Smart Report: Bath - July 2011

Function In The Bath
By Wanda Jankowski

Taymor uses a new technology that stamps a reptile texture onto metal. The company is trying it first in basics: plungers, bowl brushes and waste baskets.
Tresor, made with 70 perent Giza 70 Egyptian cotton and 30 percent Modal, is offered in three sizes, five colors. Retails: 17- by 30-inch hand towel, $29.25; 21- by 39-inch European bath towel, $45; and 28- by 54-inch bath towel, $66.?

Suppliers add value and encourage sales by creating new products that emphasize functional benefits couched in aesthetic appeal

There’s good news and bad news. First, the bad news. In spite of raw material and labor cost increases, consumers’ belt-tightening has some retailers demanding lower retail prices, putting suppliers uncomfortably in the middle of the situation.

“The retailers are fighting all the price increases. Some are willing to take 5 percent, but when your own increases are 10-14 percent, it puts you in a tough position,” explains Randy Wright, senior vice-president, Taymor Industries. “They also want to see ‘new' items at the old or current pricing. If you sell them a fingertip towel stand that retails at $19.99, they only want to see new ones that will retail for the same or possibly lower. It seems that $14.99 is the ‘new $19.99’ price point.”

Raw materials price increases trump the recession in the eyes of Robert Weiss, chief operating officer, Creative Bath. “Raw material prices were more of an issue than our own country's recession...and the lack of customers accepting much needed price increases,” he says. “We worked more on de-specifying product than at any one time I can recall. The combination of both price increases and a bad economy made for a lethal cocktail. There is no doubt that many bath programs did not see any sales increases, but declines.”

“The difficult economic environment makes newness and innovation all the more important,” states Keith Green, national sales manager, Avanti Linens. “It’s hard to get retail buyers excited because they are focused, rightfully so, on getting their consumers excited and the way to do that is through innovation and newness.”

The good news is that there is a way to consumers’ pocketbooks in the bath product sector: providing functionality at affordable prices.

“Retail buyers have been more cautious with their inventory levels and purchase decisions; however, we have been fortunate that our products are a part of regular household care and safety necessities,” explains Elizabeth Sarson, marketing manager, Ginsey Home Solutions.

“Retailers are more prudent in their ordering and less inclined to act spontaneously or impetuously when buying new towels,” says Bob Hamilton, director of marketing, Welspun USA. “And what they buy is functional rather than fashion driven.”

Function Supported By Form

Part of the drive to innovate in order to spur sales does involve bringing fresh styles and designs into the marketplace.

Avanti’s Greer says, “We have seen a strong move towards more transitional, contemporary looks. Our line has moved from a very opulent, over-the-top look to more of a clean, tailored feel. The customer is definitely reacting and we’re getting traction from a younger consumer.”

Colorful Teddy bears decorate the Little Friends shower curtain and coordinating bath accessories from Creative Bath.
The Pet Head line from Ginsey Home Solutions is inspired by the Bed Head line of hair care products. The stylish Pet Head line makes grooming pets more fun using humor in merchandising items such as the Dry As A Bone microfiber towel, Playin’ Dirty scrubby towel, Dirty Paws footbath and Knee Saver cushioned kneeler.

For towel makers, choosing the right color palettes is key to refreshing a line. “The biggest impact on our solid range of towels is the character of color. In a sluggish economy, there seems to be a tendency to look for fun or saturated colors to lighten the mood,” says Welspun’s Hamilton.

Leslie Connell, vice-president U.S. sales and operations, Abyss & Habidecor, sees grey, purple and orange as trending colors, adding, “Of all our 60 colors, white still represents over 50 percent of our sales volume in towels and bath rugs.’

Although consumers are attracted by pleasing aesthetics, if the product doesn’t work well, good looks alone won’t make the sale.

“Functional bath has returned—nice, clean basic items, especially in durable stainless steel. This is where our volume is now driven,” says Taymor’s Wright. “The consumers are still out there shopping, but are not buying so much of the ‘wanted’ items, as the ‘needed’ items.”

