Bath in a Bag?

By David Gill

They have been seen in retailers such as Kohl's, Target, Walmart and Bed Bath & Beyond: sets of towels in all different sizes, packaged together as an all-in-one buy.

As a recent visit by HFN to New Jersey locations of these four retailers uncovered, the stores are attempting to merchandise bath products in a manner that goes beyond the towel wall. Towel sets, offering hand towels and washcloths, are banded or bar-tacked together, and are placed on shelves. Coordinating accessories--soap dishes, lotion pumps, tissue-box holders, among others--are shelved above or below these towel sets. The whole presentation urges the shopper to walk away with an entire bathroom decor.

Is it the beginning of the concept of "bath in a bag?" Could we eventually see packaged sets that include towels, shower curtains and accessories?

Some industry executives are skeptical. "People think it works in bedding, so why not bath?" said Carl Legreca, executive vice president of merchandising and design for fashion bath with Croscill/Excell Home Fashions. "But it doesn't work after all. It's too pricey, and it's much more difficult to package hard and soft goods together."

Not that it hasn't been tried in the past. "Bath in a bag, or bath in a box, has been tried many, many times over the years," Legreca said. "It does work with towel sets offered on hangars, or during the holidays when they can be offered as gift sets. Stores might place coordinated hard goods together, but not as a boxed set."

Consumers like the convenience behind bed in a bag--the ability to buy one package that has both sheets and the coordinated top-of-the-bed--but they are not necessarily enamored of being able to do the same thing for their bathrooms.

"Most people want to design their bathroom with solid-color towels," said Linda DelPozo, senior vice president of bath and kitchen merchandising for WestPoint Home. "But they may like patterned accessories, so they don't want to confine the design of their bathrooms in this way."

Packaged bathroom sets seem to work only with only towels, sources said, and then not to a great extent. "Packaged towel sets are a small market, less than 2 percent of the total towel business," said Bob Hamilton, director of marketing for Welspun. "Sets of washcloths or multiples of hand towels and washcloths are growing, but more as gifts in the boutique market. I do not see it as a big growth market overall."

So if retailers offer anything close to a bath-in-a-bag concept, it's confined to the fixturing described above. The presentations consist of an aisle, an endcap or a run along a wall of towels with coordinating bath accessories, shelved vertically to give the consumer a chance to compare different designs and patterns. "What's happening is that we're seeing a lot of these sets on endcaps," DelPozo said. "Retailers are putting these out as an impulse purchase, and most of it as a back-to-school item. It's all for a quick fix, a quick pickup."

It's also unlikely that a real bath-in-a-bag business could materialize in the future, according to these executives. "I see it continuing as an endcap item or a giftable item for a new home or back-to-school, but I don't ever see it being mainstream," DelPozo said. "Packaging towel sets makes sense but with accessories, it's not easy to determine what goes in a bathroom."

Consumer behavior is also different regarding buying decor products for the bedroom and the bathroom. "The bathroom is less expensive to decorate," Legreca said, "so consumers are more willing to go back and forth to the stores to pick up extra items, rather than doing it all at once."

Bath in a bag may be unlikely, but not impossible. "I have always felt we would get to bath in a bag sooner or later," one industry executive said. "It's a challenge on pricing. Packaging these materials together could be costly, and you have the breakage potential for the hard items. I would be interested to see how others would handle this. A total bath resource would be the logical one to give it a try."

HFN Staff | News & Commentary

HFN provides detailed information on the key home classifications: Housewares, Tabletop, Floor Covering & Rugs, Furniture, Home Textiles, Lighting, Home Decor, Mattresses & Bedding, Gifts, Major Appliances and Consumer Electronics as well as Business, Finance and Retail.


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