s and again in the '90s, in addition to new management that will not include the Roddicks. It would be hard to conceive of Body Shop without them. She has provided marvelous copy for trade journalists for the past two decades.

Until his retirement as editor of GCI magazine, then called DCI, in 1995, Don Davis had served in that post for 29 years.

2002 Gale Group Inc. All rights reserved. 2002 Advanstar Communications, Inc.