Body Shop: the store as package

Retailer of Distinction: The Body Shop CanadaReason: Merchandising'I think what drove our merchandising from the beginning was having no money,' says Margot Franssen, president of The Body Shop Canada, a cosmetics retailer whose annual sales at 95 outlets now exceed $75...

Retailer of Distinction: The Body Shop Canada

Reason: Merchandising

‘I think what drove our merchandising from the beginning was having no money,’ says Margot Franssen, president of The Body Shop Canada, a cosmetics retailer whose annual sales at 95 outlets now exceed $75 million.

‘We didn’t have any money for packaging, so the store had to be package,’ Franssen says.

She says the stores were made as inviting and appealing as possible through the use of color, and by arranging products vertically to establish clean lines.

‘If you take away the merchandise, you’re overwhelmed by all the green in our stores – we use a very deep green base,’ Franssen says. ‘It’s the product and the way it’s stacked on the shelves that adds all the color to the store.’

She says the store is also designed to be accessible.

‘We made it very user-friendly to women,’ Franssen says. ‘I’m 5′ 2′ and the whole of our merchandising is done on a 5′ 2′ level. We didn’t allow anything to be put behind counters. There had to be testers. Everything had to be clear, legible and accessible.’

Above all, she says the company’s merchandising plan is governed by common sense and logic.

‘We are not creative for the sake of being creative,’ Franssen says. ‘We are creative for the sake of making it easier for the customer.’

Q. In what order of importance do you place the following categories: merchandising, trade and supplier relations, product innovation, customer service, advertising, database marketing and staff relations?

A. Staff relations, customer service, product innovation, merchandising and trade and supplier relations. We don’t do advertising or database marketing.

Staff will treat your customers like you’ve treated them, and most retailers don’t treat their staff well. If you don’t treat your staff well, they’ll get you back, subconsciously perhaps, but they’ll get you back by treating your customers like dirt.

We really believe that people in retail support, for example, merchandisers and buyers, should not be better compensated than the store manager.

Q. From where, what or whom do you get your inspiration?

A. I think you can get inspiration from almost anything. I learned about color from gardening. Merchandising has a lot to do with the way you plant a garden. You can put almost any colors together in a garden and they never clash, and that’s very inspirational, because it leaves you free to experiment.

Another good way of learning about merchandising is through the presentation of food. We encourage staff to take all the courses they want outside of retail – gardening, flower arranging and food preparation classes are good because you’re learning eye appeal. Most inspiration comes from day-to-day living.

Q. In your opinion, what have been the most startling changes in retail over the past couple of years?

A. The biggest change I’ve seen is in the attitude of the consumer. Standards have increased tremendously. Customers will simply not accept poor service, they will not accept poor visual merchandising, they will not accept poor environmental standards or poor corporate culture.

Q. What trends can you see on the horizon that will most affect your business?

A. The trend is servicing baby-boomers that have kids. I’m 40. I have three kids under the age of 8, so I want to go to a store that, one, respects my values and, two, respects my kids.

When I see those [Calvin Klein] Obsession ads, I can’t believe they are still doing that sort of thing. They are so old and dated. I’ve never been on a swing naked with my husband. That fantasy stuff is almost insulting nowadays. I like reality and I think other people do, too.

Q. What qualities does one need to stay ahead of the pack?

A. You have to be daring, you have to be different, and you have to be definite.

We try to be daring. Most people are afraid to make changes. When we put up a poster for Amnesty International, we had mall managers rushing in, telling us to take it down. But it showed people who we were and it really got us far.

We are definitely different. People always ask what the competition is doing, and I say I haven’t got a clue what they’re doing and I don’t care. We do things because we know it’s the right thing to do.

Q. How do you stay on top of your concept?

A. We don’t even have a five-minute plan. If your plan is too long-term, it’s going to be difficult to change it. You can have an overall vision, but I don’t think you should plan it out.

Twelve years ago, my plan was to change the face of retail, so you couldn’t go into a normal cosmetic store and be satisfied. And we did that through our merchandising, our customer service, the music in our stores, etc. Our plan for the next 12 years is to change the face of business. People have to understand that customers will shop at businesses that reflect their values.

Our most important department is not the merchandising department, but the social inventions department, which oversees our Trade Not Aid projects. It’s the heart of the company.

As far as research is concerned, I already know what products people like. What I’m interested in knowing is how much people know about The Body Shop, and what’s important to them.

Q. Tell us how the recession has affected your business.

A. Our sales were going up 40% for the five years prior to 1990. Now our average is 15%. We’ve been hit like everyone else. But we’ve looked at it as breathing space. Things had been so fast and furious, there was no time for reflection.

We haven’t had to lay anybody off, but that gets back to our merchandising. We have five different sizes. We merchandise so the customer can have control. They can get the same product, but maybe just a little bit less.