Winter 2012
Rinse and Repeat: Why Bath and Body Products Always Clean up Well By Sue Marquette Poremba

When your customers are looking for small indulgences that won't break the bank, bath and body fits the bill perfectly.

Natural products. Environmentally friendly ingredients and packaging. Made in America. Artisan. These are the phrases that come up repeatedly when industry professionals are asked about the latest trends in bath and body products.

Trista Page, owner of Indigo Bee a wholesaler in Tampa, FL, says today’s consumers are very savvy. “They check the ingredients on each product they buy in this highly competitive industry,” Page says. “They demand that we use high-quality ingredients—oils, butters and scents—that are natural and contain no extraneous and non-essential chemicals. These same customers want the final product to be pretty, with rich, vibrant colors and eye-catching designs and swirls. “They want the products to evoke a scent memory but it has to be visually stunning as well for them to buy,” Page says. Indigo Bee’s top five fragrances are Lavender Rosemary, Coconut Lemongrass, Sandalwood Vanilla, Ocean, and Tea Tree Peppermint.

A vanilla-based scent from Indigo Bee called Sugar Cookie is popular among both female and male customers at Jennifer L. Dutkowsky’s store in Tampa, Why Not Boutique. The Sugar Cookie soap has a swirled chocolate-colored base with a frothy cream top sprinkled with little multi-colored sugar crystals. Even though the vast majority of her customers are women, Dutkowsky says men too love a lot of these soap products especially those with a neutral fragrance.

The right gift

The soaps and lotions that Indigo Bee produces are special indulgences, but they also make nice gifts, Page says. “Those customers who are on a budget may spend $6 or $7 on a bar of artisan handmade soap as a luxury instead of the $50 pedicure or $100 massage. Also, they will buy these items as gifts for their girlfriends, husbands or even their children’s teachers because it’s a small personal gift, a luxury item that means something to them instead of an impersonal gift certificate,” she says.

Bath and body products are a popular choice for hostess gifts, Sherry Horton, founder of wholesaler E. Barrett & Co. of Julian, CA, explains. “Bath and body products are like the new bottle of wine. You are taking the hostess a gift that is more personal or longer lasting,” she says. She thinks that people prefer liquid soaps as a gift to bar soap. “It’s a nice, inexpensive gift that can be packaged nicely.”

But bar soaps are always popular for personal indulgences. “They are very long lasting and that makes a bar soap a great value, which is what people want in this economy,” Horton adds. E. Barrett & Co., named for Horton’s grandmother, Emma, imports French soaps, but makes its own potpourri, soy-based candles, and hand lotions.

Scenstible gifts

In addition to the trends mentioned earlier, Horton believes that customers are looking for a combination of scents. “In the past, you had a lavender or a rose or a rosemary,” she says. “Now the industry seems to be blending the scents, so you have lavender rosemary.” Yet, the most popular fragrances she sells are singular—lavender, verbena, milk, and ocean.

At wholesaler Upper Canada Soaps in Mississauga, ON, however, the trend in fragrances is a little different. Gourmet scents are what customers want, says Linda Chep, Communications Manager.

“Customers want something more complex and interesting when it comes to scents. Vanilla is a classic but it doesn’t always excite the senses. Our Body Truffles line does just that as it includes scents such as fudge brownie and cocoa mango,” says Chep.

Understandably, the popularity of scents changes with the season. Spring, for example, is filled with florals, while in summer, customers look for scents that remind of them of the beach. “Our Milk scent (a blend of vanilla and creamy notes) seems to be loved year round,” says Kelley Hall-Barr, owner of wholesaler K. Hall Studio in St. Louis, MO.

Barbara Bruce-Ross, president of B Witching Bath Co. in Hawthorne, NJ, says her company’s popular rose fragrance brings back memories of afternoons at Grandma’s house. “What makes it attractive is that it is a classic and timeless scent,” says Bruce-Ross. Other popular scents are more artisanal and less floral. Bruce-Ross says her current top-selling scents are Rocky Mountain Sky, with its clean, fresh air fragrance, and Heirloom Kitchen Garden soap, which has a tomato and tomato plant smell.

In her store Hoboken Gardens in Rockport, ME, Lisa Farley has a hutch of all B Witching Bath Products. Farley puts together a few mixed baskets of products for the current season, as well as a display of the Fragrance of the Month on the counter with a sample. “Customers like the unique fragrances,” Farley says. “They like the organic ingredients and the great fragrances, such as Marshmallow Cocoa and the Coconut Milk or Rosemary Herb, that you cannot find in other bath products.”

What’s trending up

Jana Reichle with market research and branding company Berard Associates in New York, points out that soaps are making a big comeback “because of the rich oils and emollients that are being added to a classic bar of soap.”

“Soap is gaining a resurgence of loyalty based on the moisturizing benefits. Body oils are experiencing popularity because new technology enables formulations to offer beautiful texture and immediate penetration.”

If bar soap is making a comeback because of its moisturizing and value benefits, bubble baths are also popular right now as the ultimate indulgence. Bruce-Ross with B Witching Bath Co. also focuses on natural ingredients in her products, and agrees that bubble baths are very popular right now. “It’s a comforting experience to take a long, luxurious bath,” she says.

Hall-Barr says apothecary-style hand creams are also trending up—especially with the vintage look now in fashion.

Then there is Do Not Disturb of Alpharetta, GA, a wholesaler that focuses on the whimsical to create a home spa treatment. Owner Mary Geoghan says the most popular products are the company’s microwavable items that are filled with rice and lavender, which helps with circulation.

Geoghan too believes that her customers are concerned about product packaging and are looking for products made in America. She also reports an increased interest in private label products. As bath and body products gain popularity as a gift item, private labels allow the retailers to put their name and contact information on the products they sell.

Roland Neel, president of Private Label Products, a wholesaler in Macon, GA, has seen this interest firsthand. “If the recipient likes the product, she knows what store it came from and how to find it,” Neel says. “Private label lets small stores create their own brand and logo.”

“One thing we’re seeing is a search for less expensive bath products,” Neel says. Gift shops can use the private label to create their own store brand. “People want to have a product that is unique to their store at a reasonable price.” Customers want luxury products for their in-home use and create a personal spa experience, says Neel. Sue Lawrence, sales representative with Natural Patches of Vermont agrees, pointing out that stress relievers and holistic products are two popular trends. Or maybe the popularity of bath and body products is a result of the frustrating economic times.

“Customers are just fed up with being fed up,” says Ken Nisch, Chairman with JGA (Retail Design and Brand Strategy Consultancy), in Southfield, MI. “They are looking for a break, an indulgence, and they’re looking for items that give them immediate, sensory, and in some cases, primal delight. So after years of scrimping, consumers are ready to spend, just as long as it makes them happy.”

Mouse over images below to view.

Sue Marquette Poremba

Sue Marquette Poremba is a freelance writer based in State College, PA. She specializes in technology, engineering, energy, and IT security topics. She has also published over a dozen essays and is the author of a book about the Philadelphia Phillies.

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