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You were a millionaire and you had lost all of it and you were also in debt, and now you're forty two. You've got three kids and my eldest son took me to one side at seven and suggested, well, dad, do you not think you should get a proper job? And what did you think? I said, well, I think I've got a skill set that such that if I can market it, I can make a lot of money again.
And he he sort of nodded sagely at seven and let me do it by.
Remember how I built this show about innovators, entrepreneurs, idealists, and the stories behind the movements they built? I'm Guy Raz, and on the show today to Constantine and his partners emerged from a failed business to launch a little cosmetics store that turned into a global beauty brand lush. Back in 1995, I was studying in London, my sister Karen came to visit me that year, she'd been to London before. So on her visit, she was the guide.
We trawled through the market stalls at Camden Lock. We picked up some indie records at Rough Trade and made a special trip to Covent Garden to visit a newly opened shop called Losh. I hadn't heard of it, but my sister had instructions from all of her friends back in L.A. Get me stuff from Lush now. At the time, it was one of two lush locations in the world and this is before e-commerce.
So unless you went to the store, you couldn't get the products. I remember the overpowering smell of roses and lavender and honey and lemon.
I remember these long loaves of colorful soap laid out on tables where you could slice off a chunk and pay for it by wait. There were bath bombs and shampoos and lotions. It looked like the produce department at a fancy grocery store. You didn't see a whole lot of plastic and packaging. And in front of each product you'd find a bright, colorful chalkboard with a description. It was unlike any beauty products store I had ever seen, and it probably explains why back then there was a line to get in.
Lush was part of a new wave of beauty companies that came onto the scene around that time, many of them influenced by the Body Shop and its iconic founder, Anita Roddick, who, as you will hear, features prominently in this story as well.
The main founder of LA, Mark Constantine, had already seen incredible success and then catastrophic failure by the time he launched his venture, in fact, right before Mark opened. He lost most of his money on a mail order business that went bust. But Alush turned his fortunes around. And today, it's a brand with more than 900 stores around the world. Now, in recent months, the pandemic has hit the company hard for a time. All of its stores in the UK, the US and Australia were closed.
But Lush has also seen a massive surge in online orders. And later on, we'll get an update on how Mark and the company have navigated the pandemic and the global economic fallout. But first, a little bit about Mark's background. He grew up in Weymouth, a seaside town in the south of England, when he was only two years old. His dad split from the family and went off to Africa, and Mark never saw him again while he was growing up.
And his mother, she took Mark and moved in with her mother, Mark's grandma.
It was me, my mum, my grandmother, who really brought me up to my aunt. So I was really brought up by three women. Yeah. What did your mom do?
She was a journalist in the local newspaper, and I knew my mum had to work in order for us to to be OK.
But it was a very, very comfortable life, full of love and hugs and security. My mom was always there and I love my nana. I looked after my nan and so it was comfortable, very nice, a very feminine life. I felt spoilt, if anything, to be honest. Obviously, my nan drilled into me the proper values as well with Proverbs and all sorts of other things. You know, I had to write repeatedly. Good, better, best.
Never let them rest till my good is better and my better, best things like that.
So but then I guess like around the time you were 12 or so, you like you stopped living with your grandmother like you and your mom moved out.
What happened was there was a lawyer. I my mother married the lawyer and we moved I to my grandmother died. And I didn't realise probably until much later in my life how much that had affected me. And I felt responsible, I think, from my grandmother's death for most of my life, because obviously I was important to her and I wasn't there anymore. And I couldn't look after her. And she died. And then my my stepfather was very cold, I would say, and violent, you know.
But that's a very typical upbringing in the 50s because they'd come out of a war. Gentlemen, there was they'd lost their friends. Some of them had seen their friends killed relatives. And so it was, you know, not surprising that those people that were bringing up my generation were not the best balanced people in the world. What kind of I mean, what kind of kid were you?
What do you remember about how you kind of responded to those circumstances? Erm did you, I don't know, retreat into yourself or did you act out, did you fight with your mom. What do you remember? I didn't fire my mum, but I fought a lot with my stepdad, physical fights, and they would argue we would all argue it was just, I want to say unsatisfactory, which doesn't sound like it sounds like a strange word to use, doesn't it?
But certainly when I came to build my own home, I, for example, never locked the front door. You know, I make an effort on those smaller things that tell people that they're wanted and cared for.
What kind of kid were you? A school where you could student know that was school was so difficult for you.
I want to go into Hibat. Not really. Was it was it was it just hard for you?
I mean, there were a lot of gangs. The gangs were normal in the 50s for everyone. There were lots of gangs. So I went to the grammar school, which was the better school in town. You know, the top 10 percent students went to the grammar school. Everyone surprised when I got in and then I wasted it while I was there, except that I did make friends and we were in a particular gang where we could make bombs and things like that.
You can make bombs what we would like, like pipe bombs.
They were we kill them and sugar bombs with potassium permanganate, glycerin fuses and all sorts of things. We weren't making them for the IRA. We were just using them for our own purposes to intimidate other gangs. It was was that when William Golding wrote Lord of the Flies? Yeah. That period of time. So if you can imagine that style of of living where that's how it was about for me, I'm not at all physical. Yeah. So I'm not going to fight anyone if I can possibly avoid a fighter.
No, I talk my way out.
Mark, do you think sort of around the age where you kind of you know, these many of these things are happening, do you remember being sad when you were a kid or.
Yes, you do. When I seen people since there was one girl who I went to school with called Elspeth Cox. And I saw some 20 years later and she said, well, I'm so glad your life worked out well.
You were such a sad child. Wow.
You know, I mean, I missed my father even though I'd never known him. I think I was melancholy to use the traditional old fashioned word.
Yeah. I mean, my mother missed my father.
I missed my father. I suspect I caught it from her. I mean, as a meme, as it were up until I was 10, 12 or whatever it was, it was fine. From then on, there were five or six year period of my life, which was not fine.
When you were in school as a boy, you at one point had some kind of some kind of argument or something happened with with your mom and your stepdad.
Yeah, I think you were 16 and you you left the house or you were locked out of the house and that was it, like you used to living there. What do you remember what happened?
So do I remember what happened? No, but what I do remember is the very singular way you feel when nobody cares. It didn't matter what time I got in at night, it didn't matter whether I was there or not. Nothing mattered with regard to me. So when you're rebelling, obviously, it's important that the other person has had some feeling regarding you. Yeah, but there was no discernible feeling. I can't remember what happened physically. Remember the door being locked?
I remember it being the end of the of everything connected with that house.
And I just took it as the ultimate rejection. And when I didn't try and fight back or go back in and, you know, later on and have a conversation or anything, I just went and there was just this parting of the ways and that was it. I don't think I saw my mom again for, say, seven years. So I know that. And I guess during that time, like, you slept it at, like, different people's houses.
And, yeah, Rajeevan even camped out in the woods sometimes.
Yes. So I couldn't afford the cheapest room in town. So basically I slept in the woods or I just can't surf. So, you know, which wasn't a thing that I know, you know, it didn't have to in this is this is we're talking about the the 60s now. Those are the late 60s. Yeah. Basically, I would sleep in one friend's greenhouse, so I had a girlfriend who who's now my wife and I would just go and stay her for a night.
I'd stay with my friend Jeff Ossman and quite often his parents would put me up. Other people were unbelievably kind young.
By the way, were you working at the time? Did you have a job? Yeah, I had a job as an apprentice hairdresser, and it paid two pounds, ten shillings those days. So I don't know. You can come up with it. That was like that was per week, right. A week. Right. But then I decided I wanted to do theatrical makeup is what I wanted to do for a living. I wanted to make people up for the theater.
