The Social and Business Battles of Anita Roddick
Those who appreciate the passion and commitment of Anita Roddick, the ground-breaking founder of The Body Shop, will not be disappointed in her book, Business as Unusual. Featuring over-the-top graphics that rival the magazine Wired, Business as Unusual gives Roddick a chance to say exactly what's on her mind about greedy, environment-killing corporations; a beauty industry preying on women's insecurities; unscrupulous journalists peddling false stories about the company; and expensive consultants who, she insists, only make things worse. One would expect a book by Roddick to be opinionated and socially conscious, and it is.
But it is also much more, for the story of The Body Shop is not only a story of political activism; it is also a story of phenomenal entrepreneurial success.
'You Can't Be a Nondescript Person'
Roddick's entrepreneurial spirit was instilled by her Italian immigrant parents, who owned a small cafe in Littlehampton, England. Nights, weekends and holidays were spent working in the cafe, which opened at 5 a.m. and closed when the last customer left.
The cafe was eventually converted into an American-style ice-cream soda bar. (Roddick remembered as a little girl wearing uniforms "that resembled something out of Norman Rockwell's soda fountain gals.") Later, after her father died and Roddick went away to college, her mother opened a nightclub called El Cubana. Roddick remembers coming home "to find her holding court there, sitting at the bar smoking - she had never smoked in her life - and wearing a silver Lurex dress. The set design of the place was perfect - tacky, but it worked."
From her mother, Roddick learned that personalities created business success. "She made me realize that you can't be a nondescript person, or you will have a nondescript product," Roddick writes.
It was from her mother, as well, that Roddick learned "to challenge everything I was told - at school, at church and in every other institution." Although she sent her daughter to Catholic school, Roddick's mother despised the local priest - and made her feelings known. "She sabotaged Sunday Mass by rubbing the hems of our clothes with garlic and squashing garlic cloves on our fingers," Roddick writes. "By doing this she could guarantee that the smell of garlic would overpower the smell of incense."
The Body Shop Is Born
Roddick and her husband owned a restaurant and hotel when he decided to fulfill his dream of a horseback expedition from Buenos Aires to New York. Unwilling to continue in the restaurant business, Roddick decided to open an unconventional cosmetic shop that would be natural and non-elitist.
When The Body Shop opened in 1976, most business decisions resulted from the fact that Roddick had few financial resources with which to work. She painted her shop dark green, for example, not to make an environmental statement but because it hid the damp patches on the wall. She couldn't afford to buy enough bottles so she offered to refill empty containers or fill customers' own bottles. "In this way we started recycling and reusing materials long before it became ecologically fashionable," she writes. "Every element of our success was really down to the fact that I had no money."
Roddick's single, dark green store in Brighton has become, of course, 1,500 stores serving 86 million customers in 47 countries. But Roddick's willingness to "challenge everything" has never wavered. Like its author, Business as Unusual offers an aggressive mix of unconventional business and uncompromising social passion. Roddick's mother had nothing to fear; Anita Roddick is anything but nondescript.