Body Shop gets the Tupperware habit

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The Independent Online
ANITA and Gordon Roddick are to roll out a major expansion of Body Shop's direct-to-home sales in the New Year in an effort to reach new audiences for it eco-friendly cosmetics products.

The Body Shop, where the Roddicks are still trying to put together a pounds 300m-plus private buy-back from the stock market, also expects to appoint a new worldwide sales director to the main board shortly as part of a revamp of marketing.

Body Shop Direct has been under test in the UK for 18 months, with 800 consultants from 140 shops organising parties at home, particularly aimed at women with children.

In 1996, consultants are expected to grow to 1,300 ,doubling home sales to around pounds 10m. Trials are also under way in Canada and Australia, which may lead to expansion of the scheme in the 45 countries in which Body Shop operates

Home sales only took a small percentage of Body Shop's pounds 220m turnover last year, but trials so far indicate that Body Shop Direct has also helped lift shop sales. "It's a hell of a chance to reach people you haven't been able to reach before, a whole new form of distribution from our point of view rather than just the shops," said chairman Gordon Roddick.

Importantly, the scheme works through franchisees, rather than bypassing or competing directly with them, and has won wide backing so far.

Franchisees have also been generally supportive of the Roddicks' buyout plans, which were frustratingly leaked to the press at the end of October. Talks are still going on with bankers, trying to finance a bid for the 48 per cent of the firm not owned by the Roddicks or long- time backer Ian McGlinn, with a decision hoped for early in the new year.

The Roddicks' unconventional style has often made them the target of damaging publicity, and franchisees see a buyout as cutting the scope for this. "We support the company explicitly in its aims and feel being publicly quoted gives them less opportunity to control misplaced attacks," one franchisee said.

Those attacks are set to continue into the new year with the commissioning by the Sunday Times of an article by US author Jon Entine berating the green marketing movement and claiming hypocrisy by the Body Shop in particular. Entine caused a press frenzy last summer with allegations about the Body Shop in US magazine Business Ethics. The claims turned out to be a damp squib, but the furore jolted Body Shop shares, sending them down to around 200p from 240p before the controversy.

A sales slowdown this year left the shares at 152p on Friday, against a possible buyout price of around 175p.

Entine started his campaign in 1993 with claims of an investigation by the US Food and Drug Administration into Body Shop in the US. Subsequently FDA documents showed Entine had doctored documents circulated to the press and had prompted an FDA review following claims made originally by himself.