Byline: Faye Brookman

NEW YORK — The bath explosion may have started in drug chains, but the business is heating up in discount stores.
According to statistics from Information Resources Inc., for the 52-week period ended Jan. 30, mass merchants now control 52 percent of the $176 million spent on bath fragrances and bubble bath. That’s up from 48 percent for the same period tracked in 1999. Drug chains and supermarkets split the rest of the business at a 24 percent share each.
Bath sales rose 3.8 percent during the period across all three channels — food, drug and mass. The bright spot was the discount channel where sales soared 10.4 percent in dollars and 7 percent in units. However, bath sales actually declined in supermarkets in both dollars and units. Dollar volume dropped 1.2 percent, while units were off 4.9 percent in food stores, according to IRI. Sales in drugstores also dropped 3.8 percent in dollars and almost 10 percent in units.
“There’s one reason sales were down,” said Tanja Mordeson, national sales manager for RC International, a bath supplier. “It was La Nina and the warmer weather it brought.”
Still, even the warmer weather that discouraged people from soaking in hot baths wasn’t enough to detract from growth at discount chains. Manufacturers said discounters have been successful at bringing the product selection into focus. Wal-Mart is even experimenting with a bath boutique in a few stores. Explained Joanne Olds, director of marketing and licensing at Minnetonka Brands, “Mass merchants can afford the footage and they are reaping the rewards.” Despite the luxury of space, however, discounters have been fine-tuning their mix.
“We have been finding many of the mass retailers starting to streamline their offerings within the bath category,” explained Marisa Dottori, marketing director for Solar Cosmetic Labs. “Instead of carrying a selection of items from many different manufacturers, they are determining what is most successful and expanding the offering from those particular manufacturers.”
Discounters are also aggressive with private labels. Target Stores is a good example. In most stores, one entire aisle is devoted to private brands such as Tranquillity Bay. The discount chain will add another exclusive label next month called Buttercup aimed at kids. Across from the house brands are national lines including Dial Corp.’s Sarah Michaels and The Healing Garden.
Drug chains are starting to follow suit with proprietary brands. Eckerd Corp. just launched a line called Comfy, and Rite Aid, CVS and Duane Reade also have exclusive bath collections.
“There are so many competitors with merchandise that looks similar,” said Paul Dembow, president of Arizona Natural Resources Inc. “That’s why so many retailers are getting into private label.”
Many manufacturers have both bases covered. Mana Products, for example, produces State of Mind, a name brand, as well as private labels such as Eckerd’s Comfy. “Many retailers find it is a good mix to offer both so customers have a choice,” explained Valerie Stricker, the co-founder of State of Mind. Eckerd merchandises both State of Mind and Comfy on displays side by side.
According to IRI, private labels have become so strong that they are the second-largest sellers behind Vaseline Intensive Care.
Robert Sheasby, vice president of marketing for the newly formed San Francisco Soap Co., a division of J.B. Williams, cautioned that retailers shouldn’t overlook national brands. “This is a category driven by innovation, and it can be challenging for retailers to stay on top of trends,” he said. “And, customers like to see choices when they shop.” Whether private label or brands, chains are working to create an attractive environment for the bath category. Wegmans, for example, uses wicker baskets to merchandise bath items. There are also elegant wooden fixtures for the brands stocked, which include St. Ives, Suave, Village Naturals, Sarah Michaels, Freeman, Sinclair & Valentine and The Healing Garden. There is also a huge display of Paris Present’s Body Image, including massagers, gels and lotions. Phar-Mor also has very developed bath departments including an array of accessories. Even though Kohl’s eschews cosmetics, the retailer has a huge bath and body department featuring Claire Burke and its own brand, called BodySource. ShopRite supermarkets devote an entire end-of-aisle display to its own bath line. HEB, another supermarket chain, has bath boutiques.
“What people are striving to do is create the concept of a Bath & Body Works,” explained Sheasby. In its new prototype, Rite Aid has a special fixture to merchandise its bath offerings that is at the front of the cosmetics department.
Sheasby said he expects drug chain growth will return once chains finalize bath strategies. “And food is just still underdeveloped,” he added. Many food retailers are just now putting upscale bath departments into their stores, he added.
Manufacturers continue to unleash new bath items to keep sales flowing. “Buyers sometimes see 10 new bath lines a month,” said Olds. Her company has added a more upscale line to its Village Naturals brand, an economy line. Called Frutta Viva, the products are imported from Italy. “It will help us tap a part of the market we haven’t been in,” she said.
J.B. Williams, said Sheasby, is gaining distribution with its Simply Be Well, which is positioned as a wellness line. “This is really the next trend beyond aromatherapy.”
Another relatively new line gaining retailer acceptance is Delhar’s Body @ Best. “It appeals to a young, hip shopper who may not have been buying bath in our stores,” said one buyer.
Other new items include Solar’s NO-AD Aroma Bath & Shower Therapy line; Dream Perfumes Corp.’s Apropo Colours, which is a bath line aimed at teens, and Tristar Corp.’s Euro Garden.
Youth bath items are also being created to boost overall bath sales. A new Barbie line is set to bow later this year. Minnetonka will introduce products starring the Powderpuff girls. There will also be bath products from Caboodles and Burlington Toiletries (see related stories). Now even Gerber is getting into the act with a newly announced line of Gerber toiletries. The assortment includes baby shampoo, baby washes, gas drops, tooth and gum cleansers, diaper rash lotion and vitamin drops. The skin care products are priced at $3.00. Gerber joins other juvenile products such as IBN’s Fisher-Price, Sesame Street, Scooby Doo, Pokemon and other licensed bath products.
With the plethora of bath lines, some manufacturers said they are glad to have other categories to market. Concluded Arizona Natural’s Dembow: “Thank goodness for our candle business.”

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