While some specialty retailers are dedicated to bath and body products, supermarkets find a few well-placed items can meet shoppers' needs
There is no shortage of bath, body and beauty products, or of stores designed specifically to attract lotion lovers in search of a little pampering.
Although specialty stores with a flair for inviting customers to stay, slather, sniff and walk away with an armful of products — like the Body Shop, Bath and Body Works, Sephora and Ulta — have thrived and multiplied, the demand doesn't stop there.
For some supermarkets, a carefully selected merchandise mix can mean impulse, fill-in or even dedicated bath and body shoppers day after day.
At Kowalski's Markets, an 11-store chain based in St. Paul, Minn., each store is laid out differently, but all carry a few lines of specialty or natural HBC brands placed in stand-alone kiosks, Debbie Leland, natural and gourmet foods buyer for the chain, told SN.
The retailer looks for products ranging from popular natural brands like Burt's Bees, Morrisville, N.C., and Kiss My Face, Gardiner, N.Y., to small, innovative lines like Zum by Indigo Wild, Kansas City, Mo., and EO, Corte Madera, Calif.
“We have had Zum Bar soaps in our stores for over five years — they're like the new Burt's Bees,” Leland said. “In some stores, we carry the brand in our gift department, since it is a beautiful line of personal care products. In others, we call the brand out and merchandise it in a small area by itself.”
EO, which stands for essential oils, is purchased directly from the company. “We have to take the step to work with smaller companies,” Leland said. “It is worth it. It sets us apart because you won't find it in many other markets.”
Kowalski's has the right idea, industry observers told SN. While today's shoppers are faced with upward of four different bath and body stores in every large mall, they're willing to buy their products in the supermarket to simplify their lives, as long as the right product is available, said Al Jones, senior vice president, procurement and merchandising, Imperial Distributors, Auburn, Mass. Jones and many of the wholesalers and retailers quoted in this story were interviewed during a recent conference of the Global Market Development Center, Colorado Springs.
“It's a matter of having the right mix, having it in the right position within the store and making sure people understand you've got it,” Jones said.
IF AT FIRST…
Imperial has just developed a new bath and body set despite having tried and failed several years ago, Jones said. The reason for a second go-around is timing, he added.
“The population is getting older. Skin regimens are more common today than they were, and people want to treat themselves better and give themselves that little treat. This is a way to do it.”
This time Imperial is working at a lesser scale, he said. “Twelve to 16 feet, depending on the store, or we can do even less.”
A separate upscale bath section ranging from 4 to about 12 feet could be very successful, according to Larry Ishii, general manager, GM/HBC, Unified Grocers, Commerce, Calif.
“I think that upscale bath is a great opportunity for grocery retailers and I don't like to look at it necessarily from the standpoint of competing with the specialty stores,” he said.
However, a traditional supermarket may not realistically become a destination for bath and body products, considering the space-to-sales ratio, said Diane Garber, president, In-Sight Communications, Buffalo Grove, Ill. “The movement you will get may not warrant a lot of space,” she said.
“It's never going to be a destination in food retail,” agreed Anthea Jones, group vice president, center store, Bi-Lo, Mauldin, S.C. “It's all in the role that you decide the category is going to play for you. You have to be very conscious of that.”
BEYOND THE BRANDS
By going above and beyond the traditional brands with about three specialty or boutique lines, a supermarket can end up with an adequate selection without being over-assorted, Garber said. “This will lead to fill-in purchases from the specialty consumers.”
Generally, less is more, according to Steve Cesler, vice president of customer business development for Procter & Gamble, Cincinnati. “For example, 40% of the people who go into a store in the U.S. with the intent of buying hair color leave without purchasing because they cannot figure out what they should buy,” he said.
The best way to choose product assortment is to balance between “coupons that are dropped most frequently like Jergens and Dove, for price-conscious shoppers, and the most trend-responsive natural and organic products,” said Terry Roberts, president, Merchandising by Design, Carrollton Texas.
Supermarkets should also consider using bath and body as a way to add depth to their sections, Garber said. “It acts as an extension of skin care where the big brands have such traction and the formulations are providing results, according to customers.”
Garber suggests building displays using a dedicated shelf or endcap as well as mirrors, images, scents and colors to complement the products. “If you add visual cues, the convenience shopper and the impulse shopper will try it.”
Merchandising, of course, depends heavily on the customer each retailer is catering to, said Bill Mansfield, president and chief executive officer, VIP International, Garland, Texas. Mansfield is a former supermarket executive and is now a consultant. “It is really up to the individual chain to first identify their customer base and then make an additional merchandising activity for that customer, with more upscale products — or not, depending how many of those customers shop with them.”
This lesson has been hard-won for a few retailers that tested upscale bath and body in the past.
For example, Bashas', Chandler, Ariz., worked on a specialty bath and body section for a number of years, resetting and running monthly promotions, but the customers continued to buy from specialty bath and body stores instead, said Sue Vodika, HBC buyer/category manager.
Vodika will stick to a basic bar soap section this year and is considering adding an alcove with professional brand hair care — and perhaps skin, and bath and body care products — in the near future.
At Valu Merchandisers Co., Kansas City, Kan., customers in the company's more rural market base prefer a personal shopping experience, said Bill Martin, category manager. “We have tried more upscale bath in the past and it failed. I think everyone understands that something has to be done with some onsite selling, so you need a cosmetologist, part-time or full-time, somebody there to be working that selling piece.”
Kowalski's even has an in-store spa in its Woodbury, Minn., flagship store, Leland said. The spa is owned and operated by Juut Salon Spa, Minneapolis, and carries bath and body products from Aveda, New York. “We've had that in for seven years,” Leland noted.
Whole Foods Market, Austin, Texas, launched its first in-store spa in a Dallas location in December 2006 and its second opened over the summer in San Francisco.
“Our whole store is peaceful and well organized with a European decor,” Leland said. “It's the thing people like about our markets.”
Additional reporting: Dan Alaimo