Store cares for the body, the world


Not many business people would view Hoka-Hai as something they would want to name a new business.

Loosely translated from the American Indian, it means "today is a good day to die."

But for Scott Samios and Skip Maner, Hoka-Hai expresses the devil-may-care attitude they have toward running a business. So they named their company Hoka-Hai Trading Co. and set out to purchase a franchise from one of the fastest growing retail companies in the world.

Now, as owners of the Body Shop in White Marsh, Samios and Maner, both 24, are peddling skin- and hair-care products with the gusto of free-falling sky divers. Today , after only eight weeks of operating their first store, they are set to open their second Body Shop, in the Pratt Street Pavilion at Harborplace. Growth, however, has not come simply because of eagerness. Samios' father, Nicholas Samios, owns a chain of Jiffy Lube stores and provided most of the financial backing the young partners needed.

The former roommates at the University of Richmond had an early penchant for business, alternating between running a chimney-sweep company to selling submarine sandwiches out of their dorm room.

"We're willing to risk everything to achieve everything we believe in," says Maner.

That's the infectious, rah-rah approach that appears to be central to the Body Shop way of doing business.

Started as a single storefront in East Sussex, England, in 1976, the Body Shop today includes more than 580 stores in 38 countries. There are 44 stores in America, most of them started as company-run stores and then sold to franchisees.

The company doubled its annual sales last year, reaching $143 million, with $25 million in pre-tax profits. Business Week recently put Body Shop at the top of its list of retailers in the United States showing sales growth during last year's recession-tainted Christmas season.

At White Marsh, the Body Shop has been open since last September, but Samios and Maner took over only eight weeks ago and the store's profitability subsequently has increased by 30 percent.

Founder Anita Roddick, legendary in the United Kingdom and one of its wealthiest women, brought a philosophy to the business previously unheard of in retail. Combining environmental and political concerns, Roddick has made hers a company that sells naturally based cosmetics, eschews animal testing and embraces such groups as Greenpeace and Amnesty International.

The company backs its political agenda with time and profits. Employees are required to do charity work on company time and many of the products and ingredients are purchased and developed in non-industrialized countries.

All Body Shop windows display Amnesty International posters, and petition drives and campaigns to free political prisoners are common.

Scott Samios discovered the Body Shop on a trip to England in 1989.

"There were people out front taking signatures on a petition," said Samios. "And I looked and said, 'What is this? Is this a business?' "

The more answers he got, the more excited he became. What he found is that the Body Shop is about a lot more than politics.

In the White Marsh store, there are perfume oils in Jasmin, Dewberry, Tea Rose and Lavender; suntan oil made of carrot extract; rose water lotion and peppermint foot lotion.

The perfume oils are measured and poured by hand. Most of the other items -- rows and rows of lotions, shampoos and conditioners -- come in plastic bottles with plain green or blue labels. Most bottled products range in size from 2 to 20 ounces, with prices up to $25.

The Body Shop does no advertising, a decision rooted in the company's goal of bringing some of the most exotic of products to consumers at a reasonable price.

Tom Decker, senior vice president of the Hartford, Conn.-based Tucker Anthony brokerage, says that by saving money on advertising, the Body Shop can pass to the consumer about 42 cents of product for every dollar's worth sold, compared with most other cosmetics firms, which deliver about 17 cents to 25 cents.

Samios and Maner say they pursued the business because of its obvious integrity.

They can make money and be devoted to causes they believe in at the same time.

"It's the idea that we are working for ourselves and also working for Baltimore and hopefully the world," said Maner.

Still, Samios and Maner said they are mindful that they could not have done any of this on their own -- at least not at age 24.

Said Maner, "I'm really waiting for someone to hit me over the head with a two-by-four and tell me it isn't real."

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