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ATLANTA/NEW YORK-Coordinated bath -- the concept of designing and merchandising an entire bathroom ensemble using one or two complementary patterns -- continues to be a growth market at retail, offering both value and convenience to consumers.

"The bath is the cheapest room in the house to totally redecorate," said Dianne Weidman, director of marketing and design at Saturday Knight Ltd., a major player in the category. Weidman estimated that consumers can purchase coordinated towels, accessories, a rug and shower curtain for about $100 with minimal decision-making.

"Consumers need direction," said Diann Starcke, bath buyer for Macy's East. "They're not always sure how to mix [open stock] towels and fashion accessories."

And retailers are not always sure how to maximize the category's potential on the selling floor where space is constantly at a premium. To work, all the various pieces must be displayed together -- with products displayed on freestanding cubes, T-racks and kiosks, supplemented by limited shelf space.

At Macy's Lenox Square, the chain's largest store in Atlanta, the coordinated Bath Shop was approximately 25 feet by 37 feet, crammed with about 10 Springs Industries and Home Innovations coordinates, in addition to a freestanding table display of four striped and 12 solid-color towels and accessories by Tommy Hilfiger. Kiosks, cubes and shelves also spilled over with accessories by Home Innovations, Springs and Croscill.

"Execution is the key point in the Bath Shop because of its SKU intensity," said Starcke, who noted that accessories -- especially lotion pumps and candles -- currently drive Macy's coordinated program. "It's a way to present a lifestyle look, a way of driving a key item that has universal usage," she said, adding, "Coordinated bath is very important, but we're learning how to drive that part of the business across categories."

Sears had about 20 coordinated bath ensembles on display at its Paramus, N.J., store. Its bath department encompasses 3,120 square feet of products including a color wall of its house brand Colormate towels and matching rugs, as well as other solid and patterned separates. The coordinated displays are arrayed across the front of the department as well as in aisles that lead the customer into the category.

Glen Fromiter, store manager of the Paramus Sears, said that department is set up to help consumers who want to redo their baths and don't know what to do. "They can use all the pieces or coordinate with a solid easily," Fromiter said.

Jennifer Reinbeck, home fashions sales manager, noted that Lilac Bouquet by Cannon Royal Family is Sears' best seller, followed by another floral, Anne's Garden from Springs.

While florals dominate the coordinated lines at Sears, the style range is diverse: Candlewood by Saturday Knight Ltd. with solid appliqued towels and a patterned shower curtain with accessories and a matching rug by Newmark; Gingham Plaid in either blue or pink plaid by Springmaid; the new Eco Jewel, a soft, neutral look featuring all cotton textiles and wood accessories. Park B. Smith supplies the Eco Jewel shower curtain in muted stripes of tan, sage, beige and navy and the towels carry a Palatial label.

Reinbeck pointed out that many of the coordinated bath sets have corresponding bedding available for bed/bath suites. "Many times a customer will buy the bedding first and then come back for the bath pieces. We often show the coordinating shower curtain by the bed to let them know it's available in bath too."

Sears changes the coordinated section twice a year by pulling three or four slow-selling patterns and adding new styles. "We'll try a style for about six months to see how it does," she said, adding "If a pattern has a good sell-through, we keep it until we see a decline."

Bradlees, a 103-store regional discounter based in Braintree, Mass., also offers a variety of coordinated sets.

"Everything plays off the shower curtain," said Rick Fyffe, divisional merchandise manager for home textiles.

The store has dramatically expanded its coordinates section from just 8 feet three years ago, said Fyffe. A new cube fixture for shower curtains was designed to lead consumers down the aisles, where eight to 10 ensembles from Springs Industries, Saturday Knight Ltd. and Cambridge are shown.

At Bradlees in Ramsey, N.J., the Bath Department had two main areas for coordinated bath -- four sets began a wall that was mainly dedicated to a line of shower curtains and several freestanding glass displays showed off three more ensembles at the front of the department.

Bradlees introduces two or three new designs to the mix twice a year, judiciously eliminating slow movers. "Color and pattern are most important," said Fyffe. "We're constantly analyzing the performance of each coordinated group, to determine which stay and which go."

While retailers study which styles to offer and how to show them, suppliers seek ways to help merchandise their lines successfully.

Torrence Shealy, senior vice president of marketing at Springs Industries, which makes Wamsutta, Springmaid and Liz At Home, said,"The current format is counter to the way stores today, such as specialty stores and discounters, are laid out, where product is shown by category.

"But retailers tell us quantitatively that it is an opportunity. Maybe we need to be more creative in developing better point-of-sale bridges between categories to make it easier for consumers to coordinate."

Bob Hamilton, vice president of advertising for Fieldcrest Cannon, said that the company has moved from its One Look concept developed in the late 1960s, which took a pattern or color and extended it to include towels, rugs, shower curtains, and accessories, to a One Mood concept, based on color and attitude. The company makes its own towels and rugs and licenses other manufacturers to supply shower curtains and accessories.

Hamilton noted that the easiest, best place for coordinated bath presentation is catalogs because all the products can be grouped and photographed together.

He does not see the coordinated approach peaking yet. "It's a world of decreasing disposable income," Hamilton noted. "People are spending more time at home and are entertaining more at home. Therefore, they are more attentive to decorating at home. And with the proliferation of consumer shelter books, the consumer wants to be current and fashionable."
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Author:Musselman, Faye; Herlihy, Janet
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Date:Sep 21, 1998

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