Wessex and Kent & Sussex Weald Joint Trip to the Body Shop Tour
Saturday 20th March

We began with browsing (and buying) in the Trading Post, the Body Shop outlet on site, and for some, a cup of tea in the Juice Bar (the rest were too busy!).  Then into the Tour Bus for the real business.

There are two very life-like statues holding up the Body Shop logo at the front entrance – visitors have been known to speak to them, and they certainly fooled me briefly.  There are many sculptures in the grounds, all by local artists, including an ‘anatomically correct’ man and his aardvark, which they had to move from the front entrance, as they had a few complaints.

At the first stop on our tour we saw a short promotional video, detailing Body Shop’s philosophy and some of their good causes, such as building a wind farm in Wales, and opening a soapworks factory in ‘one of the most economically depressed areas of Europe’ (Glasgow, apparently).

Then on to a replica of the first Body Shop for a talk about the origins of the company.  Anita Roddick opened the Body Shop in 1976, to support herself and her two daughters while her husband, Gordon, was away on a horse trek across America.  She had travelled widely, and noticed that many indigenous people used natural ingredients for their skin and hair care, and decided to pursue the idea.  She took a small dilapidated shop in Brighton, and worked hard to turn it into inviting retail premises.  This included washing off the mould on the walls and painting them dark green, as it was the thickest paint she could find, and covered the mould stains best.

She had some unusual publicity on the day of the opening.  One of the nearby shop owners threatened court action if she did not change the name of her business.  He was a funeral director, but she argued that she dealt with the living, and he with the dead.  The local newspaper, the Argus, ran a free double-page spread on the argument.  No more was heard from her neighbour, but the article drew the crowds.

Bright paper parasols hung from the ceiling, to appeal to the customers (and also to catch any stray bits of plaster that might fall on their heads!).  She used to drop essence of strawberry oil on the pavements in the area, leading up to and into the shop itself.  She began with just twenty products, in four different sizes of bottles, believing that the small sizes would appeal to new clients.  If they did not like the product, there was less waste.  The bottles themselves were discovered by accident – literally – at the local hospital.  They were being used there to collect urine samples, and Anita sensed that, to be so disposable, they must also be cheap.  Luckily, the supplier already made them in four different sizes.

At first, Anita would run the shop during the day, then go home and make 200 bottles of product, working in the kitchen, the bathroom, the garage – anywhere that was suitable.  Today, the factory produces over 1,000,000 bottles per week.  Her labels were all hand-written so that, if the product did not take off, she would not be left with wasted labels.  The Body Shop logo was designed by a local artist, for the princely sum of £25.  Today it is worth millions.  Another story of one man’s loss!

Now we passed through to the quality control laboratories.  All products go through stringent quality tests, from raw ingredient to finished product.  They also test the containers, and we were shown a bottle containing massage oil, which had dimpled into a rounded triangle, where the product had seeped into the plastic.  A different plastic had been developed to cope with this problem.

On to the live testing rooms, where they test products on volunteers.  Behind us, the wall was papered with sheets of signatures, part of a petition for the banning of animal testing.  The result, we were told, was that animal testing of cosmetic products in this country had been totally banned.  Body Shop did not test any of their products in this country on animals (although it emerged later, from a question put by one of the group, that animal tests of Body Shop products are occasionally performed outside this country).  The volunteers are all Body Shop employees, and they may have, for example, one side of their head shampooed with one product, and the other with a control product.  They will use these products for two weeks, and report back.

The next stop was a laboratory with raw ingredients in the window, with comments such as ‘I’m going to be Coconut Hair Shine’.  A real aloe vera plant in the window was pointed out, and products passed around for testing.  These included aloe vera hand cream (moisturising without stickiness, I found), and a toothpaste made from the natural ingredients found in some remote village, which contains no sweeteners and – I can testify – leaves your mouth feeling very fresh.

Back on the tour bus, past the bicycle racks (employees are encouraged to cycle to work, to help preserve the environment), and the crèche (which costs more for higher paid employees), and another piece of sculpture.  Two lorries parked up for the weekend had advertising for missing persons on the sides – Body Shop has already helped to find eight missing people and reunite them with their families.

On disembarking, we walked along a corridor where bubbling tubes close to the ceiling gave it an uncanny resemblance to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, to a small room looking out onto the ‘kitchen’.  This is where the ingredients are mixed and, if necessary, boiled, to make the finished product.  Boiling is only necessary if the ingredients include both water and oil-based substances.  The product is stored in ‘croc boxes’ – wooden crates made simply of six sides strapped together, and an insulated plastic, foil-covered bag which slips inside to hold the product.  These bags are the only things in the plant which are un-recyclable.  The crates can last for up to 10 years, and if one side is damaged, the panel is simply replaced.  They are packed flat for the return journey from their eventual destination, saving money on shipping costs.  Bottling is done in the country of sale.

This room also contained a mechanical ‘banana machine’, created from the ideas of a group of school children who, feeling sorry for the people who hand-peel the bananas that go into some of the hair-care products, wrote in with some ingenious ideas for mechanical devices to deal with the bananas.  If you see an advertisement for ‘Fruit Technician’, this is what you would be doing all day!

From here it was a short journey to the ingredients warehouse.  We were handed various ingredients, and asked to guess what they were.  Among the unusual items were slabs of cocoa-butter – also an ingredient in chocolate.  Our guide asked us to remember when we next ate a bar of chocolate that it would include large amounts of this heavy, fatty substance.  This did not put everyone off, though!

From here we were taken to the packing lines, and shown a short video of the mechanical process involved in bottling, lidding, and labeling the products.  This factory produces all the bottled products that Body Shop sells all over the world.  All its soap is produced in Glasgow, and the cosmetics are made at the factory in Wick.  On the packing lines (14 in all), we could see the finished products being shrink-wrapped and packed onto crates.  Samples are kept for three years, and are available for re-testing should there be any problems.  At the far end of the floor was another machine, which is often known, we were told, to shrink-wrap a blushing bridegroom – in all his glory!

Here, our guide handed out small samples – shampoos for the gentlemen, and body products for the ladies.  Then it was back on the bus to view the main warehouse, where seven weeks’ worth of products are kept, all made to order.  Here there is a board which keeps a running total of the number of Body Shops around the world.  This is updated every month, and includes a breakdown by country.  If memory serves me correctly, this included around 286 in the USA and 12 in the UAE.

This warehouse has been designed for maximum efficiency.  The truck bays have inflatable rubber shields, to keep out cold winds and louvered windows in the ceiling, which open automatically if the air becomes too warm, and close automatically if it begins to rain.  The lighting is all movement-operated, and we were advised that if, while using the facilities in the Trading Post, the lights suddenly went off, we should wave our arms around, and they would come on again.  These improvements saved the Body Shop £10,000 in the first year on their energy bills.  Also in the warehouse, there are markings on the floor to the exact size of the lorries that load there, which would be packed with the goods intended for the vehicles, ensuring that the packing order was simple, and the load would fit.

The tour completed, we were returned by luxury Tour Bus to the Trading Post, where I noticed many of the party (myself included), completing their morning where they had started it – at the tills!

Karen Tucker AffIQPS – March 1999