PARIS — Lindsay Owen-Jones has always been cool to vertical retailing, so L’Oréal’s recent transaction involving the Body Shop raised more than a few eyebrows.
Except, there’s no contradiction in Owen-Jones’ mind. “I haven’t changed my mind one iota,” he said. “If you ask me about the future of a chain standing all by itself, I would still say what I said all those years ago: ‘Where’s it going to go? It doesn’t have technology. It doesn’t have innovation. It’s got a concept, but that will run out.’ And that’s why you have these rise-and-bust scenarios of retail chains, because they capture a moment in time of what is popular in terms of concept. But because they don’t have content, at some point in time they run into difficulty renewing their appeal.
“Now you take the same retail chain and you say now it belongs to a manufacturer. Everything changes. It’s no longer a retail chain. It’s an integrated brand with an ability to innovate, create exciting products. Now we have within our corporation brands which have all kinds of distribution systems. We’ve got ones that go through dealers to beauty salons. We have brands that go through department stores and we have brands that go through mass retailers and drugstore chains. So what’s so special about having one of our brands which has its own integrated stores? It’s not getting into retail; we’re not going to distribute anybody else’s brands.”
He added that “manufacturers without access to retail is one thing” and “retailers with no access to manufacturing expertise is another. But nobody has ever put together retail expertise and manufacturing expertise, and you have to admit it could be a pretty dynamite combination.”
He doesn’t see a contradiction between L’Oréal’s technology-driven, value-added approach and the Body Shop’s less aggressive masstige positioning. “We cover all price points and we try to bring to all of our brands genuine innovation,” he said. “If this deal goes through as I hope, we will bring innovation and a certain price point to the Body Shop.” He continued, “They’ve done admirably, it seems to me, with what they could do, which I respect. Anita Roddick fought her corner and she did very well and she deserves her success. And by the way, I like her.
“Perhaps they can help us to understand how you approach running a retail chain,” he continued, “and perhaps they can also teach us a few things about using natural ingredients, which seems to me to be more and more popular with the world’s consumers.
“Everybody is scared of the environment around them,” he continued. “I think that is a trend that’s not going to go away. The industrialization of mankind is leaving less space for nature, and people are naturally apprehensive about some of the hidden downsides to these things. And the more they get concerned, the more instinctively they associate nature with things that are good for you and [chemicals], however brilliant, are the things that are potentially dangerous for you. Whether this is true or not is not the issue if that’s what people believe. So I would say that consultation, nature and issues are three rising values and the Body Shop has all of them. If we can add L’Oréal’s proven ability to bring quality and innovation to that cocktail without disturbing the other three, then I think it’s very exciting.”