This year, as you weigh up whether to buy your sister that cosmetic gift set or the giant box of chocolates, spare a thought for the people who decided what goes inside, made the products, packaged them up, and put the shiny ribbon on top.
The items we hastily buy on Christmas Eve are the result of months of discussion, planning and hard work – no surprise, given how significant the festive period is for industries like cosmetics, clothing, electrical goods, confectionery, and even gift wrap and sticky tape.
U.K.-founded cosmetics company, Lush, has its North American head office in Vancouver, and all manufacturing for the West Coast of the continent is done here.
How important is Christmas for the company? “It is an incredibly valuable sales period here at Lush,” says Director of Brand Communications Brandi Halls. “While we anticipate holiday sales to account for over 30 per cent of our total annual sales, the true value is in the new customers walking through our doors for the first time.”
So how does a global business go about preparing for the most wonderful time of the year? “Product development for our holiday range begins a full year in advance. Our staff head out into the global market to experience Christmas here, there and everywhere and bring that inspiration back to our product inventors in the U.K.,” explains Halls.
Here’s a behind-the-scenes video of Lush’s manufacturing facility in Vancouver:
In April, sales forecasting begins – essential preparation for the buying team who need to accurately predict how many tonnes and gallons of raw ingredients they need to buy, and in May and June, purchasing begins.
“In preparation for the holiday season, we bring in 42 tonnes of cocoa butter and 11,520 kg of local honey (sourced from B.C. and Alberta) to our Vancouver factory,” says Lush Buying Manager Heather Deeth. Then, there’s the small matter of 1,200 kg of vodka, which Deeth assures us is for products like Ocean Salt Cleanser and Skin Shangri-La, not staff consumption.
In May, just as spring is springing here in Vancouver, the company is wrapping up holiday gift designs. This year’s star item? Christmas Wishes, a set of bath bombs in a spinning musical tin.
Come September, production begins to ramp up. One thousand additional manufacturing staff are taken on across Vancouver and Toronto to fulfil customer demand for handmade scrubs, masks and the famous bath bombs, 4.5 million of which are expected to be sold over the Christmas period.
From November to the first week of December, manufacturing was running 24 hours a day, five days a week. The team there is doing everything from making the products, to packing and gift wrapping.
“We wrap 340,000 gifts in November and December and the number of staff in the wrapping team goes from 30 to 185,” says production manager Kelly Davidson, who oversees the gift-wrapping department. Staff are expected to handle between 80 and 100 gifts an hour. These are then shipped out to stores and to fulfil online and phone orders.
Davidson says it’s a challenging time of year – particularly as she’s also attending school to gain qualifications in HR – but rewarding nonetheless.
“For example, when recruiting staff, we partner with employment service groups to give job opportunities to those including immigrants and youth with no previous work experience,” she says. “It creates a colourful and diverse team which is a lot of fun!” she says. And what are her Christmas plans – will she be feeling bah-humbug after more than a month of frantic production? “We’re ahead of the game this year so I’m feeling pretty relaxed. I’ll sleep and go back to normal. I might even put a tree up!”