I'd done it at school. I'd done it for other schools. We were talking about the sheer excitement of being able to change appearances. And we were talking then about the excitement of being able to experiment with different products on your face.
And I was buying these makeup items from the local hairdressing salon. So I would go there every Saturday with whatever money I had. I would buy frothing blood capsules or plastic in a nose, plastic or the latest prosthetics that were coming in from the states. So I was really obsessed from that time. And then the hairdressing was just for me a means to an end.
So it sounds like even at that point, like you had a plan like a like a pretty clear ambition.
I think when you have to survive from zero, obviously there's more drive, isn't there? I mean, yeah, I look at photos of myself in my early 20s and I see this awfully driven person.
I mean, just driven. Wow. Absolutely driven. I think I suppose, you know, if you if you left, you know, if you've got to look after yourself, you know, it teaches you self-reliance.
So you're between sort of around the age of 16 and eventually around that time you meet MOT, the person who will eventually become your wife you are still married to today. You meet Jeff.
Who is are you knew Jeff? I knew Jeff already from childhood, was a best friend. So talking about class systems, I lived in the middle class estate on one side of the road where people own the houses. And Jeffrey lived on the other side of the street in the housing you rented from the council.
We call them county council flats. Yeah.
Yeah. So he would have been in the lower in the lower chalons on. The first thing I learned when they put me up, when they had absolutely nothing was the generosity of spirit of that in comparison to the other side of the street. Right. Yeah, the the the kindness and the care and the thoughtfulness and the charity. They were all great lessons for me and they stayed with me all my life.
So you were I mean, you were training as an apprentice hairdresser in 1972. You, I think, twenty years old.
You mow your then girlfriend, soon to be wife, and Jeff, your best friend, you all moved to London and you get a job as a hairdresser in a pretty actually pretty relatively high end salon, right?
Yes. Well, that was Elizabeth Arden. I worked for Elizabeth Arden. So it was called the Red Door, and it was a big salon with over a hundred staff, with a 200 staff in it.
Wow. And you were working there as as mainly just doing whatever, washing hair, washing hair, wasn't doing much else.
I was learning stuff, what they call an improver. That was the term used at the time and improve it. So you weren't an apprentice, but you weren't a hairdresser either. So basically I would accompany hairdressers when they had to go out to do the hair at the theatre, or I would go on a Vogue shoot, but I would be the runner. I imagine.
I always think of like London in the early 70s, like the Rolling Stones living in Chelsea, you know, like that. And I've worked for my point of view, I was on that sort of below stairs angle, so I was in service really to the various people and saw that other side. Quite a lot of the people I was working with were drug addicts because nobody really understood the severity of the drugs. So they experimented and then they they got the wrong side of it all.
And drug taking is what I remember predominantly and not the fun side of it. Yeah, I just remember a lot of a lot of sad, sad stuff going on, really.
Did you ever when you were when I mean when you were, you know, a young guy living in London, did you ever experiment with drugs? No, because I couldn't afford the, um, you know, I had no money I could sit next to.
I could sit between two people. I mean, I would say, although there was a lot of generosity, there was a lot of generosity with drugs, my education was purely observational. So I guess at a certain point you move onto another high end salon in London and this is really where your career begins to take a turn right.
Yeah, well, what happened was that I was working the owner because I was so nerdy. I think he thought I would make a good psychologist. And in those days in London salons, they had two or three qualified psychologists who checked the scouts for disease. They dealt with the hair condition and they made the products for the salon and things like that.
And just to clarify, psychology is the study of hair and scalp is really OK. Right. But it's also the science of hair and makeup. So that whole thing of starting off doing my hairdressing apprentice, taking the qualifications with that, then going on and studying psychology. Another three years of nerdy study all about hair and scalp and the skin is interesting because I don't think salons have tried colleges anymore, do they? No, no, no. It was a 1970s.
I see, Tahmina, that most of us that did it, most of the colleges went on then to make products for other people. So we we very much went into products. We made products with sounds anyway, and we developed our skills more and more in that area.
So at some point, I guess you returned to the pool like you were in London, you know, in London.
That's because I burnt out. You burned pool is in the south of England.
We should mention you burned out in London. Why did you burn out in London?
It all caught up with me, I suppose. What did the leaving home the homeless period. I think I, I sort of got to a point where I was earning enough money to live. And so the striving fell away for a while. So I think that I got to that point where well, the other thing that had happened to me, I'd got married. And as you know, as your listeners will certainly know, getting married is quite a big thing.
And Mo, we have to bring MO in at this point, who is much more stable than me.
So is my my partner, by the way. It's a great choice that you made. I know. Well, I stayed I realized she made the choice and I'm very grateful. So I think that probably gave me some stability. I was still relatively optimistic and as far as I was concerned. But anxiety I had in spades and panic attacks.
Yeah, especially about heart attacks, which is why my grandmother had died. That went into me at that moment and it stayed with me for an awfully long time.
I'm not surprised. Right. And here's the other thing. People didn't talk about these things in the 70s. Right? There was no language to say. I have intense anxiety. The reason I'm asking about this is because of who you are today and what your success and will obviously get there. But this is important, right, that a lot of people don't talk about these moments in their lives because of shame or embarrassment or.
Yeah, at that time, I went to the doctors and I tried to describe how I felt and he said I said I just don't feel normal, well defined, normal.
I didn't think I had heart palpitations. I thought I was dying of a heart attack every time. So I you know, the joke was I never had indigestion. I only had heart attacks. A very kind doctor that I still use said to me, Mark, you'd have been better off having heart attacks. That's disconcerts. You were having you were having you were having panic attacks. Yes, that's exactly it.
But it was it was all connected with the death of my grandmother, I think, because, you know, it entered me then in that very young age and I was hyperventilating even at sort of eleven due to the circumstances. So I think. Yeah, and to me that it didn't really leave until I was in my late 50s.
I mean, none of this is surprising given the things that you went through as a child. Right. Like none of these. Yeah. Experiences are surprising.
I think it's the human condition. I think if you understand mortality and you're not anxious, what's wrong with you? Yeah. Yeah. You know, I mean, once you understand, once you have a death like that of someone so dear and you don't understand, then you've not got the hang of it is the human condition, isn't it?
Is that's the point. That's that's if we didn't have that, we wouldn't be driven. We wouldn't do the things we do. You know, you have to have a clear understanding of a finite period of time.
You have to have it so, you know, return to power, your early 20s and you have this you've had this training as a psychologist. What did you do when you when you got back to porn? And, you know, in 74, I persuaded a large salon in pool that they needed to try colleges, that I went and did the same thing for them that I had been doing in these Western salons. So there was a guy there called Mark Young who was very ambitious.
He had 100 staff. So for a salon outside of London to be that size, that was that was good. Yeah. And so lots of people would go there. He trained a lot of people and I would assist him. And I was freelance. I didn't he didn't pay me, but he gave me a room and gave me a little attic space to make product for the men. And I made their shampoos and conditioners and I was really not earning any money.
My wife was keeping me my I worked in the course as an assistant to the clerk of the courts. And so she was working there. That was good money that I was earning, you know, just a pittance. And you were, what, just you were just making stuff in your kitchen and putting it in like glass bottles and selling it to people. I wasn't doing the kitchen. I've made a tiny room. Might change my little tiny box room up in my bedroom into a little lab.
Yeah, yeah. It was above the kitchen. I'd got a basement in there. I got taps in there. I'd got some vessels. I got a big paddle. You know, I could heat water and I could heat oil and I could make products. And I was making stuff on the side for. Different people, because I couldn't earn enough money in the salon I was working, and at that time were you using, like, chemicals?
