The imminent demise of Body Shop – set to appoint merciless administrators FRP Advisory – brings to a close one of those stories that defined British business and adland in the 1970s and 80s as a new wave of entrepreneurs made the UK trendy again and saw the world as their oyster.
Founder Anita Roddick (above) sold the business to L’Oreal for £652m in 2006, shortly before her death the following year. The sale disappointed loyal fans who had bought into Body Shop’s ‘purpose’ platform and saw it as a betrayal of its much-trumpeted ethical values. L’Oreal offloaded it to Brazil’s Natura in 2017 for £880m. Current owner, PE firm Aurelius bought it last year for £207m, showing that PE wizards don’t always get it right. Body Shop will doubtless find a quiet retirement as part of a bigger retailer’s online business, just as Jaeger has at M&S.
Roddick, who set up the business with husband Gordon was a larger-than-life character as were the people who dominated adland at the time: the Saatchi brothers, Sir Frank Lowe who set up Lowe Group and Tim Bell (Lord Bell) who worked with all of them before forming PR giant Bell Pottinger. Their various attempts at world domination all came to varyingly sticky ends too.
One of Roddick’s peers was George Davies, founder of Next who then went on to start George at Asda and, later, Per Una for M&S, which is still with us although somewhat diminished. Next, which adjusted to online retailing much quicker than its rivals thanks to its catalogue business, remains one of the stalwarts of rather battered British high street.
In the 1980s the Sunday Times Business News had its ‘Young Businessman of the Year’ or some such, a much sought-after gong. Some of the winners (not people mentioned here) ended up in the nick – fitting for a pretty colourful crew.
Then came the internet of course and the triumph of the nerds, although the likes of the unconscionably rich Elon Musk do their best to keep business personalities on the front pages (themselves rapidly disappearing at the hands of online.) The demise of Body Shop brings a pretty colourful era to a close.