NEW YORK — A lack of innovation in the bath category has resulted in tepid sales.

Sales in prestige remained flat, while sales in mass doors sank 5 percent to $152 million (excluding Wal-Mart) for the 52-week period ended Oct. 18, according to ACNielsen.

Hoping to turn the tide is a new line called Spongeables. Spongeables are sponges infused with natural glycerin and olive oil-based soap. The soap lasts for about 30 showers, according to Elaine Binder, executive vice president of SpongeTech Inc. “I found a way to create Spongeables because my five-year-old son was going through a lot of expensive shower gel and I thought there had to be a way to make soap last,” said Binder.

Spongeables offer more than just soap in a sponge. The ingredients combine exfoliation, cleansing and massaging.

First produced last November, Spongeables have already been successful at upscale merchants such as Henri Bendel, Nordstrom, Marshall Field’s and Saks Fifth Avenue. Specialty chains including Pure Beauty and Beauty First also picked up the sponges, which retail for $15 for the 30-shower version or $5 for a seven-shower travel size.

According to Binder, exposure through premium hotels such as The Venetian in Las Vegas has also helped build consumer interest. Industry sources estimate sales could exceed $25 million within the next year.

The company upped its distribution capacity and is broadening distribution to include Ulta, Fred Meyer and Bristol Farms. Last June, Binder unveiled Spongeables to mass merchants at the National Association of Chain Drug Stores Marketplace meeting. Retailers singled out the line as one of the show’s standout items.

“Spongeables was one of the most unique products at that show,” said Kathy Vanek, category manager for Snyder’s Drug in Minnetonka, Minn.

She especially liked the fact that the sponges can be cut into playful shapes for children. Also, there are many scents, including lavender, fig, grapefruit and jasmine. According to Binder, the soaps can be produced for proprietary labels.

While the bath category has been challenging for many retailers, the accessory portion of sales has helped boost margins. What retailers also like about Spongeables is the combination of being a soap and a loofah. Spongeables are merchandised in a variety of vehicles including an inline display and a floor stand.

This story first appeared in the October 29, 2004 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.