I have an issue with chemical. I know you now think, yeah, I know what I always did. I think it came in when I was about seven or eight. I went with my mum to the movies and I saw a movie where Rat Poison got in some bread and it was a frightening black and white movie. And I think it really made me frightened of chemicals.
So I, I always had this leaning towards nature anyway. So I much prefer to be involved in herbs or alternatives. I was always very, very conscious of what was a safe chemical and what was not a safe chemical.
So that that again informed what I did because now I make products with mainly natural materials and what I consider to be safe synthetics, having studied that repeatedly all through my career.
All right. So you're working at this salon in Poole as a psychologist and I guess at you and Mo were living in the same apartment building as a woman named Liz.
Where is that? Is that right? And who was she and what how did you meet her?
Well, we worked together in the salon. Oh, I see. She was the beauty therapist in the salon and I was the psychologist. We were both freelancers. So we would spend our spare time chit chatting about, well, hair and shit.
Basically, I always used to feel sorry if we were on the train. The two of us, someone fell asleep in front of us.
We would just take them apart bit by bit, you know what you know, because you would just talk about hair and skin. Yeah, pretty obsessively. And meantime, you were making all this stuff like hair care products and stuff in your apartment. And I guess around this time you find a new customer for your products, you who would become a pretty significant person in your life. What what's the story? What happened? What actually happened was that I had seen a little advert in Honey magazine for Salon in Brighton, not a salon, a shop.
And I was making stuff on the side for different people. And so basically I find this woman's address and a phone number. I didn't have a phone at home, so basically I had to go to the phone box and phone her up and see if she would like any product. She'd started this shop called the Body Shop. Oh, yes. And it was Anita Roddick, Anita Ronnie. And so I phoned her up and she said, well, yeah, come over and see me.
By the way, she was in in Brighton. You were in pool.
Quite a long train journey, OK, because it's not direct. Right. OK, so I paid for the train journey. I met her. She dropped her second shop. By then I went in the shop and it was just wonderful. Yeah. There was this charismatic woman selling low packaged product that was genuine young people buying small amounts of stuff for fun and experimentation. Everything about the shop really wired me. I just loved it very, you know, very simplistic bottles with very simple labels.
No fancy stuff really suited me.
And Mark, was it was it totally different than anything that was out there at the time when you went into that body shop? Yes.
Was it just like, what is this if I come and live with you now in San Francisco and we go up and down the coast, if we'd have done the same thing at that same time, we would have seen the body shop that inspired her in the first place and we would have seen a whole series of mom and pop shops exactly like that right up the West Coast from Seattle, all the way down through Portland. All of those those people were making small amounts of products and packaging them simply, you know, there was the cleansing bar and yeah, you know, all sorts of different businesses.
But there were none in Britain that just we didn't have that at all. We have nothing, none of that innovation, none of that stuff.
There was a shop called the Body Shop in San Francisco, in San Francisco, which was a U.S. company, a totally different company.
It was a totally different company that inspired Anita Roddick to copy it, do it in Bryant and call it the body shop and call it the body shop.
OK, but she you know, you've got to get context on Anita. We have a dynamic, vital woman who's living in a fairly open relationship with an unbelievable bloke. I mean, Gordon Roddick, poet, Horsman, he just he'd gone off to ride a horse from Buenos Aries to New York. He was writing for The Observer about his experiences while he did it. He well, he was just a, you know, bohemian. So, you know that we're not talking about everyday.
People here, which I definitely was OK, and they had a hotel which they sold on, she just wanted to try this idea that she'd seen in San Francisco. And so when I first went there, because Lisa knew nothing about hair and skin and I knew everything between Liz and I, we knew everything about Hanschen. All right. So you you go in the shop, you meet Anita, and you have brought with you a bunch of samples of of what?
I think I'd already sent them over. You sent them over. And she then placed an order right then and there.
She said, hey, I like this stuff for a thousand two hundred pounds. Now, just to clarify, because I've read her account of this and this is what she said. And you may know that she said, I remember that he called me from a payphone initially because he was feeding coins to the payphone and that he he was making henna cream shampoos that he sent to me. They look like sludge and smelled like horseshit and honey beeswax cleaner with black specks caused by bees returning to their hives with 30 feet.
Those products, you said, and then she ordered a thousand pounds worth of this stuff. Theisen Yeah, it was great.
I mean, I couldn't I'd I'd had to borrow the money to get the train home, you know? But I mean, the fact that, like, you were making these products, obviously herbal based and natural products, but like they were kind of right. They looked kind of grimy at that time, I guess.
Well, they were very authentic. Yeah. I tried them on anyone else. That's what they'd say to me. Yeah. Well, we can see these are authentic, but we really don't think they're going to sell. But she she believed they were going to sell and.
And how are you getting the product tour. Was it in like bags or jars or what.
Like so she orders just out-of-bounds parts or glass glass jars. She hey I wanted glass jars because of the environmental principles, OK?
She hated the glass jars. She wanted plastic jars because she was so stuck on the environment at that time. So there were quite a lot of arguments, lots of arguments like that.
She was a very argumentative person when she said, I want a thousand pounds for the stuff. You have to go back to four thousand four hundred thousand four hundred pounds.
So you to go back to Poole and go back to this little lab in your apartment and start making a thousand pounds worth of what I had to phone up the suppliers and ask for credit because I had no money.
Right. So I couldn't buy the materials to make the order. They all kind of gave me credit. I then said to her she would have to pay cash on delivery. She then paid cash on delivery. I was back afterwards and paid them all.
I didn't expect to get a second order. I thought that would be I don't know why I didn't. I obviously didn't have much confidence in my own product.
But then when I had a second order and a third and the fourth it why I couldn't believe my luck.
When we come back in just a moment, how Mark built a successful partnership with the body shop that worked pretty well until it totally fell apart. Stay with us. I'm Guy Raz, and you're listening to how I built this from NPR. Hey, everyone, just a quick thanks to our sponsors who helped make this podcast possible, first to First Republic Bank, safeguard your spending with the redesigned First Republic mobile app with features like personalized alerts for unusual activity and customizable settings that prohibit unauthorized purchases.
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With the unemployment rate at record highs right now, millions of Americans are without health insurance. This week on throughline, how our health care became tied to our jobs and how a temporary solution turned into an everlasting problem. Listen now to throughline from NPR, where we go back in time to understand the present. Hey, welcome back to how I built this from NPR. I'm Guy Raz. So it's around 1977 and Mark Konstantine has just started to make beauty products for Anita Roddick of the Body Shop.
And both of them, of course, are just in the beginning stages of their businesses. Anita only has a few shops and Mark is still making his concoctions in a tiny room above his kitchen.
What it would be and a cream shampoo, elderberry conditioner lady's mantel, his heat filter, aromatherapy, scalp oil, herbal hair color. How do they sell to. They sell it. Do they sell? And they sold really well. I mean, far better than I, you know, I could have imagined. I mean, we are talking about one of the best sales ladies I've ever met. You know, she could sell anything. So obviously she made them popular.
Yeah. So you have this cash coming in from from the body shop. And I guess, like, right around this time, you and Liz, we are your colleague at the hair salon. You decide to use that money to start your own business.
Yeah, I'm with that money. I started a little herbal hair and beauty clinic with Liz where it was called Konstantinov Weyers Country Cosmetics. Good for your skin and good for your hair. So happy again. And so I've been told by another business person what you do is you you buy all your raw materials, you make the product and you double that when you sell it. And then you don't spend that money on yourself. You then reinvest that back into your business.
Why? Just out of curiosity, why did you bring Liz on? What was what was she going to bring to the equation?
