Anita Roddick on using franchising to expand The Body Shop

She explains one method that The Body Shop used to expand

The Body Shop founder Anita Roddick recalls the company’s remarkable growth on the back of a franchise model – and the highly “idiosyncratic” way this evolved.

“We didn’t even know that word [franchising] existed,” Roddick surprisingly reveals. “We called it self-financing.”

In the early stages, Roddick says, they “didn’t care” who was selling their products, as long as their products were being sold – even if they were dog grooming shops. “We sold them gallon bottles of shampoo, which they had to decant themselves with labels we supplied,” explains Roddick. “ We made money from distribution and manufacturing.”

The successful entrepreneur explains that The Body Shop’s method for selecting franchisees was decidedly unorthodox, throwing conventional notions of business sense out the window. “We didn’t want anyone with business skills – we didn’t think they were cool enough,” laughs Roddick. “So this is how stupid I was.”

Instead, Roddick reveals that potential franchisees were subjected to a set of questions that has become known as the ‘Marcel Proust questionnaire’, a wide-ranging quiz taking in politics, virtue, philosophy and favourite food and drink. “If you want to get to know someone, you ask them these ten pertinent questions – like ‘how would you like to die’,” Roddick explains. “This was actually a question for our franchisees!”

Initially, Roddick explains that they expected their own franchisees’ models to take in sub-franchisees – so they would go and open a franchise in a territory such as Australia and act as an ambassador, taking on their own franchisees themselves. Roddick says this model worked for about ten years, after which it became less viable. “People weren’t engaged in their own shops so much,” she explains. “They were using them as an income but weren’t really investing any more in it.”

The Body Shop founder goes on to explain that the company’ remarkable global growth on the back of a franchise model caused some linguistic problems – whilst they endeavoured to have “all communications in the right language,” some things inevitably became lost in translation.

Roddick raises laughter amongst the audience when she recalls a particular episode of linguistic difficulty. The Body Shop had just come up with a mother and child product entitled ‘Maman Toto’ – Swahili for ‘mother and child’ – but the company’s Caribbean franchisees refused to stock it. “They were saying ‘You can’t do this! You cannot have this!’” recalls Roddick. “We said ‘why’? And they said ‘it means motherf**ker’.”

Roddick concludes with a pithy summary of franchising as a model for growth. “It was amazing for growth – but not if you wanted to reinvent yourself.”

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