SOUTH PLAINFIELD, N.J. — Wal-Mart may seek growth in foreign countries such as India, but Target is importing the world to its bath and body department.
The retailer’s “United Nations” of bath and body care is visible at a one-month-old Target store here in central New Jersey. This sprawling store is one of the first to include a host of new, niche brands, which are mostly unknown to U.S. shoppers. The area features 20 brands from across the globe, including New Zealand, Scotland, England, Greece, Spain, Portugal and Israel.
The retailer touts the new bath products in an advertising insert in April beauty magazines, which teases: “Bubbles are just the beginning.”
Target has been successful building signature exclusives in other categories, including Michael Graves in housewares and Liz Lange in maternity. Sonia Kashuk is a star in cosmetics (see related story below), but the chain hasn’t harnessed that magic in bath and body.
The department can’t be missed in Target’s new store layout. Cosmetics are placed at the store’s entrance, rather than off to one side. The cosmetics planogram includes all of the latest color launches, including L’Oréal Paris’ HIP and Vital Radiance. Connected to color cosmetics is the splashy bath and body area, complete with a mirror and lighted fixtures. Gone are national brands, such as The Healing Garden; in are lines that resemble those sold at department stores, The Body Shop and Bath & Body Works. That’s no surprise, considering one of the architects of the department was former Bath & Body Works executive Stephanie Miller, who now works at Aveda.
Equally impressive is the fact that Target has added what has been a missing ingredient in mass bath and body aisles: product testers. Almost every product line has a small disc attached to the fixture where a tester is placed. Upon recent examination, the testers had been used frequently. Testers are paramount, especially with brands that aren’t familiar to Americans.
To recruit the niche brands for the section, Target relied on its sourcing and product-development firm, Associated Merchandising Corp., and international trade shows, including Cosmoprof in Bologna, Italy, and the Birmingham Gift Fair, a gift show in England.
Target has given many of these companies a buying commitment for this year, and will revisit partnerships in 2007.
“What we’ve discovered is that Target wants quality rather than quantity and that shoppers are fed up with imported, low-quality products. What was there wasn’t working,” explained Polly Grinnell, who represents Castelbel, a Portugal-based company with two lines in the new set. Castelbel, which has exhibited in U.S. trade shows such as ECRM, hooked up with Target through a Portuguese distributor.
The bath and body area consists primarily of two aisles and is tailored to attract men, women and teens. One side has youth cosmetics collections from SmartBrands, including Karma and Gossip, as well as Castelbel soaps, drawer liner papers and body products from The Baylis & Harding Co., a U.K.-based firm that created an exclusive line for Target.
Across the aisle is a men’s section, which includes whimsical items such as a shaving brush by Proraso for $11.69. There’s also Teravita Soy Salt Scrub for $13.49, Au Lait Bathing Milk for $14.99, Ma Provence Liquid Hand Soap for $6.99 and items from J.R. Watkins (see related story above) and Sharps.
The bath category needs a boost. According to ACNielsen, sales of bath additives declined 13 percent to $83.5 million in food, drug and discount stores for the 52-week period ended Jan. 28, from the same period last year, excluding Wal-Mart. The category had sales exceeding $115 million in 2002.
According to companies participating with Target, the entire chain will carry the exclusive brands by June.
By opting for international brands, Target is trying to make its stores unique. But it also sends a message that the chain doesn’t think branding is key in bath and body.
“Obviously what Target is saying is that brands don’t matter,” said an executive from a national bath care brand. “Brands are the driver to get people into the store, particularly in an impulse category like bath and body.”
However, several industry experts said brand recognition is far less important in the bath category. “If it has a look that is familiar, that helps,” said industry consultant Allan Mottus. “They are giving a value to a customer with similar brands to Molton Brown or The Body Shop. Keep in mind the Target customer is a department store shopper.”
By jettisoning national brands with multimillion-dollar advertising budgets from its mix, Target now will shoulder the marketing costs for the department.
Manufacturers said Target will quickly assess the viability of the department. One source commented, “The thing with Target is they rip departments up often. They’ll have feedback right away so we’ll know soon how it is working.”