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Lessons in retail brand building

Updated: Mar 2

The Body Shop - Lessons in retail brand building

The recent news of The Body Shop going into administration triggered a huge outpouring of emotion. Many in the press have been critical of the growth of Private Equity ownership in retail, while Mary Portas - the ‘Queen of Shops’ - said to the BBC that the trouble started when the business was bought by L’Oreal – “they did not know how to run a retailer and so the soul went out of it.”  


Former Global CEO of The Body Shop (2017-2023) - David Boynton - defends The Body Shop team on LinkedIn and shares ‘Some things you should know’ about this retail brand. He talks about starting from a very low base in 2017 with an old store format and a poor digital presence. He goes on to share the positive changes made to try to save the business, not least in recognising that they needed to go back to the brand’s roots and celebrate the legacy of their visionary founder, Anita Roddick.


But something in his post got us talking here in the design studio. Despite a long list of achievements on the journey to try to rebuild the business, Boynton says “…telling the [brand] story to change people’s minds takes resources…and those were in short supply”. So, The Body Shop was achieving great things with the brand, but they weren’t telling the consumer!


This admission is not that unusual in our experience. Often, when we are called upon to design new store concepts, we find a lack of knowledge in brand values, and little or no investment in understanding customer perceptions. Yet these are two of the vital building blocks needed to design engaging experiences and successful stores.


Knowing and expressing the brand values that ‘connect’ with customers is central to retail success today. What’s more it allows a brand to take customers with them as they evolve in a competitive environment.


Unwavering authenticity


In a recent article by global insights strategists, STRAT7, they discuss the challenges facing brands in today’s constantly shifting landscape. Among their key pillars to brand success in changing times, they list 'unwavering authenticity'. 


We couldn’t agree more. When we are gathering insights at the start of a new store design project, finding the authenticity of a retail brand is essential to ground our creativity and innovation stages. In fact, it’s the route to identifying the opportunities that will help to embody a brand in the physical space.


STRAT7 also highlight a recent Accenture consumer study which found that 83% of consumers are willing to pay more for brands that share their values, whilst 77% are more likely to recommend brands that align with their personal values. Strong evidence indeed for brand owners to prioritise investment and understanding in their core values and how customers relate to these.


The Body Shop collapse provides a sad but valuable case-study in what can happen to a retailer who under-invests in brand building and customer insights.


There are good articles in both Retail Gazette and the FT which chart The Body Shop’s history and how it unravelled. But whatever the final outcome for this brand, we should all take time to remember the amazing innovation of The Body Shop founder, Dame Anita Roddick, and reflect on the demise of this once trailblazing business. 

“What a lesson in how a brilliant company, led by a visionary, can lose its way, its passion and, ultimately, its value.”  

Martyn Evans Hon FRIBA on LinkedIn


We look at the importance of brand building in a number of other blog posts. If you want to know more, take a look at the following:

Image credit: copyright flickr


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