By  on June 17, 1994

IRVING, Tex. -- Within six weeks of arriving at 630 J.C. Penney stores, Earth Preserv had become the third biggest bath line at the chain -- achieving that rank about six months ahead of plan.

"The response has been phenomenal," said Ann Gravseth, merchandise manager of cosmetics and accessories at Penney's. "We're on course to do $10 million [in first-year sales] if the pace continues."

Earth Preserv, which Penney's introduced on Earth Day, April 22, is now right behind Ben Rickert and Vitabath in sales, Gravseth said. Penney's has made bath a focal point, opening 500 bath and body shops in its cosmetics departments last year. Gravseth said the category's sales are running 30 percent ahead year-to-date.

Gravseth attributed the success of Earth Preserv, for which it has a one-year department store exclusive, to its ecology theme and its efficacy as well as to the company's innovative marketing techniques.

Earth Preserv, for example, will send purchasers membership cards that entitle them to special deals at hotels that use the line. Earth Preserv is donating 5 percent of retail sales to organizations working to protect the environment, and members receive a newsletter about how those funds are spent.

The best-selling item in the all-natural line has been the Explorer Kit, a cardboard box containing a 1-oz. bottle of each of five products: skin moisturizer, shampoo, hair vitalizer, body bath and bath crystals. The set retails for $13.

"In the first month, we were selling 1,200 to 2,000 kits a week, which was much faster than what we expected," said Keith Waldon, chief executive officer and general partner in Earth Preserv, a one-year-old company based in Irving, a suburb of Dallas.

"Based on what the sales associates were telling us, people who bought the Explorer Kit were coming back and buying full-size product," Waldon said.

Each of the products in the kit is available in an 8.8-oz. size for $9.50 and a 20-oz. size for $20. In addition, a 4-oz. sunscreen is $8, and glycerin or cream soaps sell for $11 for a package of three 4.5-oz. bars. A 24-ounce brick of the glycerin soap retails for $15.

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