By  on February 18, 1994

NEW YORK -- The mass fragrance market has been lackluster for a year, but perfumery is paying dividends in a different format: Scented bath and body products.

Retailers report that bath items imbued with fragrances, especially fruity scents, are sparking impulse purchases and generating sales gains. The overall bestseller: peach.

"Fruity scents make it more fun to bathe, since they are less serious than traditional scents," said industry fragrance consultant Ann Gottlieb. "Fruitier scents give more of an initial, bright burst than some of the others. That is what people want in bath products."

Mass merchants have had growing expectations for bath and body products for the last several years, and WWD surveyed a group of drugstores to see what strategies are being mapped to give the category more weight.

While many retailers worry that the bath market has become overextended with a proliferation of lines and stockkeeping units, Eckerd Drug Co., based in Largo, Fla., is one chain that continues to register double-digit gains.

Most mass market chains merely squeezed bath sku's into nooks and crannies in the store, but Eckerd went to the expense of redesigning its beauty department.

The bath and body department was moved from near the center of the store to shelves directly opposite cosmetics. To make space, Eckerd relocated the greeting card department.

"We've given it great real estate in a prominent spot," said Carol Allman, group director of the drugstore chain.

F&M Distributors, based in Warren, Mich., is attempting to beat its competition by stocking an unusually wide assortment of mass market merchandise -- from color cosmetics to bath and body products.

Atlanta's Big B is banking on convenience by prominently featuring bath departments at the front of its stores. Cosmetic Center of Savage, Md., is counting on its fancy, black Formica fragrance and cosmetics bars to draw customers to its bath and body assortments.

The newly renovated Cosmetic Center in Fairfax, Va., features the revamped bar, which stocks 8,000 products and runs the 60-foot length of the store. It also features gold trim and is smack in the middle of the selling space.The cosmetics bar prototype also carries a more visible bath and body products area. It is now in eight stores and getting kudos from analysts.

France's L'Herbier, which stocks a wide variety of all-natural bath and body items, is bent on expanding into the U.S. with more freestanding units.

Meanwhile, Village Pharmacy of Dallas is doing a brisk business with a wide variety of prestige cosmetics brands and unusual beauty lines from Europe.

"We're seeing the most growth in the treatment, bath and nail categories," said beauty buyer Wilhelmina Von Heflick. "People want to take good care of themselves. And they're making the bath like a spa, which is therapeutic, with stress levels running so high."

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