Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Lesson # 3: Draw From Your Own Personal Experiences (Anita Roddick)

“It wasn’t only economic necessity that inspired the birth of The Body Shop,” says Roddick. “My early travels had given me a wealth of experience.”

Roddick never went to business school and she never turned to so-called industry experts to see if her idea was worthwhile. Instead, she took the body of knowledge she had gained from her own years of experience and applied it to what she was sure would be a success. Roddick drew on her personal experiences that she had gone through during her years of traveling to create a line of products, the very uniqueness of which was what led to their success.

“I’ve always said that travel is the best university; getting from one place to another means more than physical movement,” says Roddick. “It also entails change, challenge, new ideas and inspirations….I had this idea of making little products like shampoo and so forth using ingredients I had found when I traveled.”

She could have spent years in a laboratory concocting never been made before cosmetic products, hoping she would come up with something marketable. Instead, Roddick went with what she knew. “You change your values when you change your behaviour,” she says. “When you’ve lived six months with a group that is rubbing their bodies with cocoa butter, and those bodies are magnificent, or you wash your hair with mud, and it works, you go on to break all sorts of conventions, from personal ethics to body care. Then, if you’re me, you develop this stunning love for anthropology.”

Roddick had spent much time in the farming and fishing communities of people who had as of yet still been relatively untouched by industrialization, exposing herself to body care and rituals of women from all over the world. “Because I have the interest of living with indigenous groups of people and pre-industrial groups, I learned so much,” she says. “For example, when your shampoo is gone, you end up mashing up stuff to put in your hair. You put on mayonnaise, eggs, anything to clean and scrub. It is real experiences that change your values.”

In addition to her traveling, Roddick drew on her early childhood experiences to inspire her business. In watching her mother work relentlessly and with creativity in cost-saving measures, Roddick drew many important lessons that would later have an impact on The Body Shop. “The frugality that my mother exercised during the war years made me question retail conventions,” she says. “Why waste a container when you can refill it? And why buy more of something than you can use? We behaved as she did in the Second World War, we reused everything, we refilled everything and we recycled all we could. The foundation of The Body Shop's environmental activism was born out of ideas like these.”

Roddick drew on events in her own life to create a unique line of products and a company with a unique business philosophy. Convention might have said it couldn’t be done, but experience told Roddick it could.