How L’Oreal missed out on The Body Shop

I find the sale of The Body Shop by L’Oreal interesting. Even if Anita Roddick’s position was prudent, who can honestly know the entire thinking behind the purchase of the brand way back in 2006?

Some would say recent sales figures show a clear need for the cosmetics giant to rid itself of the high street brand, but I think there is more to it – and the blame should sit squarely with L’Oreal…

The Body Shop brand was struggling even in 2006. The original values that were held so dear to the founder and the employees who helped grow the brand and high street presence throughout the ‘70s, ‘80s and into the ‘90s had become stale. As a pioneer in ethical trading and corporate social responsibility, The Body Shop should have continued pushing boundaries and innovating at a time when everyone else was catching up. Corporates around the world started following suit and The Body Shop should have traded on being the vanguard but instead it was swallowed up in the glamour and greenwash of companies becoming CSR-aware.

Under the ownership of L‘Oreal, The Body Shop found itself becoming steadily surrounded by wannabes and sadly, it wasn’t given the encouragement nor the permission to re-find and re-establish itself as the leader in ethical trade. Those wannabes in the marketplace during this time, have since become the better-thans.

But where L’Oreal should have reviewed why they purchased the ethical brand, capitalised on what should have been a purposeful investment, learning what they could about ethical, grass roots values – and investing in turning the black sheep of the family into the ‘gifted child’, they instead focused on homogenisation and aligning L’Oreal values to a brand which was born and raised to be the antithesis of corporate life.

The market has changed phenomenally in the last 11 years and where the vanguard should feel proud to have shown the way for companies such as Lush and Liz Earle, The Body Shop finds itself smothered by the L’Oreal tenure and is now in a position of playing catch-up; not only within the cosmetics sector, but it now finds itself up against a host of other ethical traders as well as a plethora of entrepreneurial high street businesses (Leon, Lush, Seasalt, Crew Clothing…). The challenge is now not just about reinforcing its still maintained and practiced values of ethical trade, but the extent of its real estate on the high street – along with numerous other brands confronted by changes in consumer buying behaviour.

The Body Shop brand is not in a good way. As a business woman who was inspired by Anita Roddick, the values and the brand (although not always in agreement), I genuinely hope the new owner takes better care of what is an institution for ethical trade, than L’Oreal did. This was a truly missed opportunity by the cosmetics giant and The Body Shop has now got a long way to go to rebuild the strong position it once had. The two saving graces are that Natura has similar values – and The Body Shop hasn’t lost its values; they are still core to the day to day business. Let’s hope that these are enough to revive the brand.

The following article is what got me on my soapbox today:

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