• Cecile Corral

The beach is back, with more for less

The days of the flat 30" x 60" rectangular beach towels are rolling away with the tide.

Like so many other mature textiles product categories, particularly bath, the beach towel business is surviving yet another summer with an emphasis on more for less — larger dimensions, heavier weights and sharper designs offered at economical price points.

For many suppliers, beach towels represent a seasonal opportunity generating an average of 5 percent to 10 percent of total company sales.

Such is the case for Miami-based J. R. United. Company president Salo Grosfeld said it's an important facet of his business that assortments are constantly refreshed.

While some might consider the new 3-pound 40" x 70" cabana stripe "extra long" beach towel to be "too heavy," Grosfeld justified its place alongside his many new introductions.

"If a customer is going to spend $30 on a beach towel, she is going to want to feel like she can get a lot of use for a long time from it."

The cabana stripe "extra long" towel was made thicker and at longer lengths than J. R. United's average beach towels, which retail for about $14.99, to increase the comfort of beach chairs. (see below for photographs of towels from this story.)

"We wanted a towel that could wrap well around the chair," Grosfeld said. "The idea came to me because every time people lay their towels on their chairs, the towels are too short for their head or their feet and it slides down."

WestPoint Stevens, which mainly offers juvenile beach towels under its licensed Disney program, has stepped up quality on its new introductions for 2004 to enhance colorways.

"We are moving more toward photo real looks and treatments of the characters on a fiber reactive-type print to get the depth of color and the variation in the color shades," said Steve Hoffman, vp of marketing services and licenses for WestPoint Stevens, West Point, GA. "We save our 'flat color' artwork and designs for our more promotionally priced product."

Brumlow Home's sister company Hilasal, in Fort Mill, SC, wanted to launch its first line of beach towels, all made in El Salvador, under its new management "with a different approach. We want to separate ourselves from the rest in design, merchandising and packaging," Gary Kirsh, divisional vp of sales, said.

The company has created a collection of surfboard-shaped and extreme sports-themed 100 percent cotton fiber-reactive towels, increased the size of those constructions to 38" x 68" and made new metal can packing fit a rolled 30" x 60" fiber-reactive towel.

All this, Kirsh said, has sharp price points from $9.99 through $19.99.

For Michele Sinai Inc., the beach towel business currently accounts for 75 percent of the company's sales, with the remainder devoted to bath towels.

"We're putting more value into our [beach] towels. We're putting the cotton back into the towels," Bally Faudar, director of sales for the New York-based company, an importer known for its strong collection of striped towels. "Some promotional goods do reach that price, but in the end what do consumers really use them for? [These promotional goods] have gotten so bad that you can't even wash your cars with them. That's why we're focusing on better product for a fair price."

Cobra Trading, based here, has added weight — up to 27 pounds per dozen from 21 pounds per dozen — with new colorways in browns and neutrals.

"In this kind of economy, the consumer doesn't want gimmicks," Kurt Hamburger, president, said. "She wants a thirsty beach towel that absorbs well, dries well and is practical and of a good quality."

Sarongs for the beach inspired Jo Ann Wanamaker, vp of design, Valley Steam, NY-based The Baltic Linen Co. She said her new beach introductions are constructed "not super thick and heavy." They are Pakistani-made 100 percent ring-spun cotton 17-pound-per-dozen 35" x 70" beach towels — which have feminine designs so that they can be wrapped comfortably and attractively around a beach-go-er's waistline.

"I used antique documents for my designs to achieve a more feminine look — different from standard beach towel looks, such as stripes or novelty, to give the customer another option," Wanamaker explained. "Our Maui in bright yellow, greens and blues on a red ground and St. Tropez in navy blue on a Mediterranean blue ground will look great wrapped around the waist like a sarong, for strolling down the beach or even going to and from the beach. I think this will give an added incentive to the purchase."

Price points for Maui and St. Tropez are still being developed.

New York-based Terrisol is presenting its customers a broad assortment of new products — fiber reactives, single and double jacquards, velour and loop prints — but with a heavy emphasis on heat transfers "because they are not a big category in beach right now and we wanted to be different," said Michelle Wright, marketing manager.

Terrisol, which imports all of its beach towels from parent company Karsten in Brazil, is positioning its heat transfer beach towels at the same higher-end price point level as its double jacquards — $19.99 for a 34" x 64".

"You see a lot more prints and fiber reactives right now in stores, and we think the customer is looking for something different and better," Wright added.

But attending to other important sides of the business, the company refreshed its fiber reactive and print offerings with a new larger size — 60" x 70", set to retail for about $14.99.

Similarly, Revere Mills, based in Niles, IL, is "strengthening our double jacquards for our more upscale business," Dan Harris, vp of marketing and product development. The company also created a new look-alike that retails more promotionally.

It is a velour cabana stripe that features a heavily printed dobby border intended to look like a double jacquard, "but at a better price," Harris said. A 34" x 72" 16.5 pound-per-dozen beach towel is set to retail for $19.99.

&&/STRONG> The Baltic Linen Co.'s new Maui towel is a 100 percent cotton style that is sturdy but thin enough to be worn like a sarong.
WestPoint Stevens' latest addition to its Disney program includes this "Simba" design from The Lion King. >
&&/STRONG> Haywin Textiles' Make No Waves is part of its licensed Nautica program.
Terrisol Corp.'s new Hawaiian Palace design, from its Ethnic Spice collection, is a 100 percent cotton fiber reactive printed velour. >
&&/STRONG> J.R. United is using vintage-looking Hawaiian design, like this one titled Aloha, for its Izod license program.
Hilasal's Surf Beach towel is one of many new styles cut into the shapes of surf boards. >
&&/STRONG> Revere Mills is bringing Jaws on shore with this new shark design.
Cobra Trading's new beach towels are bright, like this orange and yellow design titled Happy Stripe. >
&&/STRONG> Michelle Sinai Inc.'s latest addition to its 6' x 6' Tall Towel — big enough for two people — is this Under the Sea design.


Cecile CorralCecile Corral | Senior Product Editor, Home & Textiles Today

Cecile B. Corral has been a product editor with Home Textiles Today since late 2000. She covers the area and accent rug, kitchen textiles, table linens, beach towels, decorative bath and decorative pillow categories, as well as some retail subjects.

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