Avanti’s Greer notes, “Our introduction of a better terry towel three years ago was in response to the need for a more functional towel and we see that need/desire continuing.”

Innovation & Growth

Suppliers are creating new products that respond to trends in related home fixturing and grooming products. The increase in installation of elongated toilets in new home construction and remodeling has led to Ginsey’s development of complementary seats that provide comfort in attractive designs. Welspun has developed Spot Stop™ towels that won’t discolor when contact is made with new formulas in skin care and dental whitening.
Bath product suppliers are growing successful lines as well as venturing into new arenas. Taymor has doubled its selection of functional items, such as bowl brushes, plungers and tissue storage, and has expanded Housewares into its own full-sized catalog.

“In Fall 2011, we are introducing a full-length catalog of just decorative soaps, gift sets, novelty and 'themed" soap sets, ready for shipping in Fall 2011 for fourth quarter selling,” says Wright.

Abyss & Habidecor introduced at the recent Dallas Market a collection of towels in many textures with a lighter weight, more economical construction that retails at a lower price point without compromising quality. Last year the company soft-launched the Celso de Lemos bedding collection and will expand it for 2012 in addition to introducing in other lines new colors, jacquard towels and bath rugs.

Bath Sector’s Greatest Challenges

“Price increases during our recession—on raw material, labor and fuel—plus the disaster in Japan all had an affect on China which, in turn, is our biggest challenge. We cannot pass large increases onto our customers, so we have to absorb some of them and in some cases, we just have to drop the item, re-make it into a ‘new version’ so we can ‘introduce' it at a ‘new price’ as a ‘new item’.”—Randy Wright, senior vice-president, Taymor

“The size of the pie is getting smaller for an already mature category. More competitors are dabbling in bath and the big retailers are developing their own products directly with bath overseas suppliers. Bottom line: our customers are becoming more of our competitors and there are more manufacturing competitors.”—Robert Weiss, chief operating officer, Creative Bath

“Our greatest challenge is always the same—getting retailers to try the embellished towel category. It’s always a question of floor space and dollars, but once they try it, they find it is a very productive addition to their assortment and a differentiator from their competition.”—Keith Greer, national sales manager, Avanti Linens

“The greatest challenges are working with market to determine where to invest inventory and refining assortments to maximize inventory return.”—Bob Hamilton, director of marketing, Welspun USA

“Making sure our retail partners and their sales teams are clear on what separates our towels and rugs from the others is our greatest challenge. Constant and vigilant education, so that they can confidently sell to the consumer.”—Leslie Connell, vice-president U.S. sales and operations, Abyss & Habidecor

Abyss & Habidecor is building a new showroom in Portugal that will include a restaurant and three-room inn on its Celso de Lemos owners’ vineyard property, offering the company an opportunity to work more closely with its retail partners and sales team.

The company is also running a contest via its Facebook page from June through November 2011. Customers and employees are invited to submit photos of product in settings unique to their city or state. The grand prize is a trip for two to Portugal.

Last year Avanti created the Galaxy pattern in white, black and gray. “It has been absolutely fantastic. We have added this pattern in the shortest time ever to more stores than any other pattern in our history,” says Greer. The company is adding a mocha brown colorway to the Galaxy line, which will be available in August, along with a matching shower curtain.

Avanti is also focusing efforts on a new licensing agreement. “We are always on the look-out for licenses where we think we can add value through our design approach and give our customers a different option versus what’s out there,” says Greer.

Welspun is reinventing its solid color towel stories for Fall market as well as tweaking lines for greater appeal to both younger and older consumers.

Novelty has been a successful category for Creative Bath, as well as freestanding accessories that coordinate with many different curtains, rugs and towel designs. Weiss reveals that Creative Bath will emphasize eco-friendly products and ways to improve hygiene and safety.

It’s clear that bath product suppliers are making the best of a bad economic situation with more affordable options that respond functionally to the needs of today’s consumers.


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