The Interview: Lush head of retail Kasey Swithenbank on the expansion and elevation of its store estate
When Lush was founded in 1995, the brand’s mission was to create cosmetic products that were natural and effective. Almost 30 years on, the brand has over 850 stores worldwide and an orchestrated range of almost 400 products. It has recently appointed a Head of Retail, Kasey Swithenbank, who started her career as a Sales Associate in the Cardiff store before moving through the ranks to Supervisor and Shop Manager and then joining the UK and Ireland retail team in 2017. While studying, Swithenbank had planned to teach religious studies but in her final year of university, her friend gifted her Lush’s Pink Peppermint Foot Cream and she fell in love with the brand. She started her retail journey and the rest was history. As the brand returns to Covent Garden in London after 10 years away (its new store has just opened), TheIndustry.beauty spoke to Swithenbank about why bricks and mortar stores are important, how it is preparing for Christmas and how it will elevate consumers’ shopping experiences in 2024.
What are your responsibilities as Head of Retail?
I lead the team that recruits and develops Lush’s UK and Ireland Managers. I ensure our shop staff are set up for success with product and brand knowledge and that shop managers get the support they need to manage their businesses successfully. I also collaborate with teams to ensure the customer is at the heart of all our decision making. This involves spending time on shop floors with managers, teams and customers, strategising on retail initiatives, collaborating with our manufacturing teams on forecasting product sales, and scoping out new locations to add to our physical retail portfolio.
What makes Lush stand out from other skincare and bodycare brands on the market?
Our commitment not only to sustainable cosmetics but also to building a sustainable business. We take responsibility for our own waste and we have our own closed loop recycling system in Dorset, so we don't need to buy new packaging any more. We’re also evolving packaging-free versions of our favourite products. Last year, we celebrated 15 years of Charity Pot – a product which has helped raise £65 million for over 13,700 grassroots charities across the globe. When customers shop at Lush, they know they’re paying for the finest, ethically sourced ingredients. We pride ourselves on creating reasonably priced, joyful, high quality products and giving back to the communities we care about.
Why are bricks and mortar stores so important to Lush?
Roughly 70% of Lush’s sales come from our retail stores. We know customers love coming to our shops – they see Lush as a destination on the high street and in shopping centres, so we believe it’s our responsibility to show people a good time and make lasting memories for them. We place so much emphasis on our shops because they’re the perfect setting for creating hubs within each local community. For the past 15 years we’ve been selling a hand and body lotion called Charity Pot where all the funds (minus the VAT) go directly to small grass roots charities. We can’t replicate that community spirit online, our shop teams know their areas best and know what’s going to be most beneficial for their communities. Our enthusiastic shop teams are also best placed to communicate our core brand values to our customers.
How is the brand preparing for Christmas trade?
We’re recruiting for over 1,000 seasonal staff and last week our ballistics team broke the record for most bath bombs ever made in one day – 207,911! We’ve been running some lovely, interactive internal training to remind our shop and support teams about all the stories and people that make our products so wonderful – from the communities that grow our organic, Fair Trade ingredients while rewilding their surroundings, to the impact our charitable donations have on grassroots organisations across the globe.
How has Lush kept up with consumer demand during what has been a difficult few years for retail?
We learned to adapt quickly during the pandemic. We launched a Click & Collect service in all of our shops and constantly reviewed when it would be safe enough to reintroduce more services.
When shops reopened and we weren’t able to show hands-on product demos, we found new ways through tech advances such as Lush Lens. The feature is available in 30 countries and 20 different languages. During the last few years we experimented with new activations such as hosting our popular ‘Snow Fairy’ pop up tour. We also launched many B2B collaborations with brands we know our customers love including Barbie and SpongeBob and all of our shops regularly host events with and for their local communities.
How has Lush's approach to customer service changed over the past few years?
During the pandemic especially, we saw our shop teams and customers move away from a hands-on retail experience. However, we’ve definitely seen our experience revert back to what we’re known for – a hands on service where staff create meaningful connections with their customers. Having said that, we also know that more of our customers are interested in how technology plays a part in their experience, so we’ve increased capabilities across our portfolio to allow for ‘click and collect’ orders and customers can use ‘Lush Lens’ if they want to see the product in action before they buy. Our tech teams are working on the introduction of handheld, ‘roaming’ tills to allow for quicker transactions to take place anywhere in our shops.
What are some of the things brands should take into consideration when elevating consumers' shopping experiences?
I think brands across the retail industry have an opportunity to elevate customer experiences by ensuring the staff on their shop floors are knowledgeable about the products they’re selling because their shop displays are a true representation of their brand. This is what excites and delights consumers, so brands need to go above and beyond to make people’s day through genuine interactions.
Will innovation continue to be a part of the Lush customers' shopping experience? If so, then how?
Absolutely! It’s part of who we are as a brand. We are an employee-owned business so listening to our staff as well as our customers enables us to continually innovate. As an example, we’ve recently launched our co-create project which sees staff members from across the globe pitching and developing new products. This led to the launch of our new Día de Los Muertos range and I’m proud to say Angelica from our retail team played a huge part in developing some of those products! Over the last year, we've really shone a light on our values by bringing the Lush factory to our shop floors. Our shops regularly host product making workshops where our customers can create their own Lush product to take home. Reach out to your local Lush shop to find out when they’re hosting their next event!
What do you make of retail experiences as a whole? And what are your predictions for the future of retail?
If retailers want to stand the test of time, then they are going to have to start seeing their physical stores as memory makers for their customers. Think back to when you were a teenager going shopping for the first time, there was always that one store selling clothes or accessories that guaranteed your custom. There are times in our lives that are monumental and retail will always play a big part in those moments.
What’s next for Lush?
We have returned to Covent Garden after 10 years away. The store opened on 3 November and it promises to be a hub of excitement over the Christmas period. The magical Lush spa will be added to the store in the New Year and is set to open in spring 2024. We also have some really exciting new developments coming, including our new anchor shop and spa on Buchanan Street in Glasgow! – the store will be getting an exclusive new spa treatment with a Scottish theme, which everyone is very excited about. As well as expanding Lush Lens, we’ve been focusing on in-person experiences – a lot of which have coincided with our collaborations (our Asteroid City slushie pop-up and Barbie house) and we’re looking forward to two very festive pop-ups which are coming to London and Liverpool very soon!