AGENDA: New age finds a new face - The Body Shop’s recent management shake-up aims to refocus the ethical retailer on core products and values while giving its marketing a shot in the arm. Ruth Nicholas asks whether the ailing chain has found the

News of the appointment of The Body Shop’s first non-Roddick director last week prompted a wave of criticism and the sounding of a rather premature death knell.

News of the appointment of The Body Shop’s first non-Roddick

director last week prompted a wave of criticism and the sounding of a

rather premature death knell.



One analyst compared the appointment of ex-Danone chief executive

officer Patrick Gournay as the retailer’s CEO to a deck chair reshuffle

on the Titanic. The company has now launched a charm offensive to put

its side across.



But a stroll around an average outlet illustrates one of the retailer’s

problems. The product mix would not be out of place in Woolworths: gold,

spangly purses made out of bubble wrap, Day-Glo plastic hair clips,

velvet alice bands, multicoloured mascara for hair and pencil-case

goodies. This will soon be a thing of the past if central management has

its way.



Cynics may scoff at the notion of there being any ’central management’

at the The Body Shop, given the short life expectancy of executives not

called Roddick, but the ethical retailer the City loves to hate is

determined to overhaul itself properly this time.



Rationalising the product range is a high priority, according to global

head of media relations and internal communications Didier Lagae, as is

refocusing on core lines and values, communicating effectively with

consumers, creating new products that are young, funky and engaging, and

getting them to market efficiently.



Many of the The Body Shop’s problems stem from the fact that other high

street retailers have copied its products and, not being held back by

its ’principles before profits’ ethos, have done a good job of marketing

them.



Boots in particular has scored with its Natural Collection, which

launched in 1988, and its Botanics, Spa and Kyusu ranges.



Marks & Spencer and the big supermarkets have all brought out

aromatherapy and natural product ranges, which undercut those of The

Body Shop.



In an interview with Marketing, Lagae described The Body Shop’s plans to

reinvent itself for the Millennium. He was adamant that founder Anita

Roddick was not going to take a back seat following Gournay’s

appointment, which was announced with the firm’s results last week

(Marketing, May 14). The move is intended to allow her to concentrate on

what she does best: campaigning, communing with indigenous peoples and

creating new products.



’The value of (Anita’s) travels really cannot be underestimated,’ said

an industry source. ’One of the reasons why The Body Shop has suffered

in recent years is that she has been doing far less travelling and

therefore has not been discovering new ingredients and new recipes.’



Lagae is harder: ’We are great at being creative and generating ideas

but we are lousy at translating them into products, and even worse at

getting them the hell out of here and into consumers’ hands,’ he

says.



That is where Gournay comes in. ’He will concentrate on process to make

us more efficient.’



Instant hit



Lagae cites the retailer’s latest launches, the Bergamot and Hemp

ranges, as examples of the sort of NPD projects that it excels at.

Within a week of going on sale, the Hemp range, which is made up of five

moisturising products, accounted for 5% of total sales.



Roddick claims that hemp, a relative of the marijuana plant but with no

narcotic effect, has been a victim of a smear campaign. Naturally, the

launch generated huge publicity. Roddick handed out packets of hemp

seeds that carried the message: ’Do not attempt to use the plant as a

narcotic. You would need to smoke a joint the size of a telegraph pole

to get high.’



’The Hemp range’s funky packaging really appeals to young people,’ says

Lagae. He points out that it is also a campaigning issue and an

educational issue, which makes it core Body Shop territory.



’Right on’ campaigns rather than advertising have always been the

backbone of its marketing. While Lagae admits the retailer may have

over-done the preaching, he says: ’Our commitment to social change is

not negotiable.



We are not going to stop campaigning. It is true that we may have been

too preaching. Our new campaign, Make Your Mark, is the biggest ever

human rights campaign, running in 30 countries. It is more involving

than previous campaigns, as we are inviting consumers to participate by

literally making their mark (with their thumb print) to support human

rights activists.’



However much it accepts criticism of its past marketing, The Body Shop

remains suspicious of advertising. The campaign for its aromatherapy

line, which ran last May and was its first mainstream above-the-line

brand work, will not run again. ’We have very mixed feelings about

advertising. We prefer guerrilla marketing techniques, to be more

counter culture than mainstream, and we will always have a very low

spend,’ says Lagae.



That said, he confirms that The Body Shop is considering TV for the

first time. There are no firm plans yet, but Lagae anticipates more

advertising in August and September.



Despite the firm’s protestations that everything will be all right now

that the management has been beefed up and it has recognised its

weaknesses, observers are unconvinced.



Claiming that it has an incredibly loyal customer base among women over

30, and that competition is not something to be overly worried about,

makes it sound like The Body Shop’s top managers have been exposed to

hemp’s better-known cousin.



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