Byline: Romy Joyce

LOS ANGELES — Drugstores and discounters on the West Coast are predicting bath gift set sales will increase this holiday season. One retailer is even predicting they will double. In anticipation of this possible windfall, many claim they will be increasing the space they dedicate to the category.
“Our bath care line was introduced in the spring of 1997 and is doing extremely well,” said a Mervyn’s spokesperson. “We expect a 100 percent increase in gift set sales by the holidays as we increase the space allocated to them and include specialty items such as candle and glass bottle sets.”
A buyer at a major drugstore chain on the West Coast is also banking on an increase in bath gift sets for the holiday season. “We will enhance our offerings in the bath area by 10 percent to 15 percent, and we will run two full-color advertising inserts in our store circulars,” said the buyer.
The story is no different at Kmart, where Sarah Michaels gift sets are bestsellers, said Mary Prince divisional vice president for cosmetics and fragrances.
“Both bath and cosmetics gift sets have performed very well this year,” said Prince, who added that sales and volume are up in both categories over last year.
Due to the success of bath care gift sets, Kmart has increased the amount of space it dedicates to them, said Prince.
“The perceived value of bath care gift sets is much greater than for fragrance,” noted Prince. “For $10, you get five different products. In fragrance, you get maybe one small bottle. With bath, you getting more far less.”
A recent visit to the Kmart on Third Street in Los Angeles revealed a healthy selection of gift sets already in place.
A Sarah Michaels Travel Ensemble in a round translucent tote — containing a 2.2-oz. bath and shower gel, 2.2-oz. hand and body lotion, 5-oz. bath talcum powder and two 1.5-oz. body soaps — retailed for $9.39.
A Sarah Michaels Body Massage Ensemble went for $13.59. Bonne Bell’s Sensational Gift Pack in Strawberry Blossom and Vanilla Blossom featured a cologne spritzer and atomizer for $7.75. A plastic heart-shaped box by Terra Naturals offered a 2-oz. bath additive, a 1.5-oz. salt cube, a 1.07-oz. guest soap and three bath oil beads for $4.99.
The buyer for the West Coast drugstore chain agreed that bath gift sets are more appealing to consumers than fragrance gift sets. “Bath care make a better gift; it’s more the trend.”
Bath gift sets perform better than fragrance sets at the Longs drugstores, said Denise Valerio, who is the chain’s cosmetics buyer. Sarah Michaels and San Francisco Soap are at the top of the list, said Valerio, because “they offer gift sets as part of their basic product line. For the holidays, they offer 12 to 14 more sets in addition to the basics.”
Kmart’s Prince anticipates strong sales this holiday season for gift sets featuring body sprays from Parfums de Coeur and Calgon, which were introduced earlier this year and have been the fragrance category’s biggest success story in 1997.
Body Fantasies from Parfums de Coeur and Calgon Body Mists “are new products and are doing very well already in the basic line,” said Prince.
She believes that while an improvement over the fragrance category’s flat sales this year is expected, sales will take a dive during the coming holiday season.
At Longs, the focus for the holiday season is on designer fragrances at “reasonable” prices, noted Valerio.
“We’re very optimistic about White Shoulders and Oscar, which did well over the last holiday period,” said Valerio.
Her outlook isn’t as optimistic about fragrance gift sets. “For mass fragrances like Quintessence, Revlon and Coty, we will be buying 10 percent fewer sets and concentrating on ‘juice-on-juice’ sets that feature a cologne with a purse-sized spray,” said Valerio.
Cosmetics gift sets have all but disappeared from the landscape, according to Valerio.
“Maybelline offers none, Revlon no longer does them and Cover Girl has only two, compared with four or five last year,” she said. “The choice of cosmetics is such a personal one that gift sets in that area have been lackluster at best. That must be why some don’t make them anymore.”
Retailers may be optimistic about year-round opportunities in bath gift sets and a growing holiday business for the category, but a mid-August visit to drugstores and discounters in the Los Angeles area revealed a sizable but unappealing display of bath gift sets.
At most locations, cellophane-wrapped offerings crammed together in a haphazard fashion crowded a scant half-aisle and were far removed from customer traffic.
At one location, the bath care section was untemptingly squashed between handbags and shoes.
According to buyers, gift sets will have found their way to more attractive displays and tables at the entrance or central aisles of stores by the holidays.