SAN ANTONIO -- H.E. Butt Grocery Co. is attempting to capture shoppers who spend their disposable income by treating themselves to bath-body and aromatherapy products.
Over the past nine months, the chain, based here, has converted approximately 50 of its stores to a new bath and body format in an effort to increase sales of these products. It's a multibillion-dollar industry, and H-E-B wants a piece of it, said one H-E-B source who asked to remain anonymous.
The new format can be seen at H-E-B's Hancock store in Austin, Texas, with its expanded selection of products and new fixtures. The section looks a lot like a department store or a bath shop. That's exactly the market H-E-B is going after, according to the source.
"They're watching the bath and body stores take off in the malls," said a local broker who asked that his name not be used. "That's their customer three times a week and the mall's customer once a week. A grocery store has more of an opportunity to capture that sale than most retailers."
Two members of H-E-B's cosmetics department came to the chain from department stores, and that format's influence can be seen in the new look of H-E-B's bath and body sections. Featured in the sections are new wooden shelving, signage and several new specialty lines.
One of the lines that has been given the most shelf space is Karen Carson, which has a full selection of lotions, splashes, scrubs, and bath gels in a variety of scents. Other product lines include Calgon, Old San Francisco Soap and Perfums de Coeur.
In addition to bath products, the section has an aromatherapy section with products by The Healing Garden and Earth Therapeutics, a selection of candles and bags of colorful potpourri. Products have names like "Wake Up," "Sleep Ease" and "Sensual Harmony."
One case offers fun accessories, including rubber duckies, foot massagers, herbal beauty masks and sponges.
Beauty consultants stand ready in the aisles to answer questions and offer suggestions. In addition to an expanded product assortment and improved service, the company has moved its beauty department to more central locations in the store, rather than off to the side or in the pharmacy section.
At the Hancock store -- which sources say has the chain's top sales in bath and body products -- the section is located toward the middle of the store, near the checkout stands. The two-aisle beauty department is located on the grocery side of the store, straddled by dishwashing products and shampoo. One aisle includes the bath and body products, along with skin care products. The other focuses on perfumes and cosmetics.
"Now if you come through the front door, you can't miss it," said another broker. "Everything is easier for the consumer to reach."
H-E-B also can offer price points that are lower than the mall stores'. A bottle of Karen Carson bath gel sells for $3.49, compared with upwards of $8 at a Bath and Body Works.
The broker believes H-E-B has a good shot at targeting consumers who shop at department stores, discount stores and specialty stores like The Body Shop and Bath and Body Works.
It's a big target. In 1997 Bath and Body Works reported a 40% increase in sales, to $1.1 billion. The chain grew to 921 stores, up 171 stores from the previous year.
A shopper at the Hancock store during SN's visit, Melanie Dean, perused the wooden shelves of aromatherapy and bath products, spritzing herself with body sprays and smelling the soaps. She lingered over some rubber duckies and loofah sponges.
Dean settled on some Sunshine bath gel and lotion, sticking them in her grocery cart alongside a carton of milk, a head of lettuce and a box of cereal.
"I was going to go to Dillard's to get my mother a birthday present," Dean told SN, referring to the department store at the mall. "I found something just as nice here, and it was less expensive."