Winter 2013
Making a Splash! By Heather Johnson Durocher

Widely considered one of the staples for gift store retailers, bath and body products continue to deliver on luxury at affordable price points. Here are five trends in the category.

An elegantly packaged bar of soap, fresh-scented body spray, creamy-soft hand lotion—are all little luxuries that go a long way in making customers smile, whether they’re picking out a present for someone or treating themselves to a bit of pampering.

“The whole category is strong, and always, always packaging is key,” says Mary Liz Curtin, retail expert and author of The Shopkeeper’s Manual.

Read on for trends—some new and some perennial—in bath and body right now.

Raising the Bar

As far as Bob Harris is concerned, bar soap never went out of style. Still, the vice president of sales for Michel Design Works can’t deny that this tried-and-true toiletry is making a comeback. “Over the last three years it’s steadily grown in importance to the line,” says Harris of the VanNuys, CA-based company’s bath and body products. “It’s by far and away my best line. Bar soap does add certain elegance and the scents really are amazing. And it’s a good quality at a good price.”

Retailing for $10 to $16, Michel Design Works’ 9-ounce bath bar comes in a single color but in 28 different scents, Harris says. What sets the bar apart, he adds, is its packaging. “I never call us a ‘bath and body line’—we are a gift line,” he explains. “Even though it’s bath and body, it needs to be gift-able … and the bars are done in amazing paper wrap.”

Michel Design Works soaps are made in England, which also is attractive to customers, Harris says. “I think soaps made in Europe carry a certain cachet,” he says. Bar soap is a great treat for shoppers, or as a gift they can give, he says. “It’s geared toward that hostess gift or toward that very feminine woman,” he says of their floral packaging.

Fresh Fragrance

When it comes to bath and body products, scents run the gamut. From magnolia and grapefruit to candy cane for the Christmas holidays and even chocolate for Valentine’s Day, the variety of fragrances available ensures there’s a scent for everyone.

For 2013, says Sue Jona, vice president of innovation for Woodstock, CT-based Crabtree & Evelyn, the fresher the better. “We’re seeing a trend in greener, fresher, more life-like fragrances that are inspired by nature,” Jona says.

Harris, of Michel Design Works, agrees. “I would say you can’t go wrong with the tried-and-true floral combinations, like spring garden.”

Crabtree & Evelyn will introduce a collection in February—New Tarocco Orange, Eucalyptus and Sage Body and Hand Care Collection—that reflects this trend. The collection is fragranced with a blend of orange, bergamot, and neroli.

Shannon McLinden of Frisco, TX-based Farmhouse Fresh Goods, says her retailers report that some shoppers seek “accessible fragrances.”

“Our customers like familiar, food-like fragrances and they don’t mind that the fragrances use a combination of essential and synthetic oils … We provide an alternative to these basics through perfumery that is able to capture the true essence of desserts, fruits and unique combinations of these to create scrumptious, accessible scents.”

Made in the U.S.A.

Handcrafted is increasingly important to shoppers, believes Paula Lindsay, president and founder of The Pass Christian Soap Co. in Pass Christian, MS. “More and more people are wanting products that are made in the United States, and also are liking companies like ours that have products that are handmade,” Lindsay says. “People are trying to get back to the basics—we’re seeing a lot of the ‘old is new.'”

This means hand lotions, body washes, candles, that are all made by regional artisans, she says. One of the company’s most popular items: lemongrass hand soap, which is among 15 different soap scents available within the company’s six product lines. “We’ve been selling it for years,” Lindsay says. “It takes all the cooking smells off your hands, and we have a lotion that matches it. There’s also a natural insect repellent in that as well.”


There’s no better way to encourage sales of bath and body products than by allowing your customers to experience them right in your store. Setting up stations for sampling gives shoppers a chance to test out their favorite—or soon-to-be favorite—scents.

Creating interesting displays and point-of-sale demos also can attract buyers, says Lindsay of The Pass Christian Soap Co. Consider in-store soap slicing, which some of her retailers use to help boost sales.

At owner Paige Riley’s Hillyer House, an art gallery and gift shop in Ocean Springs, MS, Pass Christian Soap Co. soap is sliced on-site. “Whole loaves of soap are set up in the store and they cut the slices of soap to order for their customers,” Lindsay says. “It’s apothecary grocery-style sales, kind of like a green retailer type setup. We’re doing a lot of business that way.” A loaf of soap typically is about four pounds. Slices retail for about $7-$8, with each slice approximately 4.5 ounces.

Curtin, who in addition to public speaking and authoring The Shopkeeper’s Manual owns specialty store Leon and Lulu in suburban Detroit, says she creates a “spa section” in her 15,000-square-foot shop. “I have washes and soaps and towels—quality hand towels are great to have—and these are fun gifts because they are practical and glamorous,” she says.

Taking the time to find well-made, quality items is important, she adds. As is working with companies that value presentation and product line variety, she says. “When you look at a commodity like soap or candles, there are many people who make a quality item. But packaging is the number one thing we look for, with customer service being the second thing,” she says. “As a retailer I always like to see breadth in a line. I like to put in a collection that has seven or eight different products—bath and body wash. More than just one thing. It tells a better story in the store.”

Beyond organic

“I think people are really starting to take notice of what they are putting onto their bodies,” says Courtney Apple, owner of Philadelphia, PA-based Hand In Hand Sustainable Suds, which makes soaps. “People are starting to ask what is inside their favorite bath and body products and re-examine the hard-to-read ingredients lists. Empty catch phrases like ‘all-natural’ or ‘organic’ just isn’t enough anymore.”

Hand In Hand creates a line of three bar soaps, as well as a yet-to-be-released line of bath salt. Soaps come in fragrances such as orange blossom, white tea and lavender. “Before we even began formulating our products, we knew our line had to be 100 percent honest and as eco-friendly as possible,” says Apple, who started the company with husband Bill. “Not only did we want to include ingredients that were good for the body, such as our organic and fair trade shea & cocoa butter and all-natural essential oils, but we also wanted to educate our customers that our line was paraben-free, petro-chemical free, vegan and biodegradable.”

Creating soap that has a “base” made from the environmentally friendly rapeseed also was important to Hand In Hand, Apple says. “We knew that the soap industry has led to the devastation of rain forests in Southeast Asia due to the ever-popular soap base sodium palmate, also known as palm,” she says. “Even if there were customers who didn’t know about the devastation palm plantations have created, we knew we had to take a stand and have our soap base made from rapeseed.” They also decided to donate 50 square feet of rainforest with every bar purchased.

Gluten-free products also are popular these days, says McLinden of Farmhouse Fresh Goods. “Customers with gluten allergy are seeking skincare products that are gluten free,” she says.

Retailers and vendors agree: Bath and body products are ones that will forever work for gift store retailers. Luxury at price points is an irresistible commodity.

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Heather Johnson Durocher

Durocher is a northern Michigan-based journalist who writes frequently about business for newspapers and magazines. She has contributed to USA Weekend, Woman's Day, Parents and American Baby. Visit her website at

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