By  on May 13, 1994

CHICAGO -- Midwest customers are pampering themselves with feel-good bath and body products and showing increasing responsibility toward the sun.

The bath, body and sun category is showing double-digit year-to-date increases in Midwest stores. Bath and body appears to be driving the business, with retailers reporting brisk sales in luxury bath products from a range of vendors.

In the sun area, self-tanners are maintaining the strong growth of last year, with new products like sprays and Estee Lauder's revamped sun line meeting with a good response. Stores say women are increasingly recognizing the importance of sun protection as a part of their overall beauty regimen.

At Dayton's, Hudson's and Marshall Field's, based in Minneapolis, bath and body sales are ahead by a double-digit percentage and sun products are also doing well, said Allen Burke, divisional merchandise manager.

The hottest performer in the sun category is Lauder's relaunched sun line. According to Burke, Lauder's self-tanner is the top-selling stockkeeping unit of the company's entire sun range.

"[The sun category] has gradually taken a big bite out of the market of the mass market and drugstores by providing better products. Women are heeding the publicity about sun protection and tend to see the category as an extension of their skin care routine," Burke said.

He noted that the industry sees sun as a hot category and other lines besides Lauder were also being very aggressive and innovative.

While self-tanners are the strongest business, protection is doing well but had some "catching-up to do," Burke said.

In the bath and body category, DH and Field's is putting most of its energy into H2O Plus. The line was tested in a couple of stores over holiday season and will be rolled out to most other units in the chain by the end of this season.

"We are opening in additional stores on a daily basis," Burke said.

Other hot lines in the category include Pact bath oils, a line of decorative bath oils packaged with dried flowers inside the bottles, and VitaSpa, Burke said.

Bath, body and sun is ahead by a high single-digit percentage at Jacobson's, based in Jackson, Mich., according to Irene Price, buyer. Body products are driving the category with sales increases in the low double digits.The category is not doing as well as treatment but is trending above color sales, she said, and she predicts it to continue in the high-single digits for the rest of the season.

The store has done especially well with Christian Dior's Svelte cellulite control cream, Price said, helped by a strong national advertising campaign. She noted that prelaunch sales were strong and the product is getting a lot of repeat business.

Jacobson's has also been gearing up for the beginning of its sun season, which runs from early May through mid-September, Price said.

The stores are planning big displays with self-service units in the cosmetics department and outposts in the swimwear and activewear areas, as well as extensive sampling and mailers to customers to promote a gift-with-purchase promotion.

Self-tanners continue to drive the sun business, Price said. "A lot of customers want to maintain a tan without getting into the sun. They are very sensitive to that issue," she said.

Jacobson's is also emphasizing self-action sprays and creams for the face, Price said. Top-selling sun lines at the store include Clarins, Estee Lauder, Clinique, Chanel and Erno Laszlo, she said. Although Jacobson's doesn't yet have Lauder's new sun line, Price said she expects great things from it.

"Consumer response to new sun lines has been excellent in the past," she said.

She noted that department stores and drugstores attract a different customer. "Women and men interested in good skin care and facial care will definitely buy in department stores because there are superior products and the efficacy of the products has proven itself," she said.

At Halls Merchandising Inc., Kansas City, Mo., bath, body and sun business is about 25 percent ahead of last year, said Cheryl Holland, vice president and merchandise manager. She expects to maintain double-digit increases for the rest of the season.

Bath and body is driving the business, Holland said, since the sun category doesn't usually take off until May and June.

She said Halls has put more emphasis on the bath category, which was underdeveloped before, and has benefited from a new desire on the part of the customer to treat herself.Halls is doing well with Molton Brown, an English line recently launched; Donna Karan; Elizabeth Arden's Spa collection; Chanel, and a line of exfoliating sponges called Body Kiss. Also popular is a new division of Botanicals called Rituals, with powder, soaps, lotions and oils, as well as Vitabath and Body Matters, a Canadian line of rich bath oil, lotions and creams.

Holland noted that the sun business, which so far has mainly been vacation sales, is about evenly divided between protection and self-tanners. Newness in the category is coming from sprays, which are getting a good response from customers, she said.

Leading sun sales at Halls are Clarins, Chanel, Lancome and Arden. The store is launching a new sun defense product by Erno Laszlo shortly and also expects to do well with LancÖme's automatic bronze rapid spray. "You spray it on, and in 20 minutes you are ready to go," Holland said.

Other new sun products she expects to do well include Prescriptives' oil-free sun mist and Chanel's new bronzer, called Soleil Chanel, which comes in a cream and a lotion.

At Milwaukee-based Carson, Pirie, Scott, bath, body and sun is ahead by a double-digit percentage, according to Nancy Schmidt, divisional merchandise manager. Growth is coming mainly from the bath area: Carson's created its own shop, called Body Complex, within the cosmetics department to house bath accessories, such as loofahs and pumice stones, as well as lotions and oils, she said.

"Women and men are taking time out for themselves. They are feel-good products," Schmidt said.

Strongest sellers in bath and body are the private label Body Complex line, VitaSpa and VitaNaturals, according to Rosemary Escanilla, Carsons' bath and body buyer. VitaSpa targets a baby-boomer type customer, while VitaNaturals, with its fruity flavors, does well with younger customers.

In the sun area, both self-tanners and protection are doing well, Schmidt said. She added she expects good things from Estee Lauder's upgraded sun line.

Carson's doesn't feel threatened by competition from drugstores for sun products, Schmidt said, because, "A lot of women prefer to go to the treatment counter because they can get advice."

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