The Body Shop needs age-reducing formula

The Body Shop needs age-reducing formula

Just as age-anxious women turn to the latest wrinkle-reducing face cream to massage the years away, The Body Shop must find a miracle drug to transform it into a more youthful entity, say retail pundits.

The British-based Body Shop International has struggled recently with shares falling as low as 85 pence (approximately $1.80 Cdn) late last month, after talks of a merger with Mexican firm Grupo Omnilife SA, a manufacturer of nutritional supplements, broke off. It’s a matter of debate among analysts whether someone else will ride in and snap up the large chain, which has more than 1,800 locations worldwide.

But regardless of who holds the reigns – founder Anita Roddick plans to remain on-board as a partner, according to Body Shop Canada president Josée Paquin – the retailer is almost in as dire need of a makeover as Mimi on The Drew Carey Show.

According to David Fong, president of Toronto ad shop TBWA/Chiat/Day, The Body Shop launched as a unique brand 25 years ago by merchandising simple, affordable cosmetics, much in the same way The Gap has successfully turned fashion basics into a retail enterprise.

Unfortunately, he says, while still a formidable brand, The Body Shop has become static throughout the years, failing to reinvent itself. In fact, Fong says the company could learn from The Gap, which essentially sells the same merchandise mix year after year, but creates interest in stores with new highlights and by moving displays around to add visual interest. ‘The Body Shop [built its brand] through high visibility outlets and then [by offering] an experience inside,’ he explains. ‘That experience has become diluted over time.’

The physical makeup of The Body Shop, which has been linked to an earthy shade of green throughout its lifespan, definitely needs an overhaul, agrees retail consultant Richard Talbot, president of Talbot Consultants in Unionville, Ont., who believes it is possible for a retailer to reinvent itself. He suggests that the company take note of French cosmetics giant Sephora. Owned by LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Sephora, long rumoured to be opening a location in Canada, consists of light-bright stores and accessible cosmetics that consumers can play with.

There should be more innovation when it comes to the merchandise mix, he adds. ‘There needs to be a wow factor in stores; there really isn’t one,’ he explains. ‘You’re going to buy what you’re going to buy, but there needs to be some wow stuff that will increase spending while you’re there.’ Like Spanish fashion retailer Zara, which copies the latest trends and delivers them to the floor in two weeks time, The Body Shop could push the envelope more, he says. A hindrance, however, is that the company has become restricted by a fairly limited product range, which could be alleviated through product extensions. ‘Other retailers may have expanded that range with clothing or whatever. They haven’t done that, they’ve kept it as it is.’

When it comes to advertising, the company has remained fairly steadfast in its decision to not invest in mainstream efforts. Fong says they should stick to their principles. ‘I would continue with ‘experience’ marketing,’ he says. ‘That’s what created the brand.’ Talbot, however, disagrees, pointing out that the whole environmental profits- with-principles approach the company originally pushed may have been avant-garde in 1976, but it’s now a little passé. ‘There was a need to use more mainstream advertising as the competition came in, to push the product and push the store.’

But The Body Shop’s claim to fame, the notion that it would never use advertising, created differentiation and allowed it to carve out a niche, maintains John Torella, a consultant with Toronto-based J.C. Williams Group. The problem as he sees it? While the strategy worked for the core customer, the fringe customers – occasional and new ones – were neglected.

Torella is also quick to point out that Body Shop Canada has been much more effective at rejuvenating itself than its U.S. and U.K. counterparts. ‘In the U.S., they stayed with the old Body Shop positioning too long and competitors [such as the Bath & Body Works chain] came in and were more contemporary, more youthful and better priced,’ he says. ‘So that broader, younger customer base went to them.’

But in Canada, where there are less specialty store rivals, The Body Shop has successfully updated its look in several locations, he says. For instance, at the Eaton Centre flagship, it has abandoned its dull green and added more palatable hues like orange and lime, as well as introduced interactive components like the cosmetic Playstation. The global chain should take a cue from its Canadian subsidiary, says Torella. ‘They need to make the personality more with it.’

Torella sees The Body Shop brand facing the same challenge that both Birks and Holt Renfrew did. Once thought of as rather old and stodgy, these retailers have implemented strategies to skew to a younger clientele, he says. Birks made its first foray into television last fall when it unveiled its ‘Think inside the box’ campaign, aimed at consumers in their 40s and younger. Meanwhile, the jeweller’s shops were also revamped to provide a more comfortable atmosphere, with larger aisles and subtle lighting.

Around the same time, upscale department store chain Holt Renfrew announced its intentions to attract younger baby boomers. It launched a lifestyle-oriented newspaper campaign called ‘For who you are,’ and also carried the tone of its advertising into stores through signage and displays. ‘The [Toronto] Bloor Street store is an icon, and it’s changing into a hip and happening place,’ says Torella, who adds that Holt Renfrew’s two-year-old Blossom Gala, a spring function offering patrons a peek at 35 floral gardens planted throughout the flagship, has become a ‘world-class’ event.

For her part, Josée Paquin admits its time to renew The Body Shop brand. Certain interactive elements of the new Eaton Centre store, such as the makeup station, will be applied to others, she says. ‘I think at retail the best way to be memorable is to create a very interactive experience for your customer,’ she says. ‘We are taking some of those ideas that seem to work in key locations and adapting them in a way that translates to the whole shop network.’

Still, the chain, which will open a big-box location in Woodbridge, Ont. this summer, must continue to hero product and not store design, she insists, because it enables it to maintain a consistent image, even while diversifying its retail channels to include depots and power center stores in addition to its mall and stand-alone outlets. The retailer also plans to invest in the development of new products, because that’s what ‘keeps the brand alive,’ says Paquin. This fall, for instance, its fruity bath line will be extended to include lotions and body mists.

In terms of marketing, The Body Shop will boost its one-on-one relationship efforts, particularly through the Internet, says Paquin, who points out the company installed a point-of-sale system last year, enabling sales associates to collect data during purchases. Special events, such as its two-year-old Open House, where customers are treated to hand massages and other perks, will also be a priority. In November 2000, the retailer advertised the event through radio and newspapers and, as a result, witnessed an 18.6% boost in traffic over the previous year, reports Paquin.

As for being a model for the global brand, Paquin explains there are differences between the markets that make adopting one another’s strategies challenging. In the U.S., for instance, The Body Shop hasn’t built the same level of brand awareness both because of the competition and because it hasn’t been in existence there as long as it has been in Canada.

Besides, being a behemoth brand carries a double-edged sword, she admits. ‘You’re constantly under scrutiny and if you do something that’s contrary to the brand it gets that much more noticed.’