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Spa Goes Poof

NEW YORK - The explosion of "hotel" quality bedding at mass retail prior to the recession was accompanied in bath by the rise of "spa" quality towels - thick, lush and heavy enough to cause back strain pulling them out of the washer.
     But a quick perusal of major retailer's bath towel offerings suggests that the cotton crisis ultimately knocked the stuffing out of the spa trend - at least as far as bath towels are concerned.
     There are no "spa" towels available at Macy's, Bloomingdale's or Kohl's ecommerce sites.
     Target has a single offering: Target Spa Home Towel, made of cotton/rayon, with a three-piece set selling for the decidedly un-spa-like price of $17.99.
     JCPenney has an embellished towel featuring sea shells going by the name "Spa Shells," but it doesn't really fit the concept of a spa towel.
     Only Bed Bath & Beyond remains in the spa towel game -and with three offerings:
     • Elizabeth Arden (by London Luxury) at $19.99 for a bath towel;
     • Croscill Spa at $17.99;
     • Hotel Spa at $16.99.
     "I think retailers lost their taste for ‘spa' quality towels because the quality of the ‘spa' towels deteriorated so much in the stores over the last two to three years," said Eric Vergucht, longtime bath exec and now head of Chortex's U.S. business.
     The company will make its New York International Gift Fair debut with an Oxford Ribbed Towel Vergucht described as "a real spa quality towel."
     The one place spa towels haven't been de-speced into oblivion? The spa segment of the hospitality industry.
     Towellers has been selling into the spa business for several years, and while the sector's growth as a channel peaked about five years ago, spas did not pull back on quality during the recession, according to Mahjabeen Obaid, one of the company's principals.
     "If you check into the Four Seasons, you expect a certain quality," she said. "You are still paying $150 for a massage."
     Home Source International also found its spa customers standing firm on quality.
     "As a matter of fact, we have found that the spa hospitality projects we're engaged in have gone more upscale as it is a key differentiation for a hotel to set itself apart for a relatively inexpensive way to bring great comfort to its guests by pampering them with top quality product," said Keith Sorgeloos, president and ceo. "Business was difficult for the hospitality sector during the recession, but we did not see a flight from quality during the recession."
     According to the International Spa Association's 2010 survey of the industry, 85% of spas follow eco-friendly practices and buy eco-friendly or organic products.

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