Dame Anita Roddick (1942-2007) best known as the founder of “The Body Shop”, created a cosmetics company, producing and retailing beauty products that shaped business and ethical consumerism forever. Roddick was the third child of four children born on the 23rd October 1942, in one of the few Italian immigrant families in Littlehampton, England.
Her mother was left a widow when Anita was 10, so the family work ethic was to work hard so they could survive. Work began at 5:00 in the morning in their little café, and they would finish later than anyone else well into the night. Her mother encouraged her into teaching as a profession, but Anita Roddick’s unflinching desire for adventure was too strong to keep her in the classroom as a teacher. After a few years in Paris, in the library of the International Herald Tribune and a year in Geneva working for the UN, she hit what she regarded as the “hippie trail,” traveling through South Pacific, Europe, Asia, and Africa. During her numerous travels, she became acquainted with the traditions, norms, rituals, and customs of many Third World cultures, including their forms of health and body care.
When she returned to England, she met Gordon Roddick, a kindred bohemian spirit who wrote poems and loved to travel as much as she did. They got married in 1970, and shortly thereafter, opened a bed-and-breakfast hotel and later started a restaurant that was quite successful. Her husband then got bored again and wanted to go on a horsing expedition from Buenos Aires to New York.
The Birth of the Body Shop
In order for them to survive without her husband’s income, Roddick had to come up with a creative idea and she needed to get it off the ground quickly. It was by pure genius and a momental idea that she founded “The Body Shop”. The sole purpose for setting up the shop was to make an income for herself and her two daughters while her husband, Gordon was away in South America. She didn’t get off to a great start with the manager of the bank, refusing her a loan for the business. She does admit though, that she did make a mistake by calling into the bank with the kids hanging off her and wearing a Bob Dillon tee-shirt eating a burrito. He did give the loan to her husband a week later.
Anita first body shop opened in 1976. Located in Brighton the first shop was sandwiched between two funeral parlors. Initially, Roddick was faced with threats and solicitors letters to cease and desist the business because twice a day coffins would pass and the owners of the funeral homes thought it disrespectful to pass a shop called “The Body Shop”. This is where she learned about the power of storytelling and rang the press to sell her story. For years the company never had any advertising or marketing department. Roddick’s business was different from others; she was able to get her message clearly across to the media and the public.
The Body Shops idea of providing quality skincare products in refillable containers helped grow a very strong brand image. The Body Shop was one of the first to prohibit the use of ingredients tested on animals and one of the first companies to promote fair trade with third world countries. Roddick said the aim of the business was not about making money, but using valuable ethical and moral principles in deciding how the business was run. They made a list of all the things they didn’t want the business to be, nor did they want to be leaders of the industry. She then launched her second shop six months later after a record success. On her husband’s return, he joined the family business and By 1991, Roddick’s Body Shop had over 700 branches, and she was awarded the 1991 World Vision Award for Development Initiative.
Roddick also became a well-known human rights activist and philanthropist, who, in 1990, founded the Children on the Edge (Cote), in response to her visits to Romanian orphanages. Upon seeing the deteriorating conditions the children were in, she created COTE to help, manage, and contain the crisis and worked to de-institutionalize the children over the course of their early life met with untold disaster and hardship. COTE’s main mission is to help disadvantaged children affected by natural disasters, conflict, HIS/AIDS and disabilities. In 2003 The Body Shop founder was made a dame in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.
By 2004, The Body Shop had 1980 stores, serving millions throughout the world. It was voted as the second most trusted brand in the United Kingdom, and 28th top brand in the world. In the same year, Roddick was diagnosed with Hepatitis C. In 2006, she sold the Body Shop to L’Oréal for £652 million. Roddick died of an acute brain hemorrhage at about 6:30 PM on the 10th September 2007 aged 64, after being admitted to St Richard’s Hospital, the previous evening suffering from a severe headache. As promised, she left her estate to charities rather than to her family and friends. When details of her estate were published, it was revealed that she had donated all of her money, £51 million, upon her death.
Advice for Start-ups
Anita Roddick’s story remains one of the great entrepreneurial, if not cautious, tales of the late 20th century. She grew a single shop into an international empire and proved that a company can gain loyal customers and succeed by simply providing product information rather than employing high-powered advertising and high-pressure selling. Her advice to start-ups and entrepreneurs is to start with small steps, think brilliantly but differently. Network like crazy, look to see who is doing better, copy it and make it better. And then finally be able to tell a good story.
“If you think you’re too small to have an impact, try going to bed with a mosquito.” Dame Anita Roddick