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Outlook: Body Shop

IT WAS another bad day at the office for Anita Roddick yesterday. Or at least it would have been had she been there. Ms Roddick is now co- chair of her beloved Body Shop with her husband, Gordon. Her role is more one of roving product controller than full time executive these days, heading off to Borneo to check root vegetables for life enhancing essential oils and the like. Yesterday she was more prosaically in Dublin where the Body Shop store is apparently quite nice.

So the job of delivering the latest grim tidings fell to Patrick Gournay, the Frenchman recruited last year to help haul Body Shop out of the rather less than fragrant mess it has found itself in. Profits are down sharply; 300 jobs are going at the Littlehampton head office, and even the upbeat Mr Gournay was warning that the recovery would not be "a quick fix."

Can this business be fixed at all, is what the rest of us would like to know? Body Shop's problems have mostly been self-inflicted, with years of poor management, over-expansion and lack of innovation taking a steady toll. In the meantime, rivals like Boots and the supermarkets have caught up and stolen Body Shop's clothes in eco- friendly products.

Like two other retail strugglers, Laura Ashley and MFI, Body Shop is vertically integrated, manufacturing its Peppermint foot lotion as well as selling it. That is changing with the manufacturing sites up for sale. The structure is also being addressed with more franchises being bought in to increase control.

All this has the backing of Gordon and Anita who sent out a little note with the results under the heading, "Statement from the Co-chairs". It was the usual new-age mumbo jumbo with its talk of "shared values" and having a "sense of humanity"- all printed on paper with a "defend Human Rights" slogan at the bottom. Mr Gournay will need more than this to pull Body Shop out of its present hole.