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Evening Standard
Evening Standard
Joanna Hodgson

Lush co-founder Mark Constantine sees plenty to be optimistic about when it comes to London stores

When Lush opened the doors to its new Covent Garden store earlier this month, there were plenty of shoppers that braved the rain to smell the sweet scent the chain is known for and snap up bath bombs, shampoo bars and face masks. A free gift for the first 100 paying customers was obviously also a good enticement. But one face not present was Mark Constantine, who co-founded the beauty retailer in 1995. He says light heartedly: "I'm not allowed to go to launch days because I always look too serious."

Speaking ahead of Lush's 16th London site welcoming consumers for the first time, he adds: "I always worry, you know, that all the things I have planned and did are not quite right.... no customer wants to come in with me looking like that."

The branch marks a Lush return 10 years on to Covent Garden- its former shop in the area operated between 1998-2013. When 71-year-old Constantine does head to Long Acre he will hopefully be relaxed and pleased at what has been unveiled.

Starting as a festive pop-up comprising close to 2,500 square feet, the store features traditional selling space, a 'discontinued' wall selling certain older products that some beauty fans still want to get hold of, and a new make-up range.

Then in the Spring it will expand and feature a 'Lush spa' with four treatment rooms. On offer at some of its existing spa venues are scalp massages and body scrubs.

When the new site launches it will be the Poole-headquartered retailer's second spa site in London, and Constantine says despite well documented challenges for high streets, he wants to invest in more bricks and mortar branches in the capital.

He says there are no target numbers of new stores, but "we'd like to get more stuff open".

Talks are underway for another central London unit and Constantine comments: " Are we committed to London? Absolutely. Are we keen on retail? Yes."

Expansion is not limited to just London, with a new shop and hair salon on the way in Teesside and Brighton respectively, and it has expanded its footprint in Aberdeen.

The boss points to shoppers getting satisfaction from chatting to staff and having a nice experience in store as being among some of the reasons why branches attract loyal customers. Getting to see products in real life is also attractive to buyers.

While the firm, which operates in 52 markets and has 101 shops in the UK and globally has 855 stores, does sell from websites too, online does not typically account for more than 15% of Lush's total sales.

Lush was founded in 1995 (Lush)

Confidence to expand in shops comes at a time when trading looks positive. New figures shared with the Evening Standard show in the 16 weeks to late October London footfall improved 8% from a year earlier, with Oxford Street sales 4% ahead and total store sales in the capital up 1%.

Across the UK the company had a strong July to September but a slower October. A Barbie collection was among top performers.

Although sales are looking positive, Lush, which emerged from the demise of a previous mail order business called Cosmetics To Go which the company calls "a massive success that collapsed through a combination of over-trading and flooding", has not had a challenge-free 2023.

Constantine says the mortgage crisis and higher cost of living is weighing on consumer sentiment.

Meanwhile across the sector the industry last week welcomed the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt's business rates announcement in the Autumn statement that there would be a freezing of the small business rates multiplier for another year and extension of the 75% discount for occupied retail, leisure and hospitality premises. But Helen Dickinson, who leads the British Retail Consortium said the moves do not help large companies in the same way. She said last week: “The country needs wholesale reform of our broken business rates system."

Despite the difficulties bricks and mortar retailers face, Lush and Constantine clearly remain sweet on the high street.

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