Friday, September 21, 2007

Lesson # 4: Infuse Your Company with a Survival Mentality (Anita Roddick)

I started The Body Shop in 1976 simply to create a livelihood for myself and my two daughters, while my husband, Gordon, was trekking across the Americas,” recalls Roddick. “I had no training or experience and my only business acumen was Gordon’s advice to take sales of £300 a week. Nobody talks of entrepreneurship as survival, but that's exactly what it is and what nurtures creative thinking.”

When Roddick first decided to start up a business, it wasn’t because she wanted to create social and environmental change nor was it because she particularly liked the cosmetics industry – in fact, she hated it. The Body Shop sprang out of Roddick’s need to earn an income to support her and her children. And since that very first day, Roddick has worked hard to ensure her company maintains that survival instinct. “I wake up every morning thinking…this is my last day,” says Roddick. “And I jam everything into it. There’s no time for mediocrity. This is no damned dress rehearsal.” She no longer needs to worry about generating an income for her family, but it is only by fighting to the death each and every day that she believes The Body Shop will continue to thrive.

“We were most creative when our back was against the wall,” says Roddick.
Indeed, it was her survival instinct that led to many of the innovations that would later become company trademarks. For instance, favouring recycling came from Roddick’s inability to afford more than 700 empty bottles. In addition, even though she had very few products initially, Roddick decided to have five sizes of everything. Upon entering the small 370 square foot shop, this would give the illusion that the store carried over 120 products.

“I think that sort of good housekeeping of frugality, which would certainly be considered eccentric nowadays, was part of the idiosyncratic nature that set us apart,” says Roddick. “Nobody was stupid enough to offer five sizes of one product; it simply didn’t make sense. We turned it around into a survivor’s option: customers pick up the size they want and come back every week for a refill. Recycling had nothing to do with being environmentally conscious at that point.”

Indeed, despite the fact that Roddick’s name has today become synonymous with social and environmental activism, this was not her initial intention. “I made no claim to prescience, to any intuition about the rise of the green movement,” says Roddick. “At the forefront of my mind at the time there was really only one thought – survival.”

The Body Shop arose out of Roddick’s need to create a living and it is that do-or-die mentality that continues to inspire the company’s success. However, Roddick is quick to stress that economic growth was never her goal. “My goal was livelihood. We don’t use that word often enough,” she says. “If I could give one piece of advice to anyone it’s don’t obsess with this notion that you have to turn everything you do into a business, because that ends up being a small version of a large company. But if you can create an honourable livelihood, where you take your skills and use them and you earn a living from it, it gives you a sense of freedom and allows you to balance your life the way you want. (Evan Carmichael)”