Byline: Laura Klepacki

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Homespun Bath & Body Works, the personal care purveyor credited with transforming the ritual of bathing into an act of self-indulgence, is getting a fresh coat of paint and the result is mighty upscale.
At a 7,000-square-foot prototype at the Easton Town Center here, the heartland-based retailer is testing its future. Absent from the month-old store are the signature red and white checkered awnings, wood-stained shelves and keg barrel merchandisers. In their place are white walls, pale green cabinetry and tall brushed metal shelves. Polished wood flooring replaces the checkerboard wood tiles found in the traditional stores, internally known as the “tea-stained” format. The new look is referred to as “white.” Chief executive officer Beth Pritchard said the Columbus site is used as an incubator to test product and design concepts. And there are four other similar, but smaller units coming. At about 5,000 square feet apiece, there will be one each in Chandler, Ariz.; Santa Clara, Calif., and Wellington and Tampa, Florida. The average B&BW store is 2,200 square feet. Already some 350 of the existing 1,500 B&BW stores have elements of the “white” look.
“This is our face going forward,” said Pritchard, who stressed that B&BW would continue its emphasis on new product development. Although, with the new units, it is testing the introduction of outside brands into its product mix. Up until now, the vertically integrated operator exclusively sold its own creations. Newcomers being tried out include Lorac cosmetics, Phytobaume hair care, Thibiant skin care, Nature’s body care and the Aqua Dessa spa line.
Meanwhile, B&BW is aggressively going after the aromatherapy category. It has just unveiled a new advanced aromatherapy collection here that will eventually replace an existing lineup. The goal, said Pritchard, is to grow aromatherapy from a $100 million to a $500 million business for the company. “We are going to scale it up.” She thinks there is room to make a mark in the category. Said Pritchard, “no one dominates aromatherapy now.”
And with the expanded design of the Columbus unit, B&BW is also offering spa services. Treatment options include massages, facials, manicures and pedicures. At least for now, hair styling is not part of the equation. The spa area boasts a marble floor and a new collection of spa products called True Blue along with accessories such as cotton robes for $90 and extra fluffy slippers at $25.50 a pair.
Both the aromatherapy and spa items will roll out to the rest of the chain in November, bringing a slew of items at higher price points. Time will tell whether B&BW customers, accustomed to spending $19.99 for three body lotions, will drop $20 for a jar of aromatherapy sugar scrub. Clearly, B&BW has been taking clues from its sister company Victoria’s Secret, which over the past year and a half has successfully traded up its shoppers from $25 perfumes to bottles priced $39 and higher.
Still, for the first time in its history, B&BW is treading some rough waters. After years of phenomenal and consistent growth, the $1.7 billion company has shown negative comp-store sales this year. In the second quarter, sales slipped 9 percent. Pritchard attributed the declines to a slowdown in traffic being felt by all retailers. Undaunted, the company is moving ahead with new store openings, with 125 slated for this year. And for holiday, there will be more gift sets offered than in the past.
With the new products and design elements, Pritchard said B&BW is expanding its pampering concept to include, “not just soaps and lotions, but a total sense of health and well-being.”