Choosing a favourite part of my Lush experience would be like trying to decide which of your children you prefer. However, while every moment of my excursion in Poole was incredible, it was my time spent in the Lush Kitchen that stole the award for the most memorable segment - not only for what I was able to experience while visiting, but because of the surplus knowledge and insight that I gained through being there.
It's hard to believe that the Lush Kitchen has only been in our lives a little over two years; many of us would find it difficult to remember a time before our banks were dictated by the weekly menus we cling to. Yet, during the time the kitchen has been fully-functional, it has come on in leaps and bounds - producing batches that are double and triple the size they were in the initial months, and bringing back more products than the retro section was ever able to achieve.
In fact, the Lush Kitchen has slowly but surely become the prevalent part of the Lush community, and the team behind the scenes have worked incredibly hard to cement itself as the strong forerunner for the company. You only have to compare the number of active followers on the UK kitchen's page to know that there is a far greater interest in this department than the official UK Lush page itself! It has become the familiar window by which most Lush fans have the privilege of peering through, and has only served to both introduce more people to the brand, and rekindle that friendship between themselves and the customers who were perhaps branching away from the company after many years of loyalty.
It is that very familiarity that made the whole scene seem rather surreal when I first stepped foot into the Lush Kitchen that blustery morning. As I stated in my recount of the factory tour, the kitchen is an extension of the bubbles factory, yet it seems like a completely different environment when you make your way into the thick of it.
For those visiting the Kitchen, there are two entrances - a door that takes you directly into the kitchen from the outside, and then a second entrance you use if you've been though the factory. Either way, the second you step into the room, it feels very much like you've been transported into a completely different world - a world existing inside the warm embrace of a much-loved scarf. You really get the feeling that nothing else exists outside of the kitchen, and I can honestly say that I would happily live out my days confined within these four walls.
Now I know that you're probably thinking that I'm being a little overly dramatic because of my excitement that day. However, while it may be difficult for outsiders to understand, the Kitchen has such a warming, zen-like atmosphere - it's so calming and peaceful, and each and every employee I met that day seemed genuinely happy to work there. While the factory workers appeared contented with their job, there was something extra special about the kitchen - something that I think had to do with the wonderful relationships between the members of staff, who all seemed to get along like a house on fire.
Upon walking in, I was greeted by Colette, who is the kitchen's digital manager, and Aaron, kitchen manager. It was these two wonderful people who told me all about the processes and production that go on 'behind the scenes', and just how the Lush Kitchen works on a day to day basis. I came away with my head reeling with knowledge, and with a new-found respect for both how the Kitchen works and just how much effort the team go to, to bring out the products consumers most want.
While I was privy to information that I've been asked not to repeat, and so much information that I could easily write a whole novel about, I will divulge in a few tidbits of information that I think you might find fairly interesting....
1. In both the Kitchen itself, and outside the main entrance, there are screens that are linked to Instagram, that keep the whole team updated with conversations and topics related to the kitchen releases. Colette explained that these are constantly updating to allow the team to get instant feedback on the products themselves when they're being released, and any issues that customers may be having in regards to buying from the Kitchen. Having these screens up ensure that staff members are able to respond to customer queries as quickly as possible. On the flip side, sometimes this tool is simply used as a way of the Kitchen team reading about the positive experiences people are having with their goodies, and storing suggestions for future releases.
2. They really do listen to customer suggestions. Back when the Kitchen first started, the team would design product rotas that often stretched forward ahead of time for months, so the menus would be planned out with no room for change. However, Mark wanted the menus to be focussed heavily on customer demand, so they are no longer planned out that far ahead, and the majority of the releases that we see on a weekly basis are constructed from customer requests. I know this is one of the biggest complaints that people have in regards to the kitchen menus - unhappy that the team don't appear to listen to the requests that are being made regularly. However, seeing and discussing the effort that these wonderful staff go to to ensure that the menus do reflect customer request lists, has given me a new found appreciation of the Kitchen team. Believe me when I say that they are listening, and they're listening very very well...
3. The Kitchen are unable to make brand new products from existing fragrances. Right from the start, the Kitchen has always been about bringing back items from the deepest, darkest vaults of the company. The idea behind this branch of Lush was to celebrate their past endeavours and re-release them back so that new fans had an opportunity to experience them for themselves. The Kitchen are not in any position to design or create brand new products that have never been released before, unless it's a rare occasion when a member of the Constantine family design a new product and then bring it to the Kitchen themselves. Therefore, that Mumkin Shower Gel you've been craving, is just not feasible.
4. Another complaint that the Kitchen gets quite frequently, and I have to say that I'm just as much of a culprit as the next person, is that they seem to be re-releasing the same products week in, week out - seldomly offering consumers something completely different it seems. Aside from knowing that these repeats are mostly down to consumer demand, the reason why we are not seeing so many new items from the vault, is that each and every product has to be vigorously tried and tested - going through many stages before it's deemed good enough to release. Old recipes will often seek ingredients that are no longer available; old formulas quite often just don't work anymore, and often this process can take a long time to get 'right'. While I wont go into detail about the inner workings of the Kitchen, just know that they are constantly working on bringing back new items, and when a product does make an appearance, know that a great deal of work has gone into making it possible.
I had an opportunity at this point to marvel over the sights for a few minutes - watching the team at work packing up the latest batch of Twilight Shower Gel to be shipped out. Head compounder Peter was working alongside Matt to shape and complete a fresh tray of Mrs Whippy Bath Bombs, and Mariusz was positioned in the corner cutting and moulding my favourite - fresh slices of Mumkin Bubble Bar.
After chilling in the Kitchen for a short while, Aaron asked if I was able to guess the mystery product that I was going to be making that day. Before my trip, I had been asked to compile a short list of products beforehand for the team to choose from, and I opted for a few beauties that I had not seen in a long while. Presented with the fresh ingredients: cut, measured and ready to go, I was equally shocked and perplexed to find that I wasn't able to name the product like I was expecting to. My mind had failed me at the most inopportune moment, and Colette had to prompt me into guessing More Than Mortal. Such an amateur!
Once everything had been set up, it was time to get myself stuck into the task of making my debut Lush Kitchen product, and then progress onto doing my first ever live Periscope interview. Whatever excitement I had been feeling up until that moment was about to be elevated to new heights - I was about to indulge in an afternoon that most Lush fans could only dream about, and I wasn't about to let anything prevent me from absorbing as much from the experience as possible. So how did I did fare in both of these tasks? And is there any chance that I might be invited back? You'll have to find out in my up and coming final instalment...