Well, it wasn't to do with making products. What we did was we opened a little clinic for me to treat people's hair and scalp and to do henna colors on. And she would do her beauty therapy. Yeah. And we share the room, you know, the third room, which was a reception storeroom. But the problem was that it was incredibly cold there and we didn't get much business. So we made money still by making product for other people much more than we did from our little clinic.
So we went a year or so to try to make money there and we couldn't.
And so I said to Liz, Liz, well, why don't you join me in the making, the stuff, you know, all by skin. I know all about hair between us. We can come up with the products.
And then when I had to prepare a product for I mean, she was a really hard taskmaster. So I to work and work and work and study and read off in the you know, the cosmetologists, other books until I got it right, I probably made better skin products. I did hair, you know, when I learned the hard stuff, it was just a technical skill. I learned. Yeah. With the with the skin stuff I had to really study and work out.
And I guess you and Liz made these products and sold them to like a few shops or salons. But I mean, I'm assuming the body shop is still your your big client, right? I was their biggest supplier. You were the biggest I was their biggest supplier. And they had two shops. Well, no, but they started a franchise. Right. And before we knew where we were, they had the fastest growing cosmetics company in the world.
Wow. I mean, you know, and they couldn't even touch the U.S. So that was outside of the U.S. They had franchises in Sweden multiplying they franchises in Finland and in Germany and France. Here's my question for you, Mark.
I mean, how were you? I have to assume that very quickly you had to find another location to make your products. And then there was a certain point where you yourself could not make the products anymore, that you had to bring lots of people in to make the products.
So what happened was I like working from my home. It worked for me. OK, so I find a bigger house with a nice garage and plenty of space at the back to make product. And then I managed to make product from there for seven years. Wow. Now you're not supposed to do that in Britain because that's planning controls. So I managed to make it without the plumbers catching me for seven years. And I can remember I went off to see Return of the Jedi.
And when I came back, my babysitter said, Oh, a man's been mine from the planning authority. I think I've got my business up to a half a million turnover by then out of my garage. And I have the back of eyes.
So this is like 1982, 83. You're doing half a million dollars in revenue.
I'm sorry. One of those days that was nearly a million. Wow. I mean I mean, just like these days.
I mean, this just pauses for a moment because when you were dating Moe and then asked her, you know, for her, her dad, for her hand in marriage like you were not going to be, this is like.
Within 10 years, you're making a million dollars in revenue.
Yeah, I mean, did any of those people like her parents or Jeff's parents say, oh my God, like, wow, this is crazy.
Not at the time I was busy. You were busy. I was getting up at five o'clock in the morning making the stuff. Yeah. If I saw someone, we certainly weren't talking about how well I would stay. We're talking about the English here. Berrima Yeah.
We don't do that kind of stuff. We don't admire each other. It's just not part of it.
Well, here's what I'm wondering. How did you know how to run the business? Like, how did you know how to price your products? How did you know how to like what you know how to how to do invoicing and purchase orders and all that stuff. Did you.
Well, Gode Rodeck help me a lot. I don't know where he learned, but basically I'd been taught already by Mark Young's father to double the price when I sold it. So that put me in good stead by marketing.
The guy who owned the salon. Yeah.
His dad had said to me, what you do is you buy the raw materials and then you double that to sell it, you have to have enough margin. Yeah, because as you add to the costs. I mean, obviously, you know, I mean, I was probably making a lot more money per product when I just made it myself up in a room as things developed because obviously. But if you've got enough margin there in your model, it works.
OK, we're going to talk a bit more about Annita Roddick, who's a very important, controversial and really kind of revolutionary figure and certainly in the U.K. and around the world in entrepreneurship. Yes. But on the one hand, I can imagine I mean, this was huge.
She she she and Gordon Transform had transformed your life, right?
Well, did you. They also transformed an element of the cosmetics. Yeah. They were unbelievably influential, charismatic. It felt very much like royalty. You know, they you know, in the sense that when they blessed you with their presence, you were pleased. And when you weren't in their presence, it wasn't so good. We would have a very tempestuous relationship, I think would be the right description.
I would have an argument with her on the phone. She would call me unprofessional. I would tell her that she couldn't call me unprofessional. She would then call me a very rude word, beginning with W and ending and ah, I would then say, yes, you can call me that rude were beginning a W and ending in R but you can't call me unprofessional. Then about an hour later there would be knock on the door, I'd open the door, there'd be a florist with a huge smile on his face giving me a bunch of flowers on all the glass will have the word w something.
So that's how it was all the time. It was chaotically wonderful. Yeah, she was driven. Not quite. Manitoba closed. You know, there was you know, both of us were frightened of dying, you know. I mean she, she, we were very similar, very streets, not comfy in our lives. I mean, there was no we're not talking about a confident woman in the sense of accomplished and stylish and svelte. We're talking about a woman who was as driven as I was.
I thought she was going to have a breakdown. Then I realized, no, I was going to have the down. What was your relationship like with Liz, your partner? Well, she was always wonderful, very supportive. You know, when you look at Lushan and people admired for its values, especially the way women are treated and things like that, that's always been at least that she married and her name became better elsewhere.
She was she took me to one side. I mean, bear in mind, I had not had much of a social education and she would take me to one side and she would say, if we're going to build a business based on women, you can't pat them on the back side when they walk by. Yeah, you do. Of course, she was fairly austere. So you did want to be told twice. Yeah, I absolutely took her word as that was it.
She told me I did it. So those standards, you know, she had the standards all the time, which I probably lacked.
Right. All right. So you are just cranking it out and you're busy and you're expanding. And when you're doing a half a million pounds of revenue a year selling to the body shop, do you remember how many people you had working with you at that point?
Yeah, there was about five or six people working with me there, but what's very nice when we're talking about, well, how did you have the success later on is one of them was Colibri Bygrave, almost Rowena Hofbauer as she was then, but no one was Liz Bennett then. All of those people, Helen Ambrose and they are the team now.
They're the elite team, the top team who are with them continuing to learn their skills. We still work together. Wow.
All right. We are now going to get to a theme that is a recurring theme in your life, which is you get you start to get itchy feet and you want to you want to expand or move on to the next thing or, you know, you've got this business, which is Konstantine and we are. And it's going well. But, you know, you kind of you're doing well and it's and you get to a point, I guess, in the mid 80s where you want to kind of build something out and you decided that you wanted to maybe open your own little shop in the U.S..
Yeah. So there was always much talk about, well, we could do something together rather than maybe a supplier. And then, you know, we would do something together, like a partnership. OK, yeah. So I said to Gordon, well, why don't I come up with a new concept in the States and we look at that, you know, because they couldn't do the body shop. So she would quite like of like to have a different business that was not nicked from someone in San Francisco with all that.
So I did a new product myself and my team. We did something called Watkins', which we opened in Seattle.
You opened a store called Baskin's in Seattle? Yeah. This was like a body shop type or a skin care type shop. Yes.
And you did this with Annita Roddick and Gordon or.
No, Anita didn't know I did it with Gordon. Sorry. You did. With her husband and she didn't know.
Yes. I don't know how that happened. I think Gordon said to me, look, why don't we do this? And I'll tell Anita later on.
OK, so I don't know why I fell for that, because that was definitely foolish. And I did all the work.
I did all of the product. I you know, we got the shop. My brother in law said he would run it. And why Seattle, by the way?
Because that's where my brother in law lived. OK, it's a great city. It's a great city, this great city. Now, bear in mind my image of the states.
