Fri, 22 Dec 2000

Natural way of things what counts for one business

JAKARTA (JP): It seems like an ideal partnership -- and a guaranteed recipe for business success.

Bring in a body care store which prides itself on its natural products in a country of more than 200 million people, many of whom have grown up with traditional approaches to treating illness and sprucing up appearances.

"We started off with the passionate belief that Nature is the biggest asset to our body. Since people here are already familiar with this philosophy we have had no problems selling in Indonesia," said Andrei Wicaksana of The Body Shop.

The only difference between the way the ancestors used cosmetics is in the technology and packaging, the goodness of natural cosmetics not having altered with time. Besides the use of natural ingredients also helps farmers, the store says.

It claims to have improved the economic status of thousands of farmers, from Indians to Mexican Indians, who constantly supply the 1,500 stores in 47 countries around the world with herbs and other farm products.

Andrei said his firm admired local cosmetic products but does not see it as competition.

"It is true that we both provide cosmetics made from natural substances. But we are an outlet for products made from natural ingredients found around the globe," he pointed out, leaving the customer to decide which one they prefer to use in the end.

He finds that customers today are highly sophisticated and prefer to buy fewer quality products instead of many more cheaper ones, making the firm very optimistic about the future of its sales here.

The store also knows how to tap into local market trends. This year it launched its "African spa" range as spas became the in- thing at Indonesian hotels and fitness centers, from Jakarta to Bali.

"This is all part of the movement to people taking care of themselves, both physically and mentally, and you don't have to go to a spa to do that with these products," said store operations manager Indra Sitompul.

Behind the company's philosophy is the famed Anita Rodick, who makes frequent trips to Asia to fervently preach her philosophy on beauty.

Roddick started the company in 1976 mainly as an attempt to be able to feed herself and her children. She feels that if the cosmetic kings -- the men who control modern cosmetics firms today -- really knew what they were talking about, they would not try to use photographs of glowing 16 year olds to sell a cream aimed at preventing wrinkles in a 40 year old.

As far as The Body Shop is concerned, it is quite immoral. Roddick believes that there is beauty to be found at every age and not just in the young in years.

She blames businessmen for playing on the insecurities of women, to perpetuate an image that women are not desirable after a certain age and for peddling false dreams to aging women and trying to sell them exorbitantly priced cosmetics.

Perhaps unaware of the ongoing legal battle between beauty business queens Mooryati Soedibyo and Martha Tilaar in Indonesia, Roddick insists that all business practices would improve immeasurably if they were guided by feminine principals like love, care and intuition (Mehru Jaffer).