MARK Constantine says he has spent 40 years doing the same thing from the same room in Poole High Street.
But as the latest figures from Lush Cosmetics confirm, he has known wildly different degrees of success.
Here, Constantine & Weir became the major supplier of the Body Shop. Later, mail order retailer Cosmetics To Go collapsed into administration.
After that failure, 22 years ago, this space and the shop unit below became the starting place of Lush.
Accounts just filed reveal that, with 928 branded shops in 48 countries, Lush saw pre-tax profits rise 76 per cent to £43.2million in the year ending June 2016. Brand sales were up 26 per cent to £723m.
Lush gave £6.2m to charities and “other good causes”, outstripping the £2.25m it paid in dividends.
There was a loss of £8.2m in Japan, as well as a significant reduction in footfall in Hong Kong, and “challenging conditions” in Brazil. But these were scarcely a brake on the company’s growth.
Mr Constantine admits keeping up that rate of growth would be a challenge.
“I’m really keen on poetry and it’s Kipling: ‘If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two impostors just the same’. I think that’s the key,” he said.
The publication of these accounts coincided with news of a raft of benefits for Lush staff.
As reported yesterday, Lush is to become a Living Wage employer. That will mean a rise of up to £2,184 for 1,077 factory staff in Poole and 2,478 in shops outside London. (The company was already a Living Wage employer in the capital.)
Lush is introducing an element of employee ownership through a new Employee Benefit Trust, which will own 10 per cent of new shares.
It is also doubling maternity and paternity leave and will pay for 20 hours a week of childcare for primary care-givers who have been with the company at least two years and return to full-time work.
“Over 70 per cent of staff are female. Just getting people to come back full time was a real challenge,” said Mr Constantine.
When the new benefits were announced at a Lush event, some staff wept.
“That’s why I’m proud of that one. I’ve never seen some of these ladies cry. It was very nice,” he said.
Finance director Kim Coles says she is proud of the company being awarded the Fair Tax Mark. It reports on tax paid in each country, showing an effective rate of 30.5 per cent, compared with UK standard corporation tax of 20 per cent.
“The fact is that most businesses don’t do it,” she said.
“I’m really proud of that.”
The EU referendum came at the end of the period covered in these accounts. Mr Constantine has taken plenty of flak for his view that the Brexit vote made his Poole staff – 35 per cent of whom are non-British – feel “unwelcome and upset”.
“You’re considered to be un-British if you’re enthusiastic about Europe, which having built a substantial British business, is a bit odd,” he said.
Lush’s German factory is smaller than Poole’s but growing and 80 staff have already relocated there.
With 1.6m UK people unemployed and 3.7m non-British workers in the country, Mr Constantine says any restriction on free movement will hit businesses hard. “I phoned the local employment agency again this morning. Fifty per cent of all the people applying for any job are not British,” he said.
“Seventy-five per cent of everything sold in the high street is imported. How many British manufacturers are selling things in the high street? We know Greggs are and we know we are. I’ve yet to come across another business where everything you buy in that shop has been made and produced in Britain. I’ve thought about putting on the side of the bag, ‘Made in Britain by foreigners’. I haven’t done it yet but it’s a quandary.”
Perhaps the most significant development for Lush’s future is the element of employee ownership. Keen to avoid what he sees as the mistake that the founders of Body Shop made in selling to L’Oreal, Mr Constantine says it could be a way for founders to exit the business.
“If someone wants to sell, there’s someone they can sell their shares to,” he says.
“It turns us into something of a charity in a way but it’s a lovely business model and everybody enjoys the pleasure and benefits of that.”
Does that mean he is considering his own future? He says co-founder Rowena Bird is “running the majority of the business”. Mr Constantine, who still takes his annual holiday on Brownsea Island, said: “I love the local area. I get out a lot. I’m out birdwatching or helping with the children’s bird boat and all those different things. That’s my real leisure.” He expects to devote more of his time to creating new products in Poole High Street. “I enjoy working up here. It’s always been a pleasure. It never palls.”