I hadn't traveled at all, so I did. I'd been to Seattle a couple of times, but my image of the states was very much formed off of the American comics. I read as a little boy and also the American business books I'd read and the entrepreneurial spirit of the states. So, you know, that's what I felt good about. And so, yeah. So we opened this shop. I mean, when you describe it something you think is slightly lunatic, it gets worse because it didn't really make money.
But then Gordon decided he would tell Anita I'd had a couple of glasses of wine and then he thought he'd tell Anita. I've had he told me I've never been more wrong in my life. Weird's he says he turned the tables over. She threw chairs. He said, I'm not frightened of any woman. So I didn't lock my bedroom door. But obviously he wasn't sleeping in the same bed as her that night.
And from that moment on, really, our relationship wasn't so good us.
But she was mad because she thought you betrayed her. She was like, that's my business. What are you doing? That's that was her perspective. I think she might have been. Yeah. Which I'm not too. I mean, we should say. And she she passed away more than a decade ago, and so she's out here to kind of give give her sad story. But I can kind of understand that I cannot cut out. So can I.
Right. Yeah, well, I know obviously I'm not straightforward. You know, I'm very I just I'm going for all the time. I'm not you can't rely on me to stay still. Yeah. You know, I don't I don't become replete and sit back. Even now, in my 60s, you had to keep moving. And to you it was like, this is the next step. I want to keep moving on to expand. I want to do the next thing.
But it sounds like you kind of did it in a clumsy way that you and I get. I've done these things in my life, but it didn't feel clumsy when I was doing it. But but retrospectively, obviously wasn't appropriate. And we should kind of, I think, put this in a context, because Anita Roddick, by the mid eighties, certainly by the late eighties, she was like hugely famous, like like Princess Diana was buying her stuff.
And she was. Yes. All over the place. She was a big deal already by then. Yeah, and rightly so. Yeah. I mean, you know how it is whenever you've had a very close working relationship with someone, you don't want to have to admit how much they told you. I don't know. Maybe that's just the British thing. Yeah, but she must've taught me so much, didn't she? It's quite obvious. So it's clear that your relationship with Anita is as kind of damage at this point and probably not like.
I mean, she needs your products, but there's there's too much tension between the two of you, and at the time, I mean, she basically made an offer to buy out and we're. Yeah, and you did sell it to her. I mean, was was that the reason that that you knew that basically you just kind of had to move on?
No, I basically drove that because it was very awkward. Yeah, I owned these rights, but they didn't know what to do about that. They weren't taking any new product off me because they were frightened that I dominated so much of their business and they just gone public. And the city didn't know that I owned all the product rights.
The city of the bankers, the financiers. Yeah, they what they they went public. They were now a listed company, but they didn't own the product they were selling. I owned it.
So they had to pivot. They had to start making their own product because it was my solution. I said to them, look, you're going to have to buy the rights. But I said, look, I make three million pounds a year from each of these product ranges, so why don't you pay me nine million over three years?
You'll make the money back anyway by making it yourself, and I'll go off and do something else.
So you walk out of that that relationship with nine million pounds and it was in three tranches over two years.
And by the way, what happens to Bodkin, that shop in Seattle is I still going at that time? I had closed that earlier, OK, and lost 200000.
So you lose the money on bargains, but you've got nine million pounds.
And at this point you can really kind of just live the life of Riley. Like, that's a lot of money.
You can buy a nice country estate in the south of England and it's hot and you, you know, can can do beekeeping or I know you're into birding.
You could do that for the rest of your life.
But obviously, that's boring. I can do that.
So you just want to do that. You don't do that. So you decide, all right, I'm going to start a new business. And it's this concept called cosmetics to go that you again start with the same team, right, that you've done Constantines.
Well, because I wanted yeah, we were trying to keep the same people employed that we'd have before. Got it. But in a mail order business, mail order, cosmetics.
So the same products that you were making. But mail order.
Yeah, because that I didn't really want to I didn't want to be going into competition with, with Anita and Gordon and any way to get the money, I'd had to sign a thing saying I wouldn't open any shops for three years.
Got it. So you had to do a mail order business. You couldn't have a brick and what I wanted to anyway. So it suited me at the time. But here's the thing.
You sold the rights to all of these products that you were making. You could not sell those recipes in your new business. You had to make brand new things.
Yeah, but I had loads. I had so many new products, ideas. We had shampoo bars, bath bombs, things that Anita didn't want to take. So I already had a catalogue full of product.
All right. I want to I want to hone in on the bath bomb, because this is a this is a product that's going to revolutionize your life. And this is what blush would eventually be built up. But when did that idea come to you? It didn't come to me. So basically what happened was I was in the kitchen with my wife, Mo, a perfumer, Kotcheff Brown, a herbalist called Dr Malcolm Stewart, another psychologist called Steven Spalls, and a couple of other people.
We were talking about the problem of bubble baths, creating urinary tract infections in young children. I just said, wow, yeah. OK, so we were just chatting about that. And I the problem was kids love bubble bath so much. So what happens is it breaks down the capillary action, but it enables microorganisms to get in the urinary tract and cause problems. That's how a bubble bath does that. OK, we wanted to come up with something that was better for the kids and wouldn't cause that problem on Geoff.
Brian had worked making Alka Seltzer with bicarbonate of soda and citric acid. So bicarbonate of soda is extremely soothing in the bath. Very, very good for you. It's, you know, a seltzer bath is really well known all worldwide. And if you had chickenpox or something, you'd put a bit of soda in the bath. Very soothing, right? Yeah. So then my wife went out into the shed and came back with a first bath. Both, but it was just a small desk and we called them Aqua Sizzlers.
Let me just pause for a sec. She would take basically baking soda and some. Yeah. Some sense and essential oils and herbs and the like. Put it into a desk. Yeah. So she just came back in there. It was. So she had invented the bath bomb really.
But she didn't just do it in five minutes. Right. This is going to take some time. She did. Well how do you make that in five minutes. Well she just she'd heard us talking about it. She's when I did it and she very practical my like. Yeah, she just came in. There it is. So then we for a while we sold these acquisitions and the little tube, but then we find that the kids weren't using the grown ups were using them.
So then we thought, oh well if we've grown up using it, we'll put a bit more, we'll make it a bit bigger and we'll have a round.
You know, we did a bomb. We actually did a bomb we covered in black cellophane how to read music out of the top bomb on it. That was the black box bomb and so on. So that's how they they developed. But it started off with my wife going in the shed, making money and coming back.
So at cosmetics to go, you were already selling these products?
We started bathrooms, came along about two years into cosmetics to go. But things like shampoo bottles, they were there at the beginning.
We had a patent for shampoo bottles, shampoo bars, like a bar of soap, but instead of in a bottle washing, brushing your hair.
OK, we believe will be popular at the moment. Yes. So everybody wants your shampoo bottles at the moment because they don't want plastic.
They want plastic, right? Yeah. You have this business cosmetics to go, which sounds like a great idea. Right. You got its mail order and mail order is a big deal in the late 80s, early 90s. And how's it going?
How is it doing every time we send a pass, like we lose a pound. Why? Well, you know how the dot dotcom business was. You know, you figured if you got to a certain size, you'd be OK, right? So you constantly trying to get to that scale. Yeah, but just like the dot com businesses, we never made it to that scale is a joke that if you want to make a small fortune, you start with a large one.
Adelies, a pound on every order.
Wow. So cosmetics to go was a hell of a party. It was so intense. I have never been so stressed. We were producing these catalogues. The whole every range had a different image.
I mean, it was just for people obsessed with cosmetics, which we all were. And ah, it was a great party, but we just blew all the money and went bust. So this is like 1994 and and I mean, you worked on cosmetics to go for like six or seven years before it went under and then really went under and were like, were you broke?
