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Scents and sensibility at Lush Cosmetics

People may know Lush as the store that leaves people with powdery moustaches from sniffing one too many bath bombs. Or perhaps you recognise it as the source of the scent that wafts into your nostrils when you’re 100 metres down the street. Elly Strang talked to Lush Queen St manager Amber McCoy about the secret to the company’s success, scents, and cult-like following.

By Elly Strang | March 26, 2015 | News

Lush's Queen St store

If you’re unfamiliar with the name, Lush is a UK-owned cosmetic store that stocks everything from bath bombs to shower gels, shampoos, lip balms and toothpaste tablets.

Lush prides itself on being an ethical, animal cruelty-free company. It has been that way since Mark and Mo Constantine founded Lush in 1994.

It has over 850 stores worldwide and nine stores nationwide, including one on Queen St.

It also has a strong social media following. The Lush New Zealand Facebook page has over 16,000 likes, and its Lush Australia and New Zealand Instagram account has over 62,000 followers.

A quick search of the #Lush hashtag on Instagram reveals over 3 million soap-related posts.

McCoy cutting Lush's soap. Some full size wheels can weigh up to 15kg

Behind its huge following, Lush has an in store experience which quite literally sticks with those who enter the premises.

“Any time you get into a train or elevator you can feel people sniffing and thinking, ‘Oh, there must be someone from Lush in here,’” says McCoy. “Standing in line at the bank, too, everyone’s like ‘Are you from Lush?’ The smell permeates.”

If you’re drawn in off the street by the delectable smells, don’t expect the source of the scent to be narrowed down to just one product.

“People come in all the time and say ‘What’s that wonderful smell, can I buy that?’ I’m like ‘Sure, let me wrap the whole shop for you,’” McCoy says.

She says the company ‘romances the olfactory nerve’ in customers’ noses with its perfumed products.

“When you smell something, you get a memory triggered in your mind, and we work a lot with that. People can come in after 10 years and they’re transported back to the first time they came in with their boyfriend,” she says.

The secret to Lush shops’ powerful scent is it’s actually an environmental choice.

The company keeps soaps and bath bombs “naked” to use as little plastic and packaging as possible.

McCoy says the smell is a mixture of everything that’s unpackaged.

The majority of products are handmade in Lush’s factory in Australia, except for the facemasks, which are made near Auckland in Silverdale.

If the products smell good enough to eat, that’s because they almost are.

Ingredients used in products include fresh fruit and vegetables, honey and beeswax.

The shop’s fit out also plays into this idea.

Blackboard-like signage featured around the store testifies to the days when Lush was starting out and used the cost-friendly solution of blackboards and chalk to make signs.

Now, the strategy gives the shop a marketplace feel.

Colourful bath bombs of all shapes and sizes are spread out in bowls on a table, resembling fruit baskets at a marketplace.

Tubs of facemask product are chilled on ice in large metal bowls with fruit toppings. The soap display looks like a cheese deli, with stacks of smaller square bars and big wheels.

Actually eating the products is discouraged, but that doesn’t dissuade people from trying.

McCoy says staff have found crackers next to face masks, which someone has tried to dunk in and eat, as well as bite marks in soap bars. 

She says Lush’s customer service is why the shop is a fan favourite.

“I think the expectations of our staff are a lot higher than at many places, so staff are really highly trained,” McCoy says.

New staff undergo an eight-hour induction training process, which includes a history of the company, ingredient information, demonstrations and how to use products.

Every month there’s a three-hour training session for staff, and twice a year a training session with a staff trainer from Australia.

McCoy also attends managers meetings in Australia three times a year.

Unlike some shops, where workers barely crack a smile while saying from afar, “You happy just browsing?”  the enthusiasm of Lush staff is infectious.

They bound over, get in a customer’s personal space bubble and talk to them about who they are, what they’re after and offer to try products on their skin.

“We don’t look at our customers like money that’s walking in the door, we look at them as humans that are getting the opportunity to try a beautiful product,” she says.

“When I’m training new staff, I say, ‘If someone walked into your living room, would you just let them walk around and peruse your things or would you start a conversation with them?’”

“Customers have cried and customers have hugged me. It’s wonderful experience talk to people, massage a product onto them and make them feel good.”

They also don’t market products as gender specific.

Although there are products specifically for men, like moustache wax, McCoy says staff don’t just steer men in the direction of all the blue or citrus-smelling products.

“A really big message that Lush promotes is there’s no reason to think a man won’t want something pink,” she says.

“Our most popular product at Christmas is Snow Fairy, a hot pink, glittery shower gel that smells like bubble gum. It’s so many mens’ favourite product.”

As for competition from the shopping online phenomenon, McCoy says the sensory experience makes the trip to the store worth it.

“Imagine looking at a golden egg bath bomb, versus picking it up and getting glitter all over you for the rest of the day,” she says.

“It’s a real hands on experience.”

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