The Body Shop could be about to pack-up and quit Croydon, according to reports tonight.
The ethically based cosmetics retailer, founded in Brighton 40 years ago by Anita Roddick, moved hundreds of staff to the refurbished “state of the art” Knollys House, near East Croydon Station, in 2016.
The office block was fitted out at a cost of £1.4million for The Body Shop, who had around 250 employees working across 24,000sq ft spread over four floors in its international head office. Croydon, the council and the company told anyone who might listen at the time of the move, was ideally located for staff and visitors to travel into London, to visit their other offices at Littlehampton, or for international clients and visitors to hot-foot it from Gatwick.
But above all else, Croydon was cheap.
Yet no amount of “living walls” or table top football games in the staff canteen could make up for the daily commute to CR0 for the majority of The Body Shop’s staff, especially when many of them had to contend with what passes for a rail service from Southern.
The Body Shop’s decision to quit Croydon will come as a … ahem… body blow to Croydon Council, and follows the departure of Nestlé, who had been the borough’s biggest employers, the increasing uncertainty over the Westfield redevelopment, and the stalling of the £500million development of offices and flats at nearby Ruskin Square.
Indeed, when Body Shop shipped up in Croydon, it was the promise of the better things to come which was explicitly referred to by the company.
“Croydon is an exciting area, on the brink of huge change as it goes through a major regeneration programme,” Jeremy Schwartz, Body Shop’s chief executive, said in December 2015 when announcing the move.
“It will soon have even more to offer.”
Or not, as the case may be…
After its move to Croydon, the Body Shop’s management did much work to try to win over the hearts and minds of its employees to convince them that they were not being sent into some kind of exile.
They even commissioned consultants to come up with a cringe-making campaign, Moving to Croydon: Surprisingly Awesome, featuring a microsite and a video with Boozepark and the as-yet-to-be-started Westfield Croydon as “highlights”.
But their move south coincided with more than 18 months of railway commuter hell at the hands of Southern, and while most of the engineering works around London Bridge have now been completed, it seems likely that the experience of daily cancelled and delayed trains soured the less-than “surprisingly awesome” move to Croydon.
According to the council-funded stooges at Develop Croydon, in the first year, just two Body Shop staff members bothered moving their homes to Croydon to be closer to work.
The decision to return to offices in the centre of London will not have been taken lightly by the company, and will incur considerable removal costs and much bigger rents. In Croydon, Body Shop said that they were initially paying £25 per sq ft, compared to £125per sq ft in central London. That difference in rent alone could cost the company more than £2million per year.
Tonight, SE1.com is reporting that the company’s new HQ will be “the historic terrace in Tooley Street restored and extended a decade ago as part of the More London development and bookended by the former St John’s Tavern and Antigallican pubs”. The Body Shop had been based near London Bridge Station before the ill-fated move to the Croydon.
SE1.com states: “The firm’s planning application to Southwark Council describes ‘the linear frontage to Tooley Street becoming a ‘window to the world’ for The Body Shop’.”
You can’t quite imagine that being the case on Addiscombe Road…
The Body Shop failed to respond to a request to comment.
How Croydon’s self-proclaimed “regeneration practitioner” Jo Negrini, the council chief exec, or Labour council leader Tony Newman, attempt to explain away The Body Shop’s decision to quit the borough should be an interesting watch.
Of course they will, rightly, heap much blame on the shambles that is Southern Fail.
But there’s no two ways about it, The Body Shop’s departure shows that the underlying problems with Croydon town centre as a place to do business are more than just cosmetic.
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