Well, I not been ever so clever. I basically still had a mortgage on my home, so I still have a loan on my home. I still had a loan for a small factory and I owned and I still had a loan on on this property in the high street that where I have my lap. So I still had these loans to pay off. So I then was having to borrow money from moneylenders, usurious rates. And then I managed to sell this house for half of what I bought it for.
I bought it for 200000 buyers. I sold it for 100000. I paid off all the loan sharks. I was left with 43000 pounds and I had three kids and no business you had just a few years before. And again, I'm not trying to shame you at all. I just want to put this in context is important.
So I've got plenty of shame. No shame is worth trying to avoid.
This is a very important failure that you experienced, right? Yeah. You were a millionaire and you had lost all of it and you were also in debt.
And now you're 42, almost 43. You've got three kids.
Yeah. My eldest son took me to one side at seven. And suggested, well, that do you not think you should get a proper job? And what did you think I said?
Well, I think I've got a skill set that such that if I can market it, I can make a lot of money again. And he he sort of nodded sagely at seven and let me do it.
Did you have anxiety about the future at that point or did you think I'm going to recover? This is going to be fine.
Oh, no. Did I have I I mean, I've I I've had anxiety most of my life, so I have plenty of anxiety, probably enough to, you know, fill a boat.
Basically, I didn't want to do anything. I wanted to stay home, lick my wounds. I felt very ashamed. Shame was the prevalent thing. I certainly didn't think I'm going to get up and do something else. But my colleagues, especially Helen Ambrose at that time, Helen Ambrose, phoned me up and said, the receivers are all gone, right? Everyone is gone. I had an empty shop and an empty lab on Helen Ambrosial phoned up and said, I'm going to start going in nine to five.
How about you? I'm doing what with?
And she said, well, I just think it would be good. We can go in, we can see what there is there. We can make a few products, maybe sell a few here and there. Let's get going again. And so all of the main team that I'd worked with, they couldn't find work either that they wanted. So bit by bit, they all came back.
And I want to just name them all because. Because you all get together. Yeah, I. Helen Ambrose. Liz, we're Paul Greeves. Your wife Moe. Yeah. Mike Bird, Rowena Hofbauer. And you all kind of come together and this is the beginning of Lush. Yep.
So then we were all earning no money. Rowena ran all our credit cards up because she was the only one that hadn't already done that. And she started the shop downstairs and run that and we started making the product upstairs. So me and Helena, Mo. We would make product, you know, just with it. We got the greengrocers and buy the avocados and the fruit and make the products, then take it downstairs and she'd sell it. And here's what I don't understand.
Yeah. That year, 95, you open a store in Covent Garden in London. How are you able to do that with 40000 pounds?
Well, what we did was the first store was really the little store downstairs in Paul Twenty on High Street, and that's what we did first.
So we did a sort of mock up thing. And then basically we knew we had done all of our money and we knew we had to get it back up. Quite a lot of people were approaching us, offering to back us. One of the guys, Andrew, Gary and Peter Placa, they were really nice. Peter Blacket just said, well, I'll do a punt for a couple hundred grand. And he put some money in for some shares.
And we started the retail business. And with his money, we opened a small store in Covent Garden and a larger one on the King's Road. So you had never really had to raise money for your previous businesses? Because I was. But this one, you had to find some outside money. You had somebody you had to find investor. Yeah. And what I did with Peter, I asked him what was the best investment you ever made, Peter?
And he told me what it was. It was it was a property going. And so he bought some properties off the army in Scotland and he managed to sell them for twelve times the price. So I promised him I said, well, this will be a better bet than that. When we come back in just a moment, why that turned out to be a pretty good bet. And later on, how Marc crossed paths with the body shop yet again, but this time as a possible buyer.
Stay with us. I'm Guy Raz. And you're listening to how I built this from NPR. This message comes from NPR sponsor, a new way to communicate with your team. It replaces email with something faster, better organized and more secure in a world where people can be anywhere. It becomes your office. Try it for free at slack dotcom slack where work happens.
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Hey, welcome back to how I built this from NPR. I'm Guy Raz. So it's 1995 and out of the ruins of a failed business, Mark and his partners decided to take one more leap by launching a little cosmetics store they call Lush.
And this time, things seem to click. So pretty soon after opening their first location in pool, Mark opens another store in London. I remember that shop in Covent Garden. I was a student in London at the time and it was a big deal in the bath bombs. Remember, they were like, these are and you still have these orbs. They kind of look like they remind me of sweethearts, you know, sweethearts. Yeah. Yeah, like giant sweethearts.
And some of them had, like, dried roses in them and things like that. Right. Like flower petals. Yeah. Yeah. Because I remember my sister came to visit me in London and she really wanted lush. It was like all of a sudden was starting to people were talking about it. What, how did that happen? I mean, the stores just opened their doors and it was huge.
No one had ever seen anything like it before. We would get a thousand inquiries a month for people to do business with us from the get go.
Well, pretty soon we opened up the King's Road Shop. Within the first week, we had John Paul, RTA and Jasper countering come in and commend us.
Well, and to be honest, and Jasper Conran is the son of Terence Conrad, who opened Terrence Conrad up and a designer in his own right, Terrence Conrad, great, great retailer throughout the whole of Britain.
But it wasn't just their status, but so many people were commending us and to be honest, to have been that bad and to have everything that wrong and then suddenly top everything that right was very tricky. I can remember having to go out the back of the shop and have a moment. You know, you can't be that bad and that good all in the in a short period of time, you know.
Yeah. And by the way, how did you decide on the name Lush?
We had a competition. We said come up with a name for us. And a lady called Mrs. Bennett in Edinburgh called us Lush Garden, and we showed it to London.
So here's what's interesting. I've read that you kind of modeled these shops that the shops after Neal's yard dairy, the cheese shop. Right. Which is a famous.
Well, it was it was various bits. I mean, Neil's out there is lovely. A lovely cheese. Yeah. We have big truckloads of shampoo and big truckloads of soap like cheese struggles, which we would slice and sell the product from on and on that.
Yes, it was partly that partly grocery shops like, you know, with with apples, the bath bombs look like apples. To be honest, when I first did the Kings Road, I thought I made an awful mistake. I dunno, I just let my imagination on everyone else's imagination run riot. We've got this stainless steel basin full of ice with face masks. And it would only last a couple of weeks and we just let everything go crazy. And then we had some bottled product or little three little pyramids in the centre of the shop.
And when I was looking at it before, I thought, oh, God, you've had this money in this investment. You've just blown it. Yeah. You've done all this crazy stuff. Instead of just doing a much more understandable job, the public won't get it and then open the doors and the public came in and they just ignored all the bottle products and bought everything else.
They were wonderful. They got everything. They just loved it.
Yeah, because you're I mean, as people now know, when you go into lush and really was kind of baked in early on, there wasn't a lot of packaging. I mean, you had the the sort of the plastic tubs and and but then it was tins of things and and then just giant slabs of soap that were just sliced up and put in paper and you would walk out.
Yeah. So yeah, it was because we first of all we didn't have the money for the packaging and secondly we didn't want to do it anyway. If you've got a bottle of shower gel when it went out from the factory by two thirds of the money went into the packaging and the labelling and only a third into the contents. So if you can get a business model where you can get rid of that unwanted packaging, the customer doesn't want it, you don't want it.
If you can get rid of that, you've got far more money to put into the ingredients. Yeah, you can have a much better standard of payment for suppliers and so on, and you can have a bit more profit and you can get a competitive price for the customer.
By the way, the six of you who kind of got together this Kalush, did you ever have to have an uncomfortable conversation about ownership?
