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.The second best-selling item has been the 8.8-oz. moisturizer, followed by the shampoo.
Gravseth noted she was surprised at how well the shampoo was performing, since Penney's carries few hair care products. Another unexpectedly strong seller is the acrylic and chrome refillable dispenser for the liquid products, which sells for $39.50 and is designed to be permanently mounted in the corner of a shower.
"Both the buyer and I thought the dispensers were nice but a little pricey," Gravseth recalled. "But the sell-through has been over 10 percent a week. We think it will be a good item for Father's Day."
Waldon said the company is developing a hair gel and may add other personal care products, such as deodorant and toothpaste.
All Earth Preserv bath and body products are packaged in recyclable aluminum bottles, except the soaps, which are wrapped in aluminum foil.
Every product is offered in four fragrances that correspond to the seasons: a jasmine and rose floral for spring, citrus and nectar fruit scent for summer, clove and other spices for autumn and spearmint for winter. The spring and summer scents are doing best, as Waldon said he had expected.
A key selling tool for the line is a 76-page booklet printed by Earth Preserv on recycled paper. It's an alphabetically arranged guide to natural and synthetic ingredients frequently used in cosmetic products, describing where they come from and their effects on the body and the environment. The company printed 1 million copies and is handing them out at Penney's.
"You can walk in and take the booklet and walk out because we believe you'll come back and buy the product," Waldon asserted.
The book claims Earth Preserv's products are completely biodegradable and do not contain petroleum-based or synthetic ingredients, which it says can be harmful to the environment. It also points out that Earth Preserv's packaging is recyclable, while the plastic bottles commonly used for bath and body products are rarely recycled and pile up in landfills.
Business also has been boosted by a 30-minute infomercial that has aired about 40 times nationwide on various cable channels and network affiliates at a cost of about $500,000. The infomercial mentions Penney's four times as a place to buy the line."We are editing a version of it as a point-of-sale video and will use it in markets with a heavy Penney's presence -- basically the top 20 markets except Boston," Waldon noted.
Earth Preserv is testing in 15 Penney's stores a prototype freestanding display fixture that houses all its products. "We're paying for the test, and we're gambling that it will pay off and then we'll co-op it with Penney's," he added.
Earth Preserv is owned by Waldon and a number of limited partners, including Dallas hotel magnate Caroline Rose Hunt. A variation of Earth Preserv's shampoo, moisturizer and bath crystals will be offered beginning in July to guests in Hunt's Mansion on Turtle Creek luxury hotel here. It will be dispensed under the Mansion's own label in small, shatterproof lead crystal decanters in the rooms.
The products also will be sold in larger decanters in the gift shop.
Earth Preserv recently hired a sales director to peddle the line to other luxury hotels, Waldon noted. He also is selling it through an Earth Preserv catalog and is marketing it to environmentally themed catalogs, health food stores and hair salons.
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