NEW YORK -- While it is still only a niche in the department store beauty business, prestige retailers point to the budding bath and body category as one of their bright spots.
One key to the brisk gains, which are reaching 25 percent in some stores, is the effort made by manufacturers to create unusual, treatment-oriented fragrance extensions.
"Prestige manufacturers have found that the best way for them to compete with the bath and body world is to stick with what they do best," said John Turcotte, vice president and general manager of Elizabeth Arden Spa. "Instead of venturing into new businesses, they are expanding traditional fragrance boundaries."
"Consumers do like to buy different kinds of products -- like lotions -- along with the fragrance," said Jane Scott, vice president of Bloomingdale's. "And a lot of companies seem to be coming out with unique products. Donna Karan has been highly successful with the bath line, and it actually carries a different scent altogether from the main fragrance. [Ralph Lauren's] Polo Sport has also done exceptionally well."
Department stores are also stocking an abundance of specialty bath lines. One brand, Goodebodies, has been given an unusually large amount of space and attention in Federated Department Stores.
In the Atlanta-based Rich's, for instance, Goodebodies has been added to 19 Rich's beauty departments and included in five doors of the chain's Goldsmith's division. In addition, Rich's built Goodebodies boutiques in eight of its stores.
"Everyone is looking for a way to unwind. This product is simple to understand, and 100 percent natural," said Pat Joyce, vice president and divisional merchandise manager. "We're looking for continued growth."
McRae's in Jackson, Miss., launched Goodebodies in all of its 28 stores in November, and constructed in-store shops in two doors. Plans are to roll out the shop concept to all the units this fall.
Other bath lines are making a mark in department stores, as well.
"For us, specialty bath lines on the whole continue to grow," said Rita Burke, senior vice president at Macy's East. "Basically, there are so many entries that newness keeps driving it along. There aren't any standouts; sales are spread out over a bunch of different lines."Sun care manufacturers haven't been resting on their laurels, either. Retailers cited a bevy of new product variations, particularly in the self-tanning arena.
"What has become the number-one item in that category is self-tanning sprays," said Diane Gates, divisional vice president for cosmetics at the Seattle-based Bon Marche.
The greatest challenge to department stores in the sun arena comes from drugstores, although most retailers believe it's impossible to compare the two types of retailers fairly.
"It's a totally different customer," Gates said. "I think the drugstore customer is really looking for a lot of protection, rather than self-tanners, and they're looking toward products for the entire family, so there may be a limit as to how much they're willing to pay."
Al Wines, divisional merchandising manager for Los Angeles-based Carter Hawley Hale, said, "Competing with drugstores is a major education process. Many consumers are still not even aware that they can buy sun care at the department store cosmetics counter.
"Beyond that, they must learn how the ingredients differ," he continued. "What they get from a Lauder product is a lot different from what they'll get from a $2 tanning oil."
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