So the problem actually is an ownership?
Well, it is an extent, but the problem is succession, because obviously, if we let's pretend we're not a cosmetic company and we're not British, but we're an American tech company. Yeah.
All those tech companies are the. Find all had to they either died and they had to be paid off, their families had to be paid off or they they have to have their renumeration for successful companies. And we didn't want to go public.
You decided early on and we don't ever want to go public. Well, we watch what happens with the body shop. You know, they've gone public. And Gordon Roddick says still today that that was the biggest mistake he made because he was no longer in control of it. And things that he thought were important wasn't what the shareholders, the city thought. Yeah, yeah. They don't want you to spend money on on high quality products and they want you to maximize profit.
Exactly. So we dreamt up a scheme. See, we're all we're capitalists, straightforward.
I'm a capitalist and I believe in capitalism, but I don't believe in the forms of capitalism that I would call locust capitalism, where it's where people are feeding off someone else without doing anywhere. So we came up with a scheme where we valued our shares at five times the average of the last three years profit so that we captured a little bit, but we only capped the greed and we still that still enabled us to if we want to build the business, we can build the business, we can build the profitability, we can make more when we sell our shares.
And then we gave part of the business to the staff, which we would like to see increase so that the staff can buy those shares off the find us. And we put in an employee benefit trust to facilitate the sale of the shares as and when they're necessary.
So essentially, you are you have said you and the other founders have said, look, we're going to get rich enough, you know, but we don't need hundreds of millions of dollars. We'll be happy with tens of millions of dollars. Yes. Because we didn't do all the work. Yeah. Now, in Britain, we have something called the living wage where a group of clerics paid off with a fine. So there was so much poverty in their dioceses go together and they dreamt up a living wage.
So this was a wage that was a fair pay. So we paid the living wage as decided by them. So we lifting our skirts up at the bottom to get people out of poverty, sharing some of the business with them, but still capitalists. And it's still capitalism. We can still increase the size of that business, the scale of that business, the profitability of that business, and get considerable benefit for ourselves, but not so much benefit that it's vulgar.
I think like a lot of the entrepreneurs I've I've had on the show, it doesn't seem like you're wire to work for other people. Right. Like like you are. You're clearly super driven. But I think you're you're a little difficult, right? I mean, I'm in a good way, though.
I'm difficult in every way.
But it doesn't sound to me like you are a control freak that like actually the other partners involved in life, had a lot of say over the look, in the feel, in the branding. And because, you know, when you're in a store that you're in a store, it doesn't sound like you were a control freak over every single aspect of that. Am I right?
I know. No, I'm not a control freak. I am. I'm quite intuitive. I know when I see something that's wrong and I don't know how to describe that beforehand. So for a long time, Rowena just banned me from the shop openings because all I could ever see was something that was wrong. Yeah, so she just banned me. She just said, you can't come to the shop openings unless you improve your attitude.
Yeah. Just we don't need that kind of miserable person pacing up and down outside when we're just greeting new customers. You know, when I'm allowed to go nice. So I must have improved.
Meantime, the business is growing. And I think by 2001, you actually put in a bid to buy the body shop and Anita Roddick would not sell it to you at the time. By the way, do you remember what what you offered for it?
Well, it was very straightforward.
Um, the management could raise about three hundred and sixty million themselves to buy the body shop off of the strength of the body shops figures.
Yeah, I could add my business to that and get up to about 450, something like that. Million pounds. Yeah.
Then basically that, you know, someone like L'Oreal could get up to much higher than that.
They eventually sold Body Shop to L'Oreal for 652 million pounds. Yeah. In 2006. At the time, Anita Roddick was very, very sick and of course is no longer alive.
And the body shop going to L'Oreal to you and to some customers meant something because L'Oreal's huge multinational and the body shop represented kind of right. It was their slogan was trade, not aid.
And L'Oreal had always been the arch enemy because of testing on animals they represented. Those who wish to test body shop represented those that didn't waste. Right. And that was quite sort of fundamental.
And I think at one point there were signs at lush stores that said, are you fed up with the BSE? Obviously referring to Body Shop and its sale to L'Oreal.
And that was one of my best, not one of my best moments.
If you had known how ill Anita was at the time, I think you've said you would have responded differently. Yeah, absolutely no idea.
And, you know, I miss her. Yeah. Difficult to know what to say. I mean, the weird thing was she always felt she had very short length of time and she was right. You know, she did have a short length of time. But I think I think the truth was with the body shop that even if she hadn't been ill, I think they'd had it with it.
I think they'd had that right. And I mean, and they didn't want to carry on.
You know, I painted Anita Roddick is this dynamic, charismatic, fierce woman. But what I once asked her just we were just messing about on a train or something, doing one of those psychological sort of quizzes, you know, and I said the nature if if you were an animal, what animal would you imagine yourself? And she said a form. In other words, a young deer. Not that if she'd have said an eagle, I would have that's what I would have expected to say.
A fawn here. And suddenly I could see then I could see her as Goldener husband, saw her on how much he protected her and looked after her and how much they were. They were a couple.
You never because when you're in awe of someone, you don't see them as human creations. You see them as this you know, this great thing. Yeah. Well, of course, the truth was she was she was very human. With Bush, I think like eight years into the business, you had had over 200 shops in 29 countries. I mean, that's that's just incredible expansion in eight years. How are you able to control the brand with all those shops around the world?
Was it like was it just something that you weren't that worried about?
Well, the brand is our brand is very much based on the people that work in the shops and the people we attract. But I get asked a lot.
How do you choose your staff? Right. Yeah. I don't know if you've ever watched High Fidelity.
When he talks about his staff, he says, well, I employed them for a couple of days and now they turn up every day of the week. You know, we employ and attract enthusiasts.
People are really passionate by nature or animal testing or animal rights.
And then the brand tends to become that, you know, I mean, we control the products, you know, my my children involved.
We've got a whole new set of inventors now, young people coming on through the business that we do that that side that controls, you know, what you've got at home. But then the people that sell it to you just get attracted to the brand, you know? I mean, obviously lush today, I think you have nine other stores to twelve thousand staff around the world, um, but, you know, this is a challenging business and retail is challenging and margins are thin.
So, you know, you've had years where you've got based on what I've read and if that's right, you know, 70 million pounds in profit. And then, you know, you've had years where it's plunged to like 25 million pounds and still profitable the next year. So what explains those huge swings back and forth? Is it just that you pour more money into the business? And that's why. Well, let's take, um, from that height when we got that that height, that's when we introduced the living wage in parts of Arkansas.
OK, so that's so that's what we've decided. We've got plenty here. We can share something so that that's quite often what's going on. Yeah. That we've changed the business model by introducing another element into it. I mean, we give huge sums in charity. I mean, we've given over 50 million pounds now. And this is the lesson from Annita Roddick, where she took just a small sum of money and she turned it into that massive business which liable for all that money that shows you that not all money has the same value, right.
Small sums of money in the hands of dynamic people who really care goes a long way. So when we give money, when we give a thousand or two thousand or 5000 to a group that wants to achieve something, you know, maybe they want to stop fracking or maybe they want to deal with some environmental issue, they will make that money go much further than if that money was in someone else's hands. So that's very much how we focus on it.
I think it was around 2012 when your childhood friend Jeff Ozment located tracked down your dad. He found him in South Africa. Yeah. And you were able to see him for the first time since you were two years old.
Yeah. What was that? What was it like seeing him? Were you nervous going for that door open?
Uh, no. No, I wasn't nervous. I had a friend who told me he was the result of a one night stand between his mother and an Italian on a beach. Right. And he still find his father. And he said to me, if you're ever fortunate enough to find your father, go straight away and not mess up. I don't don't even think about it.
So I didn't think about it. I just went and I was met by my two sisters who I can't explain how similar they were to me. And then what I got see, my dad, he was apologetic. And, you know, I didn't need any of that. I just said to him that all's well that ends well, you know, just really pleased to be here with you. And we just had a couple of days together. Oh, they were just magical.
And they I can't it's very hard to describe such an emotional thing. But the best way I can find to describe it is if I had an empty half where my heart was before, I now have a blazing fire. So a lot of the anxiety is gone. A lot of that stuff's gone with that. Ah, he died shortly afterwards. He died within weeks of me seeing him. I could not have been more welcomed. I could not have been treated with more sincerity or compassion.
That was a great. Do you think, Mark, that because of your. And I think I know the answer to this question simply must be the case. And I don't answer for you, but it must be that your early life, you know, growing up with your grandma, your dad not being part of your life, your grandma dying, and, you know, when you're twelve and falling out with your mom and then and we should say you did you have reconciled and you have a relationship with her today.
But I mean, that must have driven you all those things must have driven you in some way. Right? I mean, how do you think about that? Do you think about your story, your your your past and your childhood? And I read an article in the in The Daily Telegraph, the British Daily Telegraph on this particular journalist had spent her life interviewing business people. And this was her last business interview. And she talked of something that she called the entrepreneur's wound.
And she said all of the really successful people that she had interviewed in business had these similarities where they had a death or a severe divorce or a sibling die, something like that, in their childhood, they had an event. Now, whether that teaches you about mortality and, you know, you've only got a certain period of time and so you get driven through that or whether you're trying to impress someone that perhaps is no longer here.
Or maybe just, you know, I don't know that I want to impress my dad, he didn't he was oblivious, so I don't know. But if you look at, you know, Steve Jobs or you look at any of those those guys, they got a similar profile. I mean, the issues create the character.
I really believe that very strongly. All of the finders have all got issues.
Mark, when you think about all of the things that they you've accomplished and achieved, do you think that most of it was because you just got lucky or because you're really smart and had the skills to make it happen?
I think we've worked out that I'm not necessarily very smart way. I, uh, I see myself as a technical entrepreneur. I see I have the technical skills and I've made the most of those.
I mean, you know, it was it's always ascribed to Churchill when he said or we were supposed to say that success is just stumbling from one mistake to another, one failure to another. Yeah. And that whoever originally set it well before he stole it, that were anyone out there who's in a business, they know that's how it feels. I mean, I you know, it just depends. Sometimes I have really big challenges and other times they're just challenges.
But there's never a moment when you can really sort of say, wow, I'm great.
And that is pretty much how my interview with Mark ended back in February, but of course, just a few weeks later, everything changed. So a few days ago, I got back in touch. Mark? Yes. Hello. How are you? Very good of you. I'm all right.
I'm talking to you is like it's like reaching back in time to a simpler moment in human history.
And Mark told me that in the days just after the pandemic hit, Lush had to shut down lots of its stores and lay off or furlough some of its workers.
And then around the same time, his longtime business partner, Liz Werb Senate passed away from cancer. But Mark has had some time to recover from that. And when I talked to him the other day, he sounded mostly upbeat and said the business has started to bounce back.
Well, first of all, obviously, selling soap in the stock market is quite sensible. So while those selling groceries seem to be doing exceptionally well, selling soap isn't so bad. Yeah, my my point really is that while you may not go on a cruise and you may not you may not be able to take the holiday you've always dreamt of. You can always take a bath so so worldwide.
Remind me, how many stores do you have right now?
But it's over 900. And can you estimate can you estimate how many of them are closed right now? Well, 50 at the maximum close right now, 50, I mean, probably, probably less so most of them are back open.
Most are back open and most are trading not at the full level that they were trading before. Some are literally just kiosks where you open the door, we put some sort of barrier and people come to the the staff there who are wearing masks and then others where there's enough space, where they can come in and socially distance while they're shopping. And we had between 200 and 300 percent increase in our digital business and, you know, mail business. And so that was one hell of a sort of swing round.
So online sales have have really boomed. But I'm assuming, like with many retailers, it hasn't fully closed the gap, the shortfall when it comes to overall sales, because I'm assuming.
Yes, right. You're correct to assume that. But we're much more that area of our business is more profitable than the retail. So people moving on to the mail order business is quite a help because we then generate more profit.
So it sounds like overall things are OK. Things some things are OK for you.
Yeah, yeah. I think I mean, for anyone in business listening, I'm one of the things we've tried to do is to break things up into six week periods because you can't really anticipate what the virus is going to do beyond the six week period. And so and then trying to work out within that six week period, what do we think is going to happen? You know, you know, it's very convenient for us because we obviously go from season to season.
We so we'll have from now until what we call bonfire night, which is a British tradition, which is November the 5th. And then we'll go to Christmas with the six week period and then we'll go to Valentines and other six week period and then it's Easter. And I think that's a good way to approach it rather than trying to imagine what it's going to be like in a year, two years time. We can do that. But you're not flexible enough.
If you do that.
You know, you need to be very dynamic, I think, in these circumstances, given that you will probably face a fall in revenue this year like many retailers. Yeah. Are you also being very careful with, you know, with how you're spending cash as a business?
Yes. Oh, yeah, absolutely. So I mean, what's actually happened is that the bulk of the agony we took in the last financial year, which ended in June this year, had just gone. So those figures are going to look pretty dreadful. And then as we've quickly adapted, so this year, this financial year will look a lot more positive and a lot a lot stronger, you know, so we had a loss last year, but we won't have a loss this year.
We'll have a reasonable profit. And at first we used to talk about the new normal, but I've stopped doing that because I think that many of the things that are happening is what we wanted anyway. Yeah, we wanted less travel. We wanted less pollution. We wanted people to be more discerning in their buying. We wanted better supply chains and better thought about the products. All those things are happening.
Mark, in the episode we just heard, I mean, you've gone through so many difficult moments. I mean, from your childhood and and going through dealing with anxiety and and then, you know, selling your business to body shop and then starting a mail order company and then losing it all. I mean, you described you were broke in your 40s. Yeah.
Um, do you think all of those experiences, those low points that you went through, actually have helped you have the resilience to deal with what you're dealing with now?
Yes, I think so. I think that I think it's for all businesses. I think that vibrancy that you require, that flexibility, the ability to to listen carefully and to make the appropriate changes and not be too. Well, spoiled. That's the word, isn't it? I mean, a business we can't get spoilt, we can get used to too much luxury. And I mean, for me personally at the end of my career here, to have to deal with this I felt was really, really, really interesting and far more interesting than running at a steady pace, especially when there was so much change.
We would like to see, you know, about climate change and other things like that. So so I find this far more exciting and far more real than I find when I last spoke to you. Wow. I love that. I love that you said that. This amazing perspective. Well, it's the truth. That's Mark Konstantine, co-founder of Leisz, for the way Mark told me that these days one thing he's doing to chill out and help him sleep is to take hot baths at exactly four p.m. every day.
He says that in addition to being super relaxing, it's a great way to test out all of his products. Hey, thanks so much for listening to the show this week. You can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, you can write to us at Unpeg. If you want to send a tweet. It's at how I built this or at Guy Raz. And you can follow me on Instagram. That's at Gingras. This episode was produced by James Dalhousie with music composed by Ramdin, Errol Louis.
Thanks also to Derek Gael's J.C. Howard, Julia Kanae, Neva Grant and Jeff Rogers. Our intern is Farah Safari. I'm Guy Raz. And you've been listening to how I built this.
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