By  on February 18, 1994

LARGO, Fla. -- At a time when many mass marketers are wondering if they have expanded too far and too fast into the bath and body business, the Eckerd Drug Company is enjoying high-double-digit sales growth.

"They are one of the best in the business when it comes to bath because they understand the customer and the category," said Mark Kaplan, president of Sarah Michaels, a division of LaLoren Inc. in Stoughton, Mass. "They are a step ahead."

Eckerd, based here, made a major commitment to the bath and body department two years ago. While most mass market chains merely squeezed bath stockkeeping units into nooks and crannies in the store, Eckerd actually went through the effort and expense of redesigning its beauty department.

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

Rather than create a huge boutique like other chains have done, Eckerd decided to keep the department on the aisle.

"They didn't get crazy with it. What they understood is that while many went in to 20 feet, Eckerd knew it was still a niche business that they could still do very well with, without trying to make it something it isn't," said Kaplan. At this point, 95 percent of the chain's 1,710 units have been reset to feature bath and body in the new location.

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

Allman said Eckerd has been willing to place the department in a high-visibility location because of its growth potential and mass appeal.

Industry sources agreed that Eckerd's efforts have paid off handsomely.

While the industry average for bath sales represents less than 1 percent of average drugstore beauty sales, sources estimate Eckerd has been able to push its share of overall store bath sales up closer to 2 percent of beauty volume.

On the average, Eckerd had beauty sales last year of about $150,000 per store.

In most stores, an end-aisle display with the chain's number one selling line, Sarah Michaels, opens up the bath and body department. That leads to an assortment including P. Leiner's Bodycology, Sinclair and Valentine's Aromatherapaes, Neutrogena's Rainbath, Caswell-Massey II and a private label under the Paul Milan logo.

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