DALLAS -- Body and bath products are eclipsing the sun care category in the Southwest, but only by a shadow.
Sales of body and bath items are trending ahead by 10 to 30 percent compared with spring last year, according to area retailers.
Environmentally conscious items are luring the eyes of consumers, retailers said, whether botanically based in formulation or packaged in recycled materials.
Fruit and floral-scented bath and body products are bestsellers, the merchants said, with items such as glycerin soaps, shower gels, bath oils, body lotions and splashes most popular.
The stores also noted that men are gravitating toward bath and body counters in increasing numbers, favoring fruity shower gels and body scrubs.
The sunny and warm climate here has translated to a strong market for the sun care category as well. Sun sales are ahead in the 10 to 15 percent range against last year's figures.
For their place in the sun, consumers are snapping up everything from shampoos and conditioners for pre- and post-sun care to makeup with SPF, said retailers. Sun protection products are shining along with the hot-selling self-tanners.
At J.C. Penney Co., the bath and body business is up 30 percent over last spring, according to Barbara Kille, buyer for sun care, bath and body.
"The bath and body shops that we have in over 500 stores are pushing the business," explained Kille. "The two categories really go together, and customers are responding to our concept."
She noted that key vendors in the shops are Ben Rickert, Vitabath, Caswell-Massey, Smith and Vandiver and J.C. Penney Signature, the chain's private label collection.
On Earth Day, April 22, Penney's launched Earth Preserv, a natural line of bath and body products, in over 600 stores.
Themed after the four seasons and packaged in recyclable aluminum, Earth Preserv includes products such as shampoo, hair vitalizer, body cleansers, lotions, soap, bath salts and sunscreens.
This fall, Penney's will launch Vitabath's Natural Florals collection.
The chain featured bath and body items in newspaper advertising that ran the week of May 1 and targeted 40 million households."People are more drawn to their homes than in times past," said Kille. "To relax, they're creating a home spa experience in the bath -- from adding foaming bubbles to floating tub toys like rubber ducks."
She said the Le Claire and Bayot collections of bathtub toys as well as sponges, loofahs, back brushes and back pillows from various vendors also are attracting customers.
Penney's sun care business is ahead at least 10 percent, according to Kille.
"Sun protection is a growing trend," she said. "The aging process and the medical implications of exposure to the sun are causing people to become more cognizant about protection.
"This is evidenced also by all the color lines adding sun protection properties to makeup," she noted.
Best-selling sun care lines include Neutrogena and J.C. Penney Signature, Kille said.
At Neiman Marcus, based here, the body, bath and sun care businesses are each up by at least 10 percent, according to John Stabenau, vice president and divisional merchandise manager.
"Because of the spring and approaching summer, sun care is really hot right now," said Stabenau. "Sun protection is a high priority with customers, and they're seeking higher degrees of protection."
Among the hottest-selling sun lines at Neiman's are Clarins, EstÄe Lauder, Lancaster and Clinique, Stabenau said.
He noted that the bath business continues to make a splash, as well, listing VitaSpa and Neiman Marcus Private Label as bestsellers.
In body care, he cited the Donna Karan, Escada and Annick Goutal lines as top-moving prestige brands.
Judi Siff, divisional merchandise manager for cosmetics at SRI Inc., a Houston-based company that includes Fashion Bar, Palais Royal and Beall's among its stores, said her body and bath business is booming, with sales 15 percent higher than last year.
"Body and bath goods merchandise well," said Siff. "Customers like them because they're fun and festive and inexpensive for self-treats or gift-giving. Two and three-piece sets are very popular."
Best-selling body and bath vendors are Elizabeth Arden Spa, Vitabath and SRI's private-label lines.At the Village Pharmacy here, an upscale drugstore, cosmetics manager Wilhelmina Von Heflick said bath is out-distancing body and sun, with sales ahead 15 percent.
"Bath products are selling like crazy," said Von Heflick, citing Elizabeth Arden's Spa line, Kristal, Kneipp, Perlier, Vitabath, Yardley, 4711 and San Francisco Soap Co. as bestsellers.
"Fruit fragrances are very big right now for the bath," she noted. "All the vendors are going for it."
A consumer interest in fragrance layering is spurring body care sales, according to Von Heflick.
"Women are increasingly buying body lotions or creams as a base for their fragrances," she explained, citing body potions from Norell, Krizia and Cavatine.
She also cited Elizabeth Arden's Immunage hand, body and face lotion and body care goods from Perlier as bestsellers.
"Sun protection is a prime concern of customers -- they don't want skin cancer or wrinkles," said Von Heflick. "They're still going away to the islands or lounging by the pool, though, and they're buying products that protect.'
Best-selling sun care products are from Arden, Almay and Rene Furterer, a hair care line with in-sun and after-sun items.
"Surprisingly, a sleeper bestseller for sun care is aloe vera gel," said Von Heflick. "Customers rub it on after sunning to heal and moisturize the skin."
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