The Creation of a Caring Corporation
No one, who has ever followed a dream, has taken a direct, unobstructed path and arrived at his or her destination effortlessly and on time. Following a dream is not a direct highway but a bumpy road full of twists and turns and occasional roadblocks. The journey requires modifications and adjustments in both thought and action, not just once, but over and over.
Anita Roddick, the founder of the Body Shop, used creativity to overcome challenges that would have stopped the vast majority of new business owners. She broke just about every rule in the book when she started The Body Shop and she’s still breaking the rules today. Of course, such irreverence has its consequences. In Anita’s case, the consequences read like this: The Body Shop now has more than 1,500 stores throughout the world, is worth over $500 million, and has influenced the products and marketing of all its chief competitors. And those are just the consequences in the business arena. The Body Shop is also a powerfully effective vehicle for social and environmental awareness and change; as far as Anita is concerned, that is the most important consequence of all.
From the moment in 1976 when Anita first conceived the idea of opening a shop to sell naturally based cosmetics, she was thinking in a most unbusinesslike manner. Most entrepreneurs set out to establish a company with growth potential that will make them wealthy someday. Anita was just looking for a way to feed herself and her two children, while her husband, also a maverick, was away on a two-year adventure, riding a horse from Argentina to New York.
Her first challenge was to find a cosmetics manufacturer to produce her products. No one she approached had ever heard of jojoba oil or aloe vera gel, and they all thought that cocoa butter had something to do with chocolate. Although she didn’t realize it at the time, Anita had discovered a market just about to explode: young female consumers who would prefer their cosmetics to be produced in a cruelty-free and environmentally responsible manner. When manufacturers failed to have the same foresight, Anita found a small herbalist who could do the work she required.
Since Anita was not the typical entrepreneur, she saw no drawbacks in starting her company with almost no capital. To save money, she bottled her cosmetics in the same inexpensive plastic containers hospitals use for urine samples, encouraging her customers to bring the containers back for refills. Because Anita couldn’t afford to have labels printed, she and some friends hand printed every one. Her packaging couldn’t have turned out better if she’d planned it that way. With the improvised packaging, her product now had the same natural, earthy image as the cosmetics themselves.
Anita opened the first branch of The Body Shop in her hometown of Brighton, England. When she first opened, neighboring proprietors made bets on how long the store would last. Less amused were the owners of local funeral parlors who insisted she change the shop’s name. No one, they complained, would hire a funeral director located near a place called The Body Shop. She stuck to her guns and the name stayed.
The first store was only minimally successful. Nevertheless, Anita decided to move ahead with a second one. The bank questioned the wisdom of her plan and refused a loan. So she found a friend of a friend who was willing to lend her the equivalent of $6,400 in exchange for 50 percent ownership of The Body Shop. Today that person is worth $140 million. Signing over half of her business was the only real mistake Anita ever made. But it wasn’t the only decision that looked like a mistake. Here are three more:
- She has never advertised even when she opened shops in the United States. People told her it was suicide to enter a new market without massive advertising support.
- She doesn’t sell in any outlet other than The Body Shop stores. (Some of her Asian stores are the only exception and are located within department stores.)
- She resolved early on that her shops would be a catalyst for change, not just in the business world, but in the world at large.
These decisions turned out to be some of the most inspired mistakes in the history of retailing. Even though Anita has never paid for advertising, her unconventional ideas have inspired hundreds of articles and interviews generating tremendous publicity. Her first shop in New York was packed with customers from the day it opened. At one point, a thirty-five-year-old woman on roller skates threw up her arms and shouted, Hallelujah! You’re here at last. So much for advertising.
A new branch of The Body Shop opens somewhere in the world every two and a half days. Occasionally, Anita has had trouble opening stores in shopping malls. But having a past that was filled with challenges, Anita is accustomed to coming up with creative solutions. For instance, when one mall refused to lease her space, she organized every mail-order customer within a 110-mile radius to write letters to the management of that mall. Within a few months, a branch of The Body Shop was open.
Anita also had this nonconformist idea of putting ideals ahead of profit. From the start, Anita wanted not just to change the faces of her customers but to change the entire face of business. She envisioned a company that was socially responsible and compassionate. I see the human spirit playing a big role in business. The work does not have to be drudgery, and the sole focus does not have to be on making money. It can be a human enterprise that people feel genuinely good about.
Some of the raw materials for her products are harvested by groups of people in underdeveloped regions, thus generating an income for them. The Body Shop has launched campaigns to save the whales, ban animal testing in the cosmetics industry, help the homeless, and protect the rain forests. All of these campaigns have been eagerly supported by loyal customers.
Employees of The Body Shop are actively involved in these efforts. Each month, employees receive a half day off with pay to volunteer in the community. Some employees, for example, went to Romania to help rebuild orphanages. In the stores, customers are encouraged to register to vote, recycle their plastic cosmetics containers, and bring their own shopping bags to save paper and plastic. Because of all these activities, people have suggested Anita’s company should really be called The Body and Soul Shop. Customers emerge not only looking good but also feeling good.
Business as usual isn’t part of Anita Roddick’s make up. But as far as she’s concerned, doing what is not usual has made all the difference.
Anita said that what saved The Body Shop over and over was their willingness to recognize what wasn’t working and quickly identify a new way to approach a problem. This is a crucial strategy because everyone who starts a business is going to face challenges. Things never work out exactly as intended and creativity will play a key role in enabling a new business owner to conquer daily battles. If you don’t come up with alternative solutions, your dreams will die.
The first step to expanding your creativity is to clearly identify the problem you’re experiencing. Maybe you’re struggling in sponsoring people who are interested in working the business and not simply purchasing the product. Or maybe you’re having a hard time finding new prospects period. Write the numbers 1 through 10 vertically down the left side of the sheet of paper. Finally, write ten possible solutions to your problem. Make sure they are viable options, but stretch your imagination.
Remember, the solution to every problem lies within you. You may need a few minutes of quiet time to complete the exercise effectively, or you may need to brainstorm possible solutions with a friend. Feel free to do whatever you think is necessary to connect with your inner knowing. When you’ve completed the exercise, you should find that the solutions you have found will renew your sense of possibility and your commitment to your goal.
Cynthia Kersey is a nationally-known speaker, columnist and author of the bestseller, Unstoppable and the bestselling audio program, Your Unstoppable Journey: 30 Days to Creating the Unstoppable You! A former top sales executive for Sprint Communications, Cynthia captivates audiences by delivering keynote presentations on how to be unstoppable in their business and life pursuits. You can order her program or bring her to your next meeting by contacting her at 888-867-8677 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Join The Unstoppable Challenge by visit Cynthia’s website at