A Lush Story

Retail storytelling through sensory immersion
Posted October 1, 2015

A major theme during the 2015 International Retail Design Conference (IRDC) was authentic brand storytelling through transparency and honesty. And a recent trip to Lush’s London flagship reminded me of exactly that. The Oxford Street store pulls back the curtain to reveal the brand’s mission and unveils its story through an immersive sensorial experience.

Lush’s co-founder, Rowena Bird, stands behind the products stating, “[The products are] fresh, handmade, ethical, transparent and honest. That's what we are, that's who we are, that's the only way we know how to be." And the store concept caries out that notion – it’s “a beauty mart with a green grocers’ soul.” This notion truly comes to life in every detail, around every corner of its three-story, 9500-square-foot retail journey. Customers are connected through sight, smell, sound, touch and even taste, to the raw nature of this environmentally and socially responsible brand.

From the moment you step into Lush, off bustling, pedestrian-filled Oxford Street, where toxins emit from cars, double-decker busses, and who knows what else, your senses are immediately engaged in a pleasant and transformative way. Welcomed by the friendly faces of their affectionately referred to as “happy people” (rather than sales associates) behind a large bubbling hand bath, you’re invited over to wash off the soot from the street and refresh yourself before exploring the store. And after traveling through the tube, I have to admit this might have been the best greeting I had received all day!

Photography: Rebekah L. Matheny, Columbus, Ohio

From behind her cleansing basin, where sea salt, mint, sunshine and ocean waves waft toward me, the friendly consultant not only describes the soothing 100-percent vegetarian ingredients that compose the hand soap I was touching, but went on to tell me how the other product I was smelling wasn’t tested on animals and was part of their “charity pot” program, which donates proceeds to local charities. I was sold on the company and the products immediately, and could proudly consider myself a brand ambassador.

Photography: Rebekah L. Matheny, Columbus, Ohio

How did that happen so quickly, you might ask? Well, let me tell you. I smelled the freshness of the ingredients from the moment I walked through the door and experienced them hands-on. Through my interactions with the participatory staff and their transparent branding techniques, I understood the mission of the company and how much they care about people and the planet. Rather than being hidden behind layers on their website, it was exposed to me in-store in multiple ways: hand-written on their walls, on product packaging and through personal conversations with their staff.

Photography: Rebekah L. Matheny, Columbus, Ohio

I not only smelled and touched the end product of the brand’s message, but also saw some of the raw ingredients first-hand: live plants fill the space to illustrate the actual ingredients going into their products; the plants also do double duty, working to purify the smoggy air coming in from the city streets. Correlating with the company’s “all-natural” philosophy, every interior finish that was used to create the store environment – from floor to fixture – was either existing or has been reclaimed or recycled. The store also incorporates its environmentally conscious stance in its gift-wrap selection: Who needs to waste paper wrapping when you could purchase a vintage knot wrap as an eco-friendly option?

Photography: Rebekah L. Matheny, Columbus, Ohio

In a fun and playful tone, a sign inscribed with “Calm Down” invites customers to descend into the store’s downstairs spa area for a facial or massage, bringing the company’s focus on personal health and wellbeing to their customers. A fresh-sliced mango alongside a trial face mask not only tells you what it’s made of, but you can imagine what it would taste like while you feel the product working. A tailor-made soundtrack for a “good day” plays from the speakers; its sound permeates your ears, making you feel happy. (Conveniently, the store also provides the tracks on limited-edition vinyl, so you can bring the feeling home with you.)

Photography: Rebekah L. Matheny, Columbus, Ohio

Taking their socially responsible story to the street, Lush marked the opening of their store by inviting three of Britain’s animal welfare groups to join them in their campaign for animal rights and hit the streets dressed in animal masks, wielding banners and demanding voters to act for animal rights.

At IRDC a few weeks ago, Christian Davies of Fitch passionately demonstrated the power and potential of “Generous Brands 2.0” with his closing keynote presentation. To echo him, this is one generous brand that isn’t afraid to go beyond words and clever marketing materials, and step outside their storefront to put their beliefs into action. And this particular action wasn’t just a one-time marketing campaign reserved for opening day: On the top floor of the store, a community space is designed to host speakers “who fight for the things we believe our customers hold dear,” as the company describes, which charitable groups are invited to take advantage of.

Throughout the entire store experience, this flagship brings the brand’s story to life through engaging the customer through all of their senses. The store experience isn’t only about selling product, but it’s about fostering an education and creating connections between the consumer, the environment, the community and the company’s products so that the brand mission is carried on. And in Lush’s case, nothing is hidden: Everything is exposed, raw and honest.

Rebekah L. Matheny is the assistant professor of interior design at The Ohio State University (Columbus, Ohio), where she teaches courses in interior finish materials, lighting design and design studios that integrate a retail brand strategy process. Matheny’s research investigates the sensory perception of interior finish materials and their application in retail design to create an emotional connection between the customer and the brand. Follow Rebekah and her journey with materials at interiormaterialsmatter.com and on Instagram @rebekahmathenydesign. Read her latest academic publication “Reclaimed wood in retail environments: creating an emotional connection for product longevity” at http://www.ntu.ac.uk/plate_conference/PLATE_2015_proceedings.pdf.