Innovative Retailer – Lush

Brought to you by and PCMS
The Name: Lush
The Place: Headquartered in Poole, Dorset, but with 860 shops around the world.

The Story: In 1995 a couple, Mark and Mo Constantine, who had spent years making beauty products for The Body Shop set up their own company and they called it Lush. And in the year to June 2012 it sold £368 million worth of very bright, very perfumed fresh health and beauty products so it was obviously a good idea. The Japanese go wild for it, so do the Americans and slightly bizarrely the Russians. But they’re also in Kazakhstan and Macedonia. In fact only 14% of its sales come from the UK. 

Paul Wheatley, UK property director, Lush

Can I just say that you wouldn’t want to be downwind of a Lush shop in a hurricane: No, that would probably signal the end. But the point about the strong smell is kind of the essence of the thing – Lush products are sold unwrapped so their wholly natural ingredients can breathe and that is why the entire neighbourhood knows if a Lush has opened up. Fair to say some people love it and some people don’t. It’s very well known for its ethical stance on animals and minimal use of synthetics, but after the campaigning you have to turn up with the goods and that is what Lush consistently does. Constantly innovating and redefining the scope of its category.

But I’m thinking big global sales, big corporate beast yes? Wrong. UK property director Paul Wheatley describes the founders and management as ‘lost hippies’ with most of them ‘not suitable for sensible corporate life.’ All the founders still work together in Poole and all the stores replicate the first one there, which was based in a garage – with simple displays and chalked labels. There is an ‘idealism and romance’ about the business and suited-and-booted is not the byword that it is elsewhere.

Odour-free look at a Lush store

Well, what on earth is going on down there in Dorset? On the practical side Lush is buying up manufacturing and storage space as fast as you can say Jack Robinson. The products are all developed there and the Poole (hand-made) manufacturing plant ships 40% of what it produces out to UK shops and the other 60% goes into Europe. But back on planet Lush according to Wheatley appearances don’t matter and ‘anyone can say anything to anyone’.

Crikey. Does this hippy sense filter out to the customers? It seems to. Which other website would bother to claim that its perfume is ‘heavily influenced by poetry and music’ or have an online discussion of the versatility of Cream of Tartar as an ingredient or offer advice on how to reuse your bathwater. But if you want to really blend in with this scene then you must buy a bottle of Lush’s The Voice of Reason perfume.

Pourquoi?Because you will smell of French Gitanes cigarettes and espresso and therefore be instantly anarchic and clever.

Oh. What if I just want some fun? Then have you come to the right place, pal. The shops are supposed to be fun – Lush is very keen on the high street and although online is obviously important and growing, the five-year plan according to Wheatley is for a lot more bricks and mortar. They want plenty more shops in America for example. The products are there to be played with, touched, smelt and the shop is the best place for that. Alternatively FUN is one of Lush’s latest creations – bars of malleable soap to ‘fight bathtime boredom’ – a sort of bubble-bath play dough.

FUN in technicolour

It’s a winner. Who’s buying their stuff? It’s mainly women and girls although men are often the recipients but I cannot tell you much more than that. Lush are not interested in core customers, club cards or loyalty schemes. The target is anyone whether they are buying a £3 bath bomb or spending £25 on a moisturiser. There isn’t a customer profiler in sight.

Aha. Back on Planet Lush I see: Don’t knock it. Because they appeal to everyone and cover a large scope of the health and beauty market people go in their shops for the everyday stuff and go back in for the treats. And in some shops you can go the whole hog and have a spa treatment.

Well, now you’re talking: There are spa stores – obviously only using Lush’s own products – in Paris and Tokyo. And the biggest of the UK unit has just opened in Liverpool so put that in your recession and smoke it. Wheatley says there will never be a spa in every shop but it is a ‘very particular and precise’ part of the business.

Speaking of economic downturns, are people having less baths now? Effects have been very small according to Wheatley and average sales in the UK are up on a year ago. If there is a downturn somewhere there will be an upturn somewhere else – that’s the beauty of a global business and all part of the planning process. In terms of competition there is no one else making fresh and handmade beauty products. In terms of landlords and consumers Lush is of course forever lumped in with the rather more sedate The Body Shop .

Aah, mango lip gloss, white musk body mist. Lovely: Yes, yes but do they have the slogan ‘Burn Incense Not Cars’ on their website.

No:Exactly. I